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Master’s Education in the US

Admissions Eligibility, Requirements & Expectations

Graduate admissions:
Anyone who has finished a four year Bachelors Degree or its US equivalent and wish to go to US for higher studies can apply to get into Graduate programs—Masters/PhD. Often Masters Degree is NOT required to get into PhD program straightaway. A Four year Bachelors Degree is good enough to be admitted into PhD Coursework.

Admission Requirements

Requirements and expectations:

To get into a Graduate program for your Masters or PhD course work, consistent good academic record is an important factor. However, grades alone would not ensure success in getting into program. Graduate admissions office would also look for the evidence of research capability, motivation and work/research experience while reviewing prospective students’ applications. Personal characteristics that would contribute to the strength and diversity of the class are also considered positive factors. Positive letters of recommendations; a well focused approach of your study goal and how well it relates to the current research work being done in your department play perhaps the most important role in admission and assistantship process. A good GRE/GMAT and TOEFL score would additionally help you in getting into the program of your choice. In a nutshell, the Graduate school is essentially is looking for those applicants who can make the best use of the resources available at the disposal of the University.

Admission Factors: The six trusted criteria of academic success are:
Academic Course preparation and performance
Academic grade point average (GPA)
Grade trends
Class rank
Entrance Tests
Language proficiency

Academic Course preparation and performance:
Applicants are expected to achieve a high level of performance in the course work they pursue. Quality and rigor of the course curriculum are very important factors. Academic preparation and solid grades earned during undergraduate coursework are important predictors of academic success. Grades/Marks earned in the last two years are given more weightage than those earned during the first two years.

Academic grade point average (GPA):
American Education System often operates on 0-4 grading scale. A GPA of 3.0 and above is desirable. International applicants whose grading system are not on a 0-4 scale need not worry about their GPA since their academic records are converted into US 0-4 GPA system by International Credential Evaluation Experts of the American Universities themselves. Except for a few American universities, majority of American Universities would not accept outsider’s evaluation as official. However, if you still would like to get your grades converted into US GPA System, you can contact any of the 19 International Credential Evaluators as approved by National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) www.naces.org

Grade trends:
Increasingly consistent good academic performance is more desirable than a couple of isolated bright performance. Good grades are always welcome but grades alone would not be the deciding factor at Graduate Level. If there are any extenuating circumstances resulting in not-so-good grades, you must explain it candidly in a separate note and attach it with the Grade Report to help admission officer make a realistic assessment of your past academic performance.

Class rank:
Class rank is a good predictor of the relative academic performance vis-à-vis others in the same class group and circumstances. It helps US Admission officials understand how well an applicant has utilized the resources and opportunities available at their disposal. A percentile Rank certificate from the College/ University Officials would be very helpful in case an absolute class rank is not available or not applicable.

Entrance Tests:
US academic institutions often require a decent score on GRE. GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is administered by The College Board, NJ, USA. This test is conducted at periodical intervals at centers all over the world. For Test details and a list of Centers and registration process please check their website www.gre.org

Language proficiency:
English is the sole medium of instructions in American Universities. One must be proficient in English language to attend US Graduate/Professional Schools and perform academically well. US academic institutions often require satisfactory results from TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). All prospective students whose native language is not English are required to take TOEFL. TOEFL is administered by the College Board, USA across the centers world wide every week round the year. Usually a score of 79/120 on Internet Based TOEFL (or 213/300 on Computer based TOEFL or 550 on paper-based TOEFL) is considered satisfactory. For Test details and a list of Centers and registration process, please check the website www.toefl.org

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Where, When and How

Short listing--Profile matching:
Through Mentors’ PRISM Technology, our SmartLIST will create for you a logical list of handful of institutions in your chosen filed of study. Once the tentative list is ready, you can fix an appointment with Mentors’ admissions counselors and engage them in a one to one discussion to further bring down your list to a manageable number of Universities that you finally choose to apply.

Ranking and Academic Reputation:
Who would not like to study at Top Schools like Harvard, Columbia, and Yale. America is also home to the world renowned universities like Stanford, Berkley, MIT, Caltech and many more. While ranking is a somewhat subjective issue, its value and necessity cannot be ignored. There are various rankings available in different categories as mentioned below:

Top National Universities,
Top National Engineering Schools,
Top National Business Schools,
Top National Law Schools,
Top National Medical Schools,
Top Education Programs,
Top programs in The Sciences,
Top Programs in Social Sciences & Humanities,
Top Library & Information Studies Programs,
Top Health Programs ,
Top Public Affairs Programs ,
Top Fine Arts Programs

Contact us for the relevant latest admission related data for each of these Universities in various Departments.

There are various independent rating agencies in USA helping prospective applicants get a fair amount of idea about the quality of the academic institutions both at regional level and national level. The two most prominent ones are US News and World Report and www.phds.org

Short listing a dozen of Schools out of more than 1,800 Universities in America is painful and quite confusing! Myriad options and varying admission and financial assistance policy make it all rather a more challenging task. Through Mentors’ PRISM Technology, our SmartLIST will create for you a logical list that would help you find out the right institutions in your chosen filed of study. Here we are to explore step-by-step how you need to formulate a strategy to manage to find your kind of institutions where you would be happy to spend four year of your life.

There are various US Govt. approved accrediting agencies mandated to grant and maintain accrediting status of US Universities and colleges. Such colleges and universities also require authorization by the US Immigration and Naturalization Services to issue I-20 in order to enroll an International student. I-20 is a legal document necessary to obtain student visa. Council for Higher Education Accreditation, DC—CHEA and US Department of Education periodically review and evaluate these accrediting agencies. There are over 7,000 degree-granting and non-degree-granting institutions and over 17,000 programs in America that are accredited either by Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or by organizations recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE) or both. Recognition essentially means that accreditors meet the quality standards and follow the expected norms when accrediting various programs. Accreditation in America is carried out by private, nonprofit organizations designed for specific program and purpose. There are a total of 4,242 degree granting Institutions recognized by Specialized and Professional Accrediting Organizations. Some such Accrediting Organizations are listed below:

Majors & Academics: There are more than 450 specializations to choose from! Contact us for details on Universities offering you preferred specializations in PhD.

Test Score Range: Often Test score range is just one of many factors in the admission process and its importance need not be overemphasized. Perhaps your grades/ percentage of marks in your academics are more important than a three-and-a-half-hour test outcome! GRE score is not mandatory and may vary from Department to Department Contact us for details.


Affordability: A Graduate education is a serious commitment and unlike undergraduate studies, an applicant is not expected to have gone for Graduate School in a routine matter. People often take a two to three year break after their undergraduate studies before they decide on a Graduate School. In US, both Masters and PhD programs are commonly referred to as Graduate Program and usually one need NOT be a Masters Degree holder to join a Ph D program. As a general rule, even after Bachelors, one can directly join a PhD program.

To financially afford a Graduate education, one needs careful planning and selection. Remember, you have to do a two year costing, not just first year alone. Living expenses alone would cost you no less than 6,000 USD per annum and with holiday expenses when University is not in session, it would be another 2000 USD at the least. Tuition cost is a major factor. It may cost anywhere between 8,000 and 25,000 USD annual Tuition for the two-year Masters Program and proportionately much higher for a four year PhD program. So it is very important that you explore all Fellowships & Assistantship avenues and Research-Project based funding availability options before deciding on where to apply. Sometime Assistantship award is a centralized process wherein the Departmental admissions committee decides whom to admit and offer funding. In such universities, asking Professors for a favorable response for admission or funding is considered inappropriate and might hurt your acceptance chances. However, at some Graduate programs, you are expected to arrange funding on your own by interacting with the Professors to seek acceptance in their Labs or projects for which the grants are often available. Often this is referred to as “mentor” requirement and once the prospective “mentor” in your subject department agrees to support your case, admission becomes relatively easy. Please check with the Graduate school of your choice about School’s assistantship policy.
  • Merit-based Scholarships: Merit-based Scholarships are awarded by the very University which accepts you for admission. Most Universities through their Graduate School offer merit-based scholarships (or Assistantships and Fellowships) to all students—domestic or International though usually there is a keen and fierce competition for relatively fewer number of such vacant positions. Usually there are four types of financial assistance available at the Graduate level:

    • Fellowship—This most prestigious award is awarded by the university Fellowship committee to applicants chosen amongst the department nominated pool of applicants. It covers Full Tuition, and usually a handsome stipend without any working duties in return.

    • Teaching Assistantship-Teaching Assistants or TAs are hired directly by the Department to assist Professors in their teaching assignments. As a general rule, TAs are not supposed to teach or grade papers. However, sometime a TA is given teaching assignments of Undergraduate level /beginning level students. Usually a Full time TA is assigned a 20 hour-a-week schedule for which he/she receives a Full Tuition waiver (or out-of-state Tuition waiver as the case may be) and a reasonable amount of stipend to cover his/her living and other expenses. The Fee (roughly around 600 USD annually) is never waived, though. The range of stipend varies among Universities and can be anywhere between 5,000 USD and 24,000 USD per annum. For a half time TA assignment, students are expected to commit a 10 hour-a-week work schedule (and receive a half Tuition Waiver plus 10 hour weekly work stipend).

    • Research Assistantship :Research Assistantship is also like Teaching Assistantship except for the fact that as a RA, one is mostly assigned working on research project of their Professors instead of being given teaching related assignments. Duties and compensations remain more or less the same as that of a TA.

    • Graduate Assistantship: Unlike TA and RA, a GA is mostly assigned the non-academic duties like working in the library, cafeteria, admission office, residence halls, etc. Duties and compensations are comparable to a TA and a RA.

  • On-Campus job possibility: Many Universities in USA have provision for on-campus employment opportunities to help you partially defray the cost of your education. By law, you are not authorized to work for more than 20 hour-a-week during week days and a maximum of 40 hour-a-week during holidays. Your payment must come directly from University or college where you are enrolled. Unless otherwise authorized, any employment engagement for which the University is not responsible is simply illegal and can have very serious consequences.

  • Need-based financial assistance: Unless you are a US tax-payer, you do not qualify for the Federal aid and as such as an International student applying from overseas, you cannot qualify for any need-based assistance at Graduate level

Safety and security: Safety and security is a prime concern among parents and students nowadays. Detailed information in this regard can be asked for and schools would be glad to provide you with the details of their security arrangements of their students on-campus.

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When to apply

There are two types of academic terms practiced in US--Semester System and Quarter System.

Semester System: Majority of American Universities especially those that are on the East coast operate on Semester system and follow 4-1-4 pattern. Fall Term starts in late August to early September and ends in Mid December. Schools reopen after a one month winter vacation in the middle of January for another four month term that ends in the first week of May for summer breaks. Studying in Summers is usually optional since very few classes are actually open during Summer Break.

Quarter System: Some US Universities especially those on the West Coast and in the Midwest follow Quarter System wherein the entire academic year of nine month is divided into three quarters of three month each—3-3-3 pattern. Fall Term starts in late August to early September and ends in later October. Spring Term Starts in early November and ends in early February. Winter Term starts in late February and ends in the first week of May. Studying in Summers is again optional since very few classes are actually open during Summer Break.

Deadline: There is nothing called common application deadline in US. Different Universities follow a variety of different application deadlines that starts from as early as November 1 for next Fall session or can stretch up until one month before the classes start. So it makes sense to check with each individual university about the application process, requirements and the published deadlines. Majority of American Universities follow only one deadline. However, it is not unusual to find three different deadlines in the same university for the same program. Some of the common Terms used by American Universities are as described below:

International Students Deadline: Often the deadline for International students is set at least one month to three month in advance of the regular domestic Students deadline. Prospective students are expected to submit all the required application materials including supporting documents by the deadline in order to be considered for admission. Applicants must pay very close attention to the deadlines applicable to prospective International applicants.

Departmental Deadline : Many Departments in the same University have their own set of deadlines. So it is important to check with the departments what deadlines to follow especially if you are an International student.

Fellowship and Assistantship Deadline: Fellowship deadline is the university wide deadline to be observed by all the departments submitting their nominations from prospective pool of applicants. However, Assistantship deadlines are set by individual departments and need be followed accordingly. Usually Assistantship deadlines are set one month in advance of the application deadline.

Rolling Admission: Many US Universities also follow rolling admissions policy. It means that they would continue to accept applications on a first come first served basis until the classes are filled. It is advisable to apply as soon as possible for a more favorable outcome at such schools.

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How to apply

Application Requirements: A complete international application file usually consists of the following items:

Application for Admission: You can apply online, download a paper application, or request US Colleges and Universities to send you a paper application.

Application Fee: Prospective applicants are often asked to submit with their Application a nonrefundable application fee to cover application processing. The application fee could be as low as only 10 USD or as high as 100 USD. Applicants who apply online can pay the application fee by international credit card. Applicants submitting paper application can pay by a US Bank check, through international money order, or by a US Dollar Draft drawn on a U.S. bank payable to the “Title of the Beneficiary”. Sending cash or currency is not expected. For those who find it difficult to pay for the application fee can seek a waiver or deferral of their application fee payment or alternately can seek help of friends or relatives overseas. Be sure to write you full legal name on the back of the Check or Dollar Draft.

Academic Records: US Academic institutions require College/University certified true copy of the official academic records for each year of Bachelors and/or Masters Course done. It should be submitted in a sealed and signed envelop of the issuing institution. Whenever possible, academic records must contain the dates of attendance, level of study, subjects studied, grades (marks) received, grading scale followed, and a percentile rank in class, if an absolute rank is not available. Ask your University officials to include all grade reports in a sealed envelop signed across the flap. All records must be in the original language accompanied by an official English translation, if necessary.

Statement of Purpose: The Statement of Purpose known as SOP is a crucial part of your application. SOP gives you an opportunity to convey to admission officers your goal and preparedness in undertaking a graduate level coursework at the current juncture

Letters of Recommendations: Confidential and candid Letters of Recommendation written on your behalf serve as an additional piece of crucial information in making a realistic assessment of you as an individual. Often three letters of recommendation are asked for. All Recommendation letters must come from faculty who taught you and supervised your Bachelors/Masters level coursework and who can attest to your academic ability (i.e., classroom skills, knowledge, and work ethic, projects done, etc).

Financial Verification Form and Bank Letter: U.S. immigration law requires that all international students document their ability to cover educational expenses as mentioned on their I-20. All tuition and living expenses not covered by the financial assistance is the responsibility of the applicants and their sponsors. It can be done by submitting the relevant Financial Verification Form with an original bank letter verifying the availability of the required funds in USD for at least first year of educational expenses in US.

Copy of Passport: Sending a copy of the passport will serve to rectify any spelling mistakes in the application. It is imperative that the date of birth and family name and first name of the applicant as pelt on the I-20 match with those mentioned on the Passport. Discrepancy, if any need be rectified before filing US Visa application. Applicants currently studying in the United States must also submit a copy of their I-94 card.

Application Procedure: There are three possible ways to apply:

Apply Online Online application is the most preferred option nowadays. It is secure and easy to use, and can be finished in multiple sessions. Applying online also provides applicants with immediate notification that their application has been received, and will likely speed up the processing of their application. Application fee can also be paid online by using international credit card.

Download a Paper ApplicationApplicants who lack internet facility or prefer to submit a paper application can download and print a copy of it by using the appropriate web link on the website of the university.

Request a Paper Application. Most American Universities no longer offer Paper applications. However, some universities may be open to accept paper application request from prospective applicants. It usually takes up to six weeks to receive a Paper Application from American Universities by postal mail.

Submitting your application: To ensure proper and efficient processing of your application, keep these tips in mind:

Provision of Full Legal Name on All Documents In all your application process, it is always advisable to write your full legal name as it is spelt on your Passport. If your Passport does not have any family name and your full name is spelt under “given name” leave the family name section on your application for admission simply blank

Do NOT Use Post Office Box as Your Permanent Foreign Address It is safer to use only street address in all your correspondence with the American Universities.

Submitting All Materials Together It is best to submit all application materials together in the same envelop. This includes Application (If Applying on Paper), Application Fee if not being paid electronically, sealed and signed Academic Records, Statement of Purpose, confidential Recommendation Letters, completed Financial Verification Form along with the Financial Documentations. Official GRE and TOEFL scores must be sent directly from the testing agencies. However, you may wish to include a copy of examinee test score reports with one’s application materials for interim usage.

Avoiding Submitting Unnecessary Materials Unless asked for, it is better to avoid sending unnecessary supporting documents or items such as photographs, recordings, writing samples, awards or commendations, etc. Instead, all relevant activity, talent, or award can be mentioned on a sheet of paper and be submitted it with other application materials.

Using the Correct Mailing Address Make sure to send all materials to the appropriate street address if using express mail.

Awaiting application acknowledgement letter or e-mail to arrive Usually it takes six weeks to receive an acknowledgement letter in postal mail from US academic institutions. Acknowledgement via e-mail could be a little sooner. It all depends on the application filing time. The acknowledgement often includes applicant’s ID number and many other key information

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