What foreign students need to know about studying in the USA with ESTA Visa


With every passing year studying either full-time or taking courses in the United States gets more and more popular among the British students. However, what with ever growing security concerns, getting into the country may get increasingly difficult and frustrating. Today any foreigner willing to study in the USA has to have a visa. What kind of visa is determined by the type, of course, he wants to take. High schools, universities, colleges, conservatories, seminaries and the like call for F-1 student visas. Non-academic institutions, such as vocational schools, require M-1 student visas.

However, there is a lesser-known opportunity to use a regular ESTA visa to study in the United States. This approach has some significant limitations, but it is doable and applicable in some cases.

What is ESTA?

ESTA stands for Electronic System of Travel Authorization – it is an automatic system that defines if a person is eligible for the travel to the United States. Everybody traveling from a visa waiver country has first to fill in an application and wait for it to be approved before gaining entry. It allows you to move freely within the country but limits your stay to 90 days.

What kinds of courses can a student take using ESTA visa?

As you can probably guess, the very format of ESTA visa puts some rather severe limitations on what kind of studying you can do in the United States. There are, however, some additional things to consider.

The classes, naturally, have to last no longer than 3 months or 90 days, with no more than 18 hours per week. If the class you are going to take meets these criteria, go ahead and study – there is even an additional advantage of not having to get medical insurance, which is obligatory for those using regular student visas.

At what schools can you study using ESTA visa?

Unfortunately, your choice of schools under ESTA visa is going to be somewhat limited as well. Of course, if you are going to take a language course, you can do so in any school accredited by the government, but being from Great Britain, this is unlikely to be your goal. As for professional courses, you cannot attend a college or a university without making prior arrangements. All in all, you are limited to studying at fairs, businesses, professional organizations, industrial facilities, and other non-formal educational organizations.

What other limitations does ESTA put on you?

If you intend to study in the United States for the purpose of graduating, you’d be better off doing it with a standard student visa because it will free you from the hassle of counting days until its expiration. There is another, much more important consideration – if you study under ESTA, you get no credits for the purposes of degrees for the courses you take. This means that if you study to gain skills, everything is alright because they are going to stay with you. If, however, you are after formal proof that you have particular skills, you have to look for some other ways of getting an education.

All in all, the limitations imposed by ESTA visa make it a fairly untenable solution for getting an education in the United States. It may be used to take some classes as you do other business in the country, but when used for the sole purpose of studying it is way too inconvenient. However, it all depends on what your goals are and, if necessary, it can be done.

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