No Student Visa Required?

I was forwarded an email today from a 60-year-old man in China who said he dreamed of studying in the U.S. when he was young.  Now that he can afford it, he wrote, he is too old, but he still holds onto his dream.

It was such a sweet email, so I started looking through the State Department website to find out whether someone who doesn’t need a degree and isn’t really college age could still fulfill a dream of studying in the U.S.  And I found this:

If you are going to the U.S. primarily for tourism, but want to take a short course of study which is recreational (and not for credit towards a degree), and the course is less than 18 hours per week, this is permitted on a visitor visa. As an example, if you are taking a vacation to the U.S., and during this vacation you would like to take a two-day cooking class for your enjoyment, and there is no credit earned, then this would be permitted on a visitor visa.

Turns out,  some universities even explicitly make courses available to international visitors who want to do some recreational studying during their trip.  Take a look at Boston University’s webpage about summer semester courses.  BU recommends that all students pursue full degrees under F-1 status, but says:

If the main purpose for being in the country is travel or tourism, you may take one course at Boston University during the summer.

Many older Americans will audit a course at a university to enrich their knowledge and pursue their interests, and it looks like someone traveling in the U.S. may be allowed do the same.

If you’re thinking about doing this while on your vacation in the U.S., be sure to check at the US Embassy or Consulate in your country to find out more information – we’re not immigration lawyers here, just information-sharers.


  1. Read the visa guidance carefully:

    Students may not study under a visitor immigration classification if their main purpose for being in the country is to study at Boston University for the summer.
    The suggested example is a 2 day course that someone happens to come across.

    i.e. the course should be significantly shorter than the total time in country, and you need to be other things as well – that would be tourist things for the rest of the time. I would suggest that you also need to sign up after you arrive also or it looks planned. (hence teh advice to get an F-1 student visa)

    1. Good point – your main purpose for being in the country has to be tourism if you’re coming on a tourist visa. We’re not advocating gaming the system (please please please don’t ever try to game the system – it often doesn’t end well). Here is the guidance from Berkeley, which also accepts international visitors into summer courses:

      Tourists on B1/B2 tourist visas, and tourists in the U.S. on the visa waiver program may take part-time course units if the following criteria are met: a) enrollment in Berkeley Summer Sessions course(s) will be solely for recreational purposes; b) course(s) will not exceed 18 hours per week, and will not be used for credit toward a degree, diploma or certificate; c) the course(s) are only incidental to the tourist’s visit to the U.S., and are not the main purpose of the visit.

      I’m going to see if I can talk to some community colleges and find out what their guidance is – whether students actually do this, and whether it’s possible in theory but not practice or whatever, so hopefully I’ve have more information to share soon. Thanks for making me take a closer look!

  2. it is pretty interesting. i am just wondering if any old person would like to study in USA. the real joy of stufying in US is when you are in college or high school.:p

    1. Well, this Chinese guy certainly is! I mean, it would definitely be a very different experience from what it’s like to do a full degree in the US, but it could be fun in its own way.

      My grandmother used to take college courses in her spare time, just because it was interesting and stimulating. And I’ve taken some college courses since graduating to brush up on certain skills I wanted to learn. So I could definitely see how, if you have the luxury of traveling for a couple of months in the US, it could be fun to take a course during that time.

Comments are closed.