Just received your Admit Letter for a Masters in the US? Congratulations! You’re on your way to your dream school.
No matter how much time you put into your application, that admit letter is only the beginning. There are several more steps you need to take including getting your U.S. study visa.
If you’re planning an international grad school education, there are tons of logistical decisions ahead.
How will you finance your degree and manage your expenses? Where will you live? How will you get there?
And, on top of it all, you must be able to enter US in the first place – and that requires an international student visa.
Applying for an international student visa isn’t hard, but it’s a lengthy process that necessitates, among other things, proof of funding for the entire duration of your degree course. You must demonstrate the ability to finance the entire Cost of Attendance (CoA). This includes tuition and academic fees plus living expenses during your course of study.
To simplify your visa application, we’ve put together a step-by-step list to secure your study visa for the US.
Once you accept a position in a US college or university, you’ll receive an I-20 form from the school. It’s an official US government document issued by certified institutions that international (non US citizens or residents) students must have to obtain an F-1 student visa. The I-20 form officially defines your relationship with the university and outlines your tuition fees and estimated living expenses.
You will need to present your I-20 form at the US Embassy (or Consulate) when applying for your F-1 visa. You’ll also need your I-20 form to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee and upon entry into the United States.
Once you’ve received your I-20 form, you’ll need to secure funding for the entire CoA. There are multiple ways for students to finance their Masters degree including bursaries, scholarships, gifts from family or friends, and personal savings. The majority of students also require educational loans, either from banks or independent lenders.
Unfortunately, international students are not eligible for majority of the available educational loans in the United States, as lenders typically require local co-signors. However, there are a few options available in the US, depending on the programme and institution. And, international students may receive offers from banks in their home country or through borderless lenders.
To compare available student loan products, look at the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) rather than simple interest rates, as it provides the total cost of financing (including the effects of fees and compounding interest over time). Also study other loan features such as grace periods, repayment schedules, and funding model for a better overall loan experience.
Once you’ve secured your funding, you’ll need to complete an online application. You’ll be required to upload a photograph and pay a fee to complete your application.
Be sure to include the US Consulate or Embassy where you wish to be interviewed on this form. It’s important that you choose the right one as you cannot change locations once the form has been submitted. If you’re unsure of your options, please check the US government’s student visa page.
Once you’ve scheduled your appointment, you’ll have to gather supporting documents for presentation at your interview, including a valid passport, your admit letter and I-20 form. You may also need your past academic transcripts, standardized test results and more. Check with the consulate or embassy before arrival as you will only have one shot to demonstrate your reliability to the American government.
During your interview, your consular officer will try to determine if you are a suitable candidate for an F-1 student visa. Applicants that cannot demonstrate significant ties to their home country will be denied, as the American government issues student visas to those that show intent to leave the country at the end of their studies. Read more about the US visa interview questions you may encounter.
This does not mean that your plans cannot change if you are offered a position with an American company during your course of study; it means that you can and will be able to return home, rather than become a financial dependent of the US government.
Finally, you will also be fingerprinted as further proof of identification (though, occasionally, this is done at an external centre; your interviewer will inform you if this is the case).
If all goes as planned, you’ll be receiving your US student visa a few weeks later.
Once you have your visa, you’ll be on your way to pastures anew. Just remember that you cannot leave it to chance. International study visas are a privilege, not a right (Read What circumstances can lead to your Student Visa being cancelled and how can you get it reinstated?). And, a little foresight goes a long way. By planning in advance and ensuring that you have your documents and funding in order, you’re giving yourself a better chance of success. Remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Author Bio: Rishabh Goel is an Associate Relationship Manager at Prodigy Finance. He studied Economics & Engineering at BITS & Masters at London Business School. He has helped Indians excel at GMAT/GRE and mentored students to attend top schools globally. Rishabh is passionate about borderless FinTech, previously working at TransferWise. He is a Sachin Tendulkar fan and would do (literally!) anything to have a coffee chat with him.