How to Choose a U.S. Graduate School

Prospective international students should research the location of U.S. graduate programs carefully.

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Thoroughly research graduate programs and prospective career fields before becoming an international grad student.
Thoroughly research graduate programs and prospective career fields before becoming an international grad student.

I knew I made the right choice in pursuing my master's degree at New York University. Not only because the journalism program here is well-known within journalism circles, but also because I was amazed by the number of internship opportunities this vibrant city offers, which are direct leads to my future career.

Finding the right graduate school is a time-consuming and arduous process, so consider the following factors to decide which school is your best bet.

[Get tips and advice about attending grad school in the U.S.]

1. Research your program based on legitimate sources: Program rankings are vital enough to affect your decision, but instead of relying on your home country's search engine, try using credible U.S. websites to get an inside look at your program, including its prestige and standing.

In addition, you can learn more about a program if you consult directly with faculty. After I learned I was admitted to the Reporting New York multimedia program at NYU, I went to the school's website to find out information about faculty members, including their specialties and contact information.

When you converse with faculty through email or over the phone, you can also ask them to put you in touch with current students. Talking to current students can also give you a better understanding of the program.

[Learn how international students can budget for grad school.]

2. Take into account the locations of your schools: If your field of study requires practical skills rather than theoretical knowledge, you should consider going to cities, because you will have a better chance of getting internships there than in small, rural towns.

It's also important to know that many U.S. schools have campuses located in different cities or even different states. You need to figure out on which campus your program is located by visiting the school's website.

Research the places of your potential future schools. You can ask questions like: What industries in my field are located there? What are the job or internship opportunities like in that place?

3. Know the details of your program: First, find out how long your program is. Many graduate programs in the U.S. are two years in length.

However, the length of programs can vary by school even if the programs are similar. An M.A. in journalism from Columbia University takes two semesters, as opposed to an M.A. in journalism from NYU, which generally takes three semesters.

Go to official websites of schools to find out how long your program will be. Get a sense of the workload by asking current students, alumni or the program's director to find out what classes you will be required to take during each semester, or look at the syllabus on the school's website. Be assertive in seeking out specific information on your programs of interest.

[Consider these things before applying to U.S. grad schools.]

4. Learn your career options: Since your final goal is to find a job, talk to alumni or career service advisers to learn what you can do and where you can go after graduation.

Consult your school's international students and scholars office to find out about the Optional Practical Training program – which typically allows international students to work in the U.S. legally for one year after graduation as long as their jobs are related to their educational field – as well as about visas. Many offices' websites will also have information about applying for OPT.

The steps above mark the beginning of your future journey in the U.S. International students who are aiming to have a successful academic life and career in the U.S. should remember not to get discouraged. There's only one way you can make yourself better: never give up or stop trying.

Jia Guo, from China, graduated from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism. Guo is currently a graduate journalism student at New York University.