Graduate study is not for slackers. It takes focus and determination to pursue an advanced degree. That's why admissions committees examine your statement of purpose very closely—they want to see whether you have the right stuff to succeed in graduate school.
As you may already know, U.S. higher education institutions are known worldwide for the quality of their programs, faculty, and facilities. At the graduate level, students have the opportunity to work directly with some of the finest minds in their field of study, with the chance to become involved with exclusive research and educational opportunities. Admission to graduate study requires a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution or foreign institution with a degree that is equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree.
The preparation for application to U.S. universities can be a tedious and time-consuming process. However, if you plan and prepare ahead of time, you will be able to get into the University of your Interest. Planning for graduate school involves deciding what to study, finding the right school, effective planning and applying to competitive programs.
PREPARATION BEFORE APPLYING
Make a list of universities you want to apply to based on:
1. Your GPA
2. Financial Status/Availability of funding
3. Accreditation and reputation of the university
4. Your internship/volunteer/work experiences
5. Test scores
6. Geographical location of the university
Some of the top-tier US universities have an admission rate of around 10%. Therefore, to help ensure you receive several admissions offers from which to choose, you will want to select a well-rounded list of universities. We recommend applying to:
- 1 or 2 highly-competitive universities which, if they accepted you, would make you feel lucky because you were not sure you qualified
- 5 or 6 universities that you think might accept you
- 2 or 3 universities where you are well above the academic profile and you are certain you would be accepted to
There are two main tests you will be required to take. The scores of these two tests are crucial for your admission.
1) Graduate Record Examination (GRE): GRE is a test required for most graduate level applications in fields other than business, law and medicine. It will test your verbal, mathematical and analytical skills. The qualifying score for GRE depends on the school you apply to. The better the university, the higher the qualifying score.
2) TOEFL or IELTS Exam: International students are required to take a language exam. TOEFL or IELTS exam is an English language proficiency test. It will test your understanding, listening and English speaking skills. Again the qualifying score for this test depends on the university you apply to.
Eligibility and Process
There are basic steps for applying to a master’s degree program. Your materials will be reviewed by both the Graduate School and the master’s program to which you’ve applied.
1. Submission of Application Materials
Closely observe the deadline and required materials set by your academic program of interest, including any additional documents requested of students seeking departmental funding. Complete the application and mail any materials that could not be submitted online.
2. Review by the Academic Program
The admissions committee for each academic program decides who will be accepted. During this process, the committee reviews documents you sent them as well as the information you sent to the Graduate School. You might receive correspondence at this point regarding whether you have been recommended for admission, but this is not the final step.
3. Final Review by the Graduate School
The Graduate School receives the academic program’s recommendation and completes a final review of your file, checking to make sure you meet the minimum admission requirements. If you are an international applicant, you may need to provide additional information before admission can be finalized. If you are accepted by an academic program, you will then be asked to provide official copies of all transcripts.
4. Official Admission to the University
If you are accepted into the degree program to which you applied and you meet the minimum admission requirements, Graduate School Admissions will admit you to the university and send you information for new students.
No two schools will have the exact same requirements – therefore your application process will vary for each school on your list. While every school has a different list of specific requirements, the general application information will remain constant for all schools on your list.
- Completed Undergraduate degree
- Online application
- GRE score (Some Universities will ask for GMAT scores if you’re are applying to MBA programs)
- TOEFL/IELTS score
- Financial statement/Proof of financial support
- Academic Transcripts (to be sent to WES for evaluation)
- Letters of recommendation from teachers or coworkers
- University Interview
COSTS AND PAYMENT
The cost of attending a U.S. university is something you and your family should consider while you’re in the planning process and could be a determining factor whether you will actually study in the U.S.
Costs vary widely among institutions, so make sure you create a budget for yourself to include tuition and fees, living expenses, books and supplies, transportation and personal expenses for each year you’ll be at college.
Keep in mind, the cost to attend university for international students is primarily your responsibility. Be aware that loans from U.S. sources normally require a resident of the U.S. as a co-signer, so it’s always worth checking in your home country for local sources of loans and grants as well. Some US universities may offer financial aid and scholarships to international students. Do your homework. Visit university websites directly to find out if you’re eligible for any financial assistance. Not every students will receive scholarship. Based on your work experiences, achievements and test scores, universities will decide whether or not you deserve a scholarship.
FOR APPLICANTS WHO HAVE THREE-YEAR INDIAN BACHELOR DEGREE
Although most US Universities prefer students who have completed 4-year Bachelor program, some universities do accept candidates who hold three-year bachelor’s degrees.
The applicant must send their transcripts to World Education Services (WES). A WES credential evaluation makes it easier for admissions officers to understand your degrees, courses and grades in U.S. terms. WES recognizes selected three-year Bachelor’s degrees from India as equivalent to a U.S. Bachelor's degree. Click here http://www.wes.org/students/indiapolicy.asp to understand the requirements.
You may click this link to find out what other students have to say regarding credential evaluation http://www.wesstudentadvisor.org/2014/04/how-us-universities-evaluate-indian-degrees.html
WORLD EDUCATION SERVICES
The World Education Services (WES) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing accurate and reliable evaluations of academic credentials earned outside the U.S. In other words, WES is an agency which evaluated foreign credentials to match with US 4 point grading system.
Most of the US and other foreign Universities doesn’t understand your transcripts or marks sheets as they measure your grades based on 100% Scale. US Schools measure student performance on 4 point scale. WES will convert your grades from Indian institution to 4 point scale US Grading system, and send the results to the University for your Application Evaluation.
WES fee varies based on the types of evaluation you need. There are 3 types of evaluations by WES. They are:
1) Course by course Evaluation Report
2) Document by Document report
3) CPA Evaluation for the applicants of Certified Public Accountant exams
To learn more and to apply, go to http://www.wes.org/
AFTER YOU’VE SUBMITTED YOUR APPLICATION
Phew! Now that you’ve submitted your application, all you need to do is wait. Universities will let you know when you may expect an email from them about their decision. Be patient and keep waiting.
Once you’ve heard back from universities and you’ve been accepted, you will need to apply for student visa.
STUDENT AND EXCHANGE VISITOR INFORMATION SYSTEM (SEVIS)
Once you’ve been accepted by your graduate program, your university will send you documentation that enrolls you in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which tracks international students through an electronic network of colleges, universities, U.S. immigration services and U.S. consular posts overseas.
You must pay a fee to be enrolled in SEVIS, and you’ll need to retain your proof of payment for presentation during your visa interview at the U.S. embassy. The fee varies according to the type of study or exchange program you’re participating in and the type of visa you apply for.
GETTING YOUR VISA
Before entering the U.S., you must first obtain a U.S. student visa, which is an endorsement on your passport indicating that you’re allowed to enter the U.S. and stay for a specified period of time. You must have a valid passport to apply for a student visa. Make sure to apply for your visa early to avoid possible delays. To learn more about how to get a student visa, go to http://www.ustraveldocs.com/in/in-niv-typefandm.asp
TYPES OF VISA
The three most common types of visas that students outside the U.S. can apply for are:
The F-1 student visa: This is for students attending a full-time degree or academic program at a school, college or university. It’s valid for as long as it takes you to complete your course of study. It also allows you to work on campus part-time.
The M-1 student visa: This is for students enrolled in non-academic or vocational study. It’s valid for one year, but you may apply for extension for up to three years.
The J-1 exchange visitor visa: If you’re being sponsored by a government scholarship or exchange program, you may be eligible for this visa, which allows you to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs.
If you’re applying for an F-1 or M-1 visa, familiarize yourself with the process on how to navigate the U.S. immigration system.
PREPARING FOR YOUR DEPARTURE
Below are the items you’ll need to take care of before you head off to start your new academic life:
- Get or renew your passport
- Obtain a student or exchange visitor visa (Refer Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) section below)
- Visa stamping interview at a US Consulate
- Make airline reservations
- Confirm your living arrangements
- Get vaccinations and have your doctor complete a World Health Organization yellow immunization card
- Obtain health insurance from the university
- Contact the University’s international student adviser
- Make sure you understand U.S. currency
- Arrange to set up and transfer money to a U.S. bank account and bring funds (in U.S. currency) to use when you arrive
- Ask the University about transportation from the airport or contact the Indian association of your university in advance and ask if anyone can pick you up from the airport. Search on FaceBook if there is a group for your program and get connected with people before you start your journey
- Arrange in advance to ship belongings that will be over the baggage limit on airlines (if applicable)
- Pack appropriately (a warm coat for Chicago, flip-flops for Miami), and label all of your luggage with your full name and address of the college you’ll be attending
While academics are important, a successful U.S. University education also involves balance. Getting involved in social, cultural and sports activities outside of class gives you a chance to meet new people and make friends, as well as develop team and leadership skills that will benefit you in your future career. Visit your University’s website or talk to your international student adviser on campus for suggestions on how to become involved at your new college. The International Student Office should be your first stop after arriving on campus.
TIPS AND ADVICE
- Start your preparation early. Create an effective action plan.
- Take practice tests for GRE and TOEFL/IELTS many times before your actual day of test.
- Ask your seniors in college to recommend good books on GRE and TOEFL/IELTS.
Do well in your academics and impress your professors and coworkers with your performance. This will help you in getting an outstanding letter of recommendation from them.
While you are still a student in India, start working in the area you’re interested to apply (even if it means working for free). Take up internships or volunteer works. US Universities appreciate students who not only are good in academics but also show their love for their community through their works. Volunteer experience, therefore, is highly recommended.
Select a program that you are genuinely passionate about. Do not select a program based on somebody else’s decision. Remember, graduate studies in USA is a challenging experience. You will need to study something that you find fun in learning.
Do not get upset if your program does not offer you a scholarship or financial aid. You still have chance to prove that you deserve a scholarship by doing well in the class and constantly keeping in touch with your professor regarding available Graduate Research Assistantship(GRA) positions or Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) positions in your first year of school.
Take your studies and works seriously. Every University expects you to make a difference in the community once you’ve graduated from your program.
There will be points for participation in the class. Pay attention to the professor’s lectures and offer your opinion and thoughts about the topic you are learning.
Do not hesitate to email professors to learn about the subjects they teach and ask good questions on the subject. This will let them remember you as someone who is interested and willing to learn new things.
Get in touch with a current student of your program. Ask the program coordinator if they can provide you a contact information of a student who is already studying in the program. This will help you more insights into the program.
Read lots of books, novels and good blogs. This will improve your writing skills. Improve your vocabulary. US Universities expects students to be very good in writing skills.
- Improve your communication and presentation skills. Be prepared to do lots of presentations in the class.
Plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own. If you don’t want to get into trouble, do not copy and paste anybody’s work and claim it as your own. The consequences of plagiarism can be personal, professional, ethical, and legal.
Don’t be shy in class. US Universities train students to be leaders. Speak up and do not hesitate to give inputs in the class.
Address your professors as Dr. Last Name (eg, Dr. Laishram) or Professor Last Name (Professor Laishram). Do not call them Sirs or Madams.
Thank, thank and thank. Americans show gratitude for any help they receive from people. Do not forget to thank the people who have helped you in any way.
Learn to apologize – Say sorry if you’ve done anything wrong or anything that would hurt the other person.
Time management – Unlike Indian education system, there will be no time for you to waste. This doesn’t mean that you should not have fun but you should learn how to manage your time effectively to make sure you get your assignments and works completed before the deadline.
Introduce yourself when you meet new people. Don’t wait for others to get introduced to you. This will show your personable attitude to people.
Be professional and never show up late in class. Professors make note of students who show up late in the class secretly and at the time of performance evaluation they will provide you an honest feedback.
Have fun and do not forget to get together with friends and party. Just make sure you know what you are doing and why you have come here for.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS AND ACRONYMS
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a computer adaptive test (CAT) intended to assess certain analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to a graduate management program, such as an MBA. Go to http://www.mba.com/us to learn more about GMAT and to schedule your exam.
A Grade Point Average (GPA) is a summary statistic that represents a student’s average performance in their studies over a stated period of time, such as one semester. Being numerical, GPAs are often calculated to two decimals. They are used as indicators of whether levels of student performance meet some fixed criterion, and for sorting groups of students into rank order. Calculate your GPA using the WES iGPA Calculation tool https://www.wes.org/calculator/loginapp.asp
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test that is an admissions requirement for most graduate schools in the United States. The exam aims to measure verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills that have been acquired over a long period of time and that are not related to any specific field of study. The GRE General Test is offered as a computer-based exam administered at Prometric testing centers. To learn more about GRE and to book GRE test, go to http://www.ets.org/gre/
IELTS is the International English Language Testing System which tests English proficiency across the globe. Go to http://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/locations/india to book the IELTS test. (NOTE: This test is applicable to international applicants only)
A letter of recommendation (LOR), also known as a letter of reference is a document in which the writer assesses the qualities, characteristics, and capabilities of the person being recommended in terms of that individual's ability to perform a particular task or function. Letters of recommendation are typically related to employment (such a letter may also be called an employment reference or job reference), admission to institutions of higher education, or scholarship eligibility.
SEVIS stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It is nationwide, Internet-based system that the U.S. government uses to maintain accurate and current information on non-immigrant students (F and M visa) exchange visitors (J visa), and their dependents (F-2, M-2, and J-2)
The statement of purpose (SOP) is perhaps the most important, and most challenging, element of your application packet. This letter needs to reflect who you are and why you would be an asset to the program you are applying to. In your letter, specify what you want to study at graduate school? Why you want to study it? What experience you have in your field? What you plan to do with your degree once you have it? The letter needs to make you stand out from the hundreds of other applicants and yet stay within the genre-based expectations for a statement of purpose.
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) test measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level. And it evaluates how well you combine your listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks. Learn more about TOEFL here https://www.ets.org/toefl (NOTE: This test is applicable to international applicants only)
A transcript is an official record from your current or former institution giving a breakdown of the marks or grades you have achieved during your study. If your university does not issue official transcripts in English, you will need to provide both the official original language version plus a certified translation (signed and stamped by your institution or an official translator).
World Education Services (WES) is a nonprofit organization that provides credential evaluations for international students and immigrants planning to study or work in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more go to http://www.wes.org/students/
Alright! Now that we have given you enough dose of what you need to do and expect if you wish to study in the USA, take a deep breath and think if you are ready to take up this challenging journey in your life – a journey that will make a meaningful difference in your life. If you are ready, pick up your tools, equip yourself with knowledge and march forward toward a new life. Your new friends in USA are looking forward to welcoming you and showing you a better world. GOOD LUCK FRIEND! NAMA wishes you all the very best for your future. For any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributors: Shilpa Phairembam Weiss, Monica Laishram.