Applying to Grad School as an International Student? Here are some Helpful Tips

By SMU Graduate Studies on October 18, 2018


Preparing an application to graduate school is an arduous task, but applying to a graduate school located outside of your home country comes with even more challenges. It doesn’t have to be too difficult, though, if you plan ahead and take your time putting everything together.

If you’re a prospective international student who wants to study in the United States in the near future, here are some useful tips to help you lay the groundwork for your graduate application journey.

Tip #1: Start Early!

As an applicant to any graduate program, there are some common items that you’ll need to prepare for all of your applications. The key documents are your transcripts. If you are coming from a non-English speaking country, you’ll want to request a copy of your transcripts in the original language as well as a copy in English. Some application deadlines may be during your institution’s breaks, so make a note to ask for your documents early enough that they can reach your institution well before the posted deadline.

Similarly, you’ll want to make sure you’ve taken all of the necessary exams required for your program, such as the GRE. Non-native English speakers will need to complete an English-language proficiency exam as well. The TOEFL and IELTS are the most commonly accepted tests.

Sometimes testing day doesn’t go the way you plan. Fortunately, you’re allowed to re-take tests like the TOEFL and GRE to give yourself a chance to improve your score. Keep in mind that there might be a waiting period before you can register to take the exam again. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to take the test again at a later date and still be able to submit by your program’s deadline.

Tip #2: Do your research

Selecting a graduate program involves much more than the classes you’ll take. This is potentially going to be your home for the next several years, so you should make sure it’s a good fit for you, your academic interests, and your career goals. Find out what research the professors are known for, what types of projects the students produce, and what kinds of resources the department has to help you complete the work you hope to accomplish. Understanding what the program offers and how you can contribute to the work that they do will allow you to write a more informed statement of purpose and make you stand out as a strong candidate.

In addition, research what opportunities for support are available for incoming doctoral students. As an international student, you’ll be expected to demonstrate your ability to financially support yourself. Knowing if you might be able to receive some sustainable income while you’re completing your studies will help you determine if you can manage the expenses of living overseas. Some programs offer assistantships, either teaching or research, that provide a generous stipend and cover tuition, and there may be more chances for funding outside of the immediate department.

Tip #3: Know the requirements and deadlines

Graduate programs expect their students to be able to read the website and handle their applications on their own. Therefore, it is very important that you know where to find the information for your program of choice, understand all of the requirements, and submit your materials in a timely manner so they reach the program well before the deadline.

If you’re applying to many programs, it’s easy to get the information mixed up. The schools you’re considering may have similar deadlines, but they might require different things for their application. To ensure the best application you can put forward, make a spreadsheet (download our spreadsheet) to help you keep your applications organized and list any relevant information that you find while you research your program’s website. Include test score and GPA minimums in your spreadsheet so you know what the standard requirements are for those institutions.

Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Applying to graduate school can be overwhelming. If you feel like you need some help after reading the information on the website or in a brochure, don’t hesitate to reach out and contact someone. A quick email to the department or graduate school can probably help you find a solution to your problem faster than if you try to figure it out by yourself. Try to be specific with your questions so they can help you find the answer quickly and you can move on with finishing your application.

Although there are a lot of steps to consider, applying to graduate school does not have to be scary or intimidating. With thoughtful planning and preparation, you can successfully put together a great application that presents the best of your accomplishments and makes a good impression on the graduate committee.

Are you still curious about the Ph.D. application process? Read our comprehensive resource about how to apply to a Ph.D. program as an international student!

Check Out the Resource

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