After gaining admission to one of The Claremont Colleges and receiving your I-20 or DS-2019 from your international student advisor or sponsor, you will need to apply for a visa in order to enter the United States. (Canadian citizens do not need to apply for an F-1 student or J-1 exchange visitor visa at a U.S. consulate; however, they do need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee and must present their valid passport, I-20 and SEVIS I-901 fee receipt to U.S. immigration officials at the U.S. port of entry.)
Applying from the country of home residence: Department of State regulations first direct any alien to apply for a visa “at a consular office having jurisdiction over the alien’s place of residence.” This means that, generally, you must apply for your student visa in your home country, at the U.S. Embassy, or consulate nearest your home. Every consulate is able to set their own procedures, and they can vary greatly in terms of hours of operation, documents required, waiting periods, etc.
A good place to start for information on how to apply for your visa is the U.S. Department of State Study and Exchange website.
One very important aspect of the visa application process is payment of the SEVIS I-901 fee. This fee is required of all F and J visa applicants prior to issuance of the visa. Please see the Student and Exchange Visitor SEVIS I-901 Fee website. Once you pay the fee you should print your receipt and be prepared to show it each time you enter the U.S. on your F or J visa.
Upon traveling to the U.S., make sure you carry your I-20 or DS-2019 with you (do not pack it in checked luggage) as you will need to present it to the U.S. Border Control official upon arrival.
Additional Helpful Resources
10 Points to Remember When Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa – courtesy of NAFSA: Association of International Educators
Photo requirements – for U.S. visa applications
EducationUSA – for a link to a worldwide network of U.S. education advising centers