International students interested in studying in the U.S. must complete several steps before they can enroll and attend classes at a U.S. school.
Step 1: Select a school
After applying for admission to U.S. schools, international students entering the U.S. on an F or M student visa will need to select and be accepted by a school certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The certification process confirms the U.S. school is bona fide and operational.
You should choose a school that meets your needs, weighing factors like campus location, climate, school size and tuition. SEVP urges international students to properly research and consult with advisers from EducationUSA, a program managed by the U.S. Department of State, before applying to and attending college in the U.S.
Step 2: Form I-20
Each U.S. school you are accepted to will issue you a Form I-20. You’ll select one school in which to enroll, and use the Form I-20 from that school as you continue through the international student process.
Make sure the information on the Form I-20, issued by the school you wish to attend, mirrors your passport and visa information. If not, you could have issues entering the U.S. If you notice discrepancies, have your designated school official correct the information and send you a new form. Each U.S. school that enrolls international students has at least one designated school official. This person serves as a liaison between international students, schools and the U.S. government.
Step 3: I-901 SEVIS Fee
Once you have been accepted and received your Form I-20 from an SEVP-certified school, international students should visit FMJfee.com and follow the instructions on the site to pay their I-901 SEVIS Fee. The website was recently revamped to make it mobile-friendly. If you need assistance on how to pay this fee, there’s a helpful tutorial online.
Make sure to print a receipt after you pay your $200 SEVIS Fee and present this receipt at your visa interview. The U.S. Department of State will not issue you a visa until you pay your I-901 SEVIS Fee.
Step 4: Apply for a student visa with the U.S. Department of State
To schedule an appointment, find the U.S. embassy or consulate closest to you. Bring all required documentation with you to your appointment.
Make sure you receive the correct visa, either an F or M, for the type of school you're attending. Dependents coming with you to the U.S. will also need a visa to enter the country. If you receive the wrong type of visa, point this out to the consulate official – before the appointment is over – so the mistake can be corrected.
Step 5: Hand-carry documents
International students should hand-carry documents needed to enter the U.S., like a passport, visa and Form I-20. You’ll need to present them to immigration officials at a U.S. port of entry. Upon your admission to the United States at a port of entry, you will be issued a Form I‑94 as a record of your arrival and departure information. International students who enter the country at an air or sea port of entry are issued an electronic form, while those who enter the country at a land port of entry are issued a paper Form I-94. Make sure the information on the Form I-94 matches the information on your Form I-20 and passport.
Have additional questions about studying in the U.S.? Visit the Study in the States website, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Read more about study in the USA.