Once you have been admitted to an American university, the next step to preparing to go to the US is to get your visa.
Generally speaking, the process for UK citizens to apply for a visa to study in the US is straightforward if you complete the necessary forms and steps in a timely and accurate manner. You may be interested to know the US Department of State and US Embassy London welcome visa applications from international students. In fact, the US Department of State issued 715,093 student, exchange and vocational visas in the fiscal year 2010. This translates to a worldwide acceptance rate of over 87%.
Most students pursuing full-time study at an educational institution recognized by the US government will enter the US on an F-1 Student Visa. Spouses or children accompanying F-1 visa recipients will travel on an F-2 visa.
Read the information provided by the US Embassy London on F-1 Student Visas
Once you accept an offer of admission, your university or sponsor will require proof of funds (bank statements, scholarship offer letters, loan documentation, etc.) for the first year of study. This figure will be based on the cost of attendance listed on the financial aid webpage of the university. Please note you may use any combination of personal/family savings, scholarships and loans to fund your studies; however, you will not be able to include anticipated earnings during your studies (i.e. working on campus). If you will be taking dependents (i.e. children, spouse) to the US, you will be required to show funds to cover their living expenses as well.
The university will then send you the relevant certificate of eligibility form, the I 20 (F-1).
Upon receipt of the I-20 (or even before), you may book by phone an appointment for a visa interview at the US Embassy in London or if applicable in your home country. For more information read the U.S Embassy London Page for non-UK citizens. You will schedule your interview for a morning or afternoon timeslot. Although the interview itself will be brief, allow 3-4 hours for the full process.
Complete the SEVIS I-901 form to register with the international visitor database. You can fill out the form online, but you will need the I-20 before you can complete the form. You will also need to pay the SEVIS fee ($200 for an F visa). You can pay online using a debit or credit card. For more information about the SEVIS program, please see the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
All applicants for F-1 visas are required to complete the new online DS-160 visa form and pay the visa application fee ($140) for yourself. You can begin the application up to 120 days prior to your entry to the US. On the DS-160, you will be asked to upload a digital, US-sized passport photo (use a proper photo following the instructions provided - i.e. not an informal Facebook photo). You should also save often, as the system times out after several minutes. Additionally, be sure to include all educational institutions you have attended since age 11 in the Education section, as well as your full criminal background if applicable. You must report all arrests even if you were not formally charged and obtain a police certificate from the Association of Chief Police Officers. See the US Embassy's Video n reporting criminal offenses and their website for more information.
After completing the form, you will be asked to take a print confirmation to your interview. For more information, please note the US Embassy provides a list of FAQ's on the DS-160 form as well as a YouTube video on the form itself and FAQ's.
You may wish to prepare for your visa interview. Student visa applicants should be able to demonstrate three criteria to visa officers:
that you are completing a bona fide degree or study abroad program in the US
that you have funds for the first year of your stay in the US
that your activities are in line with the purpose (and in particular the non-immigrant intent) of the visa you will travel on.
Although the interview is not a document review, you may wish to take documentation to support these criteria, such as a letter of acceptance for your university or study abroad program and the funding documentation you submitted to receive your I-20 or DS-2019 (photocopies or printouts of online bank statements are OK). Be prepared to answer questions about your reasons for studying in the US, to describe your program, to discuss why you selected the particular university/program, what your long-term goals are, how studying in the US fits in with these goals and your plans after you leave the US.
For the final criterion, visa applicants are assumed to be intending to immigrate to the US and overstay their visas. You will therefore need to prove to the immigration officer that you do not intend to overstay your visa. You will be asked to demonstrate your significant personal, cultural or professional ties to the UK, the country to which you would presumably return after your studies. For example, you may be able to demonstrate this by having family in the UK, owning property, having a UK degree to return to (for short-term study abroad students), etc. However, please note that these do not always guarantee a visa. For this reason, some international students choose to complete their visa interview in their home country where they have more ties and where immigration officers will be trained in evaluating ties to that country.
See the US Embassy's page for non-UK citizens as you decide where to apply for your visa.
Before your appointment, read the US Embassy's information on Security Information and plan your journey to the Embassy. Gather the documents you need for your interview, such as your passport, appointment letter, I-20/DS-2019, MRV receipt, DS-160, photo, SEVIS receipt, etc. Also, be sure to bring at least £4 in coins just in case you need to retake your passport photo.
Watch the US Embassy's YouTube video on what to expect on arrival to the Embassy. On arrival, you will go through security procedures similar to what you would expect at an airport. Travel light, as you are not allowed to take in electronics (iPods, phones, laptops, etc).
You will then wait until your number is called for an initial processing procedure called intake. You will submit your visa application, passport and photo, as well as have your fingerprints taken. If your DS-160 is not completed correctly, you will be sent home and have to reschedule your appointment.
You will then wait again until your number is called for your actual visa interview. Although the interview itself may only take a few minutes, you may be at the Embassy for a few hours in total. You may wish to take a book or magazine to read while you wait.
You will leave your passport with the US Embassy after the appointment. Expect to receive your visa and passport within an average of 5 - 7 working days. Average visa waiting times are available online. If needed, expedited delivery service can be purchased, and the Embassy can schedule an emergency appointment.
After you receive your visa, book your travel to the US. F-1 visa holders may enter the US 30 days prior to the start date on their I-20 and stay on 60 days following the date of completion of your program listed on the I-20.
If for some reason your visa is refused, please see the information on the US Embassy's website on visa refusals.
Apply if you think you're good enough?
Register to view full athlete profiles including: