Enrolling in graduate school is a major step for anyone. For someone leaving his or her home country and moving to the United States, it is an extremely huge step and can be somewhat intimidating.
As a former graduate and business school admissions dean who had the privilege of meeting hundreds of international students over three decades, I understand the trepidation. However, I also know the excitement and opportunity that a graduate school experience in the United States offers.
[Learn how to prepare for graduate school.]
Here are six tips for those who are getting ready to become part of the educational community on their American campus.
1. Arrive early: Try to arrive at least a month ahead of time, if your visa documents and your campus both permit early arrivals. This allows for some adjustment before orientation and the start of classes. Getting moved in and familiarizing yourself to the surrounding area helps lower stress.
Attempting to move in while going through orientation and starting classes can be overwhelming for any student, especially those in a new country.
2. Check in with the international student office: One of the first things to do after settling in is to visit the campus office that works with international students. You most likely received information from this office, so go ahead and introduce yourself.
Be sure to ask all the questions that are on your mind and inquire about the events and programs typically offered for new international students.
3. Visit the admissions office: Go in and say "hello." Thank them for admitting you, and ask if there are other students from your country already on campus and if the office would help you connect with them.
The transition to an American campus can be difficult for many international students. Volunteering to assist the admissions office during orientation is a great way to build relationships and get involved in a very positive way.
[Check out campus resources for international students.]
4. Familiarize yourself with the campus: When you visit the admissions office, make sure you request a tour of the campus and its facilities. After the official tour, take time every day for about a week to walk around campus—making note of academic, administrative, and residential buildings.
Having a working knowledge of the campus and being able to direct fellow international students to academic and administrative buildings will be a great value to other students and will help you build relationships and demonstrate leadership.
5. Contact other incoming students who have already arrived: Graduate school is a perfect opportunity to build positive, long-lasting relationships with all fellow classmates, not just international students. Go out for dinner, to a show, or host a get-together.
Meeting some of your classmates ahead of time greatly reduces stress and allows you to start networking with your future alumni colleagues. The admissions office should be able to provide you with contact information.
[See what surprised international students about U.S. campuses.]
6. Assume you will have a great experience: A necessary element to succeed in U.S. graduate school is attitude. You need to consider the best and most positive ways to handle your academics, social life, and cultural integration into the United States.
If you start out with an optimistic attitude and are prepared and willing to accept the bad with the good, then you are setting yourself up for success. All-in-all, the best approach is the simplest: smile, relax, and prepare. Then, as the saying goes, "Let's get this show on the road!"
Dr. Don Martin, Ph.D., is a higher education admissions expert, author, and former admissions dean at Columbia University, Northwestern University, Wheaton College, and University of Chicago Booth School of Business. For additional tips on the graduate school application process, visit gradschoolroadmap.com.