How do I find out where the good universities are for my subject?
With over 1,000 universities offering graduate degrees there are probably dozens of "good" programs in your field. Sometimes rankings are published but we do not recommend them because they are often misleading and subjective. A more reliable source of in formation will be your professors and other students who have studied in the States. You will also find that universities are mentioned in academic articles and professional journals that you read. Refer to brochures as the content of masters or Ph.D. pro grams does differ. Apply to graduate programs which best fit your academic needs.
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 enroll. 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 less 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 has a special program which would allow you to finish in one year.
How long does it take to complete a US Ph.D.?
Students must first complete between a year to two years of coursework followed by a qualifying examination. After passing the qualifying examination, doctoral candidates embark on their dissertation which takes between 3-7 years. The average student comp letes his/her Ph.D. in five to six years.
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 th is is the university you really want to go to or not is another matter. If you have not taken the necessary standardized tests for admission, you need to plan on taking the tests and submitting the scores before the application deadline. You can use the P eterson'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 univers ity 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.
What is rolling admissions?
Rolling admissions refers to a university's policy to accept applications throughout the year regardless of a deadline. Selection committees at these universities meet periodically to evaluate applications and make decisions on admissions either for the f all, spring or summer semesters.
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 clo sely scrutinized by immigration. After this period, your US university degree will not entitle you to a work permit to remain in the USA.
Do I have to know several languages to do a graduate degree in the US?
For graduate study in certain fields, graduate candidates must prove a proficiency in another language. Ph.D. candidates may be asked to prove proficiency in more than one language. Students are generally given a year to review for such a proficiency exam and may be allowed to take preparatory courses.
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 say 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) an d 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 interna tional 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, yo u 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 T est) 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, y ou 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 a nd 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 centers throughout the world. Registration and preparatory study materials are available from advising offices. Application deadlines are two months in advance.
Who must take the GRE exams?
Almost anyone wishing to pursue a master's or Ph.D. in the US in the arts and sciences. Check Graduate Admission Guides such as Peterson's for information. Professional degrees such as medicine, law and business have separate exams. The GRE exam covers bo th analytical, quantitative and verbal skills. Keep in mind that different programs emphasize different parts of the exam. For example, if you are studying Physics, admissions officers will concentrate more on your quantitative and analytical skills than your verbal score and for History admission, officers would concentrate more on your verbal and analytical skills rather than your quantitative skills.
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 and written statement of purpose. Graduate Sch ools do sometimes impose cut off scores, although a university is unlikely to reject an applicant for a poor GRE score alone. It will be examined objectively within the context of the entire application.
Do I have to take the Subject Tests?
This is decided on a university by university, department by department basis. US university catalogs and general directories will include which tests are required. If it says GRE Subject Tests, you will have to take both the GRE General test and the appr opriate subject tests. There are nine possible subject tests and sometimes the areas overlap. For example, if you are studying mathematics, some universities may ask you to take the mathematics exam and some may ask for the computer exam.
Should I take the Subject Test in the relevant field if it is not required?
We don't advise you to take subject tests unless the US university you are applying to asks for them. These are expensive and difficult tests and taking them if they are not asked for will not help your chances of being admitted.
Can I take the GRE General Test and the Subject Test on the same day?
You can take them on the same day, if you are taking the GRE by pen and pencil administration.
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 sco res 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 standardized 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 a re 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.
What is the GMAT?
The GMAT is an admissions test for graduate schools of business and comprises multiple choice questions and two writing assessments. It measures general verbal, analytical and mathematical skills. It is offered four times a year. Registration and preparat ory materials are available from the advising offices.
How important is the GMAT and how well do I have to do?
A GMAT score provides only one kind of information about an applicant. The better the other elements of your application i.e. undergraduate record, work experience, references, application essays, the less important the GMAT score becomes. It is highly un likely you will be rejected from an institution on mediocre scores alone.
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 in.
What is a "transcript"? How do I get one?
A transcript is a record of all the courses you have taken as an undergraduate student, showing exam marks and, if continually assessed, grades on coursework. The Registrar's Office at your university will issue transcripts and you will need enough "offic ial" copies of your transcript for all the universities you are applying to. Personal copies are not considered "official".
Do I need to send my Bagrut (or high school certificate) results as well?
No, US universities are in most cases interested in Bachelor's degree level details when evaluating a candidate for graduate study. However, if you have not completed your Bachelor's at the time of application, your high school records/Bagrut may also be required.
What should a transcript include?
A transcript should include three basic items:
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 or a Ph.D., recommendations from individuals who have exte nsive experience with your abilities academically would carry more weight than someone you have worked with.
Can I use the same recommendations for every university?
Not usually. Applications from US universities usually include recommendation forms to be filled out by your referees. These forms will ask them to rank you on a number of different items such as your academic or work achievements, your personality, sense of humor and your determination. Do not ask your referees to write their own recommendations but rather ask them to fill in the form.
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 comple ted application materials. Some US universities may request that your referees send the recommendations directly to them, so you may need to provide postage.
WRITING A STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
Do I have to type my statement of purpose?
Yes! Word processors are common in the US and admissions personnel would expect your statement of purpose to be typed and double spaced using a clear readable font size.
How long should my statement of purpose be?
If your statement of purpose is only one page long, most admissions officers would not consider this long enough, however, if it is longer than four pages it will not be read.
What should my statement of purpose include?
Most US university application materials will give you a specific topic to write about and ask you to address a particular question. You should cover three main points: why you are an outstanding candidate; why you want to pursue this particular degree in relation to your long term goals; and why you have chosen this particular university.
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, wh ile 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. Fell owships 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 combin ed with an assistantship. All aid is awarded on a year by year basis but should be forthcoming if the minimum GPA is maintained.
What are the sources of financial assistance?
There are basically two sources of financial assistance: US universities in the form of Teaching or Research Assistantships or independent sponsoring organizations such as the Fulbright Foundation. You can find out which universities offer financial assis tance by consulting the Peterson's Guide and the College Board's Foreign Student Supplement. To locate independent sponsoring organizations you would need to consult Funding Directories such as the Foundation Directory and The Grants Register. Each indepe ndent sponsoring organization will have different eligibility requirements for its award. Please note them carefully before applying.
Are some fields of study more likely to have the possibility of a teaching or research assistantship than others?
Generally speaking, Teaching Assistantships are granted in the areas of the arts, social sciences, and humanities. Research Assistantships are usually granted in the fields of the sciences.
How do I get a teaching or research assistantship?
Each department within a US university decides which applicants will receive assistantships, so you should first correspond with the department about this possibility. It helps if your professors know anyone in the US who may be in charge of a large resea rch project in your field , thus giving you an introduction and a recommendation. Keep in mind that deadlines for applications for assistantships are a lot earlier than admission deadlines.
Is funding available if I enter in January?
Funding from independent sponsoring organizations is scarce. Furthermore, If you apply for spring or summer admission, there is less likelihood that funding from the university or an independent organization will be available simply because the students w ho have enrolled earlier in the year will have had first priority, and budget allocations would have already been committed.
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.
Can I get an Athletic Scholarship to study in the US?
Athletic scholarships are only available for undergraduate study and this is very strictly enforced by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Some Israeli students have been able to procure positions as assistant coaches in return for some p ayment while they pursue graduate study.
US GRADING SYSTEM
The US University Grading system is:
A = 90-100% B = 80-90% C = 70-80% D = 60-70% F = below 60%
1. Any class required for a degree must be taken for a grade.
2. Elective courses, which are courses not necessarily required for a degree, can be taken on a pass/fail basis. For instance if you wanted to refresh your French in preparation for a language proficiency exam, you could take the French class pass/fail. I n most universities, professors have no way of knowing whether you are taking a course for a grade or on a pass/fail basis unless you choose to tell them.
3. Another option is to audit a course which means you can sit in on a class but not gain credit for it and not be graded on your performance. You may wish to audit a class taught by a famous luminary outside your field or by a visiting professor.
What is a GPA?
GPA stands for Grade Point Average. A Cumulative Grade Point Average is the GPA for all courses taken throughout the degree program. You can figure out your GPA by assigning a numerical value to the letter grade as follows:
A = 4.0 B = 3.0 C = 2.0 D = 1.0 Then you multiply the number of credits by the letter grade numerical value and divide by the total number of credits.
What do I have to do to earn a degree?
Before you leave for the US make sure you have in writing:
1. The course requirements including: a. How many credits are required to earn the degree: Credits are numerical values assigned to a semester long class. Most classes are worth between 2-4 credits with the average in the humanities being 3 and in the sci ences 4. At one time the credits were meant to signify the number of hours per week a student was to attend lecture or lab class. The credit system no longer sticks as closely to this system and instead is meant to reflect the relative weight load of a pa rticular class. In other words, a class that meets four hours a week may only be worth 2 credits. On average, a student working toward a master's degree on a two year program takes between 12-15 credits per semester (or between 4-5 classes per semester). B. The types of classes required: In a master's program (including a master of arts, master of science, and professional programs) between1/2 and 2/3 of the courses are in the major subject and the rest of the courses are supporting courses or electives. Find out which classes are required.
2. The cumulative exams required: Many master of arts programs and some master of science programs include: a. A written exam at the end of the first year on mandatory reading. B. An oral defense of the written thesis at the end of the degree program.
3. The language requirement: Some master of arts and most doctoral programs require a degree candidate to show proficiency in one (sometimes two) other languages besides English. Some departments have an approved list of languages and if you are able to s how proficiency in a language not on the list, you may need to obtain approval from the Graduate Committee. Most programs allow students to study language courses while they study for their master's or doctorate and take the proficiency exam sometime arou nd the end of the first year of study.
4.The Grade Point Average required to continue the program or to receive funding: In most graduate programs, students must achieve a "B" or better to continue in the program especially if they are receiving funding from the university. (See information wr itten under the heading of GPA).
How do I sign up for classes?
In order to earn credits toward your degree, you must be properly registered. As each university has a different registration procedure, obtain as much literature and information as possible on the registration policies and make sure you understand it all completely. University orientation programs will cover registration procedures thoroughly and you will be able to ask your thesis adviser/supervisor and your international student advisor's advice. Although the registration procedure may seem inordinatel y complicated and difficult, it is not that hard, so don't let it deter you.
Select the courses you plan to take in the coming year before registration using the university catalog and departmental course schedule.
In selecting courses:
1. Be sure you sign up for any courses which are required for your degree, especially if you are in a professional degree program such as MBA or LLM programs. In many professional programs, you are guaranteed a spot in the required courses but you need to register for the days and times of the classes.
2. Be sure that no classes conflict on the time or day.
3. Be sure to use the campus map and leave enough time between classes to travel from one class to the next, as US campuses can be very spread out.
When you register for classes, some universities allow you to indicate a preferred grading scheme for some of your classes.
What will classes be like?
There are three types of courses in most US universities:
a. Lecture Courses where students attend, on average, 3 hours a week of lectures in which the professor presents data and recognized arguments on a particular topic.
b. Seminar Courses where students do selected reading and come to class prepared to express their views on that reading.
c. Lab courses where students do assigned practical work and write reports on that practical work.
Be prepared to take lots of notes. There will be specific books required for the course which the professor will ask you to purchase. Some classes can require up to 10-15 books and they do not come cheap. If you are taking 3-4 classes you may need as much as $300.00 for books alone. The editions of these books are often not available in the library and American students are not accustomed to sharing books, so there is not much of a way around this. At the end of the year, there will probably be a scheme a llowing students to sell their books either to other students or to the bookstore so you can get some of this money back. Lugging these books around can get rather heavy and if you are living off campus you may want to look into the option of a study carr el or locker. Most universities set aside small rooms (with doors and locks) for graduate students to use to study in and to leave heavy books when they are on campus. These fill up quickly on a first come first serve basis so look into the possibility ea rly if you are interested.
What do I have to do to pass a class?
Students in US universities are continually assessed on coursework including written assignments, periodic tests and participation in class discussions on the reading assignments. International students are often amazed at how many assignments are require d to pass a class. To use an example, a class on the History of Women in America may include: one major paper of between 10-15 pages on a chosen topic worth 30% of the grade, an exam around the middle of the term (mid-term exam) worth about 20% of the gra de, a final exam covering everything covered in the course from the beginning of the semester worth about 40% of the final grade and finally class participation worth about 10%. On many US campuses, class participation is not only encouraged but expected - so ask questions, make comments and even challenge professor's assertations. Don't hesitate to participate in class discussions, as US students and faculty want your perspective.
At the beginning of the semester, professors will pass out a syllabus which will include all the assignments and deadlines for that class. US professors are strict about deadlines. Turn your assignments in on the date that they are due, otherwise professo rs have been known to drop a letter grade off automatically for every day or perhaps hour that the assignment is late!
Do I have to type my papers?
US university students in every discipline are quite familiar with word processors and consequently professors demand typed papers. Don't panic if you can't type and you aren't prepared to buy a computer, as universities normally provide students access t o a computer system with a variety of software packages. If you need to learn word processing skills, consult the university library information desk or the student center bulletin board at the beginning of the year for a list of dates and times of traini ng sessions.
Computer access is usually on a first come first serve basis and not all facilities are available 24 hours a day, although in most universities a few will be. At the end of the term, computer time is quite covered. If you like to leave writing your papers until the last minute, be warned that you may have trouble gaining access to a computer and could end up waiting hours standing behind someone waiting to use the computers.
What does a Teaching Assistantship involve?
If you have been offered a teaching assistantship or research assistantship be sure to have all offers of money in writing before you leave for the US. If you are receiving only partial tuition, find out from the Graduate School how much of the tuition yo u are responsible for and when it must be paid. Universities sometimes hold registration until they receive payment, so if the Graduate School needs payment prior to registration send it ahead, making careful arrangements to allow for international post. If you are to receive a stipend for living expenses, universities provide a list of dates of payment. Don't expect the dates to be at the first of every month, as it may be staggered throughout the academic year. Obtain a list of dates of payment dates to facilitate financial planning.
View your teaching assistantship as a job and try to find out exactly what is expected from you before you start. If you are particularly looking for a chance to gain experience in teaching, make sure you will have the opportunity to work with students in a classroom environment. Sometimes, teaching assistants are asked to grade papers or tutor students in a writing center or support center. Other teaching assistants have a great deal of responsibility and are expected to completely lead a class including doing lesson plans and writing exams. Don't be alarmed about your responsibilities, as you will undergo an orientation and training period beforehand and you will receive assistance from your academic advisor/thesis advisor. Be conscious of your schedule and be sure to devote enough time to your assistantship, putting aside time before your classes to review notes, etc. Universities will normally stipulate how many hours per week they will expect you to devote to your teaching assistantship, anywhere fro m 10 to 20 hours per week.
What does a Research Assistantship involve?
Because research assistantships are flexible, these assignments can sometimes be very unstructured. Try to keep as much structure as possible and keep track of the amount of hours you spend each week working for your department. Where possible get all res earch assignments in writing and even talk over the work with the professor requesting it so you can be clear on what is needed. If you feel a professor has given you an assignment which will involve a great deal of time and short notice on the deadline, speak up and negotiate a more suitable deadline. You may also be asked to perform administrative tasks such as cleaning out files, answering phones in the department office or setting up appointments for professors. If you will be performing an administra tive function, it is likely that you will be asked to be on hand at scheduled times.
Adapted from: UK/US Fulbright Commission's "Over 100 of the Most commonly asked questions about Postgraduate Study in US - and their answers!
Prepared by: Educational Information Service US-Israel Educational Foundation - (Fulbright) Tel Aviv, Israel 2/96
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