How to Apply to US Graduate Schools by smithhaleey


          How to Apply to                                    • Get admission, with financial aids, into
                                                               top US graduate schools
       US Graduate Schools ?

                                                             • This talk provides a faculty perspective:
                    Prof. Minh N. Do                            – How do schools and professors select their
          Electrical and Computer Engineering                     graduate students?
     University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA            – What is a strong graduate school application?

                                                                                     US Grad School Applications     2

                                                               The US graduate school system
      How to achieve this goal?
                                                             • Example: ECE@UIUC (ranked 3rd in EE and 4th in CE
                                                               in US News; 96 professors) admission record in Fall
1. Be confident: everybody can go to study
   abroad                                                    • Number of applications: 2198
                                                             • Admission offers with aids: 175
2. Know where the opportunities exist                           – Acceptances: 84 (9 Fellows, 53 RAs, 22 TAs)
3. Know what the schools and professors                            • Average GPA: 3.73/4.00
                                                                   • Average GRE Scores: 91% Q; 91.3%A; 71.9% V
   want                                                         – Declinations: 91
                                                             • Admission offers without aid: 116
4. Prepare your applications tailored                           – Acceptance: 47
                                                                – Declinations: 69
   specifically for them
                                                               Only domestic students can get TAs (Teaching
                     US Grad School Applications         3                           US Grad School Applications     4

     Financial aids available for                             Cost for each graduate student
          foreign students                                          per year (at UIUC)
• Research Assistants (RA): Professors seek research         • Tuition and indirect cost (to school): $23,000
  funding and “hire” RAs                                     • Salary + benefit (to student): $20,000
   – Professors spend TIME and MONEY
                                                             • Others (travels, publications, computer services,
• Fellowships: Students come with external financial aids,     lab accesses, materials):
  but are quickly required to get an advisor                   $5,000 - $50,000
   – Professors spend TIME

• In all cases, the reputation of schools and                • Total cost per year: $50,000 - $100,000
  professors depend on the success of their graduate
                                                               => Together with the time commitment, it is a
                                                               big investment from the school and professor
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      What do school and professors
                                                                           Application package
     expect from a graduate student?
During the school:                                              •   Standard form
• Carry out research
   Require: intelligent, creative, motivated,
                                                                •   Curriculum vitae (CV)
   proactive, able to work with others                          •   Personal statement (PS)
• Publish papers                                                •   Recommendation letters (preferable 3)
   Require: communication skills, well organized
• Assist teaching                                               •   Test scores (TOFFL, GRE)
   Require: communication skills
                                                                Note: Even if the school doesn’t ask for all of
After the school:
                                                                 these, you still should submit them all.
• Have a successful career
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                    Action plan                                               Selection process
1.   Take TOEFL, GRE/GMAT, TSE (if appropriate).
2.   Obtain application brochures by emails or from Web.        • At some schools, the selection is done by the
3.   Get official transcripts from your schools.                  departmental graduate admission committee
4.   Select 5-15 schools to apply for.                              – Students come and are guarantied to be supported
                                                                      for the first 1-2 years (typically in form of TAs)
5.   Write Curriculum Vitae, and Personal Statement.
                                                                    – Need to find an advisor (e.g. TA -> RA or Fellow ->
6.   Contact 2-3 people to write reference letters.                   RA) as soon as possible
7.   Send application packages and application fee
8.   Exchange emails with schools and professors                • At many others, professors directly made their
                                                                  offers (with or without RA) to incoming students
All of these require a lot of thinking and preparation              – Most schools require PhD students to get an advisor
                                                                      for admission

                     US Grad School Applications            9                        US Grad School Applications            10

              Selection algorithm                                            Advice to students
1. Test scores: GRE >= X and TOFEL >= Y?                        • High test scores only get you into the short
2. Which school?                                                  list
   Top: Tsinghua (China), IIT (India),                          • To be selected, you have to make a
   NTU (Taiwan), NUS (Singapore),…
                                                                  standout application
3.   GPA (-> class rank) & Awards
4.   Background and research experiences
                                                                • What make an application standout?
                                                                    – CV, personal statement, reference letters, and
5.   Recommendation letters
                                                                      direct correspondence
6.   Personal statement
                                                                • Schools/professors read these to get an
                                                                  image of the candidate
7. Direct correspondences (emails, phones)
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                   Test scores                                                 Curriculum vitae
                                                             •   Spend time write and rewrite CV.
                                                             •   Study examples on the Web.
•   Key for achieving good scores is practice                •   Make it short (1-2 pages) and sharp
    – Lot of resources (books, websites) available
    – USguide ( has a lot        •   Most notable:
      of information                                             –   GPA: Overall GPA and Technical GPA
                                                                 –   Class rank
•   Target test scores:                                          –   Awards/Honors
    – Good enough: TOEFL: 580 and GRE: 1,800                     –   Research experiences
    – Ideal: TOEFL: 600 and GRE: 2,000                           –   Publications
                                                                 –   Special talents/skills
    Note: Some schools/professors don’t pay much
       attention to the GRE scores
                                                             Key: indication of an outstanding student
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      Personal Statement (PS)?                                                 Design your PS
• In 2 pages, it should provide:
    – A clear and outstanding image of yourself              • Think about your goals first
    – You general plans for what to do in school and         • Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve
      afterwards                                             • Ask yourself the following questions:
    – These plans should be specific and make sense              –   What do you want to achieve?
      given your background and abilities.
                                                                 –   How do plan to achieve it?
• Good statement showcase the good side of your                  –   What kind of self-image do you want to present?
  personality:                                                   –   Why do you want to study in the US?
    – You are enthusiastic but not lightheaded                   –   What is your plan in the US?
    – You are driven but not overly aggressive                   –   What is your plan after graduation
• It also shows that you have effective writing style
  and good communication skills.                             • Answers should be unique!
                     US Grad School Applications        15                            US Grad School Applications                16

    How to write an effective PS?                                              Reference Letters
                                                             • Reference letters are very important:
• Learn American communication style by reading                  – They confirm your qualifications; and
  articles written by Americans.                                 – Provide additional information about you that
                                                                   application forms and scores do not.
• Style: specific, factual (citing little stories or
                                                             • A good reference letter should be reasonable
  concrete examples). No vague statements                      and specific.
• Read sample essays -- good ones and bad                        – Reasonable means that the person writing the letter
  ones.                                                            knows you well and has the qualifications to
                                                                   evaluate you.
• Discuss your PS with others -- ideally including               – Specific means that the person cites examples,
  experts.                                                         provides specific information, and tells little stories
• Spend time to write and rewrite                                  about the student.
                                                                      • Example: what is your rank in the class? What is the
• Plan to use at least 50 to 100 hours to write your                    outcome of the project you have done? How do you relate to
  PS.                                                            – No vague comments.
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   English communication skills                                                  Which schools to apply?
• This is different with the TOFEL taking test                           • Use school ranking from or
  skill                                                                    National Academies (from VEF website)
• Being a good researcher requires being                                 • Visit school websites to see if they do research
  effective at:                                                            in your areas of interest
                                                                         • May contact the professors before applying
  – Exchanging ideas via emails, at seminars,
                                                                         • Also consider:
    meetings, conferences
                                                                            – It would be very helpful if the school already has
  – Writing papers                                                            some successful Vietnamese students.
  – Giving talks                                                            – Universities in boring states are much less
• These will be judged through PS and                                       – Small schools are more likely pay close attention to
  direct correspondences
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                                                                              your application
                                                                                                  US Grad School Applications                   20

                                                                               Do your homework…
      Contact professors in US
                                                                             … knowledge is your power
• Send a personalized email to the professor:                            • Study the guides
  – Make it short but sharp                                                 – Lots of information on the Web (see end)
  – Personalized letter gets more attention.
      • Indicate that you visited prof’s homepage and find a good        • Study the schools
        match                                                               – Visit schools’ websites
  – Don’t send exactly the same letter to every professor                   – Visit professors’ homepages
• Attach your CV with the letter                                            – Learn about their current research
  – No Word document, use text document instead.
• Mention if you already have a fellowship from                          • Study the US culture
  credential sources (VEF, government,…)                                    – Communication styles: Web, news, movies
                                                                            – Understand the US culture in advance is a strong
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                                                                              point          US Grad School Applications                        22

                Useful websites                                                                  Conclusion
                                                                         To be a successful applicant to top US grad schools:
                                                                         • Be motivated
• USguide:                                                               • Be persistent                                                 • Be specific                                            • Create a standout image
  (a guide by Vietnamese students)                                       • Do your homework: study and think!

                                                                         • Advice to the universities in Vietnam:
• BeBeyond:                                                                 – Create awards/recognitions to identify top students (e.g. best
                                                                              students in certain courses or years, Dean’s list of top                               students,…)
  (an English guide by Chinese students)                                    – Offer plenty of research experiences (e.g. final year projects,
                                                                              independent study, undergraduate research projects,…).

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