If you live overseas and are thinking about sending your child to private school in the United States, pay attention to the following five admissions tips for international students. I am assuming that you are not American citizens or green card holders and that English is not your first language. Many students from countries outside the United States want to attend American private schools. International students make up about 15% of the student population in American boarding schools, according to The Association of Boarding Schools.
The I-20 Form
Be aware that not every private school is certified by the United States Immigration Service to accept foreign students. Why is that important? Always confirm that the school in which you are interested is a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school. If the school is not SEVP-certified to accept foreign students, it will be unable to issue the form I-20 which is the first step in applying for and obtaining a Student Visa from the U.S. Immigration Service. Once you have received the I-20 from the school which you have chosen to attend, you will pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) Fee. The Immigration Service will not allow your child into the United States as a student without the proper paperwork. If in doubt, ask the school if it can issue the I-20 form. Do not assume anything.
Pay Attention to The Deadlines
Applying for admission to an American boarding school requires that you stay organized and on top of deadlines throughout the admissions process. If you are not an American citizen, you will need a student visa to enter and stay in the United States in order to attend the private school which accepts you. Getting approvals for a student visa takes time, typically 3-4 months. It also requires detailed documentation in support of your application. If you run into any difficulties, I recommend that you consult in your locality with an immigration attorney who specializes in United States Immigration matters.
Here are some points to consider:
1. Complete and submit your school application.
You must follow the customary admissions process for each private school to the letter. That includes submitting academic transcripts and teacher recommendations as well as scheduling an interview. U.S. schools will schedule interviews in person with a visiting school representative whenever possible. Many schools also use Skype or other video conferencing programs to interview parents and students. Be sure to register for TOEFL and the standardized admissions test which the school uses.
Once the school decides to accept you, it will give you a Form I-20 which allows you to apply for a student visa. The Form I-20 is the Immigration Service's Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students. The Form I-20 is part of the Student and Visitor Exchange Information System (SEVIS) which tracks information about all students coming to the United States.
The next step is to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. This fee must be paid before you have your visa interview at the American embassy or consultae in your country. The Department of Homeland Security has detailed instructions for you to follow. You will find these instructions in both written and in video format.
2. Complete and submit your visa application.
The student visa application and interview is a detailed process requiring you to attend an interview with a U.S. Consular official. You will have to complete many U.S. Immigration Service forms. Check with your local U.S. Consulate for details of payment information. Applying for visas takes a lot of time. Allow a minimum of 60 days and be prepared for the process to take much longer. Simply put, do not wait until the last minute to make your visa interview appointment. Most U.S. embassies in major urban areas overseas process thousands of visa applications daily. Make allowances for long waiting periods and the inevitable backlogs and delays.
3. Schedule your visa application interview.
The student applying for the visa must meet with a U.S. Consular official. That means that you must spend time preparing for that interview. Know what questions will be asked. Understand how serious this part of the process is. It is often necessary to schedule visa interview appointments well in advance depending on where you live.
4. Have all documentation in order.
A passport valid for at least six months after the date of entry is required. Academic documentation such as TOEFL test results, SSAT scores and transcripts of your high school work will also be reviewed. Certified documentation of adequate financial resources is required. If you do not have all of your documentation when you arrive at the border, the Immigration Office may decide to allow you to enter the United States for 30 days on a Form I-515A “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor”. You will have 30 days to submit your documentation. If you fail to do that you will have to leave the United States.
5. Pay attention to your visa restrictions.
Student visas have strict time limits. Adhere to those. Overstaying your visa by even one day can void your visa. In other words, you cannot decide to change anything about your visa terms without serious consequences unless the Immigration Service approves.
As you probably have figured out if you have read this far, the American visa process is very precise and detailed. I strongly recommend that you complete the process with the help of a knowledgeable immigration attorney in your area. If you forget to complete even one form or do not submit the correct documentation for your finances and citizenship, the U.S. consular official will deny the visa and you will have to start the process over.
For your own peace of mind, keep certified copies of all documentation in your possession. Scan and save electronic copies of all documents to Google Drive or OneDrive so that you can access them in case of emergency quickly. Finally, impress on your child the need to follow the rules and procedures which you lay out. Getting admitted into the United States is not a time for improvisation. Teach your child to call or text you with any questions and concerns beforehand, not afterwards.
Questions? Contact me via Twitter. @privateschl