A Student Guide to Graduate Studies in the USA

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Amira Adel

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29 April, 2022

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6 mins read

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University Life

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Did you know the United States is a popular student destination for graduate studies? There are over 1,000 universities in the United States that offer graduate degrees, so set aside enough time to investigate suitable graduate schools and programmes thoroughly. Not sure where to start? Top USA graduate degrees include Master’s degrees, Doctoral degrees and professional degrees. Find out more details below. 

1. USA Master’s Degree:

  • Generally requires one to three years of additional study beyond a bachelor’s degree

  • May be either academic or professional

  • Provides education and training in a specialised branch or field

  • Most programs offer a thesis and non-thesis option

A master's degree is the most earned graduate degree, with over 500,000 students earning one each year. The Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) are the two most common master's degrees offered in the United States. 

A master's degree normally takes two to three years to complete, while some degrees can be completed in as little as one year. Master's degrees often require you to take six to eight advanced courses, as well as an intense study project and/or a thesis (a long paper based on independent scholarly research). Some graduate schools provide internships, which give you the opportunity to work in your field of study to obtain experience and knowledge. 

Grad school differs from undergraduate education as all of your courses are related to the academic field in which you have decided to specialise. Certain courses will almost certainly be mandatory, but you may have the opportunity to take more electives than you did as an undergraduate. The coursework is more difficult, but because you are only studying material that is directly linked to your subject of study, many students find it more intriguing. Graduate students often discover that their study experience provides invaluable networking opportunities with their graduate student friends and lecturers.

2. Doctoral Degree:

  • Aimed to prepare students for roles as college professors and research scholars, as well as other careers requiring advanced knowledge and research abilities

  • May be academic (such as a doctor of philosophy, or PhD), professional (such as a doctor of education, or EdD), or doctor of business administration (DBA)

  • Candidates must pass a comprehensive examination and finish an original research project that leads to a dissertation.

  • Usually required five to eight years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree

  • Some programs might require applicants to have completed a master’s degree

The doctoral degree, also known as a PhD, is the highest academic certification a student can obtain in the United States, and it is also the most prestigious. In 2005, over 45,000 doctorates were granted in the United States. Following the completion of a master's degree, a student may spend four to six years pursuing a doctorate. 

Doctoral coursework normally comprises three to four semesters of full-time advanced classes, which are usually taught in small groups. Students must then pass written and/or oral exams before embarking on a period of intense independent research (typically at least a year) on a highly specialised area related to their studies. The student will spend a year or more writing a book-length thesis or dissertation based on their unique research. Students receive a PhD only after presenting their thesis in front of a committee of three or five instructors from the programme who have assisted them in their research efforts throughout their years of study.

One of the advantages of the PhD programme, according to many PhD students, is the mentoring they receive from their professors and other faculty members in their academic department. In addition, because doctoral work necessitates so much research and advice, particularly while drafting the dissertation, many students find that they build close bonds with people who share their passion for a particular field of study.

3. Professional Degree:

Some schools and universities offer programmes that allow international students to pursue a highly specialized degree at the university level. For example, foreign attorneys and other international students can pursue an LL.M. at a law school in the United States, which provides advanced legal training. While most law students in the United States spend three years studying to become lawyers, international attorneys can get an LL.M. in a far shorter time, typically one year. International students enrolled in LL.M. programmes have the opportunity to learn about American legal topics and research methodologies in classrooms with American law students and improve their English language and academic skills.

graduate studies in the USA

Process of Applying for Graduate Studies in the USA:

Whether you're a US citizen or an international student, the admission process for graduate school in the United States can be complicated. But, of course, all of your hard work will be rewarded once you secure a spot at the graduate school of your dreams! So here’s the step by step process of how to apply for graduate studies in the USA. 

You must have a bachelor's degree or equivalent qualification from an internationally recognised institution to be eligible for graduate studies in the United States. You will generally be required to provide the following documents in addition to your degree certificate: 

  • One or more letters of recommendation

  • A research proposal (for PhD and postdoctoral applicants)

  • A graduate admissions test result, if required (e.g. GRE/GMAT)

  • Proof of proficiency in English, if you are not a native speaker (e.g. TOEFL/IELTS)

  • A statement of purpose, outlining your aspirations and demonstrating your suitability for the course

While some universities accept applications on an ongoing basis, most colleges have two deadlines: an early deadline (typically in December or January) and a standard deadline (generally in February or March) (usually from March to April). You can apply to as many universities in the United States as you like, but most students choose a shortlist of six. Universities in the United States frequently charge an application fee, which ranges from $50 to $100, while online applications can be less expensive or even free.

In addition, you should also consider these steps when applying for graduate studies in the USA:

  • Figuring out funding 

What are the costs of each course? What is the university's suggested living expense budget? Which scholarships do you think you'd be qualified for? Will you be able to work a part-time job and study at the same time? Is there any chance of getting a graduate assistantship? Are you willing to take a loan? You should consider these questions when applying for graduate studies in the USA. 

  • Booking your standardised tests

Determine the standardised tests you'll need to take. Most graduate schools in the United States require GRE General Test scores, although some departments may also require GRE Subject Test scores. When scheduling your test, allow enough time for your papers to be graded and scores to be forwarded to each graduate school by the deadline.

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  • Preparing for the GRE

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a standardised test that is required for admission to many graduate schools in the United States and Canada, as well as a selected few in other countries. Educational Testing Service owns and administers the GRE. 

The amount of time you should spend studying for the GRE depends mainly on your test-taking confidence and experience with the exam, but keep in mind that, like most standardised examinations, the GRE is an acquired skill. Examiners will be looking for specific items in your answers, and other test takers will be familiar with time-saving and point-scoring tactics. Set aside time to go over previous papers and marking rubrics, and invest in some study materials. If you want to save money, there are many cheaper second-hand GRE prep materials available on online stores like Amazon and eBay.

  • Perfecting your personal statement 

You will have a small chance of getting into graduate school in the United States without a strong personal statement detailing your motives, qualifications, and research plan. Write and rewrite your essay with the assistance of classmates, teachers, friends, and family members. Your essay should summarize your academic achievements, ambitions, and course eligibility — and it should be error-free. Don't underestimate the consequences of even a few minor typos!

  • Applying for a student visa 

If you’re an international student, start your student visa application as soon as you’ve been offered and accepted a place at a US grad school. To apply, fill out the online application form and attach your photo, then contact the US embassy or consulate in your country to organize an interview.

Be prepared to: 

  • Pay a US$160 application fee 

  • Submit a photocopy of your passport

  • Submit a form I-20 provided by your university

  • The confirmation page on your form DS-160

  • Evidence of your intent to leave the US once your studies are finished

  • Evidence of necessary funds in your bank account to pay for your studies

  • Evidence of your academic preparation for the course, such as standardized test scores, transcripts, and diplomas.

Now you know all there is you need to know about graduate studies in the USA. Start your journey with us by booking a student accommodation in the USA. 


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