4 Ways International Students Can Gauge Grad School Chances

Weigh your academic background to figure out your chances of getting into a U.S. grad school.

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Prospective international students should ask the graduate program coordinator about requirements before they apply.
Prospective international students should ask the graduate program coordinator about requirements before they apply.

If you are considering attending a U.S. university for your graduate education, you probably have a myriad of questions. One of the most common questions international students ask is, "Which school will guarantee me admission?"

While most of us at some point dream of walking the cobbled paths of the Ivy League, only a handful end up doing so. As you make a list of schools, organize them into three categories of selectivity: difficult, moderate and easy. Applying to schools in each of the categories can hedge your chances of going to a U.S. graduate school

1. Check out the numbers: I used websites including the U.S. News Best Graduate Schools rankings and the Princeton Review, among others, to learn more about institutions. These websites help you draw a thumbnail sketch of the school. 

These websites give a lot of quantitative data points, such as student-teacher ratio, acceptance rate, popular programs, overall ranking, endowment and much more. This information, in conjunction with your own research, will tell you a lot about a school and your chances of getting in. 

While scouting schools, keep an eye on the acceptance rate – the number of applicants offered admission. A graduate school with a high acceptance rate isn't always bad and a graduate school with a very low acceptance rate need not be outstanding. The acceptance rate goes a long way to help you assess your chances of getting in. 

[Find out how international students can prepare for the GRE.] 

2. Understand what the graduate course demands: When you sit down to evaluate a graduate course, remember to dig a little deeper. Many U.S. institutions require an international student to complete prerequisites. 

Prerequisites are courses that a student needs to complete with a required grade before being able to take a particular course. Prerequisites could not only cost you money but can also push your graduation date back. 

Be sure to ask the program coordinator about the requirements. I am pursuing my master's in engineering management and I had to take two prerequisites, in mathematics and economics. 

[Learn ways international students can manage grad school applications.]

3. Evaluate your academic background: One has to know his or her academic strengths and apply accordingly. An international applicant may be a bit perplexed while looking at graduate courses at U.S. institutions. 

The best way to compare yourself with the needs of a U.S. program is to draw out the strengths from your undergraduate course work. Pick out the courses where you attained the highest grades, make a list and then look at the graduate courses and see where they fit in. 

After finishing my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering in India, I realized that I was more interested in the management aspect of engineering. I researched schools, and evaluated which were a good fit. Now, I'm at San Jose State University doing my master's in engineering management. 

[Discover ways international grad students can find fellowships.] 

4. Weigh yourself against the program: Look into the department of the school you want to get into and not the overall ranking, and use social media to talk to the students already there to find out more about the specific program you are interested in. Some schools invest more money in certain programs or fields, so a school that may be good for aerospace engineering may not have a good computer science program. 

Evaluate the faculty of your department and see the research work going on. Assessing the department and exchanging emails with the faculty will give you an idea about the strength of your application. 

Finally, make sure to check if the school is accredited or not. International students might not be aware that in the U.S., accreditation ensures that the school is of acceptable quality. One of my friends was forced to go back home because his school was shut down by the authorities, so check this out before you apply. 

Remember, the U.S. is a diverse country. No matter who you are or where you come from, if you meet the requirements, you could have a chance of being admitted to a graduate school. Now that you are ready to face the challenge, go ahead and prepare your admissions packets and come here to make a prolific career for yourself. 

Sourav Nandi, from India, is pursuing a master's in engineering management at San Jose State University. He received his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology in India.