If you are planning on coming to the United States to study at an English language program more than 18 hours a week, you will need to apply for a student visa. Once you have completed the paperwork with the help of your ESL program, you will need to contact your local embassy or consulate to schedule your F-1 student visa interview. To help you successfully complete your interview with your Consulate Officer, we have put together some important tips that will help you master your visa interview.
The first thing to keep in mind is that the interview process is a subjective process. No interview has the same questions since it will depend on your background and because interviews are generally conducted by a host of different people. Keep in mind, though, that it is just another person trying to make sure that your intentions are what you say they are – to study English in the United States and to return home once your program is complete.
Tip #1 – Come prepared
When you come to the US Embassy/Consulate for your student visa interview, you will want to arrive with all the requested documents. To avoid any chaotic morning run-arounds, we have put together a check list to make sure that you have everything you’ll need. The night before your interview, we recommend gathering all of your documents and have everything ready beside the door so that you will be sure to bring everything when you leave. Just remember, there is no such thing as bringing too much information! Just make sure that you are properly prepared and organized to provide any supporting information when requested. You are not ready for the interview until you have all of the following items:
- Your passport that is valid for at least six months
- Form I-20 which should be signed under Item 11
- Your school’s admission letter and other educational credentials (TOEFL/IELTS scores, transcripts, diplomas, test results, proof of completion of education, etc.)
- Completed visa applications including the DS-156, DS-158, and, if applicable, the DS-157
- Two 2″x 2″ photographs
- Receipt for the visa application fee
- A receipt for the SEVIS fee – electronic of the official mailed receipt. If you do not have a receipt, don’t worry! In most cases the consulate can see your payment as long as you paid at least 3 business days before your interview.
- Financial evidence that shows you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period you intend to study (i.e., bank statements, sponsorship, etc.)
- Other information that will prove that you will come home after you finish your studies. This includes proof of property (or inheritance), job acceptance letter, ownership of a company in your home country, ties to your community (i.e., church, clubs, families, organizations, etc).
Tip #2 – Dress to impress!
Keep in mind that you are going to be arriving for an interview. Like with any job interview, you will want to put your best foot forward, and this includes your presentation. If you own a suit, wear it! If not, slack pants and a nice shirt will do just as well. Be sure that you dress conservative – leave revealing clothing at home, natural makeup only for you ladies, and no adventurous hair styles today. As you get dressed, think serious academic student.
Tip #3 – Your arrival
So, coming to the US Embassy or Consulate is not exactly the friendliest and most relaxing experiences that you’ll have. However, being forewarned about what to expect will allow you to properly prepare and handle the interview with ease and confidence. If you have not been to your embassy/consulate before, you will be greeted by serious and professional guards. You will pass through metal detectors, have your bags searched, and perhaps be physically searched yourself. Make sure that you are familiar with their rules and regulations – do not bring office bags or briefcases, electronic items, cell phones, or cigarettes. Be confident, honest, and prepared. Because of the security issues worldwide, many embassies and consulates have tightened their security. Just conduct yourself in a serious business manner, speak clearly and confidently, and remain friendly.
Tip #4 – How to present yourself
Think of it as any other interview. Be personable, friendly, and honest. No chewing gum or smoking. You will want to be thorough in your responses and address any concerns that come up. The Consulate Officer is looking to determine whether you are a good candidate to study English in the United States and if you plan on returning to your home country. He/She is looking to you to confirm this. You will want to present this in a clear and concise way. If you are not comfortable speaking in English, relax and speak slowly to convey your story.
Tip #5 – Think through your responses
It is important to take some time aside and prepare what you are going to say and how you are going to answer their questions. Remember that each and every interview is different, however you can prepare with sample student visa interview questions to get an idea of what type of questions you could be asked. Your consular official will be looking to determine whether you are a legitimate student returning home when you are done with your English language program. By taking the time to prepare your responses, you will be able to better anticipate questions that will be asked at the interview. Do not prepare a speech or script! Just talk frankly about your personal career plan, why you are going to the US, why you want to learn English, and what you plan to do with this when you return to your home country. Practice writing your responses, or even practicing these questions with a friend or family member.
Tip #6 – What do I do if I do not know an answer?
Tell them that! Don’t make up a story. If the consulate officer thinks that you are lying, they will not issue the F-1 student visa. Instead, tell the truth and if you are not sure, let them know that. If you do not understand their question due to the language barrier, that is no problem as they are not testing your English language skills. All you will need to do is let them know that you do not understand and ask if they can rephrase the question.
Tip #7 – When to arrive
If you arrive on time, then you are late. Get there at least 10-15 minutes early to allow enough time to settle in and show that you are professional, ready, and ambitious! Again, presentation matters so show that you take this seriously and come early.
Tip #8 – What to expect at the interview
While the interview time will depend on your consulate officer, the interview typically lasts only a few minutes. Knowing this, come to your interview prepared and prepared to make your case. Once you have gone through security, many consulates will require that you take a number. When your number is called, you will be shown to the interviewer’s office where you will be asked several questions about your intention to study in the USA. If you need a translator for the interview, be sure to let the embassy/consulate know in advance as special arrangements would need to be made.
Tip #9 – Fingerprinting
All individuals traveling to the United States under a F-1 student visa will be fingerprinted. This is typically done inkless so you will be asked to put your fingers on a screen and an ID will be created of your fingerprints. Do not be alarmed, just be prepared!
Tip #10 – Smile, be honest, and ask questions.
An interview should be a dialogue between two people. Answer questions to the best of your knowledge. Don’t argue with the interviewer. If you are not issued the visa, ask the interviewer what documents you should bring in order to overcome the refusal. If possible, try to get the reason that you were denied in writing. Gather the information, and schedule another interview. Many international students get denied their F-1 student visa on their first interview. If you are denied your visa, don’t worry. Just be prepared to ask the right questions so that you can follow-up and collect additional information to reverse the decision.
Good luck studying English in the USA!