PhD is a long term commitment; it is intense, time consuming and can be stressful at times. Your program could last anywhere between 3 to 7 years, depending on your line of study and whether you’re a full-time or part-time student. Pursuing a PhD or professional doctorate is often motivated by a love for knowledge and a passion for the area of study. Doctoral students have a high degree of personal motivation, a natural curiosity, and a thirst for intellectual growth. Therefore, take time and make the decision to pursue PhD wisely.
Do you enjoy multi-tasking? Can you handle multiple challenges and activities at the same time? Do you know how to deal with rejection? Would you be able to tackle your research from another angle if your thesis was not accepted? If your answers to these questions are YES and positive, then proceed to the next step.
Once you’ve decided to do a PhD from a US university, the next step is to prepare, apply and then celebrate when you get an offer.
Before everything else, we would like to brief you on the importance of research experience. The PhD admission for US universities is very competitive. The most important consideration of the admissions committee that reviews your application is whether you are interested in doing research and you know what you are getting yourself into or not. We would recommend trying to get some research experience before you apply, even if it means working for free.
The quality and quantity of research experience you need depends on how competitive the program you are applying to is. More research experience may be needed to help you stand out if you want to get into very good programs.
The admissions committee also consider whether you have an existing connection with a research group in that program. For example, you may have previously collaborated with a professor in their program, and he/she is familiar with your work. If you show a genuine interest in working with him/ her, it will reflect well on you. However, even if you do not have any connection with any research group in that program, do not worry. You can still impress the admission committee with your other research experiences and recommendation letters.
PREPARATION BEFORE APPLYING
Make a list of universities you want to apply to based on:
1. Your GPA
2. Funding/ financial assistance
3. The reputation of your current university
4. Your research experience
5. Test scores
6. Geographical location of the university.
Apply to one or two competitive programs which, if they accepted you, would make you feel lucky because you were not sure you qualified. You should apply to several programs that you think might accept you. Lastly, apply to a few programs which you are certain you would be accepted to, just in case you are not accepted to any of the other programs.
1. The General GRE Test: Prospective graduate students, including PhD applicants, are required to take the General GRE test. Go to http://www.ets.org/gre/ for further details. Research on internet on which GRE book to buy.
2. TOEFL/IELTS Test: Both TOEFL and IELTS test your proficiency in English. Both tests are accepted by many universities. However, check the admission requirements of the universities to confirm which test is required. Go to http://www.ets.org/toefl and http://www.ielts.org/ for further details.
3. Subject GRE: The Subject GRE test might be required by the program you are planning to apply to. The subject GRE test is offered in India in a few cities once a year. Therefore, make sure you register for the test a few months before the test date so that you will not be in trouble due to lack of seats. Go to https://www.ets.org/gre/subject/about for further details.
Identify the professors who you might want as your research advisor.
You should only contact professors who you have a genuine interest in working with, based on what research they are doing and whether they are looking for new students or not. You can find out about a professor’s research by going to their webpages (professors who do not have webpages about their research are either not interested in recruiting new students, not doing any research currently, or they are so famous that they have someone to filter their email for them).
Before contacting a professor, do your homework. Read the professor’s webpage and at least one recent paper. Professors should be contacted only by email. Since most professors get many emails, there is some possibility that even if you do everything right, your email will get lost in their inbox and you might not get a reply. If you do not get a reply after a week or two, send a follow up email that politely asks if the email was received and include the previous email in it. If you still do not get a reply, then the reason is that the potential advisor you are contacting either has a very aggressive spam filter, or is not someone you want as your advisor.
Application deadline for good universities is usually in December.
Statement of Purpose Essay
Your statement of purpose should use the format supplied by the university you are applying to. However, the usual information that should be provided in your statement of purpose is given below:
1. Describe prior research experiences, courses, or projects that have prepared you for PhD studies.
2. Explain in some detail the research area you would like to work in.
3. Explain why you identified the potential advisors you did.
4. Give an example of a research project you are excited about: one you have conducted, one you would like to conduct, or one that you have read about.
5. Explain why you think you are a good candidate for the program.
Usually one set of official academic records/transcripts should be mailed by your undergraduate and postgraduate universities directly to the Graduate School of the university. In India, Universities usually provide your transcript in a sealed envelope with the registrar’s signature. Make arrangements for the transcripts in advance.
Letters of recommendation
Submit three recommendation letters written by professors and/or professional colleagues who are in a position to judge your potential for success in the PhD program, your aptitude for research, and your capacity to make a contribution to your chosen profession. If you are a student, professors are appropriate. Personal friends and family members are not appropriate recommenders.
Usually your recommenders are required to submit their letters online. Therefore, when you apply, make sure you give enough time to your recommenders to submit the letters before the deadline.
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. Go to http://www.wes.org/students/indiapolicy.asp to understand the requirements.
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 evaluates 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 link http://www.wes.org/
Most good universities provide financial assistance to their PhD students. However, be cautious. Do your homework. Visit the program webpage and find out information regarding financial assistance and how to apply.
AFTER YOU’VE SUBMITTED YOUR APPLICATION
After you have submitted your application, sent all required documents to the Graduate school of the universities and your recommenders have submitted all recommendation letters, the waiting period starts. You will get impatient and anxious. Nevertheless, the fruit is sweet. Once you have received an offer/offers, accepted the best offer, you will need to start investigating on how to obtain your student visa.
STUDENT AND EXCHANGE VISITOR INFORMATION SYSTEM (SEVIS)
Before you apply for a visa, 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 to Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) section below)
• Visa stamping interview at a US Consulate in India
• 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 FaceBook to find groups 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.
- 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 see things from a current student’s perspective and make yourself prepared.
- 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 an honest feedback of yours.
- 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: Namoijam Changningphaabi, Shilpa Phairembam Weiss