You've gone through the hassle of applying to Amherst internationally, filling out the common app, getting those supplements in and, with your great talents and a little bit of luck, you've gotten in! Enjoy the moment, because now you have the important visa and legal considerations to manage before you enter the United States. However, you don't need to worry! The process looks daunting but is actually straight forward, and hopefully I can share a little of my experiences here to lessen your worry.
Most international students come to America on the F-1 Visa, a visa designed specifically for students, but there are many different circumstances that may require an alternative. I will primarily talk about my F-1 Experience, but this isn't by any means the only way of coming to Amherst, but arguably is the most typical route. CISE - Centre for International Student Engagement is the best place to direct your visa questions relating to Amherst specifically Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and can help point you in the right direction.
So the process begins with you receiving the I-20 from Amherst - You now have legally binding documentation that you can study in the US! DON'T LOSE THIS! It is important for your continuing studies in the states so making copies is a prudent move. Now you can fill out the SEVIS I-901 (The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) form on the US immigration website, and pay the fee using your I-20 details.
Next comes the actual visa application. For me, I needed to fill out the DS-160 to start my visa process. It's fairly straight forward, but they do ask about everything. It goes without saying, but answer truthfully, because if you lie, it may haunt you later. It's also illegal, so don't do that. Submit the form and choose the embassy which you'll go for your interview!
After a period of waiting, I went down to the US Embassy in London to have my interview and get my visa approved. It took the whole day, and was a daunting experience at first. The embassy in London is vast. Its architecture is modern, making congenial use of glass and metal to project itself across the London skyline. I found the moat it has very amusing - very much in keeping with the UK's historic love of castles. It is a busy building, with a constant queue outside. I spent a couple of hours waiting outside to get in, and slowly moved inside and upstairs. The waiting process continued. Upstairs is where you go for your interview. Perhaps in the style of the most grand doctors office ever, you sit and wait until they call you.
The interview is fairly unremarkable. As a prospective college student whose financial aid makes it possible to come to Amherst, the interviewer asked little about how I'll support myself (An important consideration for issuing a visa) and what I planned to do in the states. We made small talk for a little bit, and off I went to wait again. Now it was the wait to go to the desk to get my visa approved. Time passed and my visa was approved at the Desk! You provide them with your passport, and they sent it back to me, visa stamped in and all.
Some top tips for navigating the visa process:
- Start Early! The added stress of time constraints and co-ordination issues isn't something you need. Make it easy for youself
- Collect and store all your documents safely - Make copies if you can. You do not want to lose your documents and put yourself in jeopardy.
- If you can, start saving early. The fees and cost of getting a visa can be onerous if not accordingly planned for. It's probably the best investment you'll ever make, so don't feel too bad about being nickle and dimed for fees.
- Be aware of any restrictions between your home country and the US. Depending on the situation depends on any extra steps you might need to take. It may also affect the length of time your visa is issued for.
- Breathe - It's a long process, but just take it one step at a time, and you should be able to get through this.
I hope this outlines the process a little for you guys. Whether you're an international student, or an Amherst student looking to study abroad, visa issuance is an issue you'll have to grapple with. Take advice, and tackle the process sequentially, and you'll not go far wrong!