Graduate education in the United States offers international students a unique opportunity. By definition it implies a greater depth of training, increased specialization and greater intensity of instruction. The learning experience is more self-directed with more interactive between faculty and students as well as among students themselves.
Study beyond the baccalaureate leads to the masters and doctoral degrees, both involving a combination of research and course work. Course work involves lectures, seminars and directed readings. Generally, a combination of class participation, examination and submitted research papers determines the grade.
The academic year generally lasts nine months, from late August or early September to the middle or end of May. The academic year may be divided into two, three or four academic terms depending on the institution. Short breaks occur during both fall and spring terms and between the terms. You may also choose to take courses during the summer months to accelerate the program. However, it is best (and sometimes required) that you start a program in the fall term. Many courses must be taken in sequence, and time may be lost in completing the degree if a student starts in a later term. It is also easier to become accustomed to studying in the U.S. and to meet other students in your program if you start at the beginning of the academic year.
There are many different kinds of graduate degrees offered in the U.S. The masters degree is usually thought of as being the first graduate degree obtained after completion of the undergraduate degree.
At the doctoral level, the Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) is the highest degree awarded in academic disciplines. Other doctoral degrees are primarily in professional fields. These include the ed. (Doctor of Education), D.B.A. (Doctor of Business Administration), and M.D. (Doctor of Medicine).
The traditional masters degree typically requires two years of full-time study culminating in a comprehensive examination. A thesis may also be required. Some schools give you the option to complete the thesis or non-thesis path, with students in the non-thesis path usually taking more course work.
Programs leading to the doctorate involve advanced course work, seminars, and the preparation of a dissertation describing the student’s own original research, done under the supervision of a faculty adviser. At some point, usually after three to five years of study, when the student and the adviser agree that the student is ready, a comprehensive examination is given. That exam is designed to test the student?s ability to use knowledge gained through courses and independent study in a creative and original way. Students must demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of their chosen fields of study.
Factors in Determining Where You Will Go To University
Academic Considerations: Check out the schools that offer your area of concentration, field of interest, academic emphasis. See what courses are offered, review their catalogs and web sites; verify their undergraduate requirements.
Cost: Carefully calculate housing, food, tuition, fees, travel and other expenses for the full four years.
Admission Difficulty: How competitive are admissions for international students? What are each school’s entrance requirements?
Size and Location: Look at the climate, campus settings (urban or rural), and campus size (large or small campuses of 200-50,000 students exist)
Institution Personality: Social life, number of international students on campus, extracurricular activities
Other Considerations: Student Services, academic distinctions, internships, job placement services, services for students with disabilities, safety factors, computer facilities, and English as a Second Language (ESL) Programs.
With over 1,700 universities offering graduate degrees there are dozens of ‘good’ programs in your field. Rankings are published for some subjects, but they can be misleading and subjective. A more reliable source of information and advice will be your professors and students who have studied in the United States. You will also find that universities and their faculty members are mentioned in academic articles and professional journals that you read. Refer to catalogs and reference material at the Educational Advising Center as the content of Master’s or Ph.D. programs does differ. Internet and e-mail access makes it easy to research graduate programs and to contact professors in the US.
For an academic degree it is unusual not to have an undergraduate degree in an allied or similar field. Competition for places can be tough and in most cases a bachelor’s degree in your intended field is a prerequisite. However if your degree was inter-disciplinary and you took, for example, one-third of your courses in political science, you may be admitted into a graduate program in political science upon the completion of a designated number of undergraduate courses at the institution in which you want to enroll.
Rolling admission refers to a university policy to accept applications throughout the year regardless of a deadline. Selection committees at these universities meet periodically to make decisions on admissions. Professional Master’s degree programs often incorporate rolling admission.
A priority date for admissions indicates that priority will be given to those submitting applications by that date, but later applications will be considered if space is available.
Some universities will allow students to commence in January instead of August/September. Consult the institution’s catalog for the application deadline. You should be aware, however, that the department’s financial aid package is largely distributed at the beginning of the fall semester so there may be less chance of you obtaining an assistantship if you start in January.
Some US University literature will indicate a certain grade point average (GPA) for prospective applicants. For purposes of determining if you should apply, a GPA of 3.0 or higher is very competitive and a GPA below that is less competitive.
The United States does not have a central “Ministry of Education” which approves various university degrees, as does Bahrain. The process of accreditation is a voluntary one that provides for a set of standards and includes an intensive self-study by the institution and an inspection by external examiners.
Six regional accrediting organizations throughout the US conduct these evaluations and inspections. The US government plays no role in this process.
We recommend that you apply only to US schools that are regionally accredited in order to increase the chances that your degree will be recognized upon your return to Bahrain. If you are enrolling in a professional school, you may also need to consider professional accreditation in such graduate fields as law, architecture, clinical and counseling psychology, social work, physical therapy, business, etc.
We strongly encourage students to consult with Bahrain Ministry of Education for further guidance.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do I have to apply to each university separately?
Yes, each university operates its own application process and you need to contact each institution separately to obtain its information. The EAC provides lists of US university addresses for many subject areas as part of its EAC Membership Plan.
How do I apply?
You can generally download most applications from the University website. Or write directly to them.
Who do I write to?
Prospective international graduates should write to two locations: the Graduate School Admissions Office and the particular department where they hope to pursue a degree. The Graduate School will provide the application forms and information for international students and the department will be able to provide information on course offerings and departmental financial aid details.
How many universities can I apply to?
There is no limit on the number of universities where you may apply. Most students write to between 10-20 universities for initial information, and then narrow down their choices and apply to between four to six US universities. It is not a good idea to apply to just one highly competitive program unless that is the only program that you really want to attend and you are happy not to do your degree in the US if you are not accepted into that program.
What is a transcript?
In American terminology a transcript is a record card that follows a student throughout his/her education at each institution. It usually contains a listing of the classes he/she has taken and the grade or mark achieved in the class. These grades are averaged numerically to compute the student’s GPA or Grade Point Average. The Registrar’s Office at your university will issue transcripts and you will need enough ‘official’ copies of your transcript for all the universities to which you are applying. All documents will need to be in English.
How do I get my transcripts translated?
Most American universities will provide you with exact instructions on how to translate documents into English within their application package. Some schools may allow you to provide them with notarized translations; others will accept only an official translation from your school or university. Wait for instructions from the admissions office before spending time, effort and money on translations that may or may not be acceptable for your school/s.
What tests will I need to take?
If you are pursuing a graduate degree in the Arts and Sciences, you will be most probably asked to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General and/or Subject test. If you are pursuing a graduate degree in a business-related field, you will be asked to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). You will also need to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)unless you have completed a university degree in the US or another English-speaking country. The GRE General, GMAT and TOEFL are all administered on computer. The GRE Subject Tests are still administered in the paper-and-pencil format for the time being.
How do I register and where do I take the tests?
Just follow the instructions in the TOEFL, GRE and GMAT bulletins. You will take these tests in Bahrain, but you must register through the appropriate office as outlined in the bulletin. Our office does not handle any questions regarding registration procedures. (See “Tests”).
When should I take the necessary tests?
You should plan to take exams about one year before you plan to study in the US. US universities will not consider your application complete until they receive your official score reports. For computer-based tests, students can see their scores upon finishing the test; however official score reports take 3-4 weeks to be reported. For paper-based tests (GRE subject), it takes 6-8 weeks for your scores to be reported. You can send your scores well in advance of the application deadline date, since the university will hold onto the scores and will expect your application in due course.
Visit the following web sites for further information:
What financial aid is there?
International graduate students have significantly more opportunities for financial assistance than do international undergraduate students. The types of aid include grants, fellowships, scholarships, loans, internships, assistantships, and residencies. Graduate students are often offered work assignments to pay for the cost of their education. Teaching assistantships (TA) and Research Assistantships (RA) are the most common means of financing graduate study. An assistantship will typically cover the cost of tuition and fees for a year and then a stipend is added for living expenses. Other awards made by graduate schools include fellowships, which carry no work assignments, but are very competitive. These awards are usually made to students admitted into Ph.D. programs and may cover the cost of tuition and fees, plus a stipend. Full fellowship support for the duration of a program is rare and will generally be combined with an assistantship. All aid is awarded on a year-by-year basis.
Most financial aid is provided by the individual universities. However, an average of only about 1/3 of international students at the graduate level receive their primary funding from the institution in which they were enrolled. Of the remainder, the majority was self-financed, while a small percentage were the recipients of independent awards such as the Fulbright Awards.
Remember, competition is very high and most awards are merit (not need) based for international students.
Financial aid does not always cover full costs, so you should apply to other sources for assistance.
Some universities may restrict their funding to US citizens and residents. Furthermore:
- It should not be assumed that financial assistance could easily be obtained after getting to the United States; actually, in most cases the opposite is true. Therefore, plan ahead and inquire well in advance before leaving your home country.
- In general, more university-based funding is available on the doctoral rather than master’s level and in the hard and applied, natural and life sciences and humanities as opposed to education and social sciences.
- Scholarships are rare for the international student intending to pursue a professional degree in business, law, or any of the health related professions or therapies.
- Limited financial assistance may be available to talented graduate students in the fine, applied, visual or performing arts who are interested in an MFA, MM or MARCH.
- Resources available to individual departments in a university vary from year to year, since departments depend on funding they receive from state and federal agencies as well as private institutions. Thus, a graduate student receiving financial assistance one year should not automatically assume that this assistance will continue through the entire period it takes to complete that degree. It is best to clarify such matters ahead of time directly with the department in question.
- Funding may be more readily available to students beginning their graduate studies during the fall semester. There may be less chances for funding for those beginning in the middle of the year (spring semester), assuming that option is available, since departmental budgets are usually planned on an annual rather than on a semester basis.
- Not every student accepted to a doctoral program automatically will get funding, full or partial; you must apply like everyone else.
- You may have better chances for acceptance and funding in the long run if you can show the department and graduate admissions office that you are able to contribute something from your own funds for at least the first year.
- For further updates on your topic of interest, it is best to check with professors, employers and professionals in your field. Professional journals and publications may also be helpful.