Student Visas: Which One is Right for You?

Calendar Icon Updated January 15, 2019

Each year, thousands of students flock to the United States to further themselves by continuing their education. To legally study in the U.S., students must obtain an appropriate student visa that grants them the right to stay in the country while they pursue their education.

There are three types of student visas:

  • F-1 Visa – the most popular student visa, it is for students who are attending U.S. colleges or universities.
  • J-1 Visa – for students who want to participant in work and study visitor/exchange programs.
  • M-1 Visa – for students in vocational or nonacademic study programs.

Each of them comes with specific privileges and restrictions that are unique to a particular student’s situation. This guide will detail what those privileges and restrictions are, as well as walking you through the application process.

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How Can Help You With This Process

Whether you’re a student from another country, attempting to navigate through the student visa process can be a bit intimidating. There are numerous forms to complete and each type of visa has its own specific requirements.

That’s why is ready to help you. In most instances, you can access the information you need by reading this guide or through our website. But if you want more help, we’re here for you.

As part of our pledge to be your one-stop resource, has a trained staff of professionals who can get you the answers you seek about student visas, as well as dozens of other government services and programs.

If you can’t find the information you need in this guide, we encourage you to contact us through this website, by e-mail, or by calling us at 888-959-1135

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The F-1 Student Visa

The F-1 Visa is the most popular student visa and allows foreign national students to travel to the United States to attend academic or English Language Programs at American colleges and universities.

Students are required to be full-time students and are expected to complete their studies according to the expiration date of their Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant Student Status form (Form I-20). These forms are provided to the F-1 student by the university or college they will attend. The F-1 visa only grants permission to study at the college or university for which the visa was issued.

F-1 applicants must show they have strong ties to their native country and that they intend to return to that country upon the completion of their studies. Proof often times is in the form of documenting bank accounts, homes, land or vehicles, or a job offer pending completion of their studies in the United States. Significant family ties in their home land is also a key indicator of strong ties to a native country.

F-1 applicants are allowed to come to the United States as early as 30 days before the start of their studies and may stay 60 days beyond the end of their studies. To keep an F-1 status, students must continue to be enrolled full time and maintain passing grades. 

F-2 Visas

Spouses and children can accompany a student to the United States under an F-2 visa. To facilitate this, the college or university where the student has been accepted must issue separate I-20 documents for each family member, giving them the ability to apply for an F-2 visa.

The J-1 Student Visa

The J-1 Visa is for foreign nationals who want to come to the United States to take part in work and/or study based visitor and exchange programs. Many of these programs are sponsored by nonprofits or by U.S. colleges, universities or other educational institutions. J-1 participants may come to the United States to enjoy an exchange of ideas, to further their own education, to teach, or to demonstrate high level specialized skills.

J-1 Visas are broken into several categories:

Au Pair
  • Provides family childcare in exchange for a stipend, room, and board
  • Must be 18-26 years old and in good health
  • Fluent in English
  • Previous experience in childcare but cannot have lived in the United States as an au pair
  • Must possess an international driver’s license and a police clearance report
  • Can provide no more than 10 hours a day/45 hours a week in childcare
  • Must complete at least 6 hours of academic coursework at a college in 12-month timeframe
  • Must complete at least 32 hours of childcare training prior to placement with a family
Camp Counselor
  • Allows foreign college students, teachers and youth workers to work at American summer camps
  • Must be at least 18 years old and fluent in English
  • Demonstrated ability to work with children
  • Must be provided with lodging, meals and pay.
  • Primary work must be as a counselor, not as other camp support staff.
  • Can work as a counselor for up to four months. No extensions are allowed.
College and
University Student Program
  • Allows foreign students to study full-time at American universities and colleges
  • Must be financed by a source other than family.
  • Financing can come from the U.S. government, native country government or a sponsoring international organization
  • A pre-existing agreement must exist between the U.S. government or educational institution, and either the student’s home government or a foreign educational institution
Government Visitor Program
  • Federal, state or local governments may invite distinguished guests to the United States to build and grow personal professional and relationships with their American peers.
  • They may participate in meetings, tours, conferences, workshops, training, travel and related activities
International Visitor Program
  • Foreign nationals who are recognized leaders in a field or those with a specialized skill may be invited by the U.S. State Department to build and grow personal and professional relationships with their American counterparts.
Intern Program
  • Allows foreign national professionals to participate in training in their designated field in the United States
  • Must be currently enrolled in a compatible field of study outside the United State or graduated within the preceding 12 months
  • Must be at least 18 years old and fluent in English
Physician Program
  • Allows foreign doctors to participate in training or graduate education programs at U.S. medical schools
  • Must be fluent in English
  • Must demonstrate proficiency in their medical training
  • A statement of need from their home government must be provided to U.S. officials
  • A pre-existing agreement must be in place with the hospital or institution where the participant intends to study
  • Participants are allowed to observe, consult, teach or conduct research. They will not be given final authority for diagnosing and treating patients
  • All activities must comply with state medical licensing and regulations
Professor and Research Scholar Program
  • Allows foreign national professors and research scholars the opportunity to teach, lecture and conduct research in U.S. schools. 
  • Maximum timeframe is five years.
  • The goal is to encourage an exchange of ideas, scholarly enrichment and research between U.S. and foreign educational professionals
  • Candidates must be fluent in English and possess sufficient credentials to conduct their activities
Secondary School Student Program
  • Allows students to stay with a host family or at a boarding school and study at a U.S. public or private high school
  • Students must be at least 15 years old and less than 18.5 years old on the first day they start school
  • Must have completed no more than 11 years of school prior to applying
  • Students are not allowed to work during their stay
  • Students are not permitted to stay with relatives
  • The maximum stay under this program is one academic school year
Short-Term Scholar Program
  • Allows research scholars and professionals to teach, lecture, train or consult at U.S. colleges and universities, museums, libraries or other similar institutions.
  • Maximum duration is six months. No extensions are permitted.
  • Participants may return to the U.S. under this program after a significant break between visits
Specialist Program
  • Allows specialized knowledge professionals to come to the United States to exchange knowledge with the American counterparts
  • Maximum duration is one year
  • Participants may not take a permanent or long-term job under the terms of this visa
Summer Work Travel Program
  • Allows foreign college students to work and travel in the United States during the summer
  • Maximum length of stay is four months
  • Must be fluent in English
  • Must be a full-time student outside of the U.S.
  • Must have a job offer in the United States unless they are from a visa waiver country
Teacher Program
  • Foreign teachers can come to the United States to each in primary and secondary schools
  • Maximum stay is three years
  • Must have at least three years of teaching experience
  • Must be fluent in English
Trainee Program
  • Allows foreign professionals to get training in American business practices
  • Must possess a degree or professional certificate and have at least one year of work experience. Can substitute five years of work experience in lieu of a degree
  • Must be fluent in English and at least 20 years old

J-2 Visas

In some instances, spouses and children may accompany J-1 visa holders either at the time of their initial entry into a program or at a later date. Eligibility will depend on each specific category, and in some cases, specific programs within a category may or may not allow J-2 visas to be issued.

J-2 application procedures are the same as for J-1 applications. In all instances, the sponsor of the J-1 applicant must approve J-2 applicants as well. 

The M1 Student Visa

The M-1 student visa is for students who want to pursue technical, vocational or nonacademic courses of study. Students must be enrolled full-time with at least 12 semester or quarter hours at a community or junior college, or similar institution of learning. This can be augmented by taking part in Optional Practical Training which extends the M-1 visa by one month for every four months of classroom study.

M-1 students are granted a fixed period of time to pursue their studies that must not exceed one year, unless they are granted an extension.

M-1 holders are not allowed to work either on campus or off campus during their time as a student in the United States. As such, they must be able to demonstrate that they have enough funds to support themselves for the length of their studies in the United States.

M-2 Visas

Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years old can apply for an M-2 visa which will allow them to join their spouse or parent in the United States. Although spouses are not permitted to work or attend school without obtaining their own appropriate student or work visa, children can attend school during the period the M-1 visa is valid.

Applying for a Student Visa

Making the decision to study in the United States takes considerable pre-planning because the actual application process can take several months.

Here are the steps you must follow to apply for a student visa.

  • The first step is for a student to decide what course of study they want to follow and then find institutions that match those ambitions and interests. 
  • The most crucial component is making sure that the college, university or vocational school chosen is accredited by the government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Accreditation is the key because it ensures a degree is recognized by institutions and governments worldwide. 
  • SEVP accredited institutions are the only ones that can enroll students in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is the entity that gives students the documents they will need to apply for a student visa. Once you have been accepted at a college, you will be enrolled in the SEVIS and that will begin the process of generating documents you’ll need.
  • After you are enrolled, you’ll need to pay the SEVIS fee because you will need to show proof as part of your student visa application process. Fees can range up to $200 depending on your individual situation. 
  • Next, you must make an appointment at a U.S. Embassy or consulate in your country for a U.S. student visa application. While some requirements may vary by country, in all cases you’ll need to complete a nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-160 prior to your interview. 
  • Because waiting times for interviews can take some time, you should attempt to schedule the interview four to six months before your anticipated travel to the United States. Also, as part of your application process, make sure you pay the visa application fee. You will need to show proof that you have paid it during your student visa interview.
  • Prior to your interview you should also gather any documents you will need to present. These will include:
  • A valid passport good for at least six months beyond your anticipated stay in the United States,
  • Signed SEVIS Form I-20,
  • SEVIS receipt page showing you have paid the fee
  • DS-160 confirmation page
  • Visa application receipt page
  • Appropriate photographs if you did not already upload them as part of your student visa application process
  • At your interview, you should also be prepared to show transcripts and diplomas from school you have already attended, scores from standardized tests and proof that you will be financially supported for your living and school expenses while in the United States. You may also need to prove you have health insurance to cover possible medical expenses during your stay.
  • During your interview, an embassy official will ask questions about ties to your native country, your educational objectives, your educational background and your proficiency in English, among other things. You will need to show proof you have been admitted to a college or university and how you intend to pay for your schooling. You could also be asked what your plans will be after you finish your studies in the United States.
  • If you are denied for a student visa, you will be told the reason why. Common reasons for denial include a lack of appropriate paperwork, fraud or misrepresentation, health or criminal related issues, or security issues.
  • If your student visa is approved, you must still gain entry into the United States at a Port of Entry. A visa, by itself, does not guarantee entry into the U.S. That final determination is made by Customs and Border Protection officials at the Port of Entry. If entry is granted, they will also determine how long a student can stay in the United States by validating Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure. This form is your actual permit to be allowed to stay in the U.S.


Eligibility Team

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