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3 Critical Graduate School Considerations for International Students

Make sure you've examined your academic credentials, English skills, and finances before applying.

Make sure your college degree is acceptable for admission to a U.S. graduate school.

Before you apply to a U.S. graduate school, make sure your undergraduate degree is acceptable for admission.

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Once you are admitted, check out employment opportunities on your campus. In some cases, students are able to continue working throughout the entire length of their academic program. 

Fellowships or assistantships: Fellowships and assistantships are often renewable, meaning that you could receive aid for more than one year, provided you maintain good grades. 

Fellowships are reserved for the most qualified candidates and are used to recruit the best students. They usually cover tuition and sometimes living expenses, but you do not get paid. Instead, the institution essentially covers the cost of your education. Fellowships require a very large investment by the institution and are not as common as assistantships. 

Assistantships are like fellowships, but with one big exception: Graduate assistants get paid for working or assisting a professor or department. For example, a graduate assistant might help a professor with his or her research, teach a class, or tutor other students, including undergrads. 

Assistantship awards are usually not as large as fellowship awards, and therefore, there are more of them. You are still responsible for paying your tuition and other expenses, but the money received for an assistantship can allay expenses. 

Scholarships: Unlike fellowships and assistantships, scholarships are usually awarded for only one year. As with fellowships, they do not require any services from the recipient. But unlike fellowships and assistantships, they are most always used to cover tuition and do not include living expenses. Scholarship amounts vary, from very large awards to an award that could be as low as $500. 

[Learn more about scholarship sources for international students.] 

Loans: It may be possible to secure a loan at some institutions. Loans for international students usually have very reasonable repayment terms, but may require a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This will always be the case if the amount of the loan is high according to the lender's definition. 

Assistance from the home country: Be sure to inquire about funding opportunities from local, regional, or national sources in your home country. Many governments support international study and may provide assistance for graduate students earning their degrees abroad. 

Keep in mind that government assistance may require an obligation on your part to return home after graduation to secure employment. In some cases, the organization or government office providing the funding may offer a job upon completion of study. 

Graduate education in the United States is very competitive and requires tremendous dedication and focus just to get in. By considering the critical aspects of graduate study outlined above, you will avoid frustration and give yourself the best opportunity to succeed. 

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.