Prepare For Your Visa Interview

Whether applying for a U.S. visa for the first time or renewing a student visa we hope the following information and resources will prepare students for success when going through the U.S. visa interview process.

Important Points to Remember

Visa Interview Prep

Because of the large number of applications they receive, all consular officers are under considerable time pressure to conduct a quick interview. They must make a decision, for the most part, on the impressions they form during the first minute of the interview. What you say first and the first impression you create are critical to your success.

  • Keep your answers to the officer's questions short and to the point, making sure to respond to the consular officer's questions and statements. Keep in mind that every answer must be truthful and should relate to non-immigrant intent and ties to your home country.
  • Do not have an argument with the officer.
  • If you are denied a student visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring to overcome the denial and try to get the reason you were denied in writing.

The most common denial reason for students is 241(b) for not overcoming the resumption of non-immigrant intent. For more information about responding to a visa denial, visit the U.S. Department of State's web page explaining visa denials. Make sure to inform ISSS if you received a visa denial to discuss the next steps.

Under U.S. law, people who apply for nonimmigrant visas, such as F-1 or J-1 student visas, are viewed as "intending immigrants" (who want to live permanently in the U.S.) until they can convince the consular officer that they are not. You must, therefore, be able to show that you have reasons for returning to your "residence abroad" (usually in your home country) that are stronger than reasons for remaining in the United States and that you intend to depart the United States at the conclusion of your studies.

"Ties" to your home country are the things that connect you to your hometown, homeland, or current place of residence: job, family, owning a house or apartment, financial prospects that you own or will inherit, investments, etc. If you are a prospective student, the interviewing officer may ask about your specific plans or promise of future employment, family or other relationships, educational objectives, grades, long-range plans and career prospects in your home country. Each person's situation is different, of course, and there is no magic explanation or single document, certificate, or letter which can guarantee visa issuance. If you have applied for the U.S. Diversity (green card) Lottery, you may be asked if you intend to immigrate. If you applied for the Diversity Visa Lottery but do not intend to immigrate, be prepared to clarify that, for instance, by explaining that you applied for the lottery since it was available but not with a specific intent to immigrate.

If you have close relatives who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, it may be harder for you to demonstrate that you are not an intending immigrant.

For further details about this topic, you can visit the State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual at 9 FAM 402.5-5(E), which explains the basics of what consular officers will be looking for in the interview process.

The interview will generally be conducted in English and not in your native language. One suggestion is to practice English conversation with a native speaker before the interview, but do not prepare speeches! Expect to have an interactive conversation with the consular officer about your plans for studying in the United States and beyond, your goals, and your ties to your home country. If you are coming to the United States to study intensive English, be prepared to explain how English will be useful for you in your home country.

For further details about this topic, the Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual at 9 FAM 402.5-5(F).

Practice and prepare but don't recite lines. The consular officer wants to interview you (not friends or family) so a more positive impression is created if you are prepared to provide a response of your own.

Generally parents or family members cannot accompany an applicant into to the visa interview unless you are a minor and need your parents to be there in case there are questions (for example about funding/finances). Check with the consulate about the consulate's waiting area and any special rules or procedures for non-applicant family members to accompany a visa applicant.

You should also be able to explain how studying in the United States relates to your career goals and employment prospects when you return home.

If you are not able to explain the reasons why you will study in a particular program at a particular institution in the United States, you may not succeed in convincing the consular officer that you are indeed planning to study, rather than participate in other activities in the United States. 

Required documents typically include your passport, completed DS-160 visa application, receipt of visa fees, receipt of SEVIS Fee (I-901) payment, printed Form I-20 or Form DS-2019.

Students should also be prepared with documentation proving their admission to an institution and financial ability to pay educational fees and support their stay in the United States. Common documents are scholarships, assistantships, or letters issued by a sponsor, organization or government agency. 

  • It should be immediately clear to the consular officer what written documents you are presenting and what they mean. Lengthy written explanations cannot be quickly read or evaluated.
  • The financial information indicated on your Form I-20 or DS-2019 should match the evidence provided to the consular officer and be less than one year old.

Additional supporting documentation requirements will depend on your particular situation, so it is best to review the specific consulate's website. 

Applicants from countries suffering economic problems or from countries where there is a pattern of students staying in the United States long-term (over-staying) often have more difficulty getting visas. They are also more likely to be asked about job opportunities at home after their study in the United States to further prove non-immigrant intent and plans to return home. You should review your country's specific requirements on the local U.S. consulate's website.

Several U.S. consulates around the globe have created YouTube videos that explain the visa process at their specific posts. Always check your specific U.S. embassy or consulate to see if a new YouTube video or other resources are available. See below for some of these videos.

Your main purpose in coming to the United States should be to study, rather than for the chance to work before or after graduation. While many students work on- or off-campus during their studies, such employment is incidental (secondary/optional) to their main purpose of completing their U.S. education. You must be able to clearly explain your plan to return home at the end of your program. 

If your spouse or children are also applying for an accompanying F-2 visa, be aware that F-2 dependents cannot, under any circumstances, be employed in the United States. If asked, be prepared to address what your spouse intends to do with his or her time while in the United States. Volunteering in the community and attending school part-time are permitted activities for F-2 dependents.

Review and follow your instructions for when to arrive for your visa appointment. Often you may have to queue and go through a lengthy security screening.

If your spouse and children are remaining behind in your country, be prepared to explain how they will support themselves in your absence. This can be especially difficult to explain if you are the primary source of income for your family. If the consular officer gains the impression that you intend to support your family with money you may earn during your studies in the United States, your student visa application will almost certainly be denied. If your family decides to join you at a later time, it may be helpful to have them apply at the same post where you applied for your visa, but that is not always required if your family is living in another district.

Tell the truth

A ten-digit fingerprint scan is taken of applicants immediately preceding the visa interview, and applicants must attest to the following under penalty of perjury (See 9 FAM 403.3-6, Biometric Signature and Affirmation of DS-160 NIV application):

By submitting my fingerprint, I am certifying under penalty of perjury that I have read and understood the questions in my visa application and that all statements that appear in my visa application have been made by me and are true and complete to the best of my knowledge and belief. Furthermore, I certify under penalty of perjury that I will tell the truth during my interview and that all statements made by me during my interview will be complete to the best of my ability. 

Administrative processing delays

Some students may experience delays in obtaining a visa because of "administrative processing." This commonly occurs if your name is similar to another individual and the consulate needs to check with other government agencies about your status or background. It may also happen when your area of study is thought to be in a field of sensitive or critical technology, or your faculty adviser is working with sensitive research materials. Some consular officers may even require additional letters from program directors or academic advisers explaining the specific type of research the student will be involved in and what kind of access to sensitive technology the student will have. If you are unsure whether this applies to your situation, check with your specific U.S. embassy or consulate. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State's Administrative Processing Information web page.

Past visits to the United States

You may be asked to explain past visits and stays in the United States and/or any prior visa statuses held by you or your family members. Also, students who formerly held an employment-based immigration status (i.e. H-1B) or had Optional Practical Training (OPT) or STEM OPT might also need to explain the reasons for additional study in the United States instead of working at home.

If you stayed beyond your authorized stay in the United States or violated an immigration status in the past, be prepared to explain what happened and if available, provide supporting documentation regarding the circumstances. You should consider consulting an experienced immigration lawyer for guidance on whether the Overstay or Unlawful Presence provisions impact your eligibility to return to the United States. 

Third-country nationals

If you are not a citizen or permanent resident of the country in which you currently live or the country where you plan to apply for a visa (i.e., you are a "third-country national), you may also wish to explain your intent to return to that country upon completion of your studies in the United States.

Arrests and convictions

Documentation should accompany any arrests or convictions within the U.S. or abroad, including any arrests or convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Always check with an experienced immigration attorney if you have any current or past legal issues.

Visa Delay

Visa Delays & Denials

Become familiar with reasons why you may experience delays obtaining your U.S. student visa.

Find Your Focus Social Media information

Be aware of the "social media" question on Form DS-160, the standard online application used by individuals to apply for a nonimmigrant visa. The item requires applicants to indicate the social media platforms that they have used during the five years preceding their visa application, and to provide any identifiers or handles they used on those platforms. The U.S. Department of State also added a similar item to the Form DS-260 immigrant visa application. See the Department of State FAQ document for additional information.

U.S. Embassy Videos

Below are a list of videos published by select U.S. Embassy websites, alphabetical by city. Even if there is no video for your specific U.S. consulate or embassy, all students are encouraged to review a few of them to gain more insight about the U.S. student visa process. Note: depending on the date of the video, some information may have changed - always check with your specific U.S. Embassy or Consulate for specific information.

Amman, Jordan (3:52 minutes, 2013)
A step-by-step tutorial on how to navigate the online system for applying for a U.S. visa in Jordan.

Ankara, Turkey (2:35 minutes, 2013)
Attending an Immigrant Visa interview at the U.S. Embassy? This video highlights the steps and procedures.

Dubai, UAE (4:04 minutes, 2015)
This video explains what you should anticipate on the day of your interview for a Non-Immigrant Visa Interview at the U.S. Consulate General in Dubai, U.A.E.

Frankfurt, Germany (6:27 minutes, 2012)
A look at how to apply for a United States student visa in Germany -- what to do and what not to do.

Hyderabad, India (5:06 minutes, 2015)
Prepare for your student visa interview. Our officers are here to answer some of your most asked questions about the F-1 Visa.

Kobe, Japan (3:16 minutes, 2013)
This video will guide you through the interview procedures at the U.S. Consulate General Osaka-Kobe, Japan, from your arrival at the Consulate to your interview.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (7:01 minutes, 2013)
A step-by-step video guide on how to apply for a nonimmigrant visa (business, travel, study, etc.) online and the interview process at the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Mumbai, India (1 hour 15 minutes, 2022)
A session on applying for a U.S. Student Visa.

Mumbai, India (2:30 minutes, 2023)
U.S. Consular Officers Answer Your Most Asked Student Visa Questions

New Delhi, India (4:29 minutes, 2015)
Learn about the U.S. Embassy's Student Visit Day and the visa interview process in India in this video.

London, U.K. (3:54 minutes, 2018)
What to expect when you attend the Embassy for a non-immigrant visa interview.

Seoul, South Korea (2:09 minutes, 2012)
Nonimmigrant Visa Interview Skill – this video gives an example of how to give more in-depth interview answers.