Applying for your student visa to study in the United States can seem overwhelming. In this article, U.S. consular officers provide straightforward guidance on the process.
From April 2021 to January 2022, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India saw over 120,000 student visa applicants, and the vast majority are now studying in the United States. Collage by Qasim Raza, photographs from Getty Images and U.S. Embassy New Delhi
This year, tens of thousands of Indians will attend student visa interviews at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the U.S. Consulates General in Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. Most will go on to pursue their education in the United States. Many will complete internships at top multinational corporations, and some will undoubtedly pursue careers as specialized workers under the H-1B program.
To set off on a journey of academic success in the United States, you first need to secure admission to a U.S. university. Not sure where you want to study? Luckily, there are many resources to help you. For instance, we work closely with the U.S.-India Educational Foundation (USIEF) to help interested students. USIEF offers videos, no-cost advising sessions and more. Some USIEF counselors have even studied in the United States. Please reach out to them!
Once you have found your school, you will need a visa to enter the United States to begin your studies. You have probably heard stories about what visa officers want to see in applicants and the questions asked during the interview. Here’s the truth: the qualifications that we use to approve student visas are straightforward and come directly from the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act. The most important of those criteria are:
You must prove you have been accepted at a university. Bring your approved Form I-20 and ensure that you have paid your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee.
You must demonstrate that the only reason you want to go to the United States is to complete your course of study. If your actual purpose of travel is to work in the United States, you should consider the H-1B temporary worker program—not a student visa.
You must prove that you’ll return to your home country when you finish your education. Note: approved Optional Practical Training (OPT) completed after you graduate is allowed.
You must prove that you can afford the education. We know that many families save money for decades to send students to study in the United States. We don’t need a huge stack of bank documents, but you should understand how you will pay for the program. If your family members are contributing to educational expenses, those funds should be mentioned as well. Be sure you know how much the program costs, including living costs, while you’re studying and how you will be able to afford all years you are in the United States.
You might be asking, “what makes for a standout interview?” First, make sure you’re answering the question that was asked! If an officer asks you what is one class that you’re particularly excited about taking and you respond, “This school is ranked 13th in New Jersey by U.S. News,” that’s going to raise some questions. If you didn’t hear or understand the question, it’s okay to ask for it to be repeated! Second, show us that you’re passionate about what you’re studying, and that you can clearly connect the dots between your current experience and the program you’ve chosen. If you used to be an engineer but now want to study management, be ready to explain exactly how you came to that decision and why your background prepares you for the field.
Remember to be yourself and to be genuine. We need to know that you intend to be a student and are prepared to complete the degree you’ve chosen. Rather than recite facts about the school, tell us what influenced your decision to attend. A memorized answer from a coach about the school ranking and flexible curriculum isn’t going to tell us that; only your honest answers will demonstrate it.
Many students might think they need a consultant to help them prepare for their visa interview. In reality, you don’t. It’s easy for consular officers to tell when a student has been to a coach or consultant because these students have usually memorized the same prepared answers. Consular officers interview hundreds of students a week (sometimes a day!), and if their answers all sound the same, it makes it harder to believe their explanations. By focusing on your own interests and reasons for studying in the United States you’ll be better prepared to get through the visa interview and excel in your future studies!
Here are a few closing observations, from those of us who have interviewed thousands of Indian students, to help you get ready for the interview:
Prepare, but don’t over-prepare: Many applicants approach the interview window and recite a highly scripted speech. But we’re not evaluating your memory. We also understand that not everyone who studies in the United States is a perfect student with perfect test scores or perfect grades. We want to hear the passion in your voice when you explain why you chose this university and degree.
Stay confident: You will be nervous. The waiting room will be busy. Visa officers often won’t make small talk. Your interview could be over in as little as 60 seconds. Come to the window and take a deep breath. You have worked hard in your decision to pursue higher education and it is okay to show that. We love to hear about the determination, preparation and grit that got you to this point. Try to speak loudly and clearly. You CAN do this!
To stay calm for your interview it might help to remember that U.S. visa officers were once students, too. Although most of us never interviewed for U.S. visas, many of us did have to interview for university acceptance, as well as for our jobs. We know what it feels like to not succeed in such interviews. Needless to say, our hardest rejections are the hopeful, bright-eyed students. We root for them, but we must apply the law. By reviewing the qualifications and preparing yourself through study or work, you can absolutely find yourself walking across campus in the United States, ready for the next chapter of your life.
Here is the best news: We are approving more student visas than ever before. From April 2021 to January 2022, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India saw over 120,000 student visa applicants, and the vast majority are now studying in the United States. It was a record-breaking year. There is no better time to study in the United States. With thoughtful preparation and a clear plan to study, you will have no trouble acing your student visa interview.