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factanonverba

Molecular Biology/Biomedical Sciences PhD programs that are international student friendly?

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Hi guys,

I am applying to PhD programs soon for the 2018 fall cycle (molecular biology/biological & biomedical sciences); I am wondering if any of you have insight as to which programs admit more international students than others. I am a fairly competitive applicant: 3.87 GPA from a top US public university, 1 year of undergrad research + 2 years of post bac research, a couple of papers (I was the primary author on one of them), honors thesis, strong letters of rec, GRE 166V 170Q 4.5AW, dean's list, etc. However, I am an international student and it seems like most US PhD programs in my field take very few of us. For example, according to the UW MCB program admissions office, they admit 0.5 international students/year, so programs like this are probably not even worth applying to because the odds are so slim and it probably also reflects limited resources for us.

What are some good programs that are more international student friendly? For example, looking at the Harvard BBS website, they currently have 254 domestic and 84 international students, so that would perhaps be a good choice.

Any advice is appreciated!

Thanks!

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While admission percentage may give you some indication on how likely would a program accepts international student, your best choice should still be based on the number of faculties whose research interest you the most. General rule of thumb is to apply to a program where they have at least 3 labs that do research interest you, regardless of the "tier". Obviously, top tier programs are most competitive when it comes to admission. You can ask your LOR / PI to evaluate whether they think you are competitive for those programs, but keep in mind that your "fitness" to a particular program plays a huge role for admission committee.

ps. And even though Harvard BBS currently have 254+84 students, you have to look into the actual number of 1st year students to determine the number of accepted students (presumably per year). 

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In general, private schools admit way more international students than public schools. This is because public schools have a greater fraction of their funding from the government and therefore charge lower tuition rates for in-state students. Although most states will allow American students from other states to gain in-state residency after a year or two, international students will never achieve in-state resident status. This means that at these public schools, an international student often costs 2 or even 3 times as much as a domestic student, over the course of their PhD degree.

For example, the U. Wisconsin boasts about having one of the highest international student rates in the country, which is about 12%. However, many private schools have much higher rates. I think if you plot the fraction of international graduate students at each school, you will see all of the private schools clustered at the 30% to 50% level while the public schools cluster around 8% to 10%. For astronomy programs, this also means about 0.5 international students per year.

When I was applying to US schools as an international student, my profs all recommended that I aim high and apply to the private schools even though it could be intimidating to apply to. It could be easier for an international student to get into a private school ranked in the top 10 than it is to get into a public school ranked in the top 20. Their advice turned out to be right---I did get offers from many private schools and rejected from most of the public schools I applied to. The school I ended up going to was a private school in California, where almost half of all admitted students are international.

Two more things to note:

1. It seems like there are more international students in the sciences and engineering than other fields, but I don't have hard stats on that right now. And there is certainly more international graduate students than undergraduate students (in terms of fraction of students). So, if you are applying to a science program and you can't get the fraction of international students in that dept, you can check the campus-wide number but know that it's probably a little higher. For example, your Harvard BBS number is about 24.9% international while the campus-wide number for Harvard is 4900/22000 which is about 22.3%. This is a small difference though.

2. For science programs, I've found that population is pretty steady over time, so taking the total number of students and dividing it by 6 will get you a good approximation of the number of students admitted per year.

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On 8/30/2017 at 8:54 PM, aberrant said:

While admission percentage may give you some indication on how likely would a program accepts international student, your best choice should still be based on the number of faculties whose research interest you the most. General rule of thumb is to apply to a program where they have at least 3 labs that do research interest you, regardless of the "tier". Obviously, top tier programs are most competitive when it comes to admission. You can ask your LOR / PI to evaluate whether they think you are competitive for those programs, but keep in mind that your "fitness" to a particular program plays a huge role for admission committee.

ps. And even though Harvard BBS currently have 254+84 students, you have to look into the actual number of 1st year students to determine the number of accepted students (presumably per year). 

Thanks for the comment, aberrant. However, while I am aware that the research fit and lab options are very important, I think it would still be worthwhile to taken into consideration past admissions trends among universities so that I can better judge what programs are more worth applying to than others.

 

16 hours ago, TakeruK said:

In general, private schools admit way more international students than public schools. This is because public schools have a greater fraction of their funding from the government and therefore charge lower tuition rates for in-state students. Although most states will allow American students from other states to gain in-state residency after a year or two, international students will never achieve in-state resident status. This means that at these public schools, an international student often costs 2 or even 3 times as much as a domestic student, over the course of their PhD degree.

For example, the U. Wisconsin boasts about having one of the highest international student rates in the country, which is about 12%. However, many private schools have much higher rates. I think if you plot the fraction of international graduate students at each school, you will see all of the private schools clustered at the 30% to 50% level while the public schools cluster around 8% to 10%. For astronomy programs, this also means about 0.5 international students per year.

When I was applying to US schools as an international student, my profs all recommended that I aim high and apply to the private schools even though it could be intimidating to apply to. It could be easier for an international student to get into a private school ranked in the top 10 than it is to get into a public school ranked in the top 20. Their advice turned out to be right---I did get offers from many private schools and rejected from most of the public schools I applied to. The school I ended up going to was a private school in California, where almost half of all admitted students are international.

Two more things to note:

1. It seems like there are more international students in the sciences and engineering than other fields, but I don't have hard stats on that right now. And there is certainly more international graduate students than undergraduate students (in terms of fraction of students). So, if you are applying to a science program and you can't get the fraction of international students in that dept, you can check the campus-wide number but know that it's probably a little higher. For example, your Harvard BBS number is about 24.9% international while the campus-wide number for Harvard is 4900/22000 which is about 22.3%. This is a small difference though.

2. For science programs, I've found that population is pretty steady over time, so taking the total number of students and dividing it by 6 will get you a good approximation of the number of students admitted per year.

TakeruK, your explanation makes sense. So you are saying that top private schools, while more selective than a lot of public schools, may not be tougher to get into because of my international student status. However, my problem is that I don't have any backups. Most people apply to a few target schools and a couple of "2nd tier" (mostly public) schools; however, doing that will probably not benefit me as these backup schools might actually be harder to get into... What was your strategy?

Edited by factanonverba

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6 hours ago, factanonverba said:

TakeruK, your explanation makes sense. So you are saying that top private schools, while more selective than a lot of public schools, may not be tougher to get into because of my international student status. However, my problem is that I don't have any backups. Most people apply to a few target schools and a couple of "2nd tier" (mostly public) schools; however, doing that will probably not benefit me as these backup schools might actually be harder to get into... What was your strategy?

My strategy was to apply to only top schools, public and private but mostly private. I applied to both Astronomy and Planetary Science programs and I only applied to departments ranked in the top 10 in their field, mostly top 5 schools (although to be fair, there really isn't that much of a difference). My spouse isn't a student but we approached the applications as a partnership and only chose to apply to places that would be good opportunities for me (school/academic wise) and for my spouse (career developement wise). And since we have lived in several different types of places before this, we felt we had a good idea of the geographic locations we would like / not like. So, that helped to narrow down our list of schools.

The reason for my strategy was that our ultimate goal is to live in a certain geographical location after grad school and postdocs. It's where we want to raise our family and be close to our own families. Since academic jobs are super hard to get, I figured that limiting myself to a single region means that I better be an awesome candidate, so I only applied to the best programs. The strategy was that if I didn't get into a top 10 program, it would severely diminish my chances at an academic position in this geographical region so there was no point to go to all the way to the USA for grad school---I could just find non-academic work where I want to live, for example. In addition, since Canada (my home country) does have some pretty good schools (equivalent to rank 20-30 schools in the USA) that I know I could get into, there was no point applying to any school in the USA that didn't provide something Canada could already provide to me. The other reason for aiming very high is that these top 10 schools are often well known names to non-academic employers as well, which would improve my chances at a non-academic job where I want to live in the future.

As you can see, this strategy was personal to me and my goals, so it might not work for you. I'm a postdoc now and I applied this same strategy and thinking with applying to postdoc positions. So far, it has been working out for me!

One thing to note, although looking for trends and knowing that public schools are tough for international students is an important thing to factor in, aberrant makes very good points about the right fit. It ties in with my point too, I think: If a school is limited by funding to only admit 1 or 2 (or fewer!) international students, they are going to try to admit the ones that are the best fit. At this stage, the committees are looking at the "cream of the crop", the "best of the best" candidates that applied, so I think there is no question on whether or not the students they are considering are good. So, a lot of other factors become less important (e.g. GPA, GRE, etc. since a 3.95 GPA and a 3.89 GPA are basically the same) and what matters is how well the student will fit into the program and advance the department's goals.

Finally, in the sciences, although some or most of our cost may come from the department, we are also often paid out of grants by our PIs, so there is some "personal" cost to whomever accepts us. This is why having a good connection with (at least one) professor's research is helpful. Sometimes people say to reach out to individual PIs but whether this makes a difference depends a lot on how admission is decided. e.g. at many places, a committee makes the decision and profs who aren't on the committee have no input, while at other places, everyone in the department has some input and of course there are in-betweens (committee makes decision but consults with the profs mentioned by the candidates). But whether or not a PI can advocate for you personally, it is certain that demonstrating good fit with several profs in your application will increase your chances of getting into the program.

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