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How to Choose the Best Graduate School

Wednesday | July 17, 2013 | by WES Advisor

A young man and young woman smile at each other

In this post, we sit down with Dr. Myron (“Mick”) Thomson, Associate Provost and Executive Director of the Graduate School Emeritus at State University of New York at Buffalo, to talk about the criteria for selecting a graduate school.

How important is it to find the best fit school for an international student?

When a student finds a school and program that fits them well, there is a higher likelihood that the student will perform well and complete the program. Therefore, you need to accurately assess your academic, social and personal interests, and your capabilities. Also, consider the background of the faculty and determine whether they represent the academic and research background that you want. Lastly, decide the kind of environment in which you will best thrive and be successful. For instance, you may want some friends or families that are already at the institution who can provide you support. On the other hand, you may prefer a place where there are few international students. Also, consider the support services available to you as an international student.

Should students consider rankings? What other sources of information should they consider?

With the abundance of information readily available today, the challenge is to distill that information for accuracy and relevancy. For instance, many students look toward school rankings. However, the cardinal advice for students looking at rankings as an influence of where they should study is to clearly understand what the rankings are measuring and not measuring. For example, some rankings are driven by metrics regarding undergraduates, which may not be applicable to you as a graduate student. Therefore, your final choice of where to attend should never be determined by rankings! An example of an unbiased information source is Education USA under the U.S. Department of State.

What are some of the key reasons why students choose the U.S. as a prime destination? What are some key advantages of studying in the U.S.?

First is the extensive range of choices. With about 4,500 institutions and 18 million students within these institutions, international students are able to choose a program that best fits their needs from a wide variety of study options.

Second is recognized high quality. The federal and state governments in the U.S. have a long-standing commitment to higher education and financial support. You can see the result in global rankings often dominated by U.S. institutions. Also, one-third of all students who leave their home country to study abroad come to the U.S., many of whom are at the top of their class.

The third is of outstanding value. Various surveys and personal observations clearly show that there are many job market advantages and good salaries for international students who complete a degree program in the U.S. Resulting in lifelong benefits typically more than justify the time and cost of studying in the U.S.

What are the key criteria that admissions officers consider during the graduate admissions selection process?

  • Undergraduate GPA: This is important because it is obtained over an extended period of time and reflects your performance across many courses. Although not perfect, there is a correlation between undergraduate GPA and graduate performance.
  • GRE and other specialized exams: These results help level the playing field as students from various backgrounds apply. These exams allow admissions officers to see how different students perform when given similar questions in an identically structured testing situation.
  • Letters of recommendation: The key here is to not have a generic letter but to encourage your writers to speak in-depth about your specific abilities and capabilities as a prospective graduate student. Avoid generic letters that do not speak in-depth about you as an individual.
  • Personal statement: Here is a chance to show what you want to accomplish from your graduate studies. This statement allows you to elaborate on things that the GPA or test scores cannot explain about yourself. For instance, you can describe publications or relevant job experience, training, or internships.
  • English proficiency test: This is specifically for international students to make sure that international students have the ability to succeed at the institution. Test scores are often used to award assistantships so they can be very important in determining a financial advantage.

WES Advisor is an initiative of World Education Services, a non-profit organization with over 45 years of experience in international education. We provide advice and resources for international students and skilled immigrants to help them make informed decisions about education, employment, immigration, and integration opportunities in the U.S. and Canada.