Public K-12 Schools
As a F1 or M1 student, you may not attend a public school in the United States for any grade level between kindergarten through 8th grade. This is because public schools with these grade levels (also referred to as primary schools) are ineligible for Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Certification. No matter what grade level, a school must be SEVP certified for an F1 student to attend.
However, undocumented Immigrants Can Attend Free Public School. According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), undocumented immigrant children are entitled to a free education from kindergarten through high school in the United States. However, F-1 visas are not issued to children grades K-12 to attend public school, to prevent children who have the option of attending school in their home country from taking advantage of the U.S. school system.
Private K-12 Schools
The constraints and limitations for attending a public school in the United States do not apply to private schools. Private schools receive their funding through tuition and private donations and not through local, state, and federal tax revenues, like a public school. Unlike public schools, private schools of grade levels kindergarten through 12th grade may be SEVP certified. Therefore, an F1 student may attend kindergarten through 8th grade at a private SEVP certified school.
Length of Attendance
F1 students may study at a public high school for a maximum period of 12 months which includes all public high schools the student may attend. This limit means that a F1 student may attend an SEVP certified public high school for only one grade level. Therefore, F1 students cannot spend a year at one public high school and then transfer to another public high school. However, there are no regulations placing a limit on the length of time an F1 student may attend a private, SEVP certified school. This means that unlike public schools, an F1 student may attend the SEVP certified private school for more than one year.
Therefore, the only way to attend high school in the United States for more than one year as an F1 student is to either attend a public high school for one year and then transfer to a private high school or attend a private high school from the onset since there is no limit for private schools. Additionally, time enrolled in a public high school in a nonimmigrant status other than F1 does not count against the 12-month limit. For example, assuming compliance with all local state law, a student who is the derivative family member of a principal F-1 may attend High School while the principal F-1 attends their assigned school.
Cost of Attendance
F1 students attending a SEVP certified public high school must pay the full fee for the year for the school they are planning to attend, also known as the full unsubsidized per capita cost of attendance for school in that district. The exact amount will vary from school to school but typically ranges from $3,000-$10,000 per year for public schools. Private schools generally are more expensive, so students can expect to pay more. F1 students attending private school must pay the school’s tuition for each academic term and submit payment based on the school’s deadlines.
For financial aid options, international students can apply for a personal loan from a U.S. lender. International students can also check with the U.S. embassy in their home country to see what sources of funding are available. The student will need to pay their international tuition, alongside their I-901 SEVIS fee of $350, before applying for the F1 visa. Furthermore, proof of payment of all fees and costs must be presented during the student’s visa interview and at the U.S. port of entry. Therefore, it is crucial that the student keeps accurate financial records, and it is recommended the student make multiple copies.