If you dream of pursuing a masters or a doctoral degree from one of the world’s most prestigious colleges, it’s never too early to start planning.
USA is home to some of the world’s most prestigious educational institutions. Universities in America are the frontrunners of research in almost all fields. Every year, the US takes in close to 800,000-1,000,000 international students.
If you are a student looking to pursue a postgraduate degree in a foreign country, USA offers commendable research-led programmes and state-of-the-art facilities in both academic and professional fields. However, to make it to one if these universities, every application goes through an extensive evaluation process.
Go through our guide to make sure you send in a complete and impressive application well within the deadline.
Evaluate your eligibility
For postgraduate degrees, most American universities require applicants to have 16 years of formal education. In India, this typically adds up to 15 years (12 years of school and three years of bachelor’s degree). However, quite a few American universities now accept 15 years of formal education, often giving more weightage to other criteria like GMAT/GRE scores, academic scores, and statement of purpose. Before applying, make sure you check the eligibility criteria of your shortlisted universities on their websites. If you are targeting a particular university that is strict about the 16-year rule, consider taking up a one-year PG diploma course in India in a related field before you apply.
Some colleges require applicants to have some professional experience, especially if you’re applying for a master’s in medicine, technology, or education. So, taking a year or two off to take up a job or internship may work in your favour.
Plan your finances
Pursuing a postgraduate programme in USA can cost you anything between Rs.12.5 lakh to Rs.38 lakh. Here too, planning in advance gives you an important advantage. If you realise early on that you will require financial assistance, you can target colleges that offer scholarships and grants. These are usually merit-based for international students and you will have to submit a different application to be considered for them. In case you do not qualify for the scholarship or the amount granted is insufficient, you can also apply for a loan against property for education. The advantage of the latter is that you can avail a large sum of money—up to 75% of the value of the property mortgaged—at low interest rates and enjoy a flexible repayment tenor. This allows you to use the funds not only to pay tuition fees, but also other living expenses with ease.
The application process for a master’s programme in the US can be really intense and time-consuming. However, the earlier you start, the less stressful it becomes. Ideally, you should start working on your application towards the end of your second year of bachelor’s, which gives you enough time to shortlist your colleges, study their requirements, get your documents in order and—once you are enrolled—apply for a student visa. Most colleges have March as the deadline for accepting applications for sessions beginning in the fall. Some also accept applications as early as 8-10 months before the course commences. If you would like to be considered for a scholarship, it is best to meet the early deadline.
Ascertain test score requirements
A key component of your application will be your graduate admission tests scores. The most commonly accepted tests in USA are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). While GMAT is used for admissions in MBA programmes, GRE is not specific to any discipline. The cost of taking these tests ranges from Rs.12,500 to Rs.20,000. One test score is valid for five years. A number of publications like Princeton Review, Barron, and Kaplan offer comprehensive self-study guides with sample questions and practice tests.
Once you have received your scores, you can choose to reappear after 21 days. It is better to take the tests about 6 months in advance, so that you can reappear for them without missing your application deadline in case you are dissatisfied with your score.
For applicants from countries where English is not the native language, it is mandatory to submit proof of proficiency in English. You can appear for either the IELTS or the TOEFL, which are conducted all year round in most metro cities in India. The registration fees for both tests is around Rs.11,000 and both scores have a validity of two years, so you can take them in advance, much more your college application is due. Do note while English is one of the most commonly spoken languages in India, and is even used as the medium of instruction in most schools and colleges, this does not exempt you from submitting a proof of proficiency.
Figure out transcript requirements
Apart from your bachelor’s degree and final mark sheet, most colleges will also ask you to submit your academic transcripts. The advantage of starting your application process early is that you give your college enough time to arrange for these transcripts, which often take a long time. Your academic scores are converted into GPA before being evaluated by American universities. This is often done by the universities themselves, but some may ask you to send in converted scores.
All academic documents you provide must be clear, accurate and officially verified, bearing the stamp or signature of the issuing authority.
Write a good personal essay
Unlike undergraduate essays, which are more general, essays for postgraduate programmes need to clearly express your academic interests and aptitude for the course. This need not be in-depth knowledge of the field but more about your understanding of and your inclination towards it.
Whatever the course you wish to pursue, be realistic in expressing your knowledge and interest. Never present inaccurate facts. Not only are you likely to get caught, but it may also put you in a tough spot in case you are required to appear for an interview. Be clear and honest in what you write and things are likely to work in your favour.
The process of applying for a postgraduate course in a reputed American university will be a lot more manageable if you get the ball rolling early. Understanding the requirements of your shortlisted colleges and matching them with your aspirations, ability and resources will help you plan better and increase your chances of getting enrolled in a college and course of your choice.