Top 10 Tips for International Graduate Students


Finding the right graduate program is tough. Finding the right program as an international student is even tougher. Between student visas, added costs, and much more, there is a lot to consider when researching your U.S. graduate school options. Here are 10 of perhaps the most pressing and important issues to keep in mind throughout the process . . .

1. Know the application requirements

From English language proficiency to degree equivalency, make sure you know exactly what is required of you as an international graduate applicant and student.

2. Plan your finances

Monetary aid will likely be limited and competitive among graduate students in your program. If you need assistance, take steps to secure your finances well before your program starts. Seek out forms of aid like fellowships and assistantships offered through your graduate program, sponsorship through your country or company, or employment through your school (even if you are unable to work in the United States according to stipulations of your visa, you can still work in designated roles on campus). You also may be able to secure a graduate student loan if you have a U.S. cosigner.

3. Make research a priority

This isn’t about researching graduate programs to find the right one for your goals. Rather, you should have experience conducting vigorous formal research in your field, because expertise and demonstrated research are often key to acceptance into graduate programs and career advancement.

4. Create an application checklist

Conduct research into all the application materials you need for each grad program you’re applying to. Then create a comprehensive list of what you need to submit for each one. And while you’re at it . . .

5. Update your calendar

Missing a deadline can cost you your offer of admission or financial aid. Make note of all deadlines well in advance, and keep track of them on the same calendar. Aim to send in your applications at least two weeks before they’re due. You can use your calendar to track admission or informational interviews as well.

6. Ask thoughtful questions

Don’t be afraid to ask your international and/or graduate admission counselors for help if you need it. Just be mindful and respectful of their time. For example, if you do not receive a response from your admission counselor after a week, a follow-up call or e-mail is fine, but to do so further may be considered rude. You may have better luck contacting someone new. 

7. Check in on your application

After applying, you may be able to verify that all application materials have been received using an online admission portal. If that’s not possible, call the graduate admission office one to two weeks after submitting your application to follow up.

8. Network

Make an effort to build relationships with your professors and peers in your graduate program as well as any other students from your home country attending your school (just be wary of becoming too comfortable, surrounding yourself with the familiar). You can remain true to your values at networking events too; if you don’t drink alcohol, it is still perfectly acceptable to go to a cocktail party or bar with your classmates. Just order soda!

9. Familiarize yourself with cultural differences

For example, you may be accustomed to seeing anyone in a position of power, such as your graduate professors, as an unquestioned leader. Certainly, your professors will be experienced experts in their fields, but they will also encourage you to form your own opinions. You may even find yourself questioning or disagreeing with them someday—respectfully, of course. And that’s okay.

10. Arrive as early as your visa and finances allow

This will give you time to meet international counselors, other students in your cohort, and explore campus and the surrounding area. There’s a lot to take in when you first arrive on campus, and the start of classes will be hectic enough.

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