Every year, many students travel to the United States of America to study there. In most cases, it is not necessary to apply for a visa to travel to the United States. In general, the ESTA that can be applied for online is sufficient. However, a student visa is required for an internship or study in the USA. An ESTA is not suitable for this purpose.
The ESTA is easier, cheaper and faster to apply for than a US visa, but is only suitable for a holiday, business trip, transfer or visit to friends or family, not for an internship or study. A B1 visa, B2 visa or B1/B2 visa will not suffice either. Anyone who is going to study or do an internship in the USA needs a specific student visa.
The F-visa is intended for foreign students who will be studying at a recognised American institution. An M-visa is suitable for foreign students who will be taking part in a nonacademic study programme. These include evening classes, vocational training or attending classes in non-academic technical education. Both variants can also be applied for for the spouse and children of the traveller.
For a short recreational training or course, such as a two-day cooking class, there is no need to apply for a student visa. In this case, an ESTA is sufficient, as the course is secondary to the main purpose of the trip, i.e. enjoying a holiday.
Application procedure US visa
Student visas (both F and M visas) cannot be obtained online. This requires a visit to the US embassy or consulate. Applying for a US visa therefore takes more time than applying for an ESTA. It is important to apply for the visa on time. The USA issues more than 185 different types of visas and the rules and conditions are constantly changing. Before applying for a US visa, carefully read the information on the websites of the American government and embassy.
To apply for a student visa to the USA, the visa application form (DS-160) must be filled out first. Travellers between the ages of 13 and 80 must then complete a mandatory interview, which includes questions about the traveller, his or her family, and the purpose of travel. The application must be accompanied by two recent passport photos, a passport that is valid for at least six more months after the departure date and a number of proofs (e.g. of health insurance).
Other preparations for studying in the United States
Start in time with the preparations for your stay abroad. Besides the fact that a student has to arrange a visa before departure, other preparations have to be made in order to be able to study at one of the popular educational institutions in the USA. The government recommends starting this process about a year before departure.
Choosing an educational institution: In the United States, no distinction is made between higher education and university education. However, the educational institutions differ enormously in terms of level, content and quality. Check with other students who have previously taken classes at the relevant institution. This may help in making an informed choice. If the stay is part of the study in the UK or Ireland, there is a good chance that the student will be assigned to an educational institution in the USA.
Choosing subjects: Browse through the websites of American educational institutions to get a good impression of the subjects on offer. The subjects to be taken must be approved by the institution in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Depending on the study load, the number of credits per subject is determined. For the recognition of the results obtained upon return, the student needs an overview of the courses with the corresponding grades or results (a transcript of records). This transcript must be certified by the educational institution in the USA.
Registering for the programme: The exact start and end of the academic year is determined by the educational institution. Usually, the academic year in the US starts in August and ends in May or June. The deadline for applying is often somewhere between October and December prior to the academic year. Check the website of the educational institution to see how the application procedure works and what the application deadline is.
Providing documents: Depending on the educational institution and the programme, the educational institution in the USA has certain admission requirements for incoming exchange students. Depending on these admission requirements, certain documents have to be provided as well. For example, a certain level of English is normally required, which has to be demonstrated by means of an official test, the most well known of which is the TOEFL test (Test of English as a Foreign Language).
Apply for a scholarship: A stay abroad often involves high costs for the flight, rent, living expenses, the visa and the study itself. To limit the costs of your stay in the USA, it is recommended applying for a scholarship. There are several scholarships for study, internships or research abroad offered by the government, the EU, the educational institution and private foundations and companies. Compare the fees, application deadlines and requirements of the various scholarships well in advance of your departure. In order to qualify for a scholarship, you will usually need to provide certain documents before, during and after your stay.
Arranging accommodation: In most cases, accommodation is provided by the educational institution. It is also possible to arrange a student room or flat online or through an intermediary agency. Another option is to live with a host family.
Once you have arranged all that, you are well set to enjoy an unforgettable adventure in the USA!