What is an I-20?
The I-20 is a multi-purpose document issued by a government approved, US educational institution certifying that you have been admitted to a full-time study program and that you have demonstrated sufficient financial resources to stay in the US. The I-20 is officially titled the "Certificate of Eligibility" because with it, you are "eligible" to apply for an F-1 student visa at a US embassy or consulate abroad.
Getting the I-20 from a US school is not enough to become a legal F-1 visa student; you must also obtain an F-1 visa from the US consulate, and be allowed entry to the US as an F-1, or be approved for a change of status from another type of nonimmigrant visa.
How the I-20 is Created
After Gettysburg completes the admissions process, the admitted students' names and other biographic information are entered into a US government database called SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). The SEVIS database processes the information and produces a "PDF" file of the I-20 that is sent back to the school via the internet. The school official (called the Designated School Official or DSO) prints and signs the I-20 and then delivers it to the student. If a student needs to update or change information on the I-20, the DSO makes these requests through SEVIS and the document can be easily reproduced.
How the I-20 is used
After receiving an I-20 from their school, an international student must make an appointment to apply for the F-1 visa at the local US embassy or consulate in their country. The visa is the document needed to be allowed entry into the US. The student must present both the F-1 visa and the I-20 to a US Immigration officer upon arrival at the port-of-entry.
Once you have arrived in the US and passed through the border inspections process, the I-20 is used for identification purposes and as proof of your legal status.
Traveling with the I-20
If you will be traveling abroad and then returning to the US to resume your studies, you must take your I-20 with you. The I-20 is required to reapply for a visa if you need one and for re-entering the US. Before your departure from the US, make sure that you have an unexpired travel endorsement from the International Student Adviser at on page 2 of your I-20, at the bottom. In most cases, a travel endorsement can be done quickly and easily; however, be sure to plan ahead and get your travel endorsement several weeks before you depart the US.
Page 3 of the I-20
Immigration regulations governing the F-1 status are listed on page 3 of the I-20. It is important that F-1 students read this page to understand the rules that apply to their stay in the US.
When Should My I-20 Arrive?
Early Decision Students - During April
Regular Decision Students - During May
Students Who Studied High School in the US - After your high school graduation. Review the transfer process.
Transfers - Review the process.