Student visas, like the F-1 visa, allow you to stay long-term in the United States for academic purposes. But there are restrictions on the types of programs and schools you can attend. You'll also be expected to follow specific rules on study and off-campus work.
To get an F-1 student visa, you must be able to prove acceptance to an approved institution in the US. Approved schools are part of the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP), and should already be familiar with the process for enrolling F-1 students. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides a tool you can use to check your school's approval status.
Once an SEVP-approved school accepts you as a student, they'll enroll you in a national database of foreign students, known as the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Then the school will provide you with a Form I-20, which you'll present at the visa interview.
Generally speaking, you can pursue any course of study or major while you study abroad in the United States, as long as your school is SEVP approved. F-1 visas are also available for students from kindergarten to the doctoral level. That said, certain restrictions apply to both primary and secondary education.
Enrollment for kindergarten through eighth grade requires acceptance at a privately-funded institution. In other words, public elementary and middle schools are not eligible for SEVP approval. Older children can attend an American public school for a maximum of 12 months, after which they must transfer to a private institution or return to their home country.
College and graduate students may attend either public or private institutions on an F-1 visa. There are just two main rules. First, the program must be SEVP approved. Second, you must remain a full-time student to avoid any interruption in lawful status.
In addition to the F-1 academic visa, an alternative education-based option is the M-1 visa. The M-1 visa focuses on students considering vocational training in the United States. It's an good option if you've been accepted to a program that is not "principally academic in nature."
Most M-1 visa holders attend trade schools or technical schools. Eligible programs for M-1 visa holders include culinary, carpentry, mechanical, design, artistic, or other various instructional programs to help students increase their employability upon return to their home country.