Graduate Study in the U.S.
More than 1,200 accredited U.S. institutions offer graduate study. Of these, approximately one-third offer doctoral degrees. Most doctoral-level institutions are large, public universities.
American institutions are either public or private, and there is no official or implied distinction in quality between the two. Nearly all states support at least two public universities.
It usually takes a minimum of 12 months to select universities, complete the admissions process, and apply for financial assistance, scholarships, etc.
Graduate study in the U.S. is expensive. Annual tuition costs may be as much as US$24,000, while living costs may range from US$9,000 to US$15,000.
Some institutional financial aid is available to international students at the graduate level. Most of it is merit-based rather than need-based; so only students with truly outstanding academic records can expect to receive financial assistance from the university, which grants them admission. At the graduate level, the primary sources of funding for international students are personal and family sources (47% of students), and U.S. institutions (38% of students).
Scholarships and other forms of financial aid will not cover the total cost of study in the U.S. You will need to find additional sources of funding.
There are no athletic scholarships for graduate study.
Universities charge an admission application fee which ranges between US$25 and US$150.
Entry to top U.S. graduate schools is very competitive. Some of the most selective graduate schools may accept fewer than 20% of all applicants.
You will almost certainly be required to take at least one standardized admission test, which will cost anywhere from US$140 to US$225.
Work opportunities for international students are very limited and tightly regulated by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. You cannot expect to support yourself by working.
Before you can be issued with a student visa, you will need to prove to the U.S. Consulate that you have adequate financial resources to pay for your education and living costs. Potential income from working while studying cannot be counted as part of your financial resources for the purposes of obtaining a student visa. In addition to tuition, fees, room and board, travel and living expenses, you will be required to pay for health insurance.
Description of Graduate Programs
There are two major kinds of graduate degrees: professional degrees and research degrees; and two major levels: masters and doctoral.
The professional master’s is a ‘terminal’ degree, providing a specific set of skills needed to practice a particular profession and leading directly to employment. Professional master’s degrees are offered in areas such as business and public administration, social work, journalism, public health, international relations, urban and regional planning, communications, etc. There is often no need for an undergraduate degree in the specific field, although some programs may presuppose a certain amount of study in relevant areas. Typically, this type of degree consists of a year of required course work, forming the basic training, followed by a second year of specialized study within the field. Usually these degrees do not include a thesis option or a language requirement, but they may involve some type of internship or fieldwork.
The research master’s, MA (Master of Arts) or MS (Master of Science), provides experience in research and scholarship. The research master’s is usually part of the progression to the doctorate. It is often a selection process by which those who perform only adequately may be awarded their master’s but be denied entry to the doctoral program. Some major universities do not admit students in the humanities and social sciences for only the master’s degree, as they are only interested in prospective doctoral students. The content of a master’s degree program can be distinguished from that of a doctoral program in that there is more emphasis on course work, there are fewer research seminars, there may be no comprehensive examination, and while most MA and MS degrees still require a thesis, there are options available that waive this requirement.
At the doctoral level there are also professional degrees and research degrees. The most common professional degrees are the MD for medicine and the JD for law.
The purpose of a doctoral degree program is to train research scholars in a particular field. The doctoral degree typically involves both course work and a major research project. It usually takes four to six years of full-time study to complete a PhD. The first two years involve classes and seminars to give the student a comprehensive knowledge of an academic field. This period of study is followed by written and/or oral examinations.
Admission to a graduate school is not equivalent to admission to candidacy for higher degrees. In the doctoral program for instance, a student is not formally considered as a candidate for the degree until comprehensive examinations have been passed at the end of required course work and a research project has been approved.
Selecting A Graduate School
With 1,200 universities in the U.S. offering graduate degrees, 430 of which offer PhD programs, choosing a school can be a complex task. Obviously the first thing to consider is which institutions offer degrees in the field of study which interests you. Things to consider might be the size of the department, the size and geographic location of the school, the cost of attending the institution and the availability of financial support for international students. Other considerations might include the quality and reputation of the faculty, the school’s library, computing and laboratory facilities, and details of the achievements of the program’s graduates.
Good sources of information on U.S. graduate study programs are the six volumes of Peterson’s Annual Guides to Graduate Study, Peterson’s MBA Programs, and other US educational reference books which are available at the U.S. Educational Advising Center; university and other web sites; and professional journals and research publications.
Graduate Admission Requirements
At the graduate level individuals must meet admissions requirements at both the institutional and departmental level, each of which is subject to considerable variation. Institutional requirements are determined by the graduate school and are applicable to all applicants. Departmental requirements determine admission for candidates in that particular area of study. Departmental admissions requirements are often more specific and demanding than institutional requirements. Institutional requirements will include:
Evidence of four years tertiary study: official transcripts / academic records will be required from each undergraduate and/or graduate institution that you have attended.
Supporting references or recommendations: two or three will be required, from professors or lecturers, if you are applying to an academic degree program. References from your undergraduate institution and your employer(s) will be useful if you are applying to a professional program.
Personal statement: This can be a deciding factor in an application. Content may be either a general or a comprehensive personal statement, or responses to very specific questions asked by the school.
Scores on one or more admissions tests: Registration and Information Bulletins for GRE & GMAT tests required by U.S. universities are available from the U.S. Educational Advising Center. Test preparation materials are available from the advising center.
Each university will state its testing requirements, the most common of which are:
GRE- Graduate Record Exam: The General Test measures verbal, quantitative and analytical reasoning skills that have been developed over a long period of time and are not necessarily related to any particular field of study. The Subject Tests measure achievement in a particular subject area, and assume an undergraduate major or extensive background in that discipline. The free 48 page Bulletin provides complete information about the tests, policies and procedures, and includes registration forms, test dates and sites, fees (US$140 for the General Test; US$150 for a Subject Test), etc. Test preparation materials are available from the advising center.
GMAT – Graduate Management Admission Test: This test measures general verbal, mathematical and analytical writing skills that are developed over a long period of time, and is usually required for admission to graduate schools of management. The free 40 page Bulletin contains complete information about the test, and includes registration forms, test dates and sites, fees (US$225), etc. Test preparation materials are available from the advising center.
TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language: This test measures the English proficiency of non-native English speaking students, and is required when the majority of a student’s education has not been in English. The free Bulletins contain complete information about the test, and include registration forms, test dates and sites, fees (US$130), etc. Test preparation materials are available from the advising center.
To register to take the GRE, GMAT, or TOEFL you will need to contact the Regional Registration Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:
P.O. Box 12964
50794 Kuala Lumpur
Registration Phone: 603 7628 3333
Fax Number: 603 7628 3366
Paper-based testing is offered on selected dates at the International Secondary School in Suva. There are very limited opportunities to take the tests this way so plan early. Registration for all tests can be done online if you have access to a credit card or you may contact your nearest advising office for a bulletin with a mail-in registration form included. Not all tests are available at every location on every test date so check your nearest center’s details carefully.
TOEFL — check the TOEFL website or obtain a copy of the TOEFL Information Bulletin for details about test days, times and location.
GRE General Test is available as a paper-based test in Suva — check the GRE website for details about test dates, times and location.
GMAT – Graduate Management Admission Test — check the GMAT website for details about test date, times and location.
LSAT – Law School Admission Test: The LSAT is a half-day standardized test required for admission to all 200 LSAC- member schools. It provides a standard measure of acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools can use as one of several factors in assessing applicants.
MCAT – Medical College Admission Test: The MCAT is a seven (7) hour exam (not including breaks) offered twice each year. The goal of the MCAT is to help admission committees predict which of their applicants will be successful in medical school. The MCAT tests your knowledge of Physics, Biology, Inorganic and Organic Chemistry, Verbal Reasoning, and your ability to apply this knowledge.
The American academic year runs from approximately September to May. It is best to begin your search at least 12 months (and preferably 15-18 months) before you hope to commence study. Graduate schools have a wide variety of procedures for filing applications, so read and follow each institution’s instructions carefully.
Year Preceding Enrollment
April – June: Begin researching institutions offering graduate degrees in your area of interest, and start investigating possible non-university sources of financial assistance (funding opportunities within Fiji as well as private foundations and other sources in the U.S.). Even if the university which ultimately grants you admission also offers financial assistance, it won’t be sufficient to meet all your tuition and living costs. Don’t delay this important step.
July – August: During this period you should determine which standardized admission tests you will be required to take, and register to do so. You will also need to obtain international student admission application forms directly from the Graduate Admissions Office of each institution on your list. Write, fax or send an e-mail message with basic details of your academic record, and indicating the degree program for which you plan to apply. Request that the information packet be returned by airmail. The university will usually send accompanying information on costs, admission requirements, visas, etc. Ideally you will have a final list of perhaps five to six institutions to which you intend to apply formally, by around August/September.
September – December: Between September and December you will be completing admission application forms, taking admission tests, arranging for references to be sent directly to your selected institutions, obtaining original transcripts of your academic records, and applying for scholarships and/or fellowships. Note the application deadlines in the information you receive. Deadlines will differ, but are usually between December and March. Stated deadlines are generally the final date for receipt of applications and all supporting credentials (including references), as well as official test scores. Incomplete applications will not be considered, so it is important to make sure your entire application is complete in every detail.
Many schools have a ‘rolling admissions’ policy, i.e. they evaluate applications in order of their receipt and completion. Apply early. A school with a rolling admissions process, while it may have a final deadline for applications in early April, will begin to evaluate applications and make admissions decisions in the middle of the previous November. Applicants usually receive a decision about eight weeks after the graduate school receives a completed application.
When filling out the application forms, pay special attention to the ‘statement of purpose’ or ‘personal essay’. For most universities, this is a very important part of the application. In the statement of purpose you may want to address the following:
- Research or work you have done which is relevant to your graduate program;
Your particular interest in the university (i.e. indicate your knowledge of the university and department);
- Your specific personal, academic, and career goals as related to your graduate studies;
- And any additional information which is relevant and which will distinguish you from other applicants.
Allow at least eight weeks after your application file at an institution is complete, before expecting to receive an admissions decision. Many graduate schools send offers of admission only in March and April. Most universities will require a reply by early May, and formal acceptance of an offer will most likely require a deposit as evidence of your intention to enroll.
Year of Enrolment
March – May: Each offer of admission should be accompanied by an indication of how much, if any, financial assistance the university is prepared to offer you. When you have accepted an offer of admission, you should also notify other institutions that offered you admission that you will not be accepting their offer.
June – August: You may apply for a visa once you have received a Certificate of Eligibility (either an I-20 form or an IAP-66) from the university you will be attending. A Certificate of Eligibility is valid only for study at the institution issuing it – and only for the starting dates specified. There are two types of student visas, an F-1 and a J-1. The J-1 “Exchange Visitor” visa is only available to students who are sponsored by the U.S. government, the home-country government, an academic institution or some other sponsoring organization. For example students awarded Fulbright Postgraduate Student Awards will be issued with a J-1 visa.
You will need an I-20 Certificate of Eligibility form to apply for an F-1 (student) visa. Applicants for an F-1 visa must also prove that they have full financial support. Any dependents with you will be prohibited from working in the U.S. Regulations for the F-1 visa restrict off-campus employment. Work on-campus may be permitted up to 20 hours per week if it will not displace a U.S. worker and not interfere with the student’s studies. Many institutions require clearance from the Foreign Student Adviser before an F-1 student may be employed on campus.
An IAP-66 Certificate of Eligibility form is needed to apply for a J-1 (exchange visitor) visa. The dependents of students issued with a J-1 visa are permitted to apply for a work permit after arrival in the US but these may not be readily obtainable. This visa often contains a ‘return home’ clause, at the end of the study period. On-campus employment is automatically authorised for the J-1 visa holder, providing the employment does not interfere with a full program of study. Off-campus employment is also permitted under certain circumstances.
Graduate students on either visa may be employed as a teaching or research assistant at the institution in which they are enrolled. Prior approval from the Immigration and Naturalization Service is not required because this type of employment is considered to be an integral part of the student’s study program. Both visas provide for a period of practical training or work experience under certain conditions following completion of the study program.