Both the F-1 Visa and M-1 Visa are non-immigration student visas which allow international students to study and live full-time in the US. If you want to study more than 18 hours a week at any course of study you will need to secure either an F-1 visa or an M-1 visa. First, however, you will need to determine which type of student visa is right for you.
The F-1 Visa is designed for students who will be attending and academic program or full-time degree program at a university, school, or college which is approved by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If you will be attending any traditional style of school were you will be studying a traditional type of academic program, such as the arts, humanities, sciences, or technology, you will need the F-1 Visa. You also need the F-1 Visa if you will be attending high school or elementary school in the United States and are not a US Citizen or Green card holder. If you are taking language classes in order to master English in the US, you may also need to apply for the F-1 Visa, depending on where you will be studying English.
The F-1 Visa also gives you more options and a little more flexibility than the M-1 visa. For example, the F-1 Visa is usually granted for four years or more, and allows you to transfer to a university or college more easily. If you have the F-1 Visa, you can also sponsor your unmarried children and spouse as dependents. They can live and stay with you in the US with an F-2 visa while you pursue your studies.
The M-1 Visa is used for vocational and nonacademic courses of studies. If you are engaged in some types of language programs, flight school, technical studies, cooking classes, some types of technical studies, cosmetology programs, religious vocational schools, and other types of degree programs that do not fall into the traditional academic category, you will need to apply for the M-1 Visa. You may also need the M-1 Visa if you are applying for a school which is not approved as a traditional institution. Some nonaccredited schools, for example, may require you to apply for the M-1 Visa because the school is not approved as a traditional faculty of learning.
Generally, the M-1 Visa is granted for shorter periods of time than the F-1 visa, since the nonacademic and vocational programs offered at most US schools are of shorter duration. In general, you can stay in the US for two years with the M-1 Visa. The M-1 Visa is generally granted for one year at a time and you may apply for extensions after that. There are also more restrictions with the M-1 Visa. For example, you cannot continue on to an academic or university program on your M-1 Visa; you will need to apply for the F-1 visa. As well, when studying in the United States under the M-1 Visa, you must maintain full-time course status. You can only reduce your course studies to part time for medical reasons and only for up to six months. As well, you can only transfer schools within the first six months of your course of studies.