Planning your study in the U.S.? Jennifer McIntyre, U.S. Consul General, Chennai gives a few tips about the visa application process

Visa officers at the U.S. Consulate General, Chennai, know summer season has arrived because of the large numbers of people applying for visas to study at universities and colleges in the United States. The United States greatly values its foreign students, and the U.S. Consulate in Chennai hopes to make the visa application process as clear as possible for aspiring Indian students. So here are a few tips about the application process, and some information about services it offers.

First, some advice for your visa interview: Relax! Take a deep breath and don’t let your nerves get the best of you. Despite the rumours you might have heard, visa officers are not out to trick you. Our goal is to ensure that qualified applicants are able to obtain their visas as quickly and efficiently as possible. We want Indian students in our U.S. institutions. We’re proud of our higher education system and know that much of its strength is derived from its highly diverse body of students and faculty.

Apply early

Don’t wait until the last minute to apply for your visa. Demand for student visas (known as the “F1 visa”) is rising, which means you should apply early. Don’t risk being late to your university and missing the start date by leaving your application to the last minute. Students can apply for a visa appointment up to 120 days prior to the start date listed on their I-20 form (issued by the university); so, once you have your I-20 in hand, apply right away at www.ustraveldocs.com/in. Note, however, that you cannot travel more than 30 days prior to the start date on the I-20.

You may apply for an appointment at any of our U.S. Consulates in India (located in Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and Hyderabad), as well as the Embassy in New Delhi.

When you arrive for your interview, clearly explain to the visa officer your plans for study in the United States. Be genuine. Be ready to discuss your chosen institution and course of study, your academic background and career goals, and how your programme will be financed. Please use your own words. Our visa officers interview hundreds of student applicants every day. Visa officers cringe when they hear the same memorised answers about the same universities. Nobody but you can explain your personal motivations — that’s what we want to hear. Why does the institution make sense for you? How does it fit into your dreams?

Bring any documents that you think might help back up your case, but our visa officers will likely be more interested in what you say, not what’s printed on paper.

Don’t be surprised if the interview is short — maybe only a couple of minutes — and if the officer does not review your documents. That’s why it’s important to be forthright and genuine about your study plans.

EducationUSA

The U.S. Consulate also provides great services to help students choose a U.S. institution. EducationUSA is a global network of more than 400 advising centres in over 140 countries. In India, EducationUSA centres are located within the American Library. EducationUSA Advisers offer comprehensive and unbiased educational advising assistance to students and parents interested in U.S. higher education. They provide guidance to qualified individuals on how to choose and apply to U.S. colleges and universities. Although many private educational advising services in India provide helpful assistance, you don’t need a paid educational consultant or coach. You can fill out your own admissions applications and visa applications. Studying is difficult, but applying to study is not. We understand, however, that many prospective students are confused or overwhelmed by the number and variety of institutions of higher learning in the U.S. (more than 4,000 accredited colleges and universities, in fact).

That’s where EducationUSA Advisers can help. Visit their website for information or to schedule a free appointment: www.usief.org.in. I also urge you to go to www.educationusa.info. This site has a number of self-help tools and regularly hosts webinars by U.S. universities and colleges. Finally, we invite you to send us your questions during our upcoming live chat on Facebook on April 30 in association with The Hindu Education Plus. Our Consulate Officers and EducationUSA Advisers will answer questions about Community Colleges/Alternate Education in the U.S. at 4 p.m.

The writer is U.S. Consul General, Chennai