Whether you’re a US national or an international student, the US grad school admissions process can be difficult to get to grips with. But of course, all the effort you put in will pay off once you get your place at the grad school of your dreams! Follow our step by step guide to navigating the US grad school admissions cycle…
1. Start early and check deadlines.
Obviously applications to graduate schools can take up a lot of time. From achieving high scores in your standardized tests to submitting your transcripts and obtaining letters of recommendation from your professors, there’ll be quite a few hoops to jump through. So start early, and outline a list of all the documentation that you will need to provide, noting down any important deadlines – including those for scholarship applications. It might be worth annotating a calendar or setting up reminders on your phone to help you remember the host of deadlines that you will have to respect.
2. Figure out funding.
What are the tuition fees for each course you are applying to? What budget does the university recommend for living expenses? Which scholarships would you be eligible to apply for? Will you (realistically) have time for a part-time job alongside your studies? Are there opportunities to apply for a graduate assistantship? Are you prepared to take out a loan?
You’ll also need to take account of individual application fees, which can average between US$50 and US$100, as well as fees for standardized exams such as the GRE. Prepare a budget noting down all the costs involved in your application, the amount you would need in order to attend, and the funds available to you from various sources. Keep this updated regularly throughout the process.
3. Book your standardized tests.
Find out what standardized tests you need to take. Most US universities ask graduate applicants to submit GRE® General Test scores, while some departments might ask for your scores in the GRE Subject Test. When booking your test date, make sure you allow enough time for your papers to be marked and scores sent to each grad school within the deadline. You may also want to allow time to re-sit the test if unhappy with your score.
If you’re an international applicant, you may also be asked to submit scores in a test of English language proficiency, such as the TOEFL or IELTS.
4. Prepare for the GRE.
The amount of time you should allocate to preparing for your GRE test will largely depend on your test-taking confidence and familiarity with the exam, but keep in mind that the GRE is, as most standardized tests tend to be, an acquired skill. Examiners will look for specific things in your answers, and other test-takers will be familiar with strategies to save time during the exam and score extra points. Set aside time to review past papers and marking rubrics, and invest in some preparatory resources. If you’re keen to keep costs down, there are many cheaper second-hand editions of GRE prep textbooks available through online stores like Amazon and eBay, as well as free online resources such as QS Leap.
5. Perfect your personal statement.
Without a strong personal statement outlining your motivations, qualifications and research proposal, you will stand little chance of getting into graduate school in the US. Write and re-write your essay, enlisting the help of your classmates, professors, friends and family. Your essay should sum up your academic achievements, intentions and suitability for the course – and it should be 100% error-free. Don’t underestimate the negative impact of even just few small typos!
6. Ask for references.
Ask for references from professors with whom you have a good rapport at least two months before the deadline. First, ask your potential referees whether they would feel comfortable recommending you. If they accept, thank them and give them a rundown of the process and the deadline. If possible, schedule an appointment with each professor to explain your motivations for attending graduate school, as well as your intended research project. Make sure your references comply with the guidelines set by your chosen grad school; your referees may need to submit a formal letter, or complete an online form.
7. Apply for a student visa.
If you’re an international student, start your student visa application as soon as you’ve been offered and accepted a place at a US grad school. To apply, complete the online application form and upload your photo, and schedule an interview with the US embassy or consulate in your country.
Be prepared to pay an application fee of about US$160 and provide a photocopy of your passport; a form I-20 supplied by your university; the confirmation page on your form DS-160; evidence of your intent to leave the US once your studies are completed; evidence of necessary funds in your bank account to pay for your studies; and evidence of your academic preparation for the course, such as your standardized test scores, transcript and diplomas.
Still choosing a grad school?
For more advice on this topic, you might be interested in reading our complete guide on How to Apply to Grad School, available to download for free. You can also meet leading grad schools from across the US and beyond at the QS World Grad School Tour – coming soon to a city near you. This is a chance to meet representatives of graduate schools in person, attend free seminars, get personal answers to your questions, and apply for exclusive graduate scholarships.