The United States offers a wealth of opportunities for higher education, so it should be no surprise that it’s a popular destination for students from many other countries. But the world of graduate study is distinctive, and it pays to learn some of the subtleties of the application process. Here are some key pointers:
- Doctoral programs often provide financial aid. While Ph.D. students may enjoy a great deal of support in the form of teaching and research assistant positions, Master’s students are generally less likely to be offered these opportunities. It can be helpful to reach out to a specific academic program to find out what types of aid are available, since the decisions are often made at a departmental level.
- GRE scores may be required. Some graduate programs require that applicants submit GRE scores, while other programs make it optional. Still others have different rules for American and international students. Read the “fine print” online to learn each program’s policies – or contact them to find out. Students should allow sufficient time to take the GRE more than once, if needed – although there is typically no official minimum score required.
- Finding statistics is hard. While it’s not difficult to look up the acceptance rate, average GPA or SAT scores of admitted freshmen for most colleges, finding comparable numbers for students applying to graduate school can be next to impossible. Students are free to reach out directly to the programs they’re interested in, but they may not receive a definitive answer. As a result, it’s wise to apply to a range of programs to maximize the chances of admission.
- The statement of purpose (SOP) must be customized. Students need to write a statement of purpose summarizing what they’ve accomplished, their career plans and how their intended program will help them achieve their goals. Since each program is unique, they’ll need to modify this document significantly from one application to the next. Universities often provide guidelines describing what should be included in the SOP.
- Master’s programs in the US often last two years. Students should ensure that they have sufficient funds for the duration of their program; some schools require proof of finances. Note that cost of living can vary dramatically between different cities and regions.
- There may be multiple deadlines. Students who submit applications by the earlier deadline typically get priority for financial aid (and sometimes admissions). Following this deadline, there may be additional deadlines or rolling admissions until the program is filled.
- Students may be able to extend their visas for work. After being accepted into a program, students apply for a non-immigrant visa. Once they’ve completed their degree, they may be eligible to stay an additional year (and sometimes longer) to gain work experience.
- Proof of English proficiency may also be required. Universities often look for a minimum score on a test such as the TOEFL or IELTS. Students who obtained their undergraduate degrees in the US are usually exempt from this requirement. Those who studied in English-speaking countries or who were otherwise taught in English may be exempt, or they may have the option to apply for a waiver of the requirement.
- Transcript evaluation may be required. Students who earned their undergraduate degrees outside the US will often be asked to hire an academic evaluation service to review their transcript and translate it into American educational terminology. The National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) has a list of member organizations that can provide this service.
Eric Endlich, Ph.D. is the founder of Top College Consultants, serving students worldwide. He can be reached at Eric@topcollegeconsultants.com.