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The two most important parts of getting into a U.S. university is the application process and securing the student visa. When you receive your I-20, you must apply for a student visa. Please do not enter the U.S. on a tourist (B) visa. This could delay your studies by as much as a year. When you apply to the American consulate for a student visa, you will be asked to fill out certain forms and provide certain documentation. You may be required to appear for an interview during which you must convince the embassy official to grant you a visa for entering the United States. Having an I-20 is not a guarantee of getting the visa. Below are some suggestions to help you with the visa process.
Applying for your student visa:
Once you receive your I-20, you will apply for your F-1 Student Visa from the U.S. embassy or consulate in your city or country. You may be asked to return for an interview. When you apply, you will be asked to pay a visa processing fee. Keep the receipt. You will need it later to show the consular officer when you have your interview.
Forms you need to take to your application and interview:
You will need to take the full I-20 form (with the bank letter) with you. You will also need a completed form DS-156 with photo, which is a nonimmigrant visa application. You can get a blank one at the embassy. If you are bringing a spouse or children, each person must have a completed DS-156 with photo. (You will have to pay the visa processing fee for each person.) You will also need a passport that is valid for at least six months after your arrival in the U.S.
Scheduling your interview:
If you are required to return for an interview, ask how long the process will take. Some of these offices have backlogs of applications. You may have as much as a two-month wait before you are interviewed. This is especially true in the summer months (June, July, August) because many students are applying at that time, so the embassies are very busy.
How to give a good interview:
Consular officials are very busy. They are interested in knowing whether or not you are a serious student and whether or not you intend to return home once your studies are completed. They do not have much time to hear the facts and make a decision. If the official has any doubt, your visa will be denied.
The consular official should hear information about your program of study and how you believe it will help you get a job back home in your country. Make certain the official understands that your only purpose is to study and that you intend to return home. For some students, especially those who are in their mid-twenties or older, it is a good idea to discuss the things that will bring you back home - your family, your business, your property or other assets that are based in your home country. If you think this is going to be a problem in the interview, bring documentation of your ties to your home country.
To help make your case, try to look and behave in a professional manner. Dress well. Use good manners and keep emotional control. Speak carefully. The consular officer will be suspicious of a prepared, memorized speech. The consular officer will be suspicious of vague answers. Try to answer honestly, directly, and briefly. You may not speak English well enough to make your case, and your consular officer may not speak your language. In that case, you can ask for an interpreter.
If you feel that the interview is not going well or that you will be denied your visa, ask the consular official to suggest what you could bring in the future to help you succeed in getting a visa. Do not display negative emotion as that could hurt your future chances.
If you follow the guidelines above, you will have a better chance of securing the student visa on your first attempt. Of course, there are no guarantees. If you fail, reapply as soon as possible and try again. We have students who did not succeed in getting the visa on the first attempt, but they persevered and finally achieved their goal!
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Last updated or reviewed on 1/22/15