If you are a foreign-born young person who would like to attend school in the United States below the college level, it might be possible for you obtain a U.S. student visa (F-1) to do so. However, depending on which school you wish to attend, this may require a good deal of research. And the school itself may cost you as much as college tuition.
If you are hoping to use a student visa to attend one of the many free public schools in the United States, you will likely have to make alternate plans. In the 1990s, Congress decided that the United States should not pay to educate people from other countries. It amended the immigration laws to provide that NO student visa will be issued to a person wishing to attend a public elementary school (kindergarten through 8th grade) or a publicly funded adult education program.
The rules are slightly different for high schools (9th through 12th grade). You are allowed to attend a maximum of one year of public high school in the U.S., but you will have to pay the local school district for the entire cost of your education for that year. The cost of a year in a U.S. high school depends on the local school district. You will have to contact the district directly.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average expenditure per student in U.S. elementary and secondary schools is around $14,000.
Some school districts are not able to calculate their costs. If you plan to attend school in one of these districts, you will not be allowed a student visa to the United States.
For a more thorough discussion of eligible schools, see the F-1 visa rules.
There is nothing to stop you from attending a private elementary or high school. However, their tuition which can be as high as U.S. college tuition. The school will need to have been recognized by the U.S. government as eligible to accept international students. Contact the schools you are interested in individually for details.
You should also know that some immigrants are allowed to attend public schools, as well as undocumented children (whose rights are protected by the Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982)). However, the point of the legislation described above is to prevent children who have the option of attending school in their home country from taking advantage of the U.S. school system.
Many temporary (nonimmigrant) visas to the United States, such as H-1Bs, L-1s, and other work visas, allow the parents to bring spouses and children to the U.S. with them. A child whose parent is in the U.S. on such a visa will be allowed to attend public school in the United States, for free.
For more information on becoming eligible and applying for an F-1 student visa to the United States, see the articles on Student Visas.