It does not matter where the student or school is located, embarking into college life can be an exciting experience. Along with the excitement comes the onboarding process. International students at U.S. universities, however, need to obtain a student visa before they arrive on campus. There are three different types of student visas: the F-1 visa allows international students to enroll at U.S. colleges or universities that offer full-time degree courses (F-1 visas apply to high schools, language programs, and other academic programs as well). The institution must be accredited by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP). Another is the J-1 visa which is available to those who will attend exchange programs at American universities or institutes. These programs must nurture cultural exchange and be approved by the Department of State's (DOS) Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Lastly, an M-1 visa is geared towards students pursuing non-academic or vocational training in the U.S. This training can relate to technical programs such as medical coding, cosmetology, plumbing, or cooking school. The institute conducting the training must be certified by the SEVP. Only 1-2 % of issued student visas pertain to the M-1 visa category. Acceptance is demonstrated by presenting a school issued Form I-20 (i.e., Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status). Form I-20 offers supporting information relating to a student's F or M status (J-1 visa holders have an equivalent document called Form DS-2019 which is issued by the DOS). An F-1 applicant must also be proficient in English, demonstrate an intent to return to his/her home country upon program completion, and present evidence of sufficient financial resources to cover tuition, living expenses, and additional costs as stipulated on Form I-20.

As the F-1 visa application process requires much detailed documentation, applicants should collect and organize all necessary paperwork ahead of time. Applicants should contact their U.S. embassy or consulate for further guidance.

Applicants must complete and electronically submit Form DS-160 (i.e., Online Non-immigrant Visa Application Form) to DOS. The consular officer will evaluate the submitted Form DS-160 along with the information given at applicant's interview to decide on F-1 eligibility. DOS maintains an appointment wait time tool to estimate the wait time for a visa interview appointment at the particular U.S. embassy or consulate. Applicants should schedule the interview as soon as possible because the interviewing officer will evaluate whether the applicant has enough time to travel to the U.S. and attend the first day of the academic program.

Once the interview takes place, the applicant will be asked questions that relate to F-1 visa eligibility. The officer conducting the interview will also ask for evidence demonstrating the applicant's intent to return to his/her home country along with documents showing how the applicant has access to sufficient funds. The applicant will be informed of whether a student visa will be issued once the interview is completed.

If the application is ultimately denied, the embassy's or consulate's website may contain instructions on how to reapply as there is no available appeal process. The applicant could ask the embassy or consulate for clarity on the denial's reasoning to better prepare for the next submission as the denial.

One typical reason for a denial is the applicant's failure to demonstrate sufficient and available financial support. The financial evidence must entail liquid assets. The interviewing officer will not expect someone to have enough liquid assets to cover the entire program's duration though there is an expectation that the applicant can cover the first academic year for such items as tuition, dining, insurance, books, and living expenses. The applicant should also obtain a broader variety of detailed documentation for a subsequent application and interview. Another top reason for a denial is the applicant's inability to convince the officer of his/her intent to repatriate upon program completion. During the interview, the officer will ask about the applicant's family in the U.S., social circles, career plans, bank accounts, and property in the applicant's home country. The applicant should provide written attestations by family members about the applicant's post-graduate plans. The officer may become suspicious, however, if the applicant is unable to give a clear explanation of career plans. The applicant should also mention if she/he intends to marry or buy a home in her/his native country. Also, young graduates should piece together enough documentation to support at least one argument on why they intend to return home beyond their personal relationships.

Other reasons for denials include the applicant's submission of false, misleading, or incorrect documents. For instance, the reviewing officer may raise a red flag if the shared documents do not match with the university's Form I-20 or the completed DS-160 application. Please ensure that the DS-160 application contains all academic and work experience. If any Form I-20 information has changed since the application was submitted or after the visa interview was scheduled, please notify the embassy or consulate of the change immediately and share an updated Form I-20. The applicant's Designated School Official (DSO) may be able to help in this circumstance. Also, if the applicant intends to study a technologically or politically sensitive topic, she/he may need to pass another security clearance. A denial may not occur, but the additional hurdle can delay processing time; the applicant may have to defer admission as a result.

Furthermore, a student visa can be denied due to an applicant's poor academic performance or failure to express sufficient knowledge or interest in the program. Before the interview, the applicant should practice explaining in English about why he/she chose the field of study and the particular U.S. university. Also, a visa application can be rejected if it is considered late. While there is no specific date for filing an application, the applicant should allow up to two months for the information to be reviewed and the interview scheduled. A denial may be issued if the consular officer concludes that the applicant is unable to coordinate travel and participate in the program on the first day. This sort of denial may be resolved if the university can verify how the applicant is still permitted to enroll and register for academic courses at the time the applicant enters the U.S. Another reason behind a visa denial can simply be attributed to an unsatisfactory interview. Interview questions are often quite general, and the interview typically lasts only two to three minutes. An applicant must remain truthful, consistent, and understandable during the interview. Applicants should be prepared to answer questions relating to finances, choice of academic program and university, intent to return home, and academic proficiency. Questions could also relate to international travel and intended post-graduation employment. Mock interviews can also help an applicant for an interview and can help pinpoint weaknesses.

Once an applicant learns of the reason behind a visa denial, steps can be taken to enhance a subsequent submission. However, the goal is to get an approval the first time: consequently, applicants should follow the guidance provided in this article to prepare themselves both in terms of documentation and interview preparation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.