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A step-by-step guide to applying for a US student visa

Sean Campbell
Last Updated: 9 November 2021 • 6 min read

You’re guaranteed an amazing time if you study abroad in the USA. In fact, we’ve written an article on 6 reasons why you should study in the USA -- you should check that out when you get a moment. After reading this article of course...

 But figuring out how to apply for a US student visa can be a complicated process, what with so many official government websites to negotiate!

Here at Edboy though, our goal is to make every aspect of studying abroad easier to understand, even when it comes to applying for student visas. 

So let’s clear up some confusion and show you how you can apply for your US student visa. 

How to apply for a US student visa: All you need to know

  1. What visa do I need to study in the USA?
  2. When should I apply for my US student visa?
  3. US study visa processing time
  4. What documents do I need to apply for a US student visa?
  5. How much does it cost?
  6. Where to apply for a US student visa
  7. How to apply: Step by step

1. What visa do I need to study in the USA?

There are three US student visas, each of which is given depending on what your situation is. The most common is the F1 Visa. This is for students who will be studying a full-time course. For regular undergrad and postgrad students, this is normally the visa that you should apply for. 

If you wish to bring children or a spouse along with you to the US, they must get an F2 Visa, which allows them to stay with you while you study in the USA. However, they are not allowed to work in the US with this visa. 

Another option is the J1 Exchange Visitor Visa. This is for people who are going to the US to study a vocational course which lasts up to 10 months (no longer). If you have a dependent spouse or children, they must get a J2 visa in order to join you, but they cannot work unless they have prior permission (this will be established during their application). 

Finally, there’s the M1 Student Visa. This is for non-academic courses, and only lasts for the duration of your course. 

To sum up, chances are that you need to apply for an F1 Visa, but to be completely sure, check with the university you’ve applied to!

2. When should I apply for my US student visa?

You should start applying for your visa no later than 3 months before your course of study starts. Ideally, you should actually begin your visa application process around 5 months ahead of time, as there are quite a few steps to take and quite a few documents to secure before you can actually apply. 

3. US study visa processing time

Once you’ve completed your application, the processing time is between 3 and 5 weeks. After your visa has been approved, your country’s US consulate will deliver it to you within 2 or 3 working days (depending on where you are based). 

4. What documents do I need to apply for a US student visa?

Okay, here’s where the work starts! There are quite a few documents for you to collect before applying for your student visa. 

These documents may change a little depending in the specific visa you’re applying for and your own situation, but in most cases, here’s what you’ll need:

  • A passport that is valid for at least six months beyond your planned stay in the USA. If your passport is due to expire, you’ll have to apply for a new one. 
  • University I-20 form. This is a standard document that certifies that you’ve been accepted into a full time university course in the US. 
  • A print out of the visa application form you filled out online (DS-160). We’ll go into more detail on this below!
  • Visa interview appointment letter. Once you complete the above-mentioned form, you’ll be directed to book an appointment at your nearest US consulate, after which you receive this latter. 
  • Original mark sheets, certificates and transcripts. Or basically, proof of all your relevant high school grades. 
  • Original English language assessment test certificate  (GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo etc.) scorecard. (See our article: the last guide you'll ever need to ace your English language assessment test
  • Bank statements for the last 3 years, to prove that you have enough money to support your stay in the US. If a parent/guardian is supporting you through your education, you can give their bank statements also. If you think you’ll need financial support, check out our article How to apply for a scholarship to study abroad.

5. How much does it cost?

The cost of a US student visa includes both an application / processing fee and the SEVIS fee (Student & Exchange Visitor Information System). Depending on the visa, costs can change a little, but here’s an approximate guide:

For the F1 Student Visa and M1 Student Visa, the SEVIS Fee is US$350, and the application / processing fee is $160. All in all that’s US$510. 

On the other hand, the SEVIS Fee for a J1 Exchange Visitor Sisa is $220, and the visa application fee is $160; a total of US$380. 

6. Where to apply for a US student visa

Here’s where some confusion begins, as the place to apply and the order of application events can change depending on your own US Embassy or consulate. 

To keep you on the right track, visit the US Embassy website, find your own country and then your nearest embassy. Click through to their website and find the Visa tab. From there you’ll be able to get some easy to understand instructions to begin your online application. If you’re still in doubt, send them an email or call them on the phone. 

However, it’s almost certain that you’ll be directed to the US Department of State Consular Electronic Application Centre. Here, you’ll have to fill out the DS-160 form.  

Once you’ve applied online and booked your biometrics and interview appointment, you’ll have to attend the embassy (or consulate) in person. 

7. How to apply for a US Student Visa: Step by step

  • Register in SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) as soon as you’ve been accepted by your university and received your I-20 form. You’ll have to pay a fee (SEVIS I-901), so make sure to keep the receipt for later -- you’ll need it!
  • Head to the aforementioned US Department of State Consular Electronic Application Centre and fill out the application form (DS-160). Here you’ll have to include personal details (and/or documented proof) such as your passport details, travel plans, previous entry to the US, work & education background, criminal and medical background, SEVIS ID (as included in your university-issued I-20 form).Make sure to print out the confirmation page once you’re done.
  • Pay your visa processing charges online through NEFT or at Axis/Citibank offices. Get the payment confirmation receipts and keep them. You’ll be instructed how to do this during your application. 
  • Book an appointment at your nearest embassy for your biometrics and visa interview. Call your embassy or book online to do this. You’ll have to reference your receipt number for the above payment!
  • Attend the interview. Make sure to bring all the documentation detailed above in this article, as well as all your receipts from any transactions made during your application. Don’t stress about the interview by the way! Just make sure you’ve got all your paperwork in order -- you’ve done the hard work. To save you from stress though, it’s worth knowing that the officer you speak to will ask you some questions about why you want to go to the US, why you’ve chosen your university, your academic background etc. For more information on this, check out our write-up on How to clear your US student visa interview
  • Hand over your passport and wait 3-5 weeks -- That’s it! They’ll get in touch once it’s time to pick it up. 

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Sean Campbell
Written By
Sean Campbell

Sean is a writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.

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