In order to maintain good status as an international student, you must carry a full course of study (12 credits undergraduate or 9 credits graduate), have a valid passport and visa, and refrain from off-campus employment without permission from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Certificate of Eligibility (I-20)
Upon receiving your registration deposit and once you have provided proof of financial support for your tuition and fees, Seton Hill will send you a Certificate of Eligibility (I-20). You must present this document along with your passport to the Consular Section of a U.S. Embassy or Consul to obtain an F-1 student visa necessary to study in the United States. You cannot study in the United States on a tourist visa.
Obtaining a Student Visa
Typically, U.S. Consulates allow students to apply for the F-1 student visa no sooner than 90 days before the "start date" indicated on the I-20. Issuance of the visa can take from one week to several months. May through August are the busiest months for student visas, so we recommend you begin the process as soon as you can. Some Consulates may require a 30-day waiting period to conduct a background check. Do not wait until the last minute.
Most U.S. Consulates require that your passport be valid for at least six months after the date you plan to enter the U.S.
Most U.S. Consulates have very strict requirements about how you can submit your visa application. Some have a "drop box"; some require that you mail the application; some require that you use a visa service or travel agent.
Your Visa Application
What do visa officers look for when you apply for an F-1 student visa?
- Evidence of your ability and intention to be a full-time student at Seton Hill University. You will be required to present certain documents:
- Certificate of Visa Eligibility (the I-20 Form).
- Official acceptance letter from Seton Hill University.
- Academic transcripts (with high marks).
- TOEFL score reports, or other standardized test scores (SAT or ACT). Note: It is good to take these standardized tests even if not required by your institution, since U.S. Consulates reserve the right to ask for these, regardless of university requirements.
The officer may also check to see if you are prepared to successfully complete your studies for the major to which you have been admitted. If they doubt that you will succeed at Seton Hill in the major/department you have indicated, they can reject your visa application.
- Evidence that you have adequate financial resources to pay for your studies and living expenses while in the U.S., without needing a job while in the U.S.
You must demonstrate sufficient financial resources by showing the visa officer your financial documents. If you are receiving a scholarship, be sure that your award letter is printed on official Seton Hill University letterhead paper. Some consulates require bank statements, past tax statements, company letters, employment contracts, etc. Some consulates require that you show evidence of funds for all years of study; others require only one year. Some require an actual bank draft for the amount listed on the I-20. Be absolutely sure that the documents are prepared and presented in exactly the manner required (for example, if they say "original only," that means no copies, no certified copies, no notarized copies, etc.)
- Evidence that you intend to visit the U.S. only to study; certainty that you do not intend to immigrate to the U.S.
This can be the most difficult requirement. U.S. Consular visa officers are required by law to assume that you intend to immigrate to the U.S., and that, therefore, they should reject your visa application. You must show documentation of "strong ties" to your home country and legitimate, self-serving reasons to return home after graduation. "Strong ties" are things that bind you to your homeland: future job, family, financial prospects, property that you will inherit, investments, etc.
Your Visa Interview
If you are required to have a personal interview, what can you expect? What kinds of questions might you be asked? Here are some tips and examples.
Things To Do
- Come to the interview well groomed and dressed neatly (but a suit or formal dress is not required).
- Come to the interview prepared with all of the forms and documents as specified in the consulate's instructions. Have them organized neatly and logically.
- Be prepared for quick, rapid-fire questions from the visa officer, and keep your answers short and direct.
- Practice your conversational English. Speak clearly and with the appropriate volume.
- Do not argue. Maintain a positive attitude. Be friendly and courteous.
- Do not memorize your answers.
- The interview will almost always be conducted in English and will be very short (probably 2-3 minutes).
- Family members, friends or representatives cannot attend the interview with you in most cases.
- The visa officer will render his/her decision immediately when the interview is finished.
Examples of Possible Questions from the Visa Officer
- What is/was your high school (secondary school) GPA (grade point average)?
- Graduate students: What is/was your university GPA?
- Did you apply to local universities? If not, why not?
- If yes, why aren't you going to a local university?
- How many U.S. schools did you apply to?
- How many U.S. schools accepted you?
- Why did you apply to Seton Hill?
- Did you do a lot of research about Seton Hill? What is so good about Seton Hill?
- Why did you choose Seton Hill? Name five things about Seton Hill that made you decide to choose it.
- Why didn't you choose the other universities?
- What do you want to study? What's your major? Why did you choose it?
- What do you expect to gain from your education?
- What's the job scope (job market) for this major?
- Do you plan to stay in the U.S. after graduation and work?
- Would you like to stay in the U.S. after graduation in order to work?
- Do you have family in the U.S.?
- Do you have family members that studied in the U.S. and then returned to your home country?
- Does your family own any homes, businesses or property in the U.S.?
- Does your family have any funds (bank accounts, money markets, stocks, etc.) in the U.S.?
- How do you and your family plan to finance your education in the U.S.?
Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) Fee
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a web-based system for maintaining information on international students and exchange visitors in the United States. Federal law requires that Seton Hill University regularly enter data about all F-1 and J-1 (work-and-study-based exchange visa) students into SEVIS.
Those who wish to enter the United States either as a student or an exchange visitor with a Form I-20 or DS-2019 dated on or after September 1, 2004 are required to pay a fee. SEVIS is also used to record and track the fee payment.
The fee is $200 for F-1 and J-1 visa holders. It can be paid to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by mail, online or in person and must be accompanied by a Form I-901. Find the Form I-901 (SEVIS Fee Application) at www.fmjfee.com. Complete the form online and supply the necessary Visa, MasterCard or American Express information. Be sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your I-20 form. The fee can be paid by you or by a third party, inside or outside the U.S.
Any changes in an F-1, J-1 or M-1 (non-academic or “vocational” study visa) student's personal and academic status must be reported through the SEVIS system, administered by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
When do prospective students or exchange visitors pay the SEVIS Fee?
- Applicants who require a visa to enter the United States must pay the SEVIS fee before going to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate for their visa interview.
- Applicants who are citizens of Canada, Bermuda, Bahamas and residents of certain other islands wishing to apply for F-1 or J-1 status at a Port of Entry (POE) into the United States must pay and process the SEVIS fee before appearing at the Port of Entry.
- Nonimmigrants currently in the United States who apply for student or exchange visitor status must pay the fee prior to filing their change of status application.
- The interviewing consular/ POE officer will confirm payment by accessing SEVIS. To allow for adequate processing time the fee must be paid at least three business days prior to the visa interview/POE appearance date.