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Tips for international students applying to graduate programs

High school and college are the two most common goals of international students, but in recent years, graduate degrees are becoming more popular. For those who finish undergraduate study in the U.S., they must be familiar with the admissions process. However, for international students who haven’t gone through college apps before, applying to graduate programs abroad such as in the U.S. can be as overwhelming. This post will provide international students tips for graduate degrees application.

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Make sure to have a goal

Before you want to obtain any degrees abroad, the first and foremost step is to have a goal. Again, don’t study abroad just for the sake of it. For graduate admissions, you are required to pick a focus and you have to stick with it until the end. In short, no switching of major, unless you can’t comfortably afford the tuition and be willing to go through admission all over again. Therefore, you need to ask yourself what you want to study, what you want to make out of your graduate degree and achieve in the future. Similar to any international students, be mindful about culture shock, financial aids, or language barriers. 

Check your bank account

Studying abroad is expensive because there are not many scholarships and financial aid options for international students, and note that graduate degrees are more expensive compared to others. Regardless of the degrees, colleges always ask international applicants for bank statements as required by the U.S. immigration department to ensure that you can afford school and won’t remain in the U.S. illegally. 

It’s important that your funds can cover tuition and living expenses for at least a year. Going abroad isn’t only the tuition, there are books, health insurance, housings, and other expenses. Generally, colleges do not often offer on-campus housing for graduate students, and off-campus housing can accompany with many fees and risks.  

Hunting for Schools

Once you complete the above, it’s time to look for schools. Not all colleges offer graduate degrees, and not all graduate degrees offer diverse focus. Therefore, as mentioned above, it’s very important that you know what you want to study. Since you are not very familiar with the U.S. college system, U.S. News or The Princeton Review are great resources to search for graduate schools by focus. If you plan on attending law school, you can check LSAC website; for medical schools, you can check AAMC website; for MBA, you can check GMAT website. 

After researching, you should make a list of schools that match your preferences and qualifications. Apply to more than one school because U.S. admissions is very different and you should always have a back-up plan. 

Standardized Tests

TOEFL is a must for all international students. Different graduate programs may require different scores but in general, the minimum TOEFL iBT for grad applicants should be 100 (and compatible score for TOEFL pBT or cBT). Do always check the admission site of each school for score requirements. If you have never taken TOEFL before, you should take it now. Keep in mind that you are allowed to take TOEFL multiple times and send colleges your best scores. 

Most programs require grad standardized test scores, the common tests are MCAT (medical program), LSAT (law program), GMAT (MBA), and GRE (majority of graduate programs).

Letters of Recommendation

Some graduate programs may ask for your work experience so it’s ideal to ask your current employer to write a reference letter. You can also ask your college professors or former employers for recommendations. In addition, your recommendation providers may not be familiar with the U.S. admissions system, sealed hard copy letters can be sent by mail. 

Don’t wait until the last minute. You should ask your potential reference providers in advance and notify them of admissions deadlines. Sometimes international mail may take longer, so you don’t want your letters to miss the deadline of admission. 

Personal Statement and Resume

As graduate applicants, colleges expect that you can bring your past experiences into the classroom. Thus, it’s ideal that you write your personal statement linking back to your work, what you learned from it, and how it affects the person you are now. 

Don’t forget to attach your resume to your application. Even though you may have had multiple jobs before applying for a graduate degree, it’s best to include the aspects of work that relate to the program you choose. If possible, only include professional work and internships, or volunteer experiences. If the school recommends or requests, you can send them your portfolio. 

Finally, always proofread your materials. Since it’s a graduate application, colleges have higher standards. You don’t want to send them writing pieces with grammatical or spelling mistakes.

—Written by Tran Nguyen – Activities Coach and Student Experience Coordinator at Spark Prep—

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