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How to Get Into Graduate School in the U.S.

Wednesday | May 23, 2018 | by Ogochukwu Ozotta

graduate school U.S.

Why did I come to the U.S. for graduate school? Although I have always been passionate about schooling abroad, gaining global exposure, and experiencing new things, I was not well informed about how to study abroad and the prerequisites for doing so. In this blog post, I will talk about my background, why I decided to pursue a graduate program in the U.S., and my advice for international students who may want to follow in my footsteps.

My Background

I completed my bachelor’s degree in Nigeria with the goal of entering graduate school abroad. During my senior year in college, I started writing to professors in Canada and the U.S. about my interest in geosciences. After getting several positive responses from professors, I applied to master’s programs in both countries. I ended up deciding to study in the U.S. at the University of North Dakota, where I started in August 2016. I chose this school because they offered me a scholarship and better funding than the other programs I applied to.

My Tips

Here are my tips if you want to follow a similar path to mine and complete graduate school in the U.S.:

  • Be passionate about what you want. Pursue whatever career or dream you desire with all your heart. Ask people questions, make good use of the internet for research, and above all, do not quit.
  • Search for schools that offer your desired program. Select up to 10 schools spread across the country of your choice, so you have a better pick of schools when the offers begin to roll in. Check the schools’ requirements and be sure your credentials meet or exceed the minimum requirements.
  • Write to professors. Most of the STEM programs in the U.S. and Canada are thesis-based, which means you need to find an academic advisor before applying to schools. Writing to a professor is like writing a proposal to an organization to sponsor your project—you need to convince the professor why they should invest time and money on you. However, you must prepare before you start writing. Read about the professor’s research and write your email based on your research findings. Connect it with your interests and what you plan to study. The key here is to convince the professor why you are a perfect candidate. This process requires extensive research and patience. You will write many emails; some will receive a negative response or even no response at all. My advice is to keep writing, be strategic, and align your interests with the professor’s research. Once you get two or three positive responses from professors who are willing to support your plan, apply to their programs.
  • Plan way ahead if you can. I graduated from college in 2011 and started graduate school in 2016. What did I do during this five-year gap? After getting my bachelor’s degree, I found a job and continued to chase my plan. The job was an experience that gave me exposure and a source of funding so that I could get everything in place for my future. I sent my transcript to WES for a Course-by-Course evaluation in 2012. Because I did this early, I did not face any delays when it was time to send schools my official college transcripts. It took approximately four months to complete the credential evaluation process. WES is recognized globally for credential evaluations; plus, the Course-by-Course evaluation does not expire, so you do not have to worry about getting your credential evaluation report done too far in advance.
  • Take all the required exams. Requirements vary based on the school. For graduate school, the common exams include the GRE, the GMAT, and an English proficiency test, usually the IELTS or the TOEFL. Aim for high scores on these exams because graduate admissions are competitive. Although some schools may waive the English proficiency test for admissions (some do this if you agree to enroll in an intensive English course once arriving on campus), I still recommend taking an English proficiency exam because it is essential to have passed one if you want to be a graduate assistant.
  • Send in your application before the deadline. Your statement of purpose should highlight your passion(s), experience, exposure, study plans, and future goals. Make sure your references write excellent recommendations outlining your strengths and passions.
  • Once admitted to a school, apply for your student visa. Make all the necessary arrangements to get your Form I-20, then apply for your visa. Applying for a student visa is easy if you undertook the entire college application process by yourself, which I recommend. I completed the entire process myself and did not use an agent. This way, you are able to make all of your own choices and decisions.

Now all you have to do is pick up your bags and go! My final piece of advice is this: Do not bring all your belongings! Take only what you think is unique about you and your culture overseas. And everything will fall into place once you arrive.

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Ogochukwu Ozotta is a Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant at the University of North Dakota.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of World Education Services (WES).