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Graduate Study in the US: Guide for International Students

Graduate Study in the US: Guide for International Students main image

This article is adapted from the QS Top Grad School Guide, available to read online here.

The planet’s third-largest country by both area and population, the US is a world leader across pretty much every sphere of human activity – business, technology, science, politics, media, and of course education. The US is home to many of the world’s most prestigious universities (including half of the global top 10), and hosts more international students than any other country – around 1.1 million by the latest count.

Read on for information about studying in the US at graduate level – including how to apply, student visas, fees and funding, and staying to seek work.

How to apply for graduate study in the US

San Francisco

To be eligible for graduate study in the US, you should have completed a bachelor’s degree or equivalent qualification from an internationally recognized institution. Along with your degree certificate, you will also typically need to provide:

  • One or more letters of recommendation;
  • A research proposal (for PhD and postdoctoral applicants);
  • A graduate admissions test result, if required (e.g. GRE/GMAT);
  • Proof of proficiency in English (e.g. TOEFL/IELTS) if you are not a native speaker;
  • A statement of purpose, outlining your aspirations and demonstrating your suitability for the course.

While some institutions accept applications on an ongoing basis, most colleges offer an early deadline (usually December to January) and a regular deadline (usually March to April). You can apply to as many US universities as you like, but many students select a shortlist of six. US universities often charge an application fee, usually between $50 and $100, though online applications can be cheaper or free.

Thinking of studying a PhD in the US? Read our guide on how to find and fund a PhD.

How to apply for a US student visa

Washington DC

International students will need to obtain an F-1 non-immigrant visa. You can only apply for this after securing a place at an SEVP-approved university, and you’ll need to provide proof of sufficient funds for the course duration and a confirmation of your intention to leave the US after completing your studies. You’ll be asked to attend an interview at your local US embassy, bringing your application and supporting documents with you.

If you’re a Canadian or Bermudian citizen you won’t need a visa to study in the US, but you will still need to obtain an I-20 Certificate of Eligibility form and pay for SEVIS (the student database and tracking system) registration. The non-immigrant visa application fee is currently $160 and the registration fee for SEVIS is $200.

Read more advice on applying for your US student visa.

Tuition fees

Tuition fees at US universities are well known for being on the high side. Private universities tend to charge higher fees, and usually have a single rate for both local and international students. Public universities will have a lower rate for students from within their state, and a higher rate for international students and out-of-state residents. If you wish to undertake a professional degree such as an MBA, JD, LLM or MD, you should also expect to pay considerably more than for other postgraduate programs.

All US universities are legally required to include a fees and financial aid calculator on their websites. Use this to get a quick estimate of how much your intended course of study would cost, and what funding you may be eligible for. You can access all net price calculators in one place here.


New York City

The good news is that many students are able to benefit from some form of financial aid, and often the most competitive institutions offer the most generous support. For example, five major US universities are entirely “need blind”, pledging to offer sufficient financial assistance for all students (both domestic and international) who are selected for admission, regardless of their financial situation. These schools are Harvard, Amherst, YalePrinceton and MIT.

As US government aid schemes and loans are often not available to international students, you’ll probably find your best sources of funding are those offered by your chosen university and/or other organizations. Scholarships and grants may be awarded based on financial need, academic achievements and/or other talents, and may also take into account factors relating to your background and field of study.

While the largest funding packages are often found at the top end of the private sector, many public universities offer alternative support. An example is the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) scheme, which allows students with F-1 visas to gain paid, off-campus internships. Another funding option is the Fulbright Program, an initiative led by the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

View a range of scholarships to study in the US.

Living costs

Depending on where you decide to study in the US, the cost of living can vary considerably. Believe it or not, living costs in the US can often be lower than those in other popular study destinations. Suburban and rural areas in the South and Midwest generally have the lowest cost of living, with big urban centers like New York City entailing considerably higher living expenses (New York University gives an average annual estimate of $24,000). To supplement your income, you may like to seek part-time work on campus. However, work off-campus in your first year is restricted by visa regulations.

Post-graduation work in the US

Yale University

After graduation, F-1 visa holders are generally entitled to stay in the country for up to one year of post-graduation practical training. In order to do this you’ll need to apply for a change in visa status within 60 days after graduation, or risk being deported. There are two types of practical training, known as optional (OPT) and curricular (CPT). Both can be completed either during your degree or after graduation, but must not exceed 12 months and must be in a role directly related to your field of study. Some STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students may also be eligible to extend their practical training period by an additional 24 months.

Meet US grad schools in a city near you

The QS World Grad School Tour is your chance to meet representatives of leading grad schools from across the US, and around the world. Get personal answers to your questions, attend free seminars about grad school admissions, and gather all the information you need. Attendees are also eligible to apply for exclusive scholarships. 

This article was originally published in January 2015. It was last updated in November 2018. 

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hi my daughter 4years premed in usa buffalo , we are Canadian , she can find chance to finish her medical school in Canada .

My friend has completed her masters degree in communicative English( MA communicative English) from India. Is she require both the GRE score( General and Subject) as well as any English proficiency test score( TOEFL/IELTS) for seeking PhD studies in USA or Canada? And please provide some guidance about funding. Any advice in this matter is highly appreciated.

Hi, I have Masters of Education [M.Ed.] and PhD in Inclusive Education and Certificate in Early Childhood Education. How do I get a full funded scholarship for Masters in Inclusive Education, or Masters in Early Childhood Education in the USA or CANADA. Thank you

Hi am reuben from nigeria am in my last year in university in Nigeria and I wanted to know if it's compulsory for me to take the tofel exam instead of taking the GRE exam

Hi, am Olawole from Nigeria, i have B.Tech and M.Tech in Civil Engineering and i wanted to carry outside my PhD aboard preferably USA , can i get scholarship for that if i apply?

Hi Olawole, you may be able to find a fellowship or scholarship to help fund your PhD (and may also like to consider an assistantship, in which you'll work for the university in exchange for funding. You can find out more about scholarships and other funding options with our complete guide on how to find and fund a PhD, and we've listed a range of scholarships to study in the US here

Hi, am Patience from Kenya,i will be finishing my bachelor's degree in a year, and I wanted to carry out my masters degree abroad, can I get a scholarship for that, if I apply

Hi Patience, you can find all our scholarship listings for different countries/regions here, which includes scholarships to study in the US

Hello I need an advice please

I was trying to apply at the University of Denver but my GRE scores were too low apparently. Now I am wondering if with work experience and a Master's Degree from Germany - is there a way to go around the GRE? Would there be a way for me to appeal that specific decision? It just blows my mind that I have to retake the GRE even though I had recommendations from faculty members, a professor ready to work with me and the perfect resume including tons of work experience and a high GPA... Any advice in this matter is highly appreciated.

Hi, I'm applying to a PhD in Sociology in the US, and I have a Masters from the UK. Because the two grading systems are different, would US admissions be able to properly assess my grades/transcript? Thanks in advance!

I am completing my Bachelors in Commerce(B.COM) from India and I am interested in doing Masters like MBA from abroad. Can you please provide me information on this. Which is the best and cheapest country to do MBA, also what is the procedure to take admission?
Thanks for reading and replying me!!

Hi Surbhi, I'm not sure about the cheapest countries specifically for MBAs, but you can read about affordable study destinations here. You can find out more about studying an MBA on our sister site, TopMBA.com. Hope this helps.

This is Filmon .I am from Kampala .I have four honour degree in soil science . and I am looking in masters in soil science in USA .so how can I get a list of scholarship in USA .


Hi there. I need help finding very affordable(CHEAP) schools that offer a masters program in any of liberal arts,media and digital studies,photography, creative writing. All the schools I've found are either too expensive or offer courses I'm not interested in. I have a bachelors degree in philosophy. I need advise. Thanks

Hi Donald, I'm afraid I'm not sure about particularly affordable universities for your masters degree, but you could look for a scholarship to help with costs - we've listed a range of scholarships to study in the US here. :)

I am looking to do a master degree in electrical engineering in either USA OR Canada
But I want to start my study now in the spring semester
However, I guess that all the universities are asking international students to apply before one year if they want to have an available seat !!

I am asking if there is a chance to be accepted in any university in the coming semester (Spring Semester) ?

Hello , Iam Nkurunziza jeandeDieu I would like to do my post graduation in North or others American school only need full or partial scholarship .Please can anyone help me Await response ,Iam from Rwanda.

I'm looking to do Master Degree in USA in financial mathematics / quant finance / financial engineering / financial statistical modeling.

is there any database where i can search/filter/scan all US universities according to tuition fees ?


Hi Omran, I'm not aware of a database where you can search for US universities by tuition fees but if you check the 'fees and finance' (or similarly titled) section of the official websites of US universities you'll find a fees and financial aid calculator, which US universities are legally required to provide. This calculator will give you a rough estimate of the cost of your course and what financial aid you might be eligible for. You can search for net price calculators for different universities here. Hope this helps!

for best university selection you can use this

I am Mario Had dad, I just graduated valedictorian of my class in dentistry from Saint Joseph university in Beirut... I wish studying periodintology in the best U.S. universities
Where should I look... and what about scholarships
Thank your

Hi Mario, we don't have a specific rank for periodontology, but it might help to view our rankings by subject for dentistry, with the results narrowed down to show only US universities. We've listed scholarships to study in the US here. Hope this helps!

Hi, i have just completed my bachelors in electrical engineering, but want to persue a masters of science in management degree from USA. I want to know if it's worth doing ms in management from us. Would it be easy to bag a job completing this degree in us? Since ms in management does not have much relevance in my country, so i'd have to get a job in US in order to pay off the loan debt. Will i get OPT after completion of this degree? How much does this degree cost?? Please reply!!!

Please can anyone help me I'm an Algerian Student I'm really interested in pursuing my studies abroad 1st step is the USA I will choose a master degree in Economics but I need someone close to the university that I'll choose just to tell me if they can accept me or not

I have almost 3.6 GPA
a good level in English but I don't have a diploma
Bachelor degree (Commercial Sciences with Finance as an option or you can call a minor field)
Master degree (Finance and Banks)
My financial situation is weak I don't have enough money to pay a full tuition.

please can someone help me.

Hi Abderrahmane, you'll need to check the official website/s of the US institution/s you're interested in for details on whether you match their specified entry requirements for their masters in economics course, but it sounds like you're eligible. You could also check the university's website for information on any scholarships or other funding opportunities they may have for you - we've also listed scholarships to study in the US here. To help you to choose a university, you may like to view our rankings by subject for economics, with the results narrowed down to show only US universities. To find out more about studying in the US, our complete guide should help. :)

A very interesting and really useful article, Thank you

Hello , I would like to do my post graduation in North American school , only need full or partial scholarship . Await response .

Hi Geraldo, please take a look at our list of scholarships to study in the US. :)

Hey Hasna!!
It is indeed not so easy to take up graduation in USA and manage everything. Before any student applies for the F-1 visa the student has to be accepted for the enrollment in the particular school which is SEVP certified.
Each and every student applying for F-1 visa has some common questions and notions in their mind. You have precisely mentioned the points well with the detailed description of each.
The entire flow goes like :
1.Finding Univeristy
2.Plannig Budget
3.Preparing For Exams
4.Appering For Exams
5.Filing Application
6.Schedule Visa Interview
7.Arrange the Travel

Once the student reaches USA boundaries on F-1 status, he/she has to take care about:
Requirements for F-1 visa
Travel outside US
Transfer of school/ college
Work in USA
Stay in USA
Great article! Good Luck..

Hi, My name is Sumit Kumar Rana. I lived in India, but I wnat to compelet my master's in USA. my filed is Computer Application/Computer Science. But I need Scholarship as well.
perferbly I want to go studies in NY,CA and near anywhere.

Hi Sumit, please take a look at our rankings by subject for Computer Science, narrowed down by country to see the results in the US. We also have a complete guide to studying abroad in the US and scholarship listings. Hope this helps!

My name is Monsurah. I am 22 years old. I currently live in Egypt, but i would like to do my Masters in US. My major is radio and television. I really need a scholarship, preferably Washington DC or any where close to it.

Hi Monsurah, please take a look at our list of scholarships to study in the US. :)

hello laura,
I am 23 years old and from Cameroon.just completed my bachelors degree in geology at our university(Cameroon )and intend to do masters graduation on petroleum engineering. Its been hard getting a scholarship am ready to help myself with work while I pray to received assistant from your scholarship funding. Would loved to know what would be expected of me to be part of these program. Highly expecting a reply from you.
best regard kouyam mariama.

Hey Laura,
I´m 23 years old from Indonesia but i´m studying in Brazil and my Nacionality is Indonesian.. I´m Engineering Production student and next year i will be Graduated of Engineer..i would like to continue my Master Graduation of Engineer in USA but i know education and cost life in USA is very expensive ,and then i´m looking a possibility to get scholarship and free cost life in USA during my life there,is it possible to me?? and i want to know about a possibility to work during my study there...

i would like to get more information..

Thank You !
Yogie Yohanes

Hi Yogie. You may be interested in our lists of scholarships to study in the US, and engineering scholarships. However, do bear in mind that most students will still need to find additional funding, either through personal savings or by taking out loans. For more information, take a look at our guides to studying in the US, and the costs involved.

Hey Laura!
I wish to do my masters from US and the subjects of my interest are Accountancy, Finance, Human Resources and Management. I would want to know about the courses that are available within the purview of the subjects of my interest and the possible career options.

Thank you!
Shreya Kapoor

Hello Laura
I am 18 year old from New Delhi, India. I am doing my under graduation from University of Delhi in BA Political Science Hons with a score of 60.25% (till 4th semester). I want to do my masters from US either in international relations or journalism and mass communication. Do you think these grades will be sufficient?

I would love to get information on the two, and I would really want to know more about financial assistance and if possible career options.

Thank you!
Ekta Godara

Hi Ekta, whether your grades are sufficient entirely depends on the school in question so my advice is to research potential schools, the programs they offer and the entry requirements for international students to see if you are eligible. Many schools also list funding information on their websites so make sure to look at scholarships and fellowships to see if there is anything you can apply for. To find the top US universities for communication & media studies click here.

For more funding options, please see our Scholarships FAQ and our article on scholarships to study in the US.

Good luck! Laura

Hi, Laura

I'm a 22 year old from Denmark. However, I came to America 5 years ago to play basketball in High School. After that I stayed for college because I got a scholarship to West Virginia Wesleyan College for basketball.

I'm going to graduate next year (May 2016) with a Bachelor in Business Management, and a double Minor in Economics and Biology.

I'm very interested in going to Grad School for Finance. However, as school is free in Denmark and my family back in Denmark doesn't make a ton of money, I would need to find a way to get it paid for.
How do you suggest I go about this?

Thanks in advance!
Soeren Doessing

Hi Soeren, finding funding at graduate level is much easier than at bachelor's level but still requires a bit of online searching. Use our Scholarship Application FAQ to get general advice on where to look and see our Guide to Graduate Funding for more specific information. My advice is always to search the websites of any school you're interested in attending as often they'll list funding opportunities all in one place. To see the top universities in the US for accounting & finance click here. Bear in mind that although the top 100 universities have are likely to have higher entry requirements, they are also often more liberal with funding!

We also have an article on business & entrepreneurship scholarships and leadership scholarships which may be useful.

Good luck with your search!


International Student IN America interested in Master's Degree

Dear Sir / Ms,
I am a student of Information Technology, currently in final year. I am willing to get admit in Fall 2016. How do I get to know the universities giving financial aid or funding for Computer Science.

Hi there, we have an article on Computer Science Scholarships which lists a number of current funding opportunities, but your best bet is to look on the website of the university you wish to apply to in order to find specific scholarships. Many schools these days offer some funding, and if they don't they'll likely provide information of other external scholarships and funding sources. To see the QS ranking of the top universities in the US for computer science, click here. Good luck! Laura

My Bsc engineering in Industrial and manufacturing engineering from Pakistan and Master in management Engineering from Politecnico di milano italy now i want o Master in mechanical enginnering from USA.Any one guide me how can i get scholarship for master programme in USA in any good university.

Dear Sir/Madam,
Well, I'm Iranian. I studied my bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. my GRE score is 320 and toefl is 104. Actually my GPA is 3.3. I'm really interested to study in one of the universities in US, but I'm worried about financial aids. do I have any chance of getting financial aids in this field (chemical engineering)?

Hi Farhad, entry requirements vary widely so you should research the top universities in the US for chemical engineering to find your options and to conduct research on each school you're interested in (via an online search or their website). There are a number of need-blind universities in the US but the majority are not, meaning that financial aid isn't definite. There are many other sources of aid however, such as scholarships and loans, so I would advise that you worry about gaining entry into a school before worrying about how to pay! See Scholarships to Study in the US for an insight into the type of funds available. I hope this helps!

Laura :)

I have been trying to select an ideal university for a masters degree. I have a law degree from India and i have been working in law firms in Kenya for the past 5 years. My interests:- real estate/ property law environmental law and public policy. I would like to take say a year off work for my studies. I am hoping for a program that i can pay for myself but cannot seem to find a guide to help me plan financially. Please recommend universities on the east coast or south to help narrow down my selection. Thank you.

Hi Emma, we have a subject ranking of the top universities in the US for law and legal studies but you'll have to visit the university's website in order to find out whether they offer a program suited to you in real estate/property/environment or public policy. To see where each university in the rankings is located, see our state-by-state guide to universities in the US. Funding information will also be available of each university website, or check out our article on Scholarship to Study in the US or see our full range of scholarships articles. Hope this helps! Laura :)