J-1 Exchange Students

What is an exchange student?

Exchange Students are defined as non-degree seeking students attending SDSU for 1 or 2 semesters as part of an exchange agreement between their home university and SDSU, or coming through the CSUIP or ISEP exchange program. All exchange students must enter the U.S. on J-1 visa status.

Looking to become a J-1 Exchange Student?
Are you are a current J-1 Exchange Student at SDSU?

I Want to Apply

After reading through all of the procedures below, if you still have questions regarding admission to SDSU as an international exchange student, you can request pre-admission information by sending an email to: [email protected]. However, we encourage you to first speak with your home coordinator.

A. Eligibility - Your Home Institution

In order to attend San Diego State University on an exchange program, your home institution must have a formal, bilateral student exchange agreement with SDSU. Check with the exchange coordinator in the International Programs Office at your university to determine whether such an agreement is in place.

If a valid exchange agreement between the two institutions exists, you must be nominated by your university to participate in the exchange. Meet with your exchange coordinator to discuss your university:

  • Requirements for nomination
  • Terms and conditions of the exchange
  • Selection process and internal deadlines for applying.

If your university does not have a student exchange agreement with SDSU, you are not eligible for this type of exchange program. You may wish to explore other options of attending SDSU without going through an exchange program. Review the American Language Institution programs for additional options. 

B. Eligibility - Admission to San Diego State University

1) Academic Requirements: Undergraduate Exchange students must have a Grade Point Average equivalent to at least 2.5, and Graduate students must have a 3.0, based on a 4.0 scale. All students must have the approval of their department of study at their home institutions in order to participate in an exchange.

2) Financial Requirements: As an exchange program participant, you will not have to pay SDSU registration fees and/or non-resident tuition. However, you will be responsible to pay for living expenses (Food, Housing, Books, Personal Expenses) and purchase the required ISC approved Health Insurance. You will be required to submit a financial statement from and proof of finances with your application that shows you have sufficient funds to cover these items.

3) English Proficiency Requirements: One of the tests below is required of all applicants who have not attended secondary or post-secondary institutions where English is the language of instruction for a period of at least two years of full-time study. All scores below are minimum scores. Scores should be less than two years old at the time of application submission.

  • IELTS (International English Language Testing System) - score of 6.5 or higher OR
  • A paper-based TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) - score of 550 or higher OR
  • Internet based TOEFL (iBT) - score of 80 or higher OR
  • My Best TOEFL (iBT) - combined score of 80 or higher OR
  • Pearson - score of 58 or higher OR
  • Duolingo - score of 120 or higher.

All English Language Proficiency (ELP) scores must be obtained within two years prior to application at SDSU. Participants who do not meet ELP standard are not eligible to participate in the SDSU Exchange Program. They may wish to enroll in a fee-based Intensive English Program with SDSU's American Language Institute.

If the student has attended a secondary or postsecondary institution where English is the language of instruction for at least two years of full-time study upon arrival to SDSU, university coordinators should contact [email protected] for more information.

C. Application Deadlines

Applications for the Fall Semester (late August through mid-December): The deadline to submit all application materials - including the report of ELP score - is March 1.

Applications for the Spring Semester (late January through mid-May): The deadline for all application materials- including the report of ELP score - is September 15.

These deadlines have been established to allow sufficient time for the processing of your application so that you can be admitted in time to register for classes along with other SDSU students. In addition, this will also allow for enough time to process your visa and related immigration paperwork. If you are unable to submit your completed application to us by the deadline, we urge you to defer to the following semester.

Impacted Programs

Courses of study (majors) are impacted at SDSU. "Impacted" means that student demand for classes exceeds what can be accommodated. If you want to study Biology, Business Administration (Accounting, Finance, Information Decision Systems, Management, Marketing), Engineering, Speech, Language Hearing Sciences; Journalism and Media Studies; Television, Film, and New Media - Critical Studies, enrolling in upper division classes in your major at SDSU will be challenging. In light of this situation, exchange students must have flexibility with the courses they will select at SDSU and may not enroll exclusively in classes in the impacted programs.

Special Departmental Requirements

Some departments have special requirements; for example, they may require students to submit a portfolio (as in the case of some Art programs) or audition (e.g., Music, Dance and Theater) before they can be accepted to the major or take classes in that program. Read departmental information carefully regarding requirements and prerequisites for specific courses.

Construction Engineering, Construction Management, TV, Film, Media Studies Emphasis Production, and Nursing are not available to Exchange Students. 

Journalism, TV, Film, Media Studies Emphasis Critical Studies, and Biology have limited courses for Exchange Students.

All Business majors are impacted and there may be a difficulty in getting all classes needed. Flexibility is required.

The International Exchange Programs Coordinator at your university must nominate you to participate in an exchange with San Diego State University.

Once you have been nominated by your university, you will receive an email from the Exchange Team with instructions on how to open an account in the Aztecs Abroad database, and how to begin your application. If you do not receive this within a week of being nominated, please reach out to your home institution coordinator to follow up with us.

Instructions on how to complete your SDSU Exchange application will be provided within your Aztecs Abroad account please make sure you read every section carefully and follow the instructions.

I Have Applied

Your application must first be evaluated by the SDSU Exchange Program in the Global Education Office. After evaluation is complete, students accepted to SDSU on exchange will receive an e-mail from the SDSU Exchange Program. You will receive your Red ID (student identification number) and information about how to set up your my. SDSU account. While you are waiting for notification of your acceptance to San Diego State University, please review the following:

Please note that incoming international exchange students are eligible to apply for on-campus housing but on-campus housing is not guaranteed due to limited availability each semester. If you are planning on arriving before the Mandatory Check-in/Orientation, please inquire about early arrival options and the associated fees with the Office of Housing Administration. For more information refer to the Office of Housing Administration website.

Exchange Students are not eligible for any financial support from SDSU.

For complete information about on-campus, off-campus and Academic Training for J1 students refer to: J1 Visa Holders Employment

If you have completed these steps, proceed to our I Have Been Admitted section.

I Have Been Admitted

Congratulations! Please take the time to read the following important information.

International Students at SDSU are required by law to have health insurance. An F-Hold on your registration prevents you from registering for your classes until you have cleared your health insurance requirement.

Students who will be attending SDSU must meet specific immunization requirements. If you do not provide proof of immunizations at SDSU, you will not be allowed to register for classes.

To obtain more information refer to: Health Insurance & Immunization Requirements

Create a my.SDSU account

Please go to my.SDSU

  • Your Red ID will be issued to you by SDSU.
  • Your password is initially set to your date of birth (MM/DD/YY). Example: if you were born on June 6, 1989, your password is 060689.
  • During the account activation process, you will be able to create a more secure, permanent password. Your permanent password will need to contain a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.

Important instructions in activating your account:

  • Password characters have to be in a certain sequence.
  • Enter your Red ID anywhere you are prompted for a Social Security Number (SSN). Except for housing use all zeros.

You must have a working email address when creating your my.SDSU account. If you have difficulty setting up your account, a temporary password may be sent to your email address, and you must use this temporary password to activate your account.

Registering for Your Classes

You will register for your courses online in your my.SDSU account. After you set up your SDSU portal, check it regularly for your registration day and time. If you have a Registration Hold, you must clear it at least two business days before your registration appointment so that you can avoid problems with your class registration.

Choose your classes

  • Choose your courses by reviewing the Class Schedule and the General Catalog. You may start selecting your courses before your registration appointment and add them to your shopping cart selecting "Accept" next to the appropriate course.
  • The Class Schedule lists all courses offered each semester.
  • The General Catalog and the Graduate Bulletin describe all programs of study and courses available at SDSU.
  • For technical assistance contact: Office of the Registrar at (619) 594-6871

Register for your classes

  • At the time of your registration appointment, simply click on the courses in your shopping cart  and select enroll.
  • Courses fill up quickly, so it is wise to register as close to your time slot as possible.

Undergraduate exchange students are required to register for a minimum of 12 units to be considered enrolled full-time at SDSU. Graduate exchange students are required to register for a minimum of 9 units, the equivalent of full-time enrollment at SDSU.

Important Notes Regarding Registration

  1. Please note that as an exchange student, you do not pay standard SDSU tuition, the intent to enroll fee, and registration fees. However, you may be required to pay lab fees, sports fees etc. for specific classes. You will receive a bill for any miscellaneous fees after you have registered for your classes.
  2. CSU-IP Students: If you are attending SDSU through the exchange program coordinated by the California State University International Programs (CSU-IP) Office, you are required to pay campus-based fees. These cover activities and services offered at SDSU.


Lower level coursework must be fulfilled before a student can enroll in a higher level course. The General Catalog and Class Schedule all identify any prerequisites required for specific courses. Please check the notes in these documents carefully.

Exchange students should bring their own copies of transcripts and descriptions of relevant coursework completed (in English) to demonstrate to professors they have completed courses equivalent to required SDSU prerequisites before they will be allowed to enroll in courses with these restrictions.

SDSU course numbering system

Courses numbered 100-200:

The most basic level of coursework, also referred to as lower division courses. No prerequisites are required. These courses are generally taken by first year (Freshmen) and second year (Sophomore) undergraduates. Example: HIST 116 or SPAN 212.

Courses numbered 300-500:

Usually taken by third year (Junior) and fourth year (Senior) and sometimes graduate (master’s level) students. These are considered "upper division" courses and generally require completion of prerequisites. Example: SPAN 302 – requires that students must have completed SPAN 202 and SPAN 212 in order to enroll.

Courses numbered 600-799:

These courses are open only to graduate students and not available to exchange students.

The SDSU Office of Housing Administration offers on-campus housing for single undergraduate and graduate students. Over 3500 students live on campus each year. They choose to live on campus for a variety of reasons including convenience, proximity to campus, meeting friends and fully experiencing the US college tradition.

There are also many options for students to live off-campus in the communities surrounding SDSU.

It is very important to report to the International Student Center (ISC) to complete the check-in process upon your arrival in the US.

This is mandatory and failure to check-in at the ISC could result in termination of your SEVIS record and loss of your J-1 status. For more information refer to: International Student Orientation

Pay SEVIS fee and obtain your visa

A valid student visa is required for entry to the U.S. ?(Note: Canadian citizens do not require a visa, but must pay the SEVIS fee prior to entering the US).

Before applying for the visa, you must pay the SEVIS Fee.

The easiest way to pay the fee is online. If you are outside the U.S. and do not already have a valid student visa, you must apply for one at the nearest U.S. Consulate for information about your consulate's process for non-immigrant visa applications and to download the visa application forms.

When you apply for your visa, you will need to show your valid passport, DS-2019 form, proof of sufficient funds available to meet all expenses, and proof that you have paid the SEVIS fee.

You will receive an I-94 (small white card) on the airplane that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official will staple into your passport next to your visa. Please safeguard your I-94; you will need this document to prove your legal status in the U.S. When you enter the U.S., you will present your valid visa and DS-2019 to the DHS official. Canadian citizens must present the DS-2019, financial documentation, and proof of SEVIS payment.

The Home-Country Residence Requirement

After studying abroad in the United States, some J-1 exchange students will be required to remain in their home country for two years before they are allowed to return to the US. (This is so the student’s country might benefit from the exchange experiences.) Not all exchange visitors are subject to this requirement. If you have questions about the requirement, ask the consular officer when you apply for your visa. The “annotations” section on the visa stamp in your passport will tell you whether or not the requirement applies to you.

Legal Requirements: Full Course of Study

All exchange students are required to enroll on a full time basis each semester. For undergraduates, full time enrollment is equivalent to at least 12 units per semester (4 classes of 3 units each.) For graduate students, full time enrollment is at least 9 units per semester (3 classes of 3 units each.) Courses taken through the College of Extended Studies or Open University do not count toward full time status.

Financial Requirements

Students attending SDSU on exchange do not pay tuition here. However, responsibility for paying other costs varies depending on the type of exchange program (bilateral exchange, ISEP, CSU-IP.) For information about your program, check with the international exchange coordinator at your home institution or contact the Incoming Exchange Coordinator: (619) 594-0770. (Please note: CSU-IP participants are required to pay SDSU campus fees, as discussed in the previous section, "Important Notes Regarding Registration – CSU-IP Students.")

Plan to have funds readily available for your initial expenses - fees, housing, health insurance, books and miscellaneous expenses. Since bank drafts can take several weeks to clear, you will need traveler's checks or World Money Orders. Plan to have at least $2,000 available upon arrival.

You will be required to submit a financial statement verifying that you have at least US$27,767 available if you are studying for one academic year (two semesters), or US$13,883 if you are studying for one academic semester to cover the following estimated costs:

  • Registration Fees: paid by exchange program
  • Tuition: paid by exchange program
  • Health Insurance: US$2,000 for one academic year (9 months)
  • Living Expenses: (Food, Housing, Books/Supplies, Transportation, Personal Expenses) US$ 25,767 for one academic year (9 months)

Current J-1 Exchange Students

How does the ISC help exchange students?

Exchange students have different needs, depending on your individual situation, you will work directly with either the ISC or with the Global Education Office. ISEP Exchange Students will also need to work with ISEP directly depending on the need or request.

The ISC will always be your first contact for matters related to your J-1 visa status. Please make sure you are always following regulations to maintain your J-1 immigration status, such as full time enrollment, and making sure you have proper work authorization if you decide to work during your program.

Below are listed some of the most common exchange student requests that the ISC can assist you with upon your arrival to SDSU.

*ISEP exchange students: please note that your J-1 status and DS-2019 is sponsored by the ISEP program therefore please read the special note for ISEP students on each of the items below, as the process for you may vary.

Your home institution may have forms that require a signature from SDSU. If you need a signature on one of these forms please upload your form through the J-1 Student Home University Form Submission also found on our Documents and Requests for International Students site.

    • Arrival/Departure Document: You may submit this form after attending the International Student Check-In & Reception.
    • Learning Agreement: You may submit this form once your schedule at SDSU has been finalized. If you make any changes to your schedule, it is your responsibility to submit an updated request. For this reason, we suggest waiting until AFTER the schedule adjustment (add/drop) deadline to submit Learning Agreements. 

J-1 exchange students who have entered the U.S and are traveling internationally during their program must ensure they have a valid travel signature on their DS-2019 prior to re-entry to the U.S.. The travel signature is located at the bottom right corner of page 1 of the DS-2019 and it is valid for 12 months. This means you can use the same signature to travel multiple times as long as you reenter within 12 months from when your travel endorsement section was signed on your DS-2019. Please note a travel signature is not required if traveling within the U.S. Please also read the Traveling Outside The United States site to learn about the other documents required for re-entry to the U.S.

How do I request a travel signature on my DS-2019?

To request a travel signature on your DS-2019 must submit a DS-2019 Replacement/Update Request Form and under reason for request select “Travel Signature”. The ISC will then print a new DS-2019 for you that will include a travel signature and notify you through email when it is ready for pick up. Make sure you use the most up to date DS-2019 with the travel signature when traveling internationally. IMPORTANT: Plan early if you will be traveling outside the U.S., processing times are 7 business days.

*ISEP Exchange Students: Your DS-2019 will be collected during the first week of the semester to send to ISEP for signature. Once we receive your DS-2019 back from ISEP with a travel signature, we will notify you via email to pick up your DS-2019 at the ISC.

As an exchange student on J-1 status you are eligible for the following employment options:

  1. On campus employment: Once you arrive on campus you will be eligible to work on campus for the duration of your SDSU program. Authorization must be given by the ISC before you can begin a campus job. Read our On-Campus Employment site for more details.
  2. Off campus employment through J-1 Academic Training: You are eligible to apply for a benefit called J-1 Academic Training (AT) which allows you to work or intern off campus during or shortly after your program of study in work that is related to your primary major at SDSU (the major indicated on your DS-2019). Please read the information on the Academic Training site to learn about the eligibility requirements, duration and application process. IMPORTANT: Academic Training must be approved before starting employment.

*ISEP Exchange Students: Please contact ISEP directly to ask what their on campus and J-1 Academic Training requirements are.

Exchange students are admitted for 1 or 2 semesters. Exchange students are not allowed to participate for more than 2 semesters. Students who were admitted into only 1 semester may be eligible to extend for a second semester, however in some cases it isn't possible to extend due to impaction of the exchange balance. If you were only admitted for 1 semester and you are interested in extending please consider the following:

  1. Consult with your home university’s exchange coordinator to determine if they would allow you to extend.
  2. Consult with SDSU’s Office of Global Education at [email protected] to check if there are additional spots available for students coming from your home institution. The exchange program is based on a balance between SDSU and your home institution. If the balance is impacted, it will not be possible to allow for the extension.
  3. If both your home institution and SDSU’s Office of Global Education has approved the extension, please submit the J-1 DS-2019 Extension Request Form so that the ISC can extend your J-1 status. When submitting the form please be mindful of the following:
  • The extension request must be approved by GEO and your home institution by Nov 1st (if extending through Spring)/ April 1st (if extending through Fall). Please submit your requests at least 2 weeks prior to the deadline to allow for enough processing time.
  • You will need to submit an updated Exchange Financial Statement Form along with proof of funds in order for the extension to be approved.
  • An ISC advisor will reach out to you to review details of your J-1 extension.

*ISEP Exchange Students: Please contact ISEP directly to ask if an extension is possible.

If you need to withdraw from the exchange program before your original end date you must meet with an ISC Advisor and notify your home university of your early withdrawal plans.