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International Services

The Office of



Q. I'm not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Does TC require me to submit the AVC to apply for a student visa?

No. Many of our students enter the U.S. on different kinds of visas.  You are not required to submit an AVC or apply for a student visa if you will have another immigration status that permits you to study. However, certain visa types (such as visitor waiver status or B-2 tourists) are not permitted to study. If you plan to study at TC on a non-student visa, please let us know what your immigration status will be while you are at TC.

Q. Which one am I supposed to choose, an I-20 for F-1 status or DS-2019 for J-1 status?

Over 90% of our students are F-1 students. J-1 students receive their primary source of funding from an institutional source, such as a home-government scholarship, university funding, etc. Students whose primary source of funding is personal or family funds must apply for an I-20 for F-1 student status.

Q.  Do I really need to submit financial documentation?

Yes. TC is required by U.S. immigration regulations to verify that you have adequate financial resources to meet the tuition, fees, and estimated living expenses for a full course of study.

Q. I'm confused about the difference between the 'Academic' or 'Calendar' Year budget.

Use the Academic Year budget if you plan to take more than 1 academic year to complete your degree requirements. Please note that will be the case for most students. The standard time to completion is 2 academic years for a Master of Arts, 3-4 academic years for a Master of Education, and 5-7 years for a Doctor of Education or Doctor of Philosophy.

Use the Calendar Year budget only if you firmly intend to complete your degree requirements in 12 months. If the OIS agrees that it you can realistically complete your program within 12 months, you will receive a visa certificate that certifies your eligibility for a period of one year.

Q. What is required for the financial plan? Is there a template?

You must provide a written financial plan if you are not able to document adequate funding for your entire program.  There is no template.  A financial plan is simply a written statement or narrative from you, detailing how you expect to finance your education beyond your first year. Please keep in mind that TC scholarships or employment are not guaranteed for multiple years, and in any event will cover only a portion of your required expenses. The financial plan should describe in detail your or your sponsor's resources, identifying sources of income (employment, property, stocks, etc.) and the amounts from these sources that will be devoted to your educational expenses. Please note that the financial plan is not only required for the I-20/DS-2019, but is an opportunity for you to think through your educational career carefully and plan accordingly.


Q. Where should I send my AVC?

Send your Application for Visa Certificate, and all required supporting materials, to the Office of International Services. Do not send it to the Office of Admission or other TC offices. Sending your AVC to another office may delay processing of your F-1 or J-1 visa certificate.

Q. How long does it take for the OIS to process my Appliction for Visa Certificate?

The OIS takes about 10-14 business days to process a completed Application for Visa Certificate, although we make every effort to process AVCs as quickly as possible. Please note that the Office of Admission must also receive your tuition deposit before the OIS can process your AVC.  Process for newly admitted students for Fall terms will begin after May 31st. Process for Spring terms will begin after September 30th.
Processing may be delayed if your application is incomplete, or if you are currently in the U.S. as an F-1 or J-1 student at another institution. In the latter case, we may be unable to process your AVC immediately, depending on when your current institution transfers your records to us.

The OIS will mail your documents by first class or international air mail free of charge. Since air mail may take a few days to several weeks for delivery (depending on location), we also make available DHL express service (Federal Express to US / Canadian destinations) to ensure faster delivery. Express service involves a fee, as indicated on the AVC form. 

Q. Should I send original documents, or are copies OK?

The OIS will accept copies by mail, by email, or by fax, although we may ask for originals if necessary. As a rule, you should keep original documents for yourself. If you send us any original documents, please be sure to retain copies for your own records.

Q. I received my Form I-20. In Section 5 it says I'll take 3 years to complete, but my department says the program can be done in 2 years.

The estimated time-to-completion indicated on the I-20 reflects a reasonable estimate of how long it would take a full-time student to complete the requirements for a particular course of study. It does not prevent you from completing in less time, if you are able.  If you require more time, you will need to apply for a program extension after you have arrived.

Q. The major field indicated in Section 5 is not my TC major.

The major field of study indicated in section 5 of the I-20 reflects the 'closest match' between your TC major and a pre-set list used by the U.S. Department of Education. We ordinarily print the exact title of your TC major in the Remarks (section 9).

Q. There is an error in my personal / financial / academic information as listed on my I-20. Should I contact the OIS?

Yes. The I-20 is supposed to reflect up-to-date, accurate information about a student's personal, academic, and financial information. Please e-mail us at tcintl@tc.columbia.edu with your specific questions. We will determine whether the I-20 needs to be corrected, updated, or changed.

Q. I received a DS-2019 that is only valid for 1 year. My program is probably going to take longer than that.

The expiration of the DS-2019, unlike the I-20, is based on verified funding. For example, if you received a DS-2019 based on a one-year scholarship, your DS-2019 is will be valid for only that year. Your DS-2019 will need to be renewed as your funding for future years is confirmed.

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