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Which Visa Do I Need to Study in the U.S.?

Robyn Stewart

Written by Robyn Stewarton September 26th, 2018

Prior to joining College Coach, I was a financial aid officer at the College of the Holy Cross and an education advisor at two TRIO program locations. I work with the Massachusetts Education Finance Authority (MEFA) to present paying for college workshops to hundreds of families across the state. I'm a graduate of UMass Amherst and have a master in counseling from Northeastern University.
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Fun fact: There are approximately 185 different types of visas in the U.S.! These 185 visa classifications break down into two main categories: non-immigrant for individuals who are here on temporary stays, and immigrant for individuals who will reside permanently in the U.S. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. Students who are applying to study in the USA typically do so from their home country and the purpose of their intended travel (along with other factors) determines which visa is issued. Before you can apply for a student visa, you need to be accepted by an American college or university. Whether your goal is a full degree or a short-term study abroad program, the visa application is a must. As a visa applicant, you will need to establish and document that you successfully meet all requirements. Here are some of the visas that allow students to study in the U.S. The first two are the most common classifications, but families often ask us about the additional ones we have included below. Some of these apply to the many international students already residing in the U.S. on other classifications (based on a parent’s situation) who want to remain in the country to study. F Visa The F visa is the most common classification for international students who will be full-time students pursuing an academic degree at a U.S. accredited college or university, or those who want to study English at a university or an intensive English language institution. One of the benefits of the F visa is the option to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT allows students the chance to temporarily work in their field of study while they are in the U.S. For students who begin their program of studies under a different visa status, the chance to participate in OPT is often the reason they apply for a change of visa status. J Visa The J visa is the designated category for exchange visitors or scholars who are planning on studying in the U.S. through a specific education exchange program (e.g. Fulbright). Similar to students who are F visa holders, students on a J visa must also document adequate proof of funding to cover college costs. The key difference for students in this category is that the majority of documented funding (also called certification of finances) must come from a university of government sponsor rather than personal funds or family support. B Visa The B visa is granted to visitors—individuals who are in the U.S. for only a short time—either for business or pleasure. Students are able to pursue vocational or recreational programs of study under this classification. Many students take short term English language classes in the States this way. L Visa The L visa isn’t a true student visa, but rather a visa that is given to individuals who are considered intra-company transfers. This means that you work for a foreign company but will be allowed to reside and work in the U.S. at a different branch of your home company. The employer has to file for this visa on your behalf. If you have an L visa based on a parent who is working in the U.S., you are able to study at a post-secondary institution. O Visa The O visa is given to workers who are deemed to have extraordinary abilities in a variety of fields (arts, athletics, business, education, motion pictures or television industry, etc.) and have received national and international recognition for those particular talents and achievements. Students who are in the U.S. based on a parent’s O visa are able to study at a post-secondary institution. H1B Visa An H1B visa is designated as a work visa. If you are currently in the U.S. on a parent’s H visa, you are able to study in the USA. One drawback to this status is that students are not able to take advantage of work opportunities, including curricular practical training and optional practical training. We suggest that students contact their local embassy/consulate for more information regarding the visa process. Additionally, students should contact the international admissions and student affairs offices at each of the schools on their list so they can identify the necessary documents and timeline for successfully obtaining the appropriate visa. International-CTA


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