Postgraduate Study in the US

Can I do a graduate degree in a field unrelated to my undergraduate degree?

An undergraduate degree in your intended field of graduate study is recommended and usually required.

However, if your undergraduate degree was in an allied field or was inter-disciplinary and you took, for example, one-third of your courses in political science, you may be admitted into a graduate program for political science upon the completion of a designated number of undergraduate courses at the institution in which you want to enrol.

For graduates applying for professional degrees in subjects such as business (MBA), education or hotel management, the above rules may not apply. Relevant work experience may be important for MBA admission.

Can I do a Master’s Degree in one year?

Some universities allow students to complete a master’s degree in one year. However, if you are asked to complete a master’s thesis, you may find it difficult to finish in les than 18 months.

Additionally, if you have a teaching assistantship or research assistantship, you may find that your duties take up so much time that it would be difficult to complete your degree in one year.

Some professional degrees have prescribed coursework which does not allow you to accelerate your time of study to one year. If you are applying for an MBA degree and you have work experience you may find that the business school as a special grogram which would allow you to finish in one year.

When am I too late to apply?

Application deadlines at US universities range from November 30th to August 15th. If you start the process very late, you may still be able to find a university that offers your field of study and is willing to consider your application.

Whether or not this is the university you really want to go to is another matter. If you have not taken the necessary standardised tests for admission, you need to plan on taking the tests and submitting the scores before the application deadline. You can use the Peterson’s Guide to find out about deadlines at US Universities.

What if I have missed the university deadline?

US universities, particularly the major ones like Harvard, Yale and Stanford receive hundreds of applications each year, so deadlines are firm and you will need to ensure that the application form, test results and recommendations have reached the university before the required date.

Other universities have rolling admissions which means that the deadlines are flexible and students may be admitted in the fall, spring or summer terms. In most cases, though, early application is advisable.

Can I work in the US once I have finished my degree?

US Immigration law allows international students to gain academic experience for 12-18 months upon completion of their degree from a US university.

The work done must be closely affiliated to your field of study and each possible job placement will be closely scrutinised by immigration. After this period, your US university degree will not entitle you to a work permit to remain in the USA.

Requesting Application Materials Do I request information and application materials from the universities directly?

Yes, each university has its own application process and you need to contact each university separately to obtain that information.

How should I communicate with the US universities, may I phone, fax or e-mail?

All three methods are perfectly acceptable. If you start the process close to the application deadline, you may want to call because that will be the quickest method. E-mail is also a quick and inexpensive way of requesting information.

When I request information from the US universities, what do I need to ay in the letter?

You may use the Request for Application Material included in your Graduate/Graduate-Business information package as an introductory letter.

Do not attach documents or any kind of payment at this stage. Simply fill out the form (print/type your answers) and mail to the “Graduate Admissions Office” of each university. You may photocopy this form as many times as you wish.

Who do I write to for applications?

Prospective international graduates should write to two locations: 1. Graduate School Admissions Office and 2. the particular department where they wish to pursue a degree.

The Graduate School will provide the application forms and information for international students and the department will be able to provide the course offerings and institutional financial aid details.

US Standardized Tests – General Information

Which tests do I have to take?

If English is not your native language and you have not completed a degree in an English speaking country, you will be asked to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam.

If you are pursuing a graduate degree in the Arts and Sciences, you will also be asked to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination);

if you are pursuing a graduate degree in a business related field, you will be asked to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test); for Law it is the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and for medicine it is the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test).

When should I take these tests?

The US universities will not consider your application complete until they receive your score report from the ETS.

Since it takes between 6-8 weeks for your scores to be reported, and since many schools and departments have January/February deadlines, you should take all tests one year before your intended date of study, i.e. October or November of the year preceding your study in the US.

You can send your scores well in advance of the application deadline date; the university will hold onto the scores and will expect your application in due course.

What are the GRE and GRE Subject Tests? How do I register for them?

The Graduate Record Examination is a 3.5 hour multiple choice aptitude test. It tests verbal reasoning, analytical skills, and quantitative ability and is required by the majority of graduate schools.

Some programs also require a subject test to be taken in your proposed area of study i.e. Literature, Computer Science etc. The GRE is offered three times a year at test centres throughout the world.

Registration and preparatory study materials are available from advising offices. Application deadlines are two months in advance.

How important is the GRE and how well do I have to do?

Although it may be required, your performance on the GRE becomes less important the better the other elements of your application, i.e. your undergraduate degree, transcripts, academic/professional references ad written statement of purpose.

Graduate Schools do sometimes impost cut off scores, although a university is unlikely to reject an application for a poor GRE score alone. It will be examined objectively within the context of the entire application.

Should I take the GRE more than once if I don’t do well?

Yes, but keep in mind that the universities will get all your scores for the last 5 years. You cannot prevent the universities getting a score you may not be happy with if you have taken a test less than five years ago.

Once the universities have your scores it is up to them how they interpret them. The admissions officers may want to only concentrate on the highest scores, or they may even average the scores.

Studies show that students only increase their scores 15% when they take the test again. If you are not strong on standardised tests and you score quite poorly the first time you take it, keep in mind that taking it again could result in an even lower score and just make your record look that much weaker.

If you did fairly well on the exam but you are concerned and want 50-100 extra points, keep in mind that you may not do as well the second time you take it as you did the first time.

The Application

Should I type the application?

Although it is preferable to type the entire application, many times it is difficult to obtain a typewriter so neat printing in black pen would be acceptable.

The application asks for a health certification, what should I do?

This is not unusual, ask your family doctor to fill one in.


Who should write my recommendations?

If you are applying for a professional degree, you should ask someone who knows you such as your supervisor in a work setting as well as your professors.

If you are applying for an academic degree of r Ph.D., recommendations from individuals who have extensive experience with your abilities academically would carry more weight than someone you have worked with.

Do I send the recommendations myself?

Most US university applications will include instructions as to how they want the recommendations sent. They may ask that your referees fill in the form and put in a sealed envelope and then return it to you to send on to the universities with your completed application materials.

Some US universities may request that your referees send the recommendations directly to the, so you may need to provide postage.

Financial Assistance

What are my chances of getting financial aid?

It is to the universities that you must realistically look for funding. Keep in mind, however, that about 30% of international students in the US receive major financial aid from university departments.

Of the remainder, the majority are self-financed, while a small percentage are recipients of awards such as the Fulbright Award. The Directory of Graduate Programs indicates which departments offer scholarships to graduate students.

What are my chances of being fully funded?

Financial aid does not always cover full costs so you should apply to other sources for assistance. First year students are less likely to receive assistance.

There are three main forms of financial aid available. Teaching Assistantships which are usually awarded to students in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

For 20 hours a week you may help a professor with lectures, lead class discussions, grade exam papers or teach freshmen undergraduates.

Students in the sciences and engineering fields are often awarded Research Assistantships whereby a student will help with departmental or professional research projects.

An Assistantship will typically cover the cost of tuition and fees for a year and sometimes a stipend is added for living expenses. Fellowships are normally awarded to students admitted to Ph.D. programs.

They entail no work responsibilities and may cover the cost of tuition and fees plus a stipend. Full fellowship support for the duration of a program is rare and will generally be combined with an assistantship. All aid is awarded on a year by year basis, but should be forthcoming if the minimum GPA is maintained.

Can I work as a graduate student?

International students are not permitted to work in their first year. After their first year, you can work on campus for up to 20 hours per week as long as you do not displace an American citizen or permanent resident.

This work would probably not pay very much and would not pay enough for your tuition and cost of living. Under the terms of the student visas, teaching assistantships and research assistantships do not fall under the category of work.

Adapted from: UK/US Fulbright Commission’s “Over 100 of the most commonly asked questions about Postgraduate Study in US” – and their answers

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