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Useful info for international applicants to US grad schools


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This post started by being a typical "what are my chances" post but I decided to change it for something a little more interesting and helpful.

I would instead urge other international applicants like myself to post useful questions that they have concerning grad school applications - especially questions that aren't very clear to someone who does not live in the US.

 

I'll start by posting my own:

 

- Do international students have to pay out-of-state tuition or can they register as residents?

- 12 credit hours = 1 semester, right? (it seems like so, but the credit system isn't so transparent to those not acquainted).

- Are professors usually away during July, and are they back in office in early August? (I ask that because I would like to contact some faculty but I've heard that now is typical summer-vacations time..)

- How difficult is the GRE really?

 

Thank you!  :)

Edited by flip-a
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Hello, here are what I have been able to find out during my application process last year (Canadian students are international even though our countries are quite similar)

 

1. International students definitely pay out-of-state tuition for the first year. It might depend on your visa status (F-1 vs. J-1) whether or not you will count as a resident for your state so that tuition is cheaper. I ended up at a school where international and domestic tuition were the same, but it really seems like international student generally would pay the increased tuition rate. We are not considered residents for tax purposes, voting, etc. and for out-of-state American students, the websites say you should register to vote in your school's state to get residency after a year. So, since we can't do that, I'd assume that International students generally will pay out-of-state tuition during the whole degree.

 

But, many fully funded programs (if they exist in your field) will cover your tuition, so it's not really an extra cost to you. It does make you more expensive and thus the department has a disincentive to admit international students.

 

2. Credit hours have different definitions everywhere. At my undergrad school, 1 credit hour = 1 hour in class or lab per semester, so a full semester = 15 credit hours. At my MSc school, 1 credit = 1 full year long course (no matter how many hours in lab), so a full undergrad semester = 2.5 credits. At my PhD school, 1 credit hour = 1 hour of work you're expected to do in the course (including readings, homework as well as class), so 1 course is usually 9-12 credits, and a full semester (for undergrads here) can be something like 45-60 credits (depending if they overload or not).

 

3. Again, this depends -- profs go on vacation at random times. At all of my schools, the department office keeps track of who is in or out on a whiteboard. So, if you really need to, you can email the secretary and figure out if they are around or not. Otherwise, you could just email them, and see if you get a vacation auto-reply, or if they don't respond within 2 weeks, try again.

 

4. I can't answer that question for you specifically -- it really depends on your background and how much preparation you want to do. There are lots of threads in this forum where other people described how much work they had to put in and you can maybe compare your current level with how much these others prepared. I wrote the old GRE (prior to the August 2012 revision) so my stats won't be as useful.

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Just to add to the domestic/international tuition question: 

 

A presupposition of this question is that you're applying to a school that has this distinction in the first place. The in-state / out-of-state distinction only exists for public (state) schools. If you attend a private school, everyone pays the same tuition. For public schools, you may pay according to your resident status (in-state, out-of-state, and -- in some schools -- international); the conditions for acquiring resident status differ across states - for example in some states you have to have lived there prior to starting school for a certain amount of time, otherwise it doesn't matter that you live there for 5 years you still can't be a resident; in some other states after your first year in school you will become a resident and pay tuition accordingly. As far as I know, international students (on a visa, not a green card) cannot become residents for tuition purposes. Like other things this may differ by state and I don't know about them all, but where it was relevant when I was applying I was told the tuition would remain at the same (high) rate for all years of my program. 

 

As TakeruK says, many schools will cover your tuition fully, whatever it is. This means that some (state) schools will have a strong preference for US citizens, who can become residents and pay lower tuition, and they'll have less funding for international students. Sometimes they can admit 3 domestic students or just 1 international, and you can see how they might prefer the former over the latter. Your citizenship status should not matter at all when you're applying to private schools because tuition is not predicated off of your nationality. If you're applying to public schools, I'd strongly advise you to inform yourself about the schools' funding situation for international students. Some schools admit very few international students per cohort, and if so it might be a waste of your time and money to apply there. 

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flip-a, as a fellow international applicant, thank you for starting this thread.

 

Moving on, well, I'm applying for the Spring 2014 session in the field of Transportation Engineering. It is fairly common knowledge that the chances of getting funding for spring is lower than for the fall intake, as stated in almost every email I get from my prospective programs. But it would still be great to hear the perspective of those who've been through this process:

 

1. Do i have an outside chance of getting funding?

 

2. And in continuation of my previous query, let's say I get accepted without funding, are there cases where grad students have managed to secure funding in the second semester (i.e. the fall semester)?

 

Thanks and regards.

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Thanks for the replies, especially regarding tuition. fuzzylogician that is worthy advice..!

Concerning funding in the Spring app cycle that's a good question, would like to hear more on that too.

Edited by flip-a
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I think a lot of the questions here are just so dependent on your individual programs/departments, that it would not be very helpful for anyone here to try to answer, other than to show you the large range of possibilities you might encounter. 

 

Most of the programs I looked at would not even consider you for Spring admission. But there were also one or two schools that I applied to where I knew someone who did get in, fully funded, in the Spring session. In my field, I have never heard of a school accepting a student to a full time PhD program and NOT offer full funding. So, in these fields, getting admitted is dependent on the availability of funding, thus many schools that do not have money to fund Spring starts would not admit students to start in the Spring. In addition, I know many of the programs in my field are small enough that certain core courses are only offered at certain times (e.g. a fall pre-requisite for a spring course) so starting in the middle of the year can mess things up. So, this is one reason why the answer to your question can vary wildly from field to field and even department to department.

 

I would encourage both of you to research your specific departments that you are interested in and talk to them directly about the funding situation for Spring admissions. One good question is to ask how many students have been admitted, how many with funding, and how many admitted without funding but found funding later on. But also keep in mind that if Spring admissions are rare, then be wary of both extrapolating from old data and extrapolating from small numbers / small sample size!

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Thanks for the insight, TakeruK. But i should've actually clarified that i'm applying for MS, not PhD.

 

As for me, the prospective universities I've shortlisted have already confirmed that they do consider Spring admission. So no worries there. I think what you've mentioned in the last couple of lines is quite prudent that i should ask them how many students have been admitted in previous spring sessions. That will provide a good benchmark.

 

And you're absolutely right: all these factors vary among different fields, departments and universities.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hello, I have a somehow urgent question:

 

About "faculty accepting students" - this only happens in science departments, or in the humanities too? In Portugal, one should contact specific faculty for tutoring perspectives before applying.

But I have contacted some professors asking whether they are currently accepting students, and they answered that the program does, not specific faculty.

 

If some can please clarify how it works, i'd be grateful.

Thank you

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Hello, I have a somehow urgent question:

About "faculty accepting students" - this only happens in science departments, or in the humanities too? In Portugal, one should contact specific faculty for tutoring perspectives before applying.

But I have contacted some professors asking whether they are currently accepting students, and they answered that the program does, not specific faculty.

If some can please clarify how it works, i'd be grateful.

Thank you

In Political science (my field) one applies to the program that you want to study in and there's usually a committee that decides on whether they will admit or reject students. That doesn't mean that one shouldn't pay attention to the faculty in the department (which probably is the main reason why're applying there) but you don't need to find a specific professor with a research grant that will fund you. Edited by Lemeard
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About "faculty accepting students" - this only happens in science departments, or in the humanities too? In Portugal, one should contact specific faculty for tutoring perspectives before applying.

But I have contacted some professors asking whether they are currently accepting students, and they answered that the program does, not specific faculty.

 

Disciplines are sometimes different in the way the departments are structured. In many (experimental) sciences, the department is organized around labs; the PI - the person who heads the lab - is in charge of securing grant money for certain projects normally centered around a certain theme or expertise of the PI, and students are basically hired to work in the lab on a project (or projects) proposed by the PI to the funding agencies. Projects may be quite long and collaborative, sometimes even to the point where they can't be done by just one person or where you might inherit code or parts of the project from an older student. Students are funded directly from the PI's grants and therefore it's important for students to contact the PI and make sure that they are accepting students and can fund them. There are sometimes more complicated versions of this model where students can do short rotations in several labs before choosing where to end up, but even then it's important to know that the department you are applying to is likely to have a professor who can serve an an appropriate advisor for you and who is also able to fund you. 

 

In other disciplines, including most of the humanities and social sciences, funding for students does not come from individual grants given to professors. There is less grant money in these disciplines in general (and the research also costs much less because no expensive equipment is needed). In these fields, the department as a whole holds on to all the money and admissions decisions are made not by individual professors but instead by a department-level admissions committee. This means that often a single professor can't just decide to admit you, because you need to be approved by the entire committee and/or faculty in the department. On the other hand it means that you are much less committed to a particular advisor and project for your funding and good standing in the program, and you have a lot of freedom in choosing a research project.

 

It might still be beneficial to contact professors in these latter type of field, for a number of reasons. First, to make sure that the person you want as your advisor is accepting students (not retiring or moving schools or otherwise not taking on new students because they are busy or taking on an administrative position, etc). Second, to attract someone's attention -- because even though decisions are made on a department level, you are much more likely to get in if there is someone who champions your case. If there is a professor who strongly wants to have you as their student, they may be able to influence the committee. There are different cultures in different fields as to whether or not it's customary to contact potential advisors and it's not necessarily a bad thing to not contact anyone (for example, I never contacted any faculty at all but did very well during my application season). Based on the replies you got, your field may be similar to mine, where it's not really necessary to contact professors prior to applying--but you may want to ask around for opinions from people in your field. 

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Thanks for the thorough explanation, that really helps to get a grasp of how it works. Now that I continued my search I found out examples of what you just posted.

 

I actually *did* find a humanities lab, which works more less in the terms you described in terms of funding - only it is an inter-university initiative, and therefore works differently regarding admission and administration.

 

Other than that, there were really no labs in the programs I looked at. So it is not necessary to contact professors before applying. However, I did contact a few about whose work I was particularly interested (as was suggested by the Fulbright people) and in the end I think it was a good thing - I found out some valuable info from the replies (regarding funding, how close the program might be to my interests, whose professors are accepting students in the years to come, and so forth). With rare exceptions, professors were quite receptive and actually gave valuable, lengthy feedback.

 

It might not do anything for the admissions (and that's not why I contacted), but it helps in having more elements to elect a final submission plan - so it's already helping, in my case, regardless of the outcome. 

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One more question:

 

In a CV for grad school should you include extracurricular activities and community involvement?

(In Europe they are rarely included, but someone told me it was an important asset in the US)

 

And do you think it is ok to include research conducted outside of academia (but similar in design)? E.g. research made in an art institution.

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I second flip-a's query above!

 

Allow me to slightly tweak it for my own sake: As a working professional for 4 and a half years, and no research experience whatsoever, what should I focus on in my CV? I've worked in 2 organisations since I completed undergrad in late 2007.

 

Thanks.

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I think it's worth including them but don't expect them to count for very much.

 

One more question:

 

In a CV for grad school should you include extracurricular activities and community involvement?

(In Europe they are rarely included, but someone told me it was an important asset in the US)

 

And do you think it is ok to include research conducted outside of academia (but similar in design)? E.g. research made in an art institution.

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One more question:

 

In a CV for grad school should you include extracurricular activities and community involvement?

(In Europe they are rarely included, but someone told me it was an important asset in the US)

 

And do you think it is ok to include research conducted outside of academia (but similar in design)? E.g. research made in an art institution.

 

1. Extracurriculars are very important for undergrad applications . They are not important for grad school applications -- what matters is the relevant professional experience that you have and that you can demonstrate your fit with a department (through a focused SOP, showing past research experience, publications, presentations, strong LORs, a good writing sample); unless volunteer work is relevant to your degree program (e.g. you volunteer at a museum and want to study art history or curating, or you're applying to social work or maybe psychology and volunteered with disabled people, etc), it's not going to contribute much to your application. You could probably include these activities on your CV, with the correct focus -- i.e., not too many of them and not on top, so as not to overshadow the parts of the CV that are directly relevant to your application and proposed studies. I don't think it'll help much, but it shouldn't hurt. 

 

2. Yes, you should include research experiences that are similar in nature to your proposed academic studies; your profile says your interests are in media and culture, so work/research in an art institute sounds very relevant. It might be a thing you could discuss in your SOP, depending on what you did. 

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Allow me to slightly tweak it for my own sake: As a working professional for 4 and a half years, and no research experience whatsoever, what should I focus on in my CV? I've worked in 2 organisations since I completed undergrad in late 2007.

 

You know, it's ok not to have a huge CV at the beginning of grad school; most people don't. I'm not sure if your employment is at all relevant to your studies but you could probably just list your work under 'work experience' or a similar heading, to avoid having a 4-year hole in your CV. I wouldn't give too many details like you might if you were applying to an industrial position, again unless it's relevant in some way. Once you start grad school and have more relevant academic experience, these jobs should probably be removed, unless they are directly related to your research/studies. 

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You know, it's ok not to have a huge CV at the beginning of grad school; most people don't. I'm not sure if your employment is at all relevant to your studies but you could probably just list your work under 'work experience' or a similar heading, to avoid having a 4-year hole in your CV. I wouldn't give too many details like you might if you were applying to an industrial position, again unless it's relevant in some way. 

 

Thanks fuzzy, that is really helpful.

 

By the way, I have a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering and I'm applying for an MS in Transportation Engineering. My first job (for around a year from '08-'09) was unrelated to transportation. However since early 2010, I've been working for a large, state-owned Railway company. So in a way, most of my work experience is quite relevant to my prospective program.

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