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International Student Guide: Incoming Students


Here is the preparation process for new students:

Apply to and receive acceptance from NSA

  • Apply to NSA as normal. All the application information can be found on the NSA website here.
  • Receive and hang on to your acceptance letter! You cannot apply for international student status until you have been officially accepted.
  • Email your contact at NSA and ask them to connect you with one of the designated school officials to begin your international paperwork. Alternatively, you can contact one of the officials directly yourself - their contact information is on the home tab of this guide.

Get your I-20 and pay your I-901 Fee

  • You will receive an email from a DSO as they begin preparing your initial I-20 ("Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status"). They will probably ask for additional pieces of information that may not have been provided on your school application. They will also ask you to provide a financial document or statement with proof that you have the funds necessary to cover your first year of expenses, minus any scholarships you are receiving. This can be a bank statement or some other official document, and the DSO will let you know what minimum amount needs to be shown.
  • Your DSO will then mail you your initial I-20, along with a letter detailing the next step of the process, which is to pay the I-901 processing fee to the Department of Homeland Security. You must sign the I-20 and follow the instructions for paying the processing fee, INCLUDING keeping the payment receipt. Once you have paid the fee, your I-20 is considered official. More detailed information on the I-901 fee can be found here.

Get your student visa

  • Once you have your I-20 and I-901 payment receipt, it is a good idea to visit the website for the embassy or consulate where you intend to apply for a visa, and ensure that you are following the steps they recommend. Some countries do not require you to have a student visa at all; in that case, you will just need to bring your I-20 and I-901 receipt along with your passport when you cross the border.
  • Fill out the visa application (Form DS-160) online here, following any instructions you have found from your embassy. Print the confirmation page and keep it with your records.
  • Pay the visa application fee and keep the receipt with your records.
  • Make an appointment for a visa interview with your local US embassy or consulate. Make sure you allow plenty of time, since it can take a while to get in for an interview.
  • At your interview, you are required to have the following documents:
    •  A valid passport
    • Your visa application (Form DS-160
    • Your visa application fee payment receipt
    • A passport photo
    • Your I-901 payment receipt
    • Your I-20
    • You may also be asked for proof of sufficient funds to cover your first year of school, so bring copies of whatever documentation you provided to the college. You should also bring your acceptance letter from NSA, as well as copies of any standardized test scores, academic transcripts, diplomas, or certificates you have received in order to prove that you are academically capable of entering this program. You can find all the details here.
  • Once your visa application has been officially approved, you can make travel plans!

Entering the US

Gather your documents

  • Once you've made your travel plans, collect the documents you will need to enter the country. The only ones "officially" required are
    • Your visa
    • Your passport
    • Your Form I-20
  • However, it is highly recommended to bring all documentation you brought to your visa interview as well, since the officer at your port of entry may ask for proof of various fee payments, acceptance at a US school, financial viability, etc. More information can be found here.

Start Form I-94

  • At your port of entry, a US customs officer will review your documentation and (hopefully!) approve your entry into the country. He will start your I-94 record (Arrival/Departure Record) and either give you a physical copy (which you should keep with your records) or begin an electronic copy, which you can access online if and when you need it.

Report to your NSA DSO and receive an Active Status I-20

  • Once you have successfully entered the country, you have 30 days to report to NSA and confirm your presence. You should come to the school and meet your DSO as soon as you can, so that they can confirm your arrival in SEVIS and change your status from initial to active. This is also the time to tell your DSO your US address, if you haven't already.
  • Your DSO will issue you a new I-20 listing you as an active status student instead of initial status. This I-20 becomes your new official document once you both sign it, and it is the one you should use in the future.

Maintaining Status

Once you have successfully prepared for and accomplished your arrival in the States, you will still be expected to maintain your F-1 student status to avoid being sent home. Details on maintaining status can be found under the "Current Students" tab of this guide.


Canadian students - your requirements for studying with us are often less rigid, so make sure you contact your local embassy or consulate for full details on what they expect you to have.