Graduate Study in the U.S.

Improving Your English Prior to U.S. Study

Proficiency in English is an important prerequisite for U.S. academic programs. Most U.S. degree programs require a minimum TOEFL iBT score somewhere between 79 and 90, or similar demonstration of advanced English proficiency. Even to grant admission conditional on further English language study, U.S. universities typically require reaching at least a high intermediate level of English.

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When the Ph.D. is Not Enough

An increasing number of Ph.D. candidates, especially in scientific fields, find that they need still more education and practical experience before entering the work force. To meet that need, many institutions have created postdoctoral research positions, which offer further training in such areas as research, writing, and teaching in preparation for research careers in academia, government, and industry. In the United States, over half of these postdoctoral scholars are international visitors.

Postdoc positions provide scholars with an intense research experience under the direction of an experienced mentor in the field. The scholar is essentially apprenticed to this mentor, and together mentor and scholar agree upon a schedule of collaborative and independent research and publication of findings.

To qualify to become a postdoctoral scholar (commonly referred to as a postdoc), an individual must have completed the requirements for a doctoral degree (e.g, the Ph.D., M.D., D.D.S., Pharm.D., D.V.M., D.P.H., D.N.S.), or in some cases a terminal master’s degree. For many positions, applicants are expected to have completed their degree work fairly recently (at least within the past seven years) though some midcareer opportunities are also available. Most postdocs work in the fields of biology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, and earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences, as well as in engineering, medicine, mathematics and computer sciences, and psychology. In some cases, postdoc appointments are available in other social sciences and the humanities, but these are more rare. While a more common option than in the past, postdoctoral positions are not available in every field of study.

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Links for More Information on U.S. Graduate Study

Below are links to some additional useful sources for additional information on U.S. graduate study.

 

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Quick and Easy Degree? Beware

 There’s an old saying that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Getting a diploma saying that you’ve earned a Ph.D. for a few hundred dollars, within thirty days, and with little or no work on your part may sound great—but such a diploma is a worthless piece of paper that could cost you your career.

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Questions and Answers on U.S. Graduate Study and Admissions


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Buiding up your Statement of Purpose

 Below you will find five important areas that you need to cover when writing your statement of purpose.

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Creating a Résumé or Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Often graduate students need to have a résumé or curriculum vitae (CV) when applying to graduate programs. Although résumés are traditionally used for employment purposes, some graduate schools now require them as part of the application process. We’ve also heard of CVs or résumés being requested during some visa interviews.

The term “CV” will be most commonly used when you are being asked to outline your experience specifically for academic purposes. Unlike résumés, which are usually 1 to 2 pages in length, CVs are generally 2 to 4 pages long and include details on your publications, scholarly activities, and the like. With a CV you may also consider submitting such materials as a dissertation abstract, a statement of research interests, and/or a statement of teaching interests.

Résumés are typically focused on work experience and are most often requested by business schools and other professionally oriented programs. Look at specific application requirements and what fits with your own background best in deciding what you should send.

When sending a curriculum vita or résumé to a U.S. university, do not include information such as your weight, height, or marital status.  In the United States this information is considered private and is strange to mention in this context.  Your birth date is also not needed here—it is not considered in U.S. admissions decisions.

A few websites that provide more tips on how to create CVs/résumés specifically for application purposes are listed below—

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Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation, most commonly written by professors (sometimes also by employers or others who know you well), are required for almost every U.S. graduate school application and are an extremely important part of the application process. Strong letters can improve your application significantly.

Generally three letters of recommendation are required per application (schools will specify).  When deciding who to ask to write your letters of recommendation consider how well the letter writer knows you, as well as how effective a writer he or she may be. 

A clever strategy you can use to get a good letter of recommendation is to provide your letter writer with information about yourself along with your request for the letter. This way, you can get a letter that includes specific details that you want mentioned, not just a general report on your grades.

When getting a letter of recommendation, look for a person who—

  • Is aware of your academic areas of interest and the schools you are applying to
  • Is able to evaluate your performance in your field of interest.
  • Is able to discuss your personal strengths
  • Can discuss your capacity to work with others
  • Can discuss your leadership skills
  • Can evaluate your level of professionalism (e.g., punctuality, efficiency, assertiveness)
  • Can discuss your academic skills—not simply experience, but your potential to succeed in graduate-level study
  • Will evaluate you positively in relation to others
  • Has some professional recognition and whose judgment will be valued within the field
  • Is able to write a good reference letter (i.e., can write well in English)
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Graduate School: Apply Early

Most graduate school deadlines fall between November and mid-January.  However, we recommend that students submit their applications at least one month to two weeks before the deadline.  That way the university is able to inform the student of any further documentation they may need. 

These days a lot of application materials can be submitted online.  If you are uncertain about the methods accepted by your university’s department email them and ask. 

Generally graduate schools are very strict in regard to their deadlines. Especially if you want to be considered for any sort of scholarship or fellowship you must pay attention to the deadline date listed on the application.

Meeting the deadline means that all materials must be received by the program to which you applied, on or before the application deadline. 

Incomplete applications may not be considered for admission.  As a general rule, the earlier your materials are received, the better your chances for full consideration.  While formal applications are generally not accepted more than one year prior to your anticipated entry into the university, you can get in touch with department faculty to discuss your qualifications and fit with the program even earlier— and it’s a good idea to start as early as you can.
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Graduate Study in the U.S.

These articles for students from the Middle East/North Africa focus specifically on graduate study in the United States and the U.S. application process for graduate students.

Be sure to also visit our Fields of Study section and see what information we have related to your planned career and study area. Some fields, particularly in the health professions, have special admissions requirements and procedures.

We will be updating and adding material to this web site so be sure to visit regularly.

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