Getting a student visa for the US

Destination USA – welcomes even more students

The United States, with its high concentration of some of the world’s best universities has been a prime study destination for international students. Gaining acceptance to an American university is a challenge in and of itself, but many international students don’t fear acceptance as much as the visa process. 

International students have historically had the perception that the United States has the tightest visa restrictions of all the major study abroad destinations (USA, UK, Australia, etc.). While this may have been true in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, much has changed in recent years. In fact, the number of United States visas issued to international students has increased steadily since 2005, according to statistics reported by the Institute of International Education. What’s more, growing visa restrictions in the United Kingdom and Australia – two of the top study abroad destinations for international students – have moved the USA into a more favorable position with regard to visa processing.  This coupled with the general trend amongst eager colleges and universities in the USA to grow their international student populations puts the US in a great position to continue to welcome even more students to come and study in America.

Getting a student visa – how tough is it?

Over the course of my career in the international education industry I have seen the visa success rate improve dramatically. This is consistent with the general trend of more visas being issued. However, I would also argue that much of this is the result of the increasing professionalism of the educational agencies that prepare our students for their visa process.  Proper preparation is of the utmost importance as consular officers must quickly evaluate your financial and educational background, as well as your study intentions in the USA. Poor preparation can result in an immediate rejection and this can often discourage students from pursuing their goals of study in the USA. To my amazement, each year I have seen students reschedule an interview, better prepare for the questions and receive a visa – even after the third try!

The purpose of visa interviews:

The questions you will be asked in your interview will be used to determine the following:

  • Whether the only reson for your travel is to pursue higher education in the USA
  • Whether you have the ability and intention to be a full-time student at university in the USA
  • Whether you possess adequate funds to cover all tuition, living and incidental expenses
  • Whether you have sufficiently strong social and economic attachment to your home country to compel your departure from the US upon receiving your US degree.
  • Whether you are telling the truth

Sample interview questions:

  1. Tell me why you want to go to America?
  2. Why did you choose this University? How many other universities did you apply to?
  3. What is your academic background and why do your want to pursue this degree?
  4. What does the program you have applied to offer?
  5. Can you tell me some details about your university?
  6. Can you name some professors that will teach your courses?
  7. What is meant by “Internship” on the I-20?
  8. Do you want to work in the US?
  9. How do you plan on paying the university fees?
  10. Why don’t you study for this degree in your home country?
  11. What are your plans after graduation?
  12. How will a US degree help you in your career, or benefit you upon return to your country?
  13. Have you taken GRE, GMAT or TOEFL? If not, why not?
  14. Have you received any scholarships? Why?
  15. Have you taken any student loans? Who is sponsoring your education?

How to prepare for a US visa interview

Students and their parents must follow the guidelines listed on the US government website: travel.state.gov to make sure that all of their documents are in order. Students must know what purpose the documents they submit serve, how to answer questions related to these documents and most importantly how to present their study plan to the consular officer. Students with lower English language ability may tend to memorize responses to questions they think they will be asked. This is not necessarily a bad strategy, but often students get nervous and don’t listen to the question. Don’t be afraid to ask that the interviewer repeat the question id you do not understand it at first. The best advice on how to prepare is to:

  • make sure all your supporting documents are in order
  • understand the decision you are making to study in the USA
  • know how to logically explain your study plan to the consular officer
  • most importantly, stay calm, listen to the questions
  • be honest in your answers

Have confidence in yourself and you’ll do just fine!

Some important links:

Frequently asked questions about getting a student visa for the USA

US Department of State website

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