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Graduate Study in the US: Guide for International Students

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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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Dear Sir/Madam,
May i know the list of universities that offers informtion systems for international students. Thanks in Advance. Have a nice day .

Hi there, we have a subject ranking of the world's top universities for computer science and information systems (where you can filter the results by region/country). The majority of the schools listed will offer places to international students that meet their entry requirements. To find these requirements you'll need to visit their website and look at the program details for the subject you want to study. There will also be a section for 'international students' on the website if that school accepts international admission, and it's here you'll find out how to apply.

You might also be interested in looking at our article on Computer Science Scholarships. Good luck.


Dear Sir/maam
I am currently in the final year of Industrial Microbiology. I am interested in applying to US universities for masters in Biotechnology. Could you please inform me about Scholarships and financial aids for Indian Students?

Hi Radhika, the first place to look for scholarships would be the university you wish to study at (information on funding will be listed on their website. Often however, you won't be able to apply for a scholarship before being accepted onto a program. Other scholarships to look for would be government scholarships (from Indian governement or US government) and scholarships from external organizations (e.g a leading industrial microbiology company). We also have a few articles that list a range of scholarships for indian students which you can find here, here, here and here. I hope this helps get you started! Laura

Dear Mr/Ms,
I want to do a master degree in the department of media science and communication. what are the requirements from the universities in USA? can you help me please?.

Hi Udaya, I'm afraid that entry requirements differ hugely so you should visit the websites of any school you're interested in to see the exact requirements. To find the top universities in the US for media and communications, see our latest subject rankings. Laura

Would like to know the basic requirement for masters

Hi Ukenye. The requirements for a master's degree will vary depending on the course you're applying to. You'll usually need to have completed a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject, and you may also need to take one or more graduate admissions tests (info here: https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/admissions-advice/graduate-admissions-tests-glance-gmat-gre-lsat-toefl-ielts)

We also have some guides to different types of course, which may help: https://www.topuniversities.com/courses

Dear Sir / Ms,
I'm an aeronautical engineer in the filed of ( aircraft engine and airframe ) , seeking for a master degree in my domain , i will be glad if you can help me and layout my choices , since my filed is one of the most sensitive and required throughout the world . I do have so many ideas concerning the design and manufacturing of aircraft/engines , and certainly motivated creatively !

I just graduated fro the university and looking forward to study abroad. This site I see will help me when the time comes.thank you for a good course.

how do I get graduate course in economics in the States.

Hi Jesse. We have more information about studying in the US here: https://www.topuniversities.com/where-to-study/north-america/united-states/guide

You may also want to look at our ranking of the world's leading universities for economics, many of which are based in the US: https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/university-subject-rankings/2014/economics-econometrics


<p>I&#39;m planning to study at states. However, I still have to fix stuffs here.</p>


Hi am Johnpaul,am from Nigeria and a graduate of communication engineering.I wish to undergo an MSC in renewable energy engineering at a top ranking University in the United states. Pls I need an advice on which university to choose.thanks.

Dear Sir / Ms,
I'm an English language teacher. Kindly I want to study 'linguistics' to pursue my master degree. Now I'm applying to the ''fullbright program'' and they are telling me to decide two U.S universities which are interesting in my specialization.

Hi Jasim,
Our subject rankings will be helpful for you to find out the best universities for linguistics - which you can find here - but bear in mind however that competition within the top 50 will be fierce!
Before or after taking a look at our rankings, you might want to read up on some US states that sound particularly appealing - we have a full list of state guides here - these guides include in depth information about the lifestyle and culture in the state, student cities within the region and a bit of information about the ranked universities in the area.
When you've discovered a few ideal universities you should look at all the prospective student resources available on the university's own website before making the choice to apply.
Good luck with your applications!


Hi. I m Arif mahammad I am studying Final Year Aeronautical Engineering in Bengalore. I want to do M.S in Aeronautics in US. plz. Help me to study in abroad.

Dear Mr/Ms
in your University ) so i need to contact the decision person to know the documents
nader behtash
thanks a lot


Dear Sir,
I'm happy to come across this page online. I'm a university graduate, I studied Computer Science and I'm interested in moving on to my masters and PHD.
I would be glad if you can help.
Thank you sir.

Aigberua Tobi