International Students

U.S. colleges and universities have long recognized the important contributions of international students to scientific and cultural life in the U.S.  As an international applicant, you are most welcome in the U.S. and its graduate programs!

The immigration process is lengthy and complex.  You will need to begin setting goals and planning more than a year prior to the start of graduate school.

More Than a Year Before Beginning Graduate School

Language Exams

language books

Determine whether the TOEFL iBT or IELTS exam is required by the universities to which you will be applying.

Check the institutional requirements of your prospective graduate schools for additional tests of spoken English. Often, the tests of spoken English are only offered on-campus upon arrival for new student orientation.

Admission to and financial assistance for graduate programs will not be granted until the results of the required exams are received, which may take several months. Sign up for these exams 4-5 months before you need to submit the results. Score reports are available on-line approximately 15 days after you take the test. This varies by country. Score results need to be submitted to your universities by early December if you intend to begin graduate school in August/September. Please check with each of the programs to which you are applying since requirements for individual universities may vary.

Recruiting Tours

Recruiting tours and fairs with many different universities are held in various places around the globe. Fair locations, dates, and times are organized through the U.S. State Department and offer excellent opportunities for students to meet with representatives from U.S. colleges and universities. If you are already in the U.S., you should also take advantage of department visits.

Submitting a Mid-Year Application?

Academic years in the U.S. generally starts in mid-August to early September. Some graduate schools will accept applications to start at other times. Departmental policies, requirements, and application processes, however, may differ substantially from those required for applications to start in mid-August to early September. Ask your graduate admissions office for further details.

After You Have Been Accepted to Graduate School

Your Visa Application

After you have indicated your intention to enroll, your graduate admissions program will submit information to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is an on-line government database for recording information related to your program of study and U.S. immigration status. The institution will provide you with a Form I-20 (F-1 visa) or Form DS-2019

(J-1 visa). The advantages, disadvantages, and eligibility for the two different types of visas are complicated. Please consult with an advising center at the U.S. State Department and/or your university’s international student office since procedures, regulations, and center locations are updated regularly.

For more Visa information, visit the Student and Exchange Visitor Program

Bringing your family?

If dependents, such as a spouse or children, are accompanying you:

  • Provide your graduate program with the SEVIS database information for your dependent family members so that they will also be eligible for visas.
  • Determine whether university plans include coverage for dependent family members.  You may need to obtain separate coverage for them.


Many universities require international students to obtain health insurance for their time in the United States, and many offer an insurance plan for students. Regardless of whether your university requires coverage or not, healthcare costs in the United States can be very expensive and obtaining adequate health insurance coverage for both you and your dependent family members is an important matter. If you are offered a financial package from your university, determine whether it covers the cost of your health insurance premium.

J-1 visa holders and their dependent family members are required by the U.S. State Department to maintain health insurance throughout the duration of their program.

Preparing for Your Visa Interview

You must be fully prepared for your interview since the consular or embassy officer responsible for immigration will make a decision on your specific case at that time.

  • Prior to your visa interview, pay the SEVIS fee associated with your Form I-20 ($200 for an F-1 visa) or Form DS-2019 ($180 for a J-1 visa). Students unable to show a receipt of payment will be immediately turned away from their visa interview.
  • Schedule your interview as far in advance as possible.  You should do this at least two months before your scheduled departure to the U.S., but this process can take much longer depending on your country and circumstances.

All inconsistencies and incomplete information must be addressed before a visa will be granted. For example, all full names of applicants must be identical on the passport and other application forms.

While academic visas are given the highest priority at U.S. consulates, the summer is also the busiest time for these offices. Apply early for your interview.

If you are having trouble with the visa process contact the graduate program to which you have been admitted.  They may be able to provide advice or assistance.

During Your Interview

The immigration officer will be looking for evidence that you intend to return to your home upon completion of your degree. This is required if you wish to be granted a student visa. F-1 and J-1 student visas are both temporary visas to enable study (not long-term employment) in the U.S. Be ready to state how a graduate degree from a U.S. college or university will aid in your professional advancement in your home country.

Bring all documentation to your interview.

Documents You May Need:

  • I-20 or DS-2019 form (also referred to as the Certificate of Eligibility)
  • Test scores
  • Letters from faculty members at the institution you will be attending
  • Official letter of graduate admission
  • SEVIS Fee Payment Receipt
  • Valid passport
  • Extra passport photos
  • Evidence that you can support yourself and your family (if your family is accompanying you) once you reach the U.S. This could include:Bank account statements
    • GTA offer letters
    • Signed letter of financial support from sponsors
    • Grant notification letters
    • Affidavits of support from family with accompanying bank statements

As You Get Ready to Depart for the United States

Your 5 Steps to U.S. Study contains useful pre-departure information which is continuously updated by the U.S. State Department.

Participation in the university’s international student orientation program is mandatory to maintain your visa. All schools must provide these programs for their international students if they have issued Certificates of Eligibility through SEVIS. To maintain your visa status, be sure to also report your arrival to your university’s Office of International Programs.

Estimating Your Living Expenses

Check with your university’s international office to determine the official estimate of living expenses each month for you and your family members.

Making the Move

Practical matters now require your attention:

  • Advise your new department of your travel itinerary
  • Make housing arrangements
  • Familiarize yourself with transportation options
  • Arrange for cell phone coverage in your new region

Reach out to others in your graduate program and other international students.  It will help develop your network, as well as help you make the move.

International student organizations can be a source of information and support as you move to the U.S. and begin your graduate studies.

Scheduling Your Visa Interview?

Paying Your SEVIS fee

Refer to the I-901 SEVIS Fee Payment Tutorial

ACS Committee on Professional Training