If you are an international student who wants to study in the U.S., then you must obtain a student visa.

The whole process is time-consuming and you will need to start preparing well in advance. The application process requires an interview, for which you will have to prepare and practice. ONCAMPUS can help you navigate this process, to make sure that you successfully get a student visa to study in the U.S.

Universities USA students get a F-1 visa

There are two U.S. agencies that are involved in the visa application process for international students. The US State Department is in charge of the visa application process and issuing the visa. The US Department of Homeland Security takes over once you arrive in the US and is responsible for enforcing the rules of your visa.

There are several types of visas in the U.S. and ONCAMPUS students will apply for the F-1 student visa. When you enter the U.S. for the first time, you will be given the I-94 form by the customs official and you should carry a copy of this form with you at all times.

A visa waiver program exists enabling students from 37 participating countries to study in the US without a visa under two conditions – the student’s stay is under 90 days and the course of study includes no more than 18 hours of instruction per week. Students joining our ONCAMPUS Boston or Illinois Tech programs are not eligible for the visa waiver program and should be advised to apply for the F-1 student visa.

VISA Application Process

In order to begin the student visa application process, the student must be accepted into an American institution and receive a Certificate of Eligibility (Form I-20) from that institution. In addition to acceptance into a program, a student must also provide evidence that he/she have sufficient funds at their disposal to pay for tuition, room and board for the duration of their stay. This is essential and the I-20 cannot be issued without the appropriate financial documentation.
Once the student receives the I-20 from our institution, he or she is able to make an appointment for a visa interview. Procedures on obtaining an interview vary from country to country and the most accurate information can be found at www.embassy.state.gov. Students will need to provide, at minimum, the following items:

  • A valid passport
  • A receipt for the paid nonrefundable visa processing fee
  • An I-901 form (a receipt showing that the required SEVIS fee is paid www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/index.html)
  • Documented proof that the student or their financial sponsor will have enough money to cover tuition and living expenses for the first year of the student’s stay (this amount can be found on the I-20 request form or website) – this can come in the form of a notarized bank statement and/or a letter from the sponsor stating they will support the student.  Visas can be issued up to 120 days before the scheduled date of departure. Appointments should therefore not be scheduled any earlier than this four-month period.

The visa interview

As part of the visa application process, you will have to do a personal interview. Make sure you attend the interview because if you do not, your visa application will automatically be rejected. If you cannot make the appointment, then make sure to contact the Visa Office to reschedule.

Below are some sample questions you may be asked during your interview, but you may be asked about anything in your application. Therefore, it is important to practice and be prepared, read our guide on being prepared for your visa interview. Being knowledgeable about the school you will be attending is vital. Browse the school website, get to know details like the school mascot, location, motto, degree courses, careers and so on. Also, one of the objectives of the interview is to test your English language, so make sure you answer in English and do not use a translator.

Sample interview questions:

  • What is the name of the school you wish to attend?
  • Where is the school? What city is it in and what part of the US does it belong to?
  • Did you use an education agent at any stage? Who is/was your agent and why did you choose them?
  • Why do you wish to study in the US? Did you consider any other countries?
  • What is the course name and academic level you will study?
  • When does the course start and finish?
  • Who is going to pay your tuition fees and living costs?
  • Where have you arranged accommodation?

Being able to make ‘small talk’ during the interview is important as well. This means being able to talk informally about things like the weather, news, your home country or sports.

5 Dos

The interview is an important part of the visa application process. There are 5 Dos that you need to keep in mind to do well:

  1. Do attend – you must attend the interview, if you do not your application will be rejected.
  2. Do answer – you should answer all questions fully and truthfully.
  3. Do think – think about the course you are attending and know details about the school and degree program you have chosen.
  4. Do speak in English – being able to speak English is important, so always answer in English.
  5. Do ask – if you are unsure about any question, make sure to ask for clarification.

You will also be asked to submit numerous documents at your interview. Make sure you have the following documents ready:

  • Original I-20 form
  • Proof of SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visit Information System) fee payment
  • Completed DS-160 form (the non-immigrant visa application form)
  • Certificate of enrolment in a school in the US
  • Passport
  • Academic transcripts (with translations, if not in English)
  • Financial evidence used for the I-20 form
  • Passport-sized photograph

Throughout the visa application process, you want to show that you are a genuine student looking to further your education by studying in the U.S. So, keep this in mind. Find out more about the U.S. visa process and what to expect.

Arrival in the US

A student can arrive in the US no earlier than 30 days before the start date on the immigration document (I-20). If the student will arrive later than the start date on the I-20, he/she should notify the school so that the arrival date can be deferred. Students should report to our institution within 15 days of the start date on the I-20.

Duration of the Visa

A student’s  SEVIS I-20 is issued based upon the length of the study they will pursue. Students in one of our Pathway program (OnCampus Boston or International Year Illinois Tech) will be issued a one year (two-semester SEVIS I-20). For ONCAMPUS Boston the I-20 will be issued by Curry College and for International Year the I-20 will be issued by Illinois Tech. This I-20 may be notated that the student will be progressing to a degree-seeking program. Upon successful completion of the pathway program, the student’s I-20 will be updated with the degree-seeking program and extended for the length of the academic program and if the student transfers to a new accredited institution upon completion of their pathway, then the I-20 will be transferred once proof of admissions from the new institution is received.

A student’s F-1 visa may be issued for one year or for longer. It’s important to know that the VISA is like a ticket into the United States and what keeps a student here legally is their valid I-20. So, if a VISA expires while in the USA, but the student’s I-20 is still valid then they are considered to be in the USA legally. If the student leaves the United States and their visa is expired, they will need to apply for a new F-1 visa before they return to the United States

Practical Training 

International students on an F-1 visa have the opportunity to have practical training (work experience) upon completion of their degree-seeking program. This is called OPT (Optional Practical Training). Student are eligible for OPT after they complete their undergraduate or graduate program. General OPT is up to 12 months and for STEM programs the OPT is up to 24 months. The OPT should be connected to the student’s major. In rare cases, students might do pre-completion OPT which allows them to start OPT after one full academic year (this is not common). Some institutions also allow international students to have Curricular Practical Training (CPT). CPT takes place while a student is studying and must be tied part of an established curriculum. CPT must be completed before graduating. CPT is dependent on an institution's policy and students must check in with the institution to verify the policy.

The F-1 visa also allows students to work part-time, on-campus only, while enrolled, for up to 20 hours/ week.

Departure from the US

Upon completion of the student’s program, they are eligible for a 60 day grace period within the United States. During these 60 days, the student is not required to be attending full time classes and may travel within the United States.  If a student leaves the United States while on their grace period they will need a new visa in order to re-enter.
If a student cancels and does not complete their program or if they are terminated from their program. Then they are no longer a full time student and must leave the United States within 15 days

Glossary of terms

F-1 student visa – The appropriate visa for a student attending a US college, university or high school. Our students should be advised to apply for this visa type.
J-1 visa – Students who are government-sponsored, either by the US or by a foreign country, and those on exchange programs apply for this type of visa.
I-20 – The Certificate of Eligibility provided by an institution supporting a student’s visa application. Students need this in order to apply for a visa as it signifies acceptance into an accredited program in the US
Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) - Helps the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State better monitor school and exchange programs and F and J category visitors.
Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) - An Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students (F visa) and exchange visitors (J visa).
I-901 – Receipt of payment for the $200 SEVIS fee which is required prior to the visa interview.
Grace period – The 60 day period following completion of a student’s program in which they are not required to study and can remain within the US prior to departure.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) – Students can work over vacation periods during their program at a job or internship required by a course they are taking.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) – Students can work for up to 12 months after their program in a job directly related to their field of study


Step by step application guide to the USA