Joining graduate school is a life-long dream for many people. However, many people lack enough information about what the application process entails, and some of the considerations to make when looking for schools. The application process is even more difficult for most Africans where the awareness of various vocabulary used in the academic calendar of many American schools is scarce. Below I offer some tips that prospective students and/or their families can follow when making the choice of the US school to attend.
Do you want to join in the fall, spring, or summer?
Most American schools accept admissions for the fall, spring, and summer semesters. However, most international students tend to join in the fall (Aug or September) and spring (January). In most anglophone countries, the fall season is what is known as autumn, but in the USA, it is known as fall, I guess because that is the time when trees shed their leaves in preparation for the start of winter. Each university and the program of interest might have different admission conditions. Therefore, it is good to reach out to the school of interest and inquire about their admission requirements.
Know what you want and where your interests lie
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. It is important to know the program that you are interested in and its requirements. For example, different programs have varying requirements for GRE and TOEFL requirements. Therefore, evaluate your interests clearly, and know what is required of each major of your interest.
Prepare well for GMAT/GRE/TOEFL
Almost all programs require prospective students to take a standardized entry exam. With the exemption of business schools, which require prospective graduate students to do a Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), most programs require students to do a Graduate Record exam (GRE). The required scores vary across schools. However, those interested in medical and law schools do different entry level exams.
Additionally, international students are also required to take a language exam to assess their fluency in the English language. This can either be the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam. These exams require thorough preparation because they are anxiety provoking, but they can make your admission easier if you score highly. So, know which exam is required of you and prepare well in advance. You can check the details of these exams by googling them online.
Are you interested in scholarship, assistantship, or is your family meeting your education expenses?
Most schools have assistantships, and some have scholarships available to support graduate students. Assistantships are the most common forms of financial support for international students. Depending on the requirements, if offered, the assistantship require the incoming students to either be a teaching assistant (TA) to a professor or be a research assistant working in a lab. In exchange the school pays for your tuition and gives you some monthly stipend. If offered, the federal law requires international students to work for a maximum of 20 hours a week, and these are spread out in a way that working does not violate your classes. The application process for both scholarships and assistantships is separate from school application. If your family is supporting you, well and good, you do not have to worry about this! However, life is very expensive in the US, so trying either a scholarship or assistantship does not hurt!
Keep an eye on the deadlines
Schools are strict on deadlines and they won’t extend them for you! Make sure you know when the deadlines for the application are, and plan ahead! Schools start accepting applications a year earlier. For example, for those interested in the Fall 2020 admission, the applications will open starting the fall of this year (Aug to Dec 2019). Knowing the deadline is important in getting your references informed and for effective preparation for the entry exam.
Show interest and connect with the faculty and students in the school of your interest. For instance, ask about the assistantships available, admission requirements, and if the school can waive some requirements for you. Some schools waive TOEFL requirement for international students from anglophone countries.
Robert Nyaga is a Ph. D. Candidate studying Health Communication at Purdue University