My journey to the United States was not as smooth as I had assumed before I started my ‘documentation’ journey to MIT. Talking to other international students after arriving on campus made me realize that I was not the only one who was confused at least once in the whole process. “I wish someone had told me before!” was the common dialogue, and that is why in my blog I will try to cover some tips to prepare for the travel so that you, who will be here soon, can avoid some stressful moments.
The real excitement that sets you on this journey to MIT starts in May when an email with the subject titled “MIT SCM Blended Master’s Program” arrives. It was surreal when I got my acceptance letter. I was going to Boston and study at MIT! But wait… First, I need a visa, what documents do I need? Can I apply for it already?
The primary document that is needed is an I-20 form. The SCM staff will mail you a link in which you need to fill a few general details for the MIT International Students Office (ISO) to prepare an I-20 document. Once the ISO mails you a hard copy, you can make an appointment with the US embassy/consulate for a visa interview. In my case, I applied for a student F1 Visa and although I am of Spanish origin, I was working for a few years in Munich, so I was able to apply for the visa in Germany.
First tip: If you are a citizen of one country but are living away, you can apply for the visa in any nearest consulate/embassy. You do not have to travel back to your home country.
For the visa interview with the embassy/consulate, a few forms need to be filled in.
Second tip: Reserve a couple of hours for this task. The number of questions to be answered may seem overwhelming but it is highly recommended that you read all questions carefully and do not rush. Do not forget to save your work after completion of each step!
Once you are done with the interview and if you are granted entry to US, the embassy/consulate will keep your passport and at times a few documents, which will be returned in a couple of days along with the visa.
Third tip: Be sure that they also return the I-20 form if taken. Without the I-20 form you cannot enter US and if the consulate/embassy does not return it, you need to contact them. You can always contact MIT ISO, but if they have to provide you a second I-20 document, you will have to pay for the shipment (which was my case!).
Only when you have a visa stamped in your passport and the I-20 form ready, you can travel to Boston. Always keep your documents in carry-on luggage, since there are frequent checks by US officers during the travel.
Fourth tip: Once you are in US, make sure the customs officer who reviews your documents returns your passport and also the I-20, because you are going to need these documents during your whole stay in the States.
Sometimes these bureaucratic steps may seem daunting but never forget that you already accomplished the most difficult part – being accepted at MIT! So, respect the system and make sure you follow the steps right for a smooth sailing experience. My final and:
Fifth tip: In case of any questions, do not hesitate to contact the MIT ISO. They are super helpful and will respond to your tens of thousands of questions.
Disclaimer: this should not be taken as legal advice but mere heads-up for prospective students based on personal experience.