General Education

What International Students Should Ask About U.S. Grad Schools

What International Students Should Ask About U.S. Grad Schools
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Lisa A. Goldstein August 1, 2014

There are unique questions international students should ask when it comes to finding the right grad school in the U.S. Here’s what you should think about.

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When it comes to graduate school, many international students flock to the United States.

The application process is difficult, so the added challenge of dealing with another country can be overwhelming. Read on for answers to some basic questions about the process.


“It’s critical that any international student know this," says Jennifer Aquino, an independent educational consultant based in Singapore who specializes in coaching international families and students through applying for university. “It’s a case-by-case process, and you’ve really got to dig deep within the individual programs to understand the differences."

What’s Different About U.S. Grad Schools?

According to, the U.S. has one of the world’s finest university systems, with outstanding programs in virtually all areas. At the graduate level, students have the opportunity to work directly with some of the finest minds in their fields.

Other draws include the variety of educational opportunities, cutting-edge technology, opportunities for research, teaching, and training, and more support services for international students.

Many U.S. institutions offer a more self-contained “campus" experience, says Aquino. Pedagogy may be extremely different, she says: “In the U.S., we are used to challenging one another, including the professor, in the classroom." Grading systems and honor codes may be unfamiliar.

Should You Care About Rankings?

The answer to this depends on whom you ask. Aquino would never advise to go just for rankings. “First, you must understand how the rankings are done," she says. “If you don’t, and you’re following them, you’re doing yourself a disservice." Rankings are everywhere and a huge business for the media outlets. Know how they’re calculated, be smart, and know yourself. In some places, brand is everything.

Rather than going by rankings, Aquino says there are better questions to ask, such as how much contact there is with faculty or how qualified is that faculty member teaching the course?

What Are the Financial Aid/Scholarship Options?

Non-U.S. applicants are ineligible for most federal aid, but there are options. Big companies like Apple and Google tend to offer great scholarships for international students. EducationUSA and International Student list other funding sources on their web sites.

If You Can’t Visit, How Do You Know a School is the Right Fit?

Check and see when schools are visiting, as most have admissions staff traveling the globe, says Aquino. You can also “ask for an informational chat with an admissions officer via Skype, or send a very clear, to-the-point email to admissions," she says. “Get in touch with faculty." Look for alums in your area to meet with. Determining which schools have stronger alumni networks and connections will be vital to your search.

Aquino says to make sure you do a self-assessment throughout to determine what you want from a program. Everything else is secondary.