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Engineering grad school with funding as an international student?



I'm an international student currently studying in a reputed liberal arts college in the US. I'll be graduating with a BS in general engineering (my electives are in mechanical) rather than a specified engineering discipline. I have a current gpa (I'm in my junior year) of 3.93, one summer internship and some research assistance experience (one summer, one semester independent study) but no publications and am a tutor. I'm hoping to go to graduate school but it's impossible for me to fund it on my own. I hear PhDs are generally funded, but I'm concerned about lacking the background required to get into a good school for a PhD and so I'm currently thinking of pursuing a masters first....I'd love to get into a top engineering school although I'm skeptical about my chances. Any advice on strategies or steps to take over the next year or thoughts about if this is even doable? Thanks!

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Hey! So, I'm not an engineer, but my situation is quite similar. I'm in a somewhat related field and my profile is almost identical to yours: international student, liberal arts college in the US, good GPA, research experience but no publications, etc. I've gotten into some excellent PhD programs for my field so far: Stanford, Cornell, Universty of Rochester---and all with funding! So, unless you're dead set on like...MIT or something, I think you definitely have a good shot, even without a Master's (those usually aren't funded).

As for things you can do, definitely maintain (or improve) your high GPA, make good use of the summer, and start thinking your LoRs:

During the summer, try your best to either get a good internship (preferably in a research role), or more research experience. If your past research has been at your home institution, it might be worth looking for an external research program (REUs are rare for international students, but not nonexistent). Otherwise, see if you can continue research with your previous advisor, and see if you can push it to the point where you can present a poster at a conference or start preparing a paper. Even if these things haven't happened by the time you apply, as long you've started working towards it, your advisor should be able to talk about it in your LoR for a boost.

Decide on who you want to write your LoRs as soon as possible. If you enrolled in a class with them, let them know about your plans for grad school and that you might ask them for a letter. If there are people you haven't talked to in a while, shoot them an email or find them, and give them an update on your plans. It's also a bonus if your letter writers know you personally, in addition to your academic records, as that will help them write less "standard" LoRs.

Finally, start thinking about what kind of research you'd like to do during your PhD. Being specific about the research areas you're interested in will help you with school selection, and help your letter writers tailor their letters better. It will also help you when you demonstrate familiarity and (at least some) knowledge about your proposed research areas later on in the process when you write your SOP.

Best of luck!

Edited by h-bar
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Thank you so much for this! This is really helpful advice and I feel much more optimistic knowing that someone else with similar stats was successful. I'm trying my best to find a research based summer position and hoping for a third LoR with it (the first two being from my previous research adviser and my academic adviser who knows me kind of well).:) Also the last bit about demonstrating knowledge in the SOP is something to hang on to:)

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