The visitor visa and student visa are similar in some respects. The B1 visa and B2 visa allows people to enter the US for business and tourist. This visa allows visitors to take recreational courses of study, on a short-term basis, as well. If the course is short-term and takes fewer than 18 hours per week, you can generally travel on a visitor visa. However, you will need a student visa (F1 visa) if you want to study for academic credit in the US or if you want to attend conference, seminars, and other programs of study that take more than 18 hours per week. If you are a vocational student attending classes in the US, you may need an M1 visa.
In some cases, students will need both a visitor visa and a student visa. For example, if you hope to arrive in the US more than 30 days before the start of your studies, you will need to apply for a visitor visa instead of an F1 visa or M1 visa. Once you are in the US and your studies are thirty days or less away, you can apply for a student visa. Your passport will indicate that you are prospective student and you will need to make this clear at your port of entry.
To switch to a student visa from a visitor visa, students must have a college or program of study where they will be studying. They must have determined where they will study and be admitted to the program. Then, students who have been admitted as a prospective student will need to file USCIS Form I-539 (Application for Change of Nonimmigrant Status) and also concurrently file Form I-20 with the Department of Homeland Security.
In some cases students arrive in the US hoping to see some of the US or hoping to take some short courses. While in the US, however, they determine that they wish to take part in more extensive studies or want to remain in the US to study for academic credit. In this case, students will need to return to their home country and apply for student status from their home country before re-entering the US as a student.
In every event, it is important not to take more than 18 hours of courses or any courses for academic credit in the US without an appropriate visa. To do so is in violation of your visitor visa and can subject you to legal problems.