International Student Services

Division of Student Life

How to Get a Student Visa

F-1 and J-1 Visa Application Process

Once you have been issued and received your I-20 or DS-2019, you are ready to begin applying for your visa. A visa permits entry into the United States and is granted by an official of the U.S. Department of State, located in an embassy or consulate in your home country. Degree-seeking students attending Reed for four years will attend Reed on an F-1 student visa category, and exchange students (one semester or one year) will attend in the J-1 student visa category.

Current High School or College International Students

If you are an international student studying at a U.S. high school or college on an F-1 or J-1 visa, you should contact the ISS office about transferring your SEVIS record to Reed by completing this F-1 Transfer form. Transferring your student record simplifies the immigration process and may prevent the need to obtain a new visa. Students in this situation should contact ISS as soon as possible.

SEVIS Fee Payment

The preliminary step before applying for your visa involves payment of the SEVIS fee, which is $350 for F-1 students and $220 for J-1 students. You will pay the SEVIS fee online at this website.

If you are in F-1 or J-1 status at another school and your SEVIS record will be transferred to Reed, you do not have to pay the SEVIS fee again.

Important: If you are a citizen of a country exempt from the requirement to have a visa to enter the United States (e.g., Canada), you still have to pay the SEVIS fee and provide proof of that payment at the U.S. port of entry along with your I-20 or DS-2019.

You cannot pay the SEVIS fee at a U.S. embassy, consulate, or port of entry. The fee must be paid online with the information as noted on your Reed-issued I-20 or DS-2019.

Applying for Your Visa

There are several steps to apply for a visa. The order of these steps vary between embassies and consulates. Please consult the instructions available on the embassy or consulate website where you intend to apply. As you prepare for your visa, we recommend reviewing the information on the following websites:

In general, you will need to do the following:

  1. Complete the Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160
  2. Schedule an interview
    • Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category.
    • Review the interview wait time for your location and apply for your visa early.
  3. Prepare for your interview
    • Pay the non-refundable visa application fee, if you are required to pay it before your interview.
    • Check out our visa interview tips (see link below)!

Important note: Student (F) visas for new students can be issued up to 120 days in advance of the start date for a course of study. However, your visa allows you to enter the U.S. no earlier than 30 days prior to your program start date, which is the first day of International Student Orientation. Please arrange your travel accordingly.

Tips for a Successful Visa Interview

Ties to Your Home Country

Be prepared to discuss ties to your home country in your interview with the consular officer. “Ties” to your home country are the things that bind you to your hometown, homeland, or current place of residence. For example, job, family, financial prospects that you own or will inherit, investments, etc.


Anticipate that the interview will be conducted in English. If English is not your native language, you may want to try to practice this conversation with a native speaker before the interview.

Speak for Yourself

Do not bring anyone to an interview. The interview will be between you and a consular officer only. You are the one who will need to answer all of their questions.

Know the Program and How It Fits Your Career Plans

You will need to be prepared to answer the questions about the program you chose to study in the United States. You should also be able to explain how studying in the U.S. relates to your future professional career in your home country.

Be Concise

All consular officers are under time pressure to conduct a quick and efficient interview. They must make a decision on the impressions they form during the first minute or two of the interview. Answer the questions clearly and in a few words. Be brief but comprehensive.

Supporting Documentation

It should be immediately clear to the consular officer what written documents you are presenting and what they mean. Lengthy written explanations cannot be read quickly or evaluated. Remember that you will have 2-3 minutes of interview time, if you are lucky. Supporting documentation will depend on your particular situation, so it is best to review the consulate's website. However, there are a few supporting documents that are common among all students, such as financial documentation, admission letter(s), and scholarship letters. Students should be prepared to take all documentation proving their financial ability to stay in the United States such as scholarships, assistantships or other letters issued by the school, sponsor or other organization.


Your main purpose in coming to the United States should be to study, rather than for the opportunity to work before or after graduation. While many students work on- or off-campus during their studies, such employment is incidental (secondary/optional) to their main purpose of completing their U.S. education. You must be able to clearly explain your plan to return home at the end of your program.

Different Requirements for Different Countries

Applicants from countries suffering economic problems, or from countries where many students have remained in the United States as immigrants, will have more difficulty getting a visa. Applicants from those countries are more likely to be asked about job opportunities at home after their study in the United States.

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Do not engage the consular officer in an argument. If you are denied a visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring in order to overcome the refusal, and try to get the reason you were denied in writing.

And always be honest and confident in your answers!

List of Key Immigration Terms

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The role of DHS is to secure the United States against terrorism and other potential threats.

Department of State (DOS)

The Department of State coordinates, manages, and reviews all visa applications to the United States, in addition to running the J-1 exchange visitor program.


DS-2019 is a paper record of a J-1 student’s information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). DS-2019, “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status (J-Nonimmigrant),” is required to apply for a J-1 visa.

Duration of Status

The period of time for which F-1 and J-1 visa holders are admitted to the United States. The end of status is the program end date on the Form I-20 or DS-2019 or the date the student stops maintaining status—whichever comes first.

F-1 Visa

Nonimmigrants apply for an F-1 visa in order to enter the United States to attend a college or university. An F-1 student must have a current visa stamp in their passport in order to enter the United States (with the exception of Canadian citizens who are exempt from applying for the visa, although an I-20 and proof of paying the SEVIS I-901 fee is still required).

Form I-20

Form I-20 is a paper record of an F-1 student’s information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant  (F-1) Student Status—for Academic and Language Students,” is required to apply for an F-1 visa.

Form I-94

The electronic record of a nonimmigrant's arrival and departure, which is maintained by DHS. Once you are in the U.S., you can view your I-94.

Port of Entry (POE)

The airport, land border crossing, or port through which entry is made into the United States. This is NOT your final destination, if you made connections within the U.S., but rather the specific location where you went through customs.

Principal Designated School Official (PDSO) and Designated School Officials (DSOs)

The PDSO and DSOs are on-campus school representatives who provide advice on F-1 visa regulations and maintain student records in SEVIS.

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)

SEVP is a part of the National Security Investigations Division. On behalf of DHS, SEVP manages schools, nonimmigrant students in F and M visa classifications, and their dependents.

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

The online database that DHS uses to maintain information on SEVP-certified schools and the F-1, J-1, and M-1 students who come to the United States to attend those schools.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

The component of DHS that oversees lawful immigration and the employment of non-citizens in the United States.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

The component of DHS charged with safeguarding U.S. borders.

U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions

Applicants for visas to enter the United States must do so according to the rules of the embassy or consulate at which they apply.