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While studying in the United States, it is important to maintain your F or M student status. Your visa says that you are coming to the United States to study. You should not consider any action that detracts from that purpose.

Upon Arrival

  • Enter the United States no more than 30 days before your program of study begins.
  • Immediately contact your designated school official (DSO) when you enter the United States. When you arrive at school, you need to contact your DSO again, no later than the program start date listed on your Form I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Status"


  • Attend and pass all your classes. If school is too difficult, speak with your DSO immediately.
  • If you believe that you will be unable to complete your program by the end date listed on your Form I-20, talk with your DSO about requesting a possible program extension.
  • You must take a full course of study each term; if you cannot study full-time, contact your DSO immediately.
  • Do not drop a class without speaking first with your DSO.


Curricular practical training (CPT) at either the undergraduate or the graduate level is only available if this employment is an integral part of an established curriculum and if the position directly relates to your major area of study. Your DSO can give you the school’s policy on this option.


Do not work without authorization. An F or M student may work only when authorized.

If you want to work in the United States, talk with your DSO about your options. Your DSO may authorize certain work; other employment may require your DSO’s recommendation and authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

For more information, see Working in the United States.

If you choose to work without authorization, you will be forced to leave the United States immediately. You may not be able to re-enter the United States at a later date.

Upon Program Completion

Take action to maintain legal status after completing your program of study.

Once you complete your program of study and any authorized period of practical training, you may wish to learn about doing one of the following:

  • Transfer to another school
  • Change your education level (e.g. bachelor’s to master’s)
  • Apply to change status to another visa status (e.g. H-1B-temporary worker; O-extraordinary ability in science, art or business; P-athlete)

You have 60 days after completion of your program (the program end date on your Form I-20) to leave the United States.

Talk with your DSO first

Your DSO should be the first person you talk with if you have any questions regarding the legal requirements of your stay in the United States.

Your DSO can assist in answering your questions or help you find someone who can help.

Talk with your DSO if you are planning to do any of the following:

  • Change your major, program, or degree level
  • Change your education level
  • Transfer to a new school or take a leave of absence
  • Take a break from school
  • Travel outside the United States
  • Move to a new address
  • Request a program extension

You may contact SEVP by email at if your DSO is unable to assist you or if you would prefer to ask someone else.

In your email, please describe your situation and include any questions you have. SEVP provides responses on a first-come, first-served basis. Answer times may vary depending on the current number of inquiries.

Obtaining Your Social Security Card

Why do I need a Social Security number?

In order to work in the United States, every eligible F and M student needs a Social Security number (SSN). If you do not know if you are eligible to work, please speak with your designated school official (DSO) or responsible officer (RO).

Am I able to apply for an SSN?

F and M students who have authorization to work in the United States may apply for an SSN. In addition, any F or M student who wishes to apply for a driver's license (in a state requiring an SSN before getting a license) may apply for an SSN.

Many states require that you or your dependent have an SSN or have already applied for one before you apply for a driver's license. If you or your dependents are not eligible to work, but want to apply for a driver's license, you must first apply for an SSN at the local Social Security office and receive a Form SSA-L676, "Refusal to Process SSN Application." To learn more, see our Driving in the States page.

For more specific information, see our Steps for Obtaining an SSN page.