RESEARCH YOUR OPTIONS
The first step to graduate study in the United States is researching your options to find a college or university that best fits your needs.
Remember that no official ranking system exists for colleges and universities in the United States. The best college or university is the one that is best for you and meets your requirements—academic, financial, and personal.
There are over 1,000 universities in the United States that offer graduate degrees, so be sure to allow yourself enough time to conduct thorough research about potential graduate schools and programs. You should begin your search at least 12 to 18 months prior to the academic year in which you hope to enroll at a U.S. college or university.
The two main graduate degrees in the United States are the master’s degree and the doctoral degree. Both degrees involve a combination of research and coursework. Graduate education is characterized by in-depth training and specialized instruction. Study and learning are more self-directed at the graduate level than the undergraduate level.
Finance Your Studies
Start your graduate financial planning as early as possible. As you work to develop a budget for your studies, keep in mind that your overall costs include tuition, fees, and living expenses. Actual costs vary by institution, so refer to each institution’s website for specific costs. When budgeting, estimate that tuition costs typically increase 6-10% each year.
Assess Personal Funds
Start out by evaluating how much funding you or your family can provide for your education: annual family income, family assets, your own earnings, and other sources. If you are planning to apply for financial aid, note that general financial aid amounts are based on the difference between college costs and what your family can afford. Understand that most scholarship awards may cover only part of your total educational and living costs and may not be available to first-year international students.
How can you reduce your educational costs?
- Research a wide variety of schools, from public to private
- Think about applying to colleges in areas of the United States that have a lower cost of living, such as in the South or the Midwest or in rural areas of the country
- Identify sources of financial aid, including home government scholarships, U.S. government assistance, private sources and international organizations, U.S. universities, and loans.
- Find out if the institutions in which you are interested have opportunities for you to work as a graduate teaching or research assistant in exchange for a tuition waiver and/or a stipend. This is very common at the PhD level.
Deadlines for scholarships and grants can be as early as 18 months before your program start date. Before you submit your application, research independent scholarships and identify univerisities with financial aid in your field of study. Contact professors in your department of interest at U.S. institutions since they play an important role in identifying and choosing grant and funding recipients in their departments.
The main types of U.S. university assistance are fellowships, teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and administrative assistantships. Make sure you understand the responsibilities involved and level of funding before accepting an award.
How can EducationUSA Advisers help you plan your expenses?
Advisers can help you distinguish yourself in a highly competitive applicant pool so that you have a better chance of competing for admission with financial aid. Advisers have access to resources that help you identify scholarships and new programs. Advisers also share current information about financial aid opportunities.
General Funding Resources:
- IIE Funding for US Study Online
- EducationUSA Financial Aid
- Scholarship Help
- International Education Financial Aid
- Global Student Loan Corporation International Student Loan Access Group
- Guaranteed Scholarships
Complete Your Application
Application packages require extensive prepation and planning. In the United States, application requirements can vary greatly from one institution to another.
Please check the specific requirements for international graduate admissions on the website of each institution. For graduate study, you are likely to have institutional and departmental application requirements. Visit EducationUSA’s Your 5 Steps to U.S. Study to review the graduate study application timeline and stay on track.
General application requirements
- Personal data form: Be sure to keep you personal information consistent and always spell your name the same way on all documents.
- The personal statement gives you the opportunity to show the admissions committee who you are as an individual. Your statement should be clear, concise,and persuasive. Highlight your unique strengths, skills, or teaching experiences to show the institution that you are a good match with their program and department.
- Your transcript is a list of classes you completed in your undergraduate studies and the grades you received in each class.
- Ask past professors, administrators, or employers to write your letters of recommendation. Your recommenders should write in depth about your work and assess your potential to do well as a graduate student.
Tips to prepare a successful graduate school application
- Do your best to relax as you prepare your applications. As you complete each application, you will engage in personal reflection and self-discovery. Be calm, reflective, and thoughtful.
- Allow plenty of time to conduct research and complete your applications.
- Pay close attention to all application instructions, including deadlines.
- The look and feel of your application is just as important as what you say. Take the time to present a polished application.
- Be yourself—human and honest. Remember, no one is perfect. When preparing your application, do not embellish your experiences or make excuses.
- Provide all materials requested in the format requested by the institution. Each institution’s application may vary.
Apply For Your Student Visa
You’ve now reached Step 4! Applying for your U.S. student visa. This next step will cover F, J and M student visa types.
Choose your level of study to learn more about applying for your student visa.
The United States government offers three student visa types including F, J, and M.
- F Student Visa: for study at an accredited U.S. college or university or to study English at an English language institute
- J Exchange Visa: for participation in an exchange program, including high school and university study
- M Student Visa: for non-academic or vocational study or training in the United States
Before you can apply for an F, J, or M student visa, you must first apply and be accepted by a U.S. institution of higher education that is certified by the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP).
Even when an institution is SEVP-certified and able to issue I-20 and DS-2019 forms for use in visa applications, it may not hold national or regional accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation databases list accreditation status for all U.S. institutions. Institutions designated by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to place participants in Academic Exchange programs (J visas) must be accredited. Recognition of course credits and degrees by other institutions and by U.S. and international employers is linked to an institution’s accreditation. To learn more about accreditation talk to an EducationUSA Adviser in person or online.
Once accepted at an SEVP-certified school, you will receive a Form I-20 or DS-2019 from the institution’s international student office to present when you apply for your student visa. Once you receive your form, visit:
It is important to note that two separate U.S. government agencies are involved with international student arrival and status while studying in the United States. The State Department is responsible for the visa application process and issuing the visa. Once a visa holder arrives in the United States, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security then takes over as the responsible agency for entry into the country, as well as issuing and enforcing international student regulations. Please read information from all three sources above before applying for a U.S. student visa. The sites address employment, maintaining your status, and other vital topics.
Prepare For Your Departure
You’ve made it to Step 5! Preparing for your departure is the final step to Your Five Steps to U.S. Study.
Key components to this final step include making your travel arrangements, attending a pre-departure orientation at your local EducationUSA center or online, gathering pre-departure materials and documents for arrival, as well as reporting to your school and attending orientations.
Check your new institution’s website for additional pre-departure information that will be more specialized and have information about health insurance, average local temperatures throughout the year, local transportation options, housing, and more.
Attend Pre-Departure Orientation
EducationUSA advising centers organize pre-departure orientations for students getting ready to depart for the United States. EducationUSA advisers and U.S. alumni provide information and resources that will help you prepare for new experiences and develop skills to adjust to new challenges. Topics discussed include cultural differences, motivation, changes from your home environment, academic systems and expectations, housing, and coping in a new cultural setting. Contact your closest EducationUSA advising center to attend a pre-departure orientation.