Adjusting to college outside of your home country is difficult. Whitman College provides a variety of resources to help our new international students understand the logistics of studying in the U.S. and adapt to living in a new culture.

Whitman hosts a special orientation program for our international students, providing new F-1 and J-1 students an opportunity to learn more about Whitman, Walla Walla and the United States, and focuses on topics that are relevant to international students. 

Participation in International Student Orientation is required for all F-1 and J-1 visa students. For the 2021-2022 academic school year, International Student Orientation will take place on Aug. 23-24, 2021.

Explore the sections below for more information on our orientation program and how International Student and Scholar Services can help you feel at home in Walla Walla.

Once you confirm your enrollment with our admission team, Whitman's DSO (Designated School Official) will work with you to process your I-20 form. You will need this document to secure a F-1 student visa.

The process is relatively simple. We will ask you to upload the following scanned documents to your student portal account:

  • Passport
  • Previous U.S. visa (if any)
  • Previous/current I-20 forms (transfer students)
  • Certificate of Finances — a form that lists liquid financial assets that you can access to support your education expenses for one academic year. You will attach supporting documents to this form, such as bank statements. All these documents must be recent, no more than 3 months old. You can use the same documents for your visa interview but they may need to be updated with more recent versions.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security allows for digital signatures and distribution of I-20 forms. Therefore, you will receive email with information on how to access your I-20 securely. You will need to print this form and sign/date it at the bottom. Review the form carefully for mistakes such as:

  • The spelling of your name
  • Place of birth
  • Date of birth
  • Program and session dates

Carefully read page 3 of the form for important guidelines and regulations.

When you apply for an F-1/J-1 visa for the first time, you will have a brief personal interview at the US embassy or consulate with jurisdiction over your place of residence. The interview will typically be conducted in English however this is not always the case. A consular official often interviews over a hundred of applicants in one day. The official must make a quick decision about your application and your interview may be no more than two to five minutes. If your documents are in order, your chance of obtaining the visa is very high.

The U.S. consular official needs to believe, and you must convince them, that (1) you are a legitimate student/scholar with an educational plan, (2) you have financial resources to study in the US (for at least one year), (3) you have strong connections to your home country, and (4) you do not intend to immigrate to the U.S.

Consular officials will want to see evidence that you:

  • Have paid the U.S. $350 F-1 Student or $220 J-1 Exchange Visitor SEVIS fee online.
  • Are a qualified, legitimate student/scholar.
  • Have the financial resources to pay for your education in the U.S.: recent statements from your or your family's bank account and/or financial aid award letter.
  • Have strong economic, family or social ties to your home country.
  • Will return home after you finish your studies.

Paying the I-901 SEVIS fee (U.S. $350 for F-1 Students, $220 for Exchange Visitors)

  • Prospective F-1 students with a country of citizenship except Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Gambia can pay the I-901 SEVIS fee at https://www.fmjfee.com/.
  • Payment instructions can be found on www.studyinthestates.dhs.gov.
  • Prospective F-1 students with a country of citizenship of Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Gambia must pay by money order, Western Union Quick Pay or certified check drawn from a U.S. bank. Prospective students without access to a credit or debit card may also use this method.
  • Detailed alternative payment instructions can be found on the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) website. However, online card payment, if available, is the fastest and easiest method.

Required supporting documents

  • Passport, valid for at least six months beyond your planned arrival date to the U.S.
  • Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application confirmation page. Start your visa application by going to the US Travel Docs website or US Embassy website in your home country. US Travel Docs website looks somewhat outdated but it is a legitimate page operated by US federal government contractor - CGI Federal Inc.
  • Visa application fee payment receipt
  • I-901 SEVIS fee payment confirmation page, the receipt proving that you have paid the U.S. $350 Student/$220 Exchange Visitor SEVIS fee
  • Passport-size, immigration style photograph of you (if you are unable to upload your photo while completing Form DS-160)
  • For J-1 Professors: if you are married or have children and are bringing them, you will need proof of relationship to your spouse and children (marriage certificate, birth certificates, identification cards, etc.)

Required documents from Whitman College

  • Signed Form I-20 or DS-2019 issued by Whitman College. Be sure your I-20 is signed by the school official, by you (at the bottom), by your guardian (if required) and that all other information on your I-20 is spelled correctly.
  • Letter of admission or employment contract from Whitman College
  • Financial aid award letter or scholarship letter, if applicable

Academic documents

  • Copies of your secondary (high) school certificates or transcripts showing that you are an accomplished student
  • Copy of your secondary school diploma
  • Copy of your TOEFL/IELTS score (if applicable)
  • Copy of SAT/ACT score (if applicable)

Documents that may help you prove your financial support

  • Your financial aid/scholarship award letter from Whitman College
  • Bank statements (for the past 3-6 months) and/or a certified letter from your bank stating the amount of money in your bank account
  • Statements (for the past 3-6 months) show savings or stock accounts
  • Tax documents from your family home or business
  • Letters from any sponsors who have promised to provide specific costs such as room and board, books, etc.
  • Documents which prove that a sponsor can afford the promises made
  • Form I-134 (Affidavit of Support) completed by your sponsor, indicating that they have the funds to support their promised contribution. Download the form.

Proof of connections to your home country and plans to return

It is important for you to prove to the U.S. consular official that you have family, social and career "ties," or "connections," to your home country. These connections will help assure the official that you plan to return home after completing your studies. Below are some examples:

  • Evidence that you plan to return to work in a family business upon completion of your U.S. education (if your family owns a business)
  • If you are interested in attending a graduate program in your home country upon your return, make sure you mention that if you are asked about future plans
  • Information about family members who have traveled or studied overseas and returned
  • Information about your own previous travel to the U.S. (if any)
  • You can mention your close ties with your family, friends and social/cultural associations in which you are involved (if any)

Organizing your support documents

Make sure that all your documents are together and in order. Organize appropriate documents together. For example:

  • All Whitman College-issued documents
  • All documents that prove you are a legitimate and excellent student
  • All financial documents
  • All documents demonstrating your ties to your home country

Once you have received your F-1/J-1 visa, you will be able to enter the United States as an F-1 Student/J-1 Exchange Visitor in "initial" status. You can enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the program start date listed on your I-20. Verify validity dates of your visa as well. You will enter the U.S. via a “port of entry”, typically at your first airport in the U.S. To pass inspection by a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer, you need the following:

  • Passport valid for at least six months past the date of your entry into the U.S.
  • Valid F-1 or J-1 visa, unless exempt from visa requirement (ex: Canadian citizens do not require an F-1 visa to enter the U.S. in F-1 Student status)
  • Evidence of financial support (ex.: financial aid award letter, certified bank statement, etc.)
  • Form I-20 or DS-2019, properly signed by the DSO/RO and student/exchange visitor
  • I-901 SEVIS fee payment confirmation

All prospective F-1 students must pay the I-901 SEVIS fee before the US Department of State will issue a visa. For visa-exempt prospective F-1 students (such as Canadians), proof of I-901 SEVIS fee payment must be shown at the port of entry into the U.S.

Important Terms

  1. US Department of State (DOS)

DOS is a federal department that administers visa applications to the United States and oversees the Exchange Visitor Program (J category visa program). You meet DOS officers during your visa interview.

  1. US Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

DHS is a federal department that oversees the Foreign Student (F category) visa program. It is unlikely you will meet DHS agents in person.

  1. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

ICE is a federal agency within the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security that focuses on immigration regulation enforcement within the United States. We hope you do not meet them at all!

  1. US Customs & Border Protection (CBP)

CBP is a federal agency within DHS that safeguards United States borders and oversees transit through ports of entry. You will meet their agents when entering the U.S.

  1. U.S Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS)

USCIS is a federal agency within DHS that oversees immigration and employment of non-citizens in the United States. USCIS administers and adjudicates applications for various immigration benefits such as the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. Many F-1 students interact with USCIS during their course of study, typically to process OPT application.

  1. Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)

SEVP manages schools, nonimmigrant students in the F and M visa classifications and their dependents on behalf of DHS. SEVP uses the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System to track and monitor these schools, nonimmigrant students and their dependents. SEVP staff may visit our college for audit purposes or (in rare cases) contact you directly.

  1. Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

SEVIS is the online database that maintains information about F-1 and M-1 students and their dependents who attend SEVP-certified schools in the US. SEVIS is also used by the DOS to maintain information about J-1 Exchange Visitors, their dependents and sponsor programs.

  1. Principle Designated School Official (PDSO) and Designated School Officials (DSOs)

PDSO and DSOs are SEVP-certified school officials who maintain student records in SEVIS and advise F-1 and M-1 students on maintaining their lawful status while they study in the United States.

  1. Responsible Officers (ROs) and Alternate Responsible Officers (AROs)

ROs and AROs are school officials who maintain Exchange Visitor records in SEVIS and advise J1 Exchange Visitors on maintaining their lawful status while in the United States.

  1. Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status

Form I-20 is a record of an F-1 or M-1 student's information within SEVIS, and is issued by a PDSO or DSO. The Form I-20 is required to apply for an F-1 visa.

  1. DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility

DS-2019 is a record of a J-1 Exchange Visitor's information within SEVIS, and is issued by an RO or ARO. The DS-2019 is required to apply for a J-1 Exchange Visitor visa.

  1. Port of Entry (PoE)

PoE is an airport, land crossing or port through which one enters the United States. For travelers making multiple connections within the US, the POE is where one goes through customs when first entering the United States.

  1. Form I-94

Form I-94 is a record of a nonimmigrant's arrival in and departure from the United States. The Form I-94 is administered by Customs and Border Protection.

International Student Orientation will take place on Aug. 23-24, 2021. We ask international students to arrive on Saturday, Aug. 21. An orientation schedule will be posted in early August.

International Student Orientation provides new F-1 and J-1 students an opportunity to learn more about Whitman, Walla Walla and the United States, and focuses on topics that are relevant to international students. Participation in International Student Orientation is required for all F-1 and J-1 visa students.

What to Bring

Whitman's Residence Life Office  provides much information about what to pack.

It is wise to pack lightly. We can assist you with shopping locally.

The Walla Walla Valley enjoys beautiful landscapes and all four seasons, including cold weather during fall and winter. We encourage you to prepare appropriately for hot and cold weather when considering what you will bring with you to Whitman. However, we have plentiful shopping opportunities in Walla Walla and many international students find these stores surprising affordable.

Arriving to Walla Walla

International Student Orientation will take place on August 23 and 24 in 2021. A schedule will be posted in early August.We ask international students to arrive in Walla Walla on August 21 (Saturday). The Walla Walla airport code is AWL. 

Important: The Pasco airport is an hour drive away. The Seattle airport is over 4 hours drive away. Whitman College will not provide shuttle services to these places. For transport from Pasco to Walla Walla check the Eastbound service provided by Grapeline bus. It is best to simply fly into Walla Walla directly.

Orientation staff will meet you at the Walla Walla Airport airport and drive you to campus. We will do our best to help accompanying parents and other family arrange transportation from the airport to campus, but we encourage family members to arrange transportation for themselves in advance.

If you will be arriving in Walla Walla by car, you can come to Reid Campus Center, 280 Boyer Ave., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and check in.

These resources are here for you to use. Some international students are missing out by not taking full advantage of these opportunities.

Academic Resource Center

At the Academic Resource Center, we value the lifelong process of education and the drive to learn. Our mission is to support this process for all Whitman students by providing them with the tools to take charge of their individual academic experiences. We connect with students to help them determine and access the resources and support that will enhance their ability to succeed.

ARC provides one-on-one meetings with a tutor for a variety of subjects by request. We also host drop in hours for select subjects. The tutors' goals are to help students to improve understanding of course material and to prepare for exams. ARC also offers academic coaching to help students build skills in areas such as time management and test taking. Feel free to stop by the Academic Resource Center in Olin 334 or visit our website for more information including the drop in schedule and the tutor request form.

Center for Writing and Speaking (COWS)

COWS is a resource for all members of the Whitman community. We support a culture of peer feedback on writing and speaking at all levels and in all genres. We offer one-on-one meetings with trained peers, workshops, and open writing hours for both students and faculty.

English Language Fellows (ELF)

The Language Learning Center has teamed with the Written and Oral Communication Initiative to create a group of Writing Fellows who will work individually on writing and reading skills with students for whom English is a second (or third!) language. If you are finding it challenging to adjust in any of your classes and you feel that the challenge is related to speaking English as a second language, contact Devon Wootten (woottedc@whitman.edu) or stop by the Language Learning Center (Olin Hall 334) to learn more about the ELF program.

Student Academic Advisors (SA's)

Student Academic Advisors (SAs) are stellar students and they are excited about the work they do! If you are a first-year student, the SAs are here for you as you transition to a new academic environment. They offer support from orientation and throughout a student's first semester at Whitman. The SAs are trained to offer guidance regarding campus resources, to facilitate study halls, and programs on topics that can improve study skills and confidence.
If you have any questions about the Student Academic Advisor program, please contact Laura A Cummings, Assistant Director of Academic Resource Center.

The Language Learning Center (LLC)

The Language Learning Center (LLC) is the hub for foreign language learning support on campus. It hosts Language Assistants from various countries and is the home of the English Language Fellow (ELF) program.

  • Don't wait until the last minute! Apply for visa as early as possible - F-1 visas may be issued up to 120 days before the program start date on the Form I-20. There is no limit on how early a J-1 visa may be issued.
  • Allow several weeks for getting an appointment and a visa. Visit this website with general information on the visa process. Go to the website of your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to apply. Alternatively, you can start the process from com website that has been authorized by the U.S. government to help you with the process. You must complete several forms before your interview, and the embassy may want to verify the information you give them.
  • Use the Form I-20 or DS-2019 from Whitman College if you plan to attend here. Students who apply to several schools may get a Form I-20 from each school. To attend Whitman, you must use the Whitman-issued Form I-20 or DS-2019.
  • Be well organized and well prepared. 

It is nearly certain that your F1 visa application will be approved. There is nothing for you to try to hide during your visa interview. Whitman College is well recognized and its reputation is excellent. Therefore, you do not need to stress about your interview much.

Do not spend much time “practicing” your interview. It is not an exam to which you need to prepare. Sometimes students attempt to memorize dozens of answers to potential questions. This strategy is risky because:

  • You will sound “fake,” like a robot or an audio recorder
  • If an unexpected question comes up you may panic and freeze

Approach your visa interview like a dialog with your new teacher or a neighbor. Be respectful and polite but smile as well. Be confident. Dress well but not overly formal. Your responses should be to the point - brief and concise. Remember, these people interview over 100 visa applicants per day. They are tired, bored and under much stress.

Learn something fun about Walla Walla as you may find a situation where you can bring this up during an interview and show your confidence and awareness. Example:

Q: What is exactly your destination in the US?

A: Walla Walla Washington. They tell me it is famous for its onions.  

Preparing for the Visa Interview

  • Dress neatly.
  • Be prepared to talk about your educational goals: what you're interested in studying, why the degree that you're pursuing is important to your future career in your home country, your graduate school plans, if any.
  • Be prepared to explain where and how you learned English.

DO NOT SAY that you want to study in the U.S. because your friends are there, or because you like American culture, or some other reason that the official might see as unimportant. You need to have strong reasons to go, and equally strong (or even stronger!) reasons to return home.

Remember: the consular official is required to assume that each visa applicant is secretly planning to remain in the U.S. If the official thinks you may stay in the U.S. permanently, they will reject your application. If you are asked and can show convincing reasons for your return home after studying, your application is more likely to be successful. F-1 and J-1 visas are for people who will enter the U.S. temporarily for the purposes of study or participation in an exchange program.

VERY IMPORTANT! Answer only the questions asked, briefly and to the point. Always be truthful in your statements to U.S. consular officials. If they find that you have misrepresented yourself or your documents, you may be barred from entering the U.S. in the future.

Important note: When signing the Form I-20/DS-2019, make sure that you read the instructions that are attached to the form - this is a legally binding contract to which you are agreeing when you sign the Form I-20/DS-2019.

If Your Visa Application is Denied

If you are denied a visa, please contact Associate Director of the Intercultural Center Greg Lecki, 509-527-5005, leckige@whitman.edu.