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Should I re-take the GMAT?

"Well? What do you think? Do I have a shot at improving my score?" Karen looked really anxious. Following a friend's recommendation, she came to see me with a typical dilemma: despite taking a long prep course at a well-known prep company and investing many months in study and practice, Karen achieved a GMAT score of 660. Although this is a high score attained by only 20% of examinees worldwide, it wouldn't have sufficed to ensure her a place on one of best MBA programs in the world. The average GMAT score of successful applicants to these programs is between 700 and 730.
"Standard deviation diagram" by Mwtoews - Own work, based (in concept) on figure by Jeremy Kemp, on 2005-02-09. 

For many years it had been Karen's dream to do an MBA in an Ivy League b-school. She saw it as a launching pad to a successful and ambitious career which could take her anywhere in the world, and she certainly wasn't planning on giving up that dream just because of an entrance exam.

Karen isn’t alone: all over the world dissatisfied examinees who hoped to attain higher scores than they did are trying to understand if they can improve their score, and if so - how?

The good news for Karen and GMAT candidates like her is – yes, of course you can improve your score.

Let's begin with some statistics: According to official GMAC data (GMAC is the organization that administers the GMAT), 75% of those who sit the exam for a second time do improve their score. On average, they improve their total score by 33 points (the average improvement in the quantitative section is 2.5 points, and 2.1 in the verbal section).

Having said that, the higher the score achieved the first time around, the more difficult it is to improve the second time around. The graph below shows the improvement of re-takers. As you can see, those who got a low score the first the time around (less than 500) improve by 40 points, on average, in the re-take. But those who got very high scores in the first exam (700 and over) improve by just 8 points! For examinees like Karen who got 600-690 the first time round, re-taking the test leads to an average improvement of 20 points.

You can also see that the more the test is taken, the smaller the margin of improvement becomes and could even decline.

And now for the really good news: with the help of a personalized study plan which focuses on identifying and improving the examinee's weaknesses, scores can be improved by 60-70 points and sometimes by more, even for those who achieved a very high score the first the time around.

How does it work?

First, we assess the student's current situation. Does the score he or she attained in the first test accurately reflect that person's true abilities? That is to say, throughout the prep period, did the candidate get similar scores to the score achieved in the real test? Or was the test score anomalous?

If it was indeed uncharacteristic, we look for a reason. For most, it comes down to a combination of stress leading to a decrease in function and concentration and improper application of time management strategies. In an adaptive test like the GMAT, improper time management is likely to have a great influence on your score. This problem is relatively easy to resolve by applying correct strategies and practicing.  In this way, a score can be improved by 20-30 points almost immediately and with virtually no effort. 

But for Karen, it was different: throughout the study period, she had been scoring 650-680, so her test score certainly couldn't be considered a surprise. In cases like these, we make a thorough assessment in order to identify problems in technique and difficulties in understanding. With Karen, we discovered that she was approaching the questions in an improper manner, using mediocre study materials and was lacking complete control in all of the topics required in order to achieve a really high score. We built her an intensive 3 week study program so that she could retake the test exactly a month after her first attempt. The program included focused work on specific topics that had been problematic for her and broader work on her general technique, as well as many practice tests.
The results were dramatic: Karen achieved 730, an improvement of 70 points compared to her first test!

Karen's story is typical of many GMAT candidates. A score is definitely something that can be improved, but it's necessary to carry out an in-depth assessment of the relevant problems which led to the low score and build a comprehensive study plan that properly addresses these problems.

And what about Karen? She called me this week: "I've got an interview for Harvard Business School!"

So good luck Karen, wishing you the best of luck! J

Doron Aaronsohn, MBA, is the CEO of Ofek GMAT, prepping students worldwide for the GMAT exam. 

How much will I make after I graduate?

It seems quite obvious that international students (and students in general) should think about or at least consider what career path they will take and how much they will make after they graduate, though you will be surprised how many people do not know these facts and find themselves in deep debt after they graduate and return to their home countries (or even when they stay in the country they learned in). Even if you decide to go for a low-paying field, you should do this with your eyes wide-open, knowing the facts. Here's how:

"Dollar symbol" by Svilen.milev - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

How will you know where you studies will lead you and how much you will earn later in life?

1. Do your research on salary levels for your field and school. There is plenty of information online regarding salaries of grads of each school, especially if it is a US school. This will give you a good general indication,. See or the college ROI report.
2. Do your research on percentage of employment post-graduation – understand your chances of actually finding a job after you graduate. The schools themselves and other accessible information sources are available so you can understand this factor.
3. Make a decision trying to foresee the future. One way you can do this is by consulting with a "future you" - a mentor from a background similar to yours who has been through the process and can guide you to make the right decisions. You can find people like that on the GradTrain website.

Our global society definitely needs sociologists, social workers, historians etc., but when you make decisions on your field of study, you need to see how this will impact your life. If you find a job in academia and stay in the US, you may be able to sustain yourself, though if not, you may need to change careers at a later age if you cannot sustain yourself. The key is to make your decisions based on facts on just on gut feelings.

Below is an infographic regarding the 5 best schools in the United States in terms of return on investment (ROI).

Best Schools for College Return on Investment (ROI)

Where to study abroad? Take the quiz and find out!

Wondering which country is right for you for your study abroad dreams? Take the quiz to find out which country is right for you. Let's Play!

Obama's immigration reform for international students – time to celebrate?

There has been a lot of buzz over the past few days regarding President Obama’s immigration reform that impacts international student visas and their ability to stay and work in the United States after they graduate. This post attempts to clarify the implications of this reform and will help you determine – is it time to celebrate or is there still more work to be done before you can pack your bags and head to the plane. 

Photo credit: Darren Johnson
The facts
It’s best to hear about the reform directly from the source – see President Obama’s speech here.

“Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us?” he asked. “Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America?”

According to President Obama's speech, it seems like a promising time for international students from around the globe to have the opportunity to stay in the United States and pursue a career there. Is that the case?

The president’s executive action provides specific benefits relevant to international students. We have summarized them here for you in an easy to understand manner. The key points are:

  1. Expanding Optional Practical Training (OPT) – students will be able to stay in the US and work for longer periods of time for work that is considered professional training in their field of study (for example - lawyers who graduate from an LLM degree can work for a law firm in the US). Currently, OPT is for a 12 month period. The intent is to extend that timeframe, though it has yet to be determined by how long.
  2. STEM authorizations – students from the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics will be able to stay for even longer periods in the US for OPT. Currently, STEM graduates can get a 17 month extension on their OPT. The intent is to extend that timeframe, though it has yet to be determined by how long.
  3. Spouses of H1B visa holders will have an easier time extending their visas if the H1B holder is in the process of applying to be a lawful permanent resident (LPR).
  4. Entrepreneurs - if you are thinking of building a start-up company or know of a company in the US that would like to hire you, you may be in luck. The executive action seeks to "expand immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment, and generating revenue in the U.S."
Photo credit: "Uscapitolindaylight" by Kmccoy - en.wikipedia
If all of these terms related to US immigration seem unclear to you, go ahead and read our post on student visas to the United States

To summarize, the bottom line is positive for people from around the globe who want to study in the United States. Over the past decades, the US has not established an immigration policy that seeks to bring the best and the brightest to study and then work there. This is a step in that direction.

Only time will tell how much of this reform will be implemented, but you can be cautiously optimistic and continue to follow the developments as it is implemented.
To see how other people are impacted and to hear about learn from their experiences with immigration to the US, visit

5 Ways Going to University in France Will Surprise You

Guest post by: Andrea Bouchaud

As the home to many world-renowned universities as well as being a cultural, linguistic and historical hub–bub, France is a natural choice for study abroad students. But before you pack your suitcase, there are a couple of things you need to know about going to university in France. Let’s take a look at 5 Ways Going to study in France Will Surprise You:

Photo Credit: Benh LIEU SONG

  1. Grades: The grading system for French universities is based off of twenty possible earned points, not one hundred, but that doesn’t mean that you can earn a 20/20 as your highest grade. French grades are best explained by the well-known vignette of The Divine Code. The Divine Code explains that 20 is reserved for God (or King in some versions), 19 for professors. No student gets a 20 - ever. It’s not you; it’s the system. Instead of 20, students aim for a 15. At most French universities, 15% of your grade is calculated on your participation, oral presentations, weekly summaries, and the devoir sur table (an in class assignment, usually an essay). The remaining 85% is a huge test taken at the end of the semester. Depending upon your study abroad program, you may be exempt from this test.
  2. Class Structure and Credits: The average class credit at a French University ranges from three to five credits. French college classes are worth more credits because they are divided into two sections or séances that meet from one to three hours per week. These 2 séances are the cours magistral (commonly known as CM) or lecture and the travaux dirigés (commonly known as TD) or lab.
  3. College Environment: The French college environment is just like French culture: formal. Students refer to professors as monsieur, madame or mademoiselle- no last name. As French professors are not always PhD prepared, you don’t refer to them as doctor or ask them their education level - this is rude. Another thing that is a no-no in a French classroom is constant questions. A French college classroom is one of learning from the professor, not one of interaction. Have questions for your French professor?  Ask them after class! The typical French professor doesn’t share his/her email with students so after class discussion is the way to go. Respect for the professor and classroom is crucial in a French university and adds to the formal environment. French students are expected to not interrupt the learning process so they bring notebooks to class, not a laptop. You’ll also notice that no cell phones buzz, no food eaten during class, no whispered conversations, and no leaving class. This formal college environment is a very important part of the French college experience. But it’s not just in the classroom. The lack of a university book store and sports teams also solidify the formal learning environment of a French university.
  4. Information Technology: The typical French student doesn’t rely on the internet as the main way to communicate with professors or keep current on campus activities. Flyers and the free Guide de l'étudiant (student campus guide) are still preferred methods over online communication. Although many aspects of the French college experience are old-school, your French professor will expect your rédactions or term papers to be typed.
  5. Parlez-vous français? One of the main reasons you’re studying abroad in France is to improve your French. Taking university classes in French can be extremely difficult but it’s the best way to really beef up your language skills. Your French professor won’t accept your rédaction in English so having at least adequate French skills is a must for your French study abroad.

Studying abroad in France is a great experience for many majors but cultural immersion and language fluency are key to a successful study abroad. Knowing these 5 tidbits of French university life in advance will help you to have a smoother and easier transition for your study abroad. Bonne chance!


Having studied abroad in Paris for a year, Andrea Bouchaud understands that living in the City of Light isn’t always easy. Her hands on experience with French culture and language immersion as an American student inspired her to write 2 books- Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris (2013) and The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored (2014) both on Amazon’s Kindle Store. Connect with Andrea at

How to: find an apartment for study abroad

Leaving home for a study abroad experience can be a difficult decision in itself – never mind finding a place to live while you are thousands of miles away. The challenge of finding an apartment overseas is a conflict every student faces.

The first big decision you need to make is whether you want to go with program / university housing or with independent housing. Program housing means you are housed through the school you are studying abroad with, usually in dorms with other students in the same program. Independent housing means you get to live wherever you wish to explore. Finding your own apartment means being able to choose a safe neighborhood, budget your living expenses accordingly and search for all of the amenities you desire. Living independently means you are able to come and go as you please, hire a cleaning service and make sure you are conveniently located near classes, interesting sites or nightlife.

Comfort is key when you are living away from home. It is already nerve-wracking to try and speak a foreign language for four months, but coming home to an apartment that makes you feel at home is very important. Apartments dedicated to international students are rare to find –that is, unless you want to live in a dorm. By choosing independent housing, you have the option to live in a complex with local residents, or nearby American students. It’s your choice.

This post was written by Christina Monteleone of Study Abroad Apartments. Through Study Abroad Apartments, you will not only be able to choose an apartment in a convenient location, but you will be to find other students traveling to the same destination, helping you find a roommate you share interests with, and maybe even mutual friends. Study Abroad Apartments helps students find apartments they love, and in locations not many other companies offer. If you are looking for roommates abroad, visit

For more information about housing during your study abroad experience, be sure to check out:

Packing tips for international students

Studying abroad for any amount of time is an amazing experience, full of a variety of occasions that you will need different attire for! However, it’s easy to over-pack and bring unnecessary items when luggage space is tight due to checked baggage charges and weight limits. Here’s a list of helpful tips and suggestions to make packing as painless as possible:

Weather: Do your research before you go abroad and check out the climate in the country you’re studying in. You should know what the typical weather conditions are and pack accordingly. For example, the United Kingdom is notoriously rainy, so it’s smart to pack a good raincoat that will become your best friend during sudden downpours. A sturdy pair of rain boots also comes in handy, though you can buy these there because they’re heavy and take up a lot of space. Another example would be a hot, sunny location, like in Central America or the Caribbean, where you would need lightweight summer clothing, like shorts, t-shirts, or bathing suits (and in some equatorial countries – a light raincoat).

Shop Later: Like with the rain boots, it’s often a good idea to save some items to buy when you reach your destination because they take up space or are cheaper. For example, if you’re going to Boston, you can find a winter jacket, boots, and other accessories much more easily once you are there, especially if you’re coming from somewhere like, say, Brazil. If you’re not sure of specific styles, save up money and go shopping to help you assimilate into your new home and culture. It’s also smart to save space and buy items like toiletries once you reach your destination.

Be Flexible: If you are going only for a semester (or taking a short trip while you are already abroad), a good idea is to pack clothing that’s versatile and suits several occasions. For example, a nice top that can be worn with a sweater while at work or class, but also dressed up to wear when going out at night. People often pack clothing that’s in the same color scheme to make matching easier. Scarves are also versatile, whether you use them to keep warm, cover your head, or accessorize an outfit.

Shoe Situation: The most important thing to keep in mind is comfort. If you are attending school in an urban area or city, you will most likely spend a lot of time walking around, so a comfortable pair of shoes is a necessity. Going to class, most students wear more casual footwear, but you may also need business shoes for class presentations, interviews, or other meetings. If you want to stay active, a pair of athletic shoes are also smart to bring.

The Other Stuff: Your luggage will also hold much more than your wardrobe—don’t forget to bring items that remind you of home to stay connected while abroad. You can bring photos of friends and family to hang up in your new room or anything else that has sentimental value. One overall helpful tip is to pack in Spacebags—big plastic bags that compress clothing into smaller sizes by taking out all the air. But careful, it’s easy to go over the baggage weight limit by doing this because you can fit much more into a suitcase. Clothes also take up less space when you roll them, versus the regular folding technique.

"Wraxall MMB 06 Smudge and Whisky" by mattbuck (category) - Own work by mattbuck.

Packing can be a daunting task, but don’t stress about it too much. If you are moving to a new country for an extended period of time to study, you’ll end up buying lots of new things as you settle in to your new apartment and learn about the culture.

The most important thing to remember is to plan for the location you are going to and not for the place you are coming from J

2 Minute GRE Crash Course (At Least If You Read Fast)

GRE manuals are often as fat as the New York City phonebook—you’re put off before the first page. Wouldn’t it be good just to have all that information—or at least the most important bits—condensed in one place? Well, here is a crash course on the GRE: what is on the test, how to study for it, and what to study.

So, like, what’s on the test?

On the math side, the GRE is a test of fundamentals, which are wrapped in opaquely worded problems with numerous subtle twists. On the GRE verbal side, it’s sophisticated writing with the complex thoughts that usually attend such writing. Oh, and there is lots of vocabulary.

In addition to math and verbal, the GRE also has an essay section. It’s comprised of two essays, one that asks you to analyze a big picture issue (“To truly understand a society we must understand its major cities”) and one that has you find the logical flaws in an argument.

To recap: if you are good with numbers and read carefully, looking out for a subtle twist, you’ll do well on math. If you are strong at vocabulary and subscribe to The New Yorker, you’ll likely blow away the GRE verbal section. If you like arguing the fine points of complex issues in writing—and remember your grade school grammar—you’ll likely do well on the essay.

How do I study for this thing?

Well, there is the traditional book form, in which you get an in-depth take on the different question types and strategies for dealing with these questions. Less traditional approaches include phone apps, podcasts, and online GRE practice like Magoosh, which allow you to answer GRE-like questions on the computer—the very same medium you’ll use test day. A mixture of all these approaches is recommended if you want to max out your potential.

To get really good at the GRE, you’ll have to take practice tests. Luckily, ETS, the creators of the test, have released several free practice tests that you can take at home. Learning from your mistakes on these tests and working on weak areas will help you boost your GRE Score.

What should I study?

Given the plethora of different sources, you might easily feel overwhelmed. Are they all of them good? Are some much better than others? Are a few to be avoided altogether? The good news is I’ve reviewed many of the GRE books out there and a few of the resources. The bad news is I haven’t been able to review everything. Luckily, a good guide can be the forums (I recommend the GradTrain forums and, where you can ask other GRE aspirants about their experiences).

The key is to use a few of the well-reviewed resources to get a sense of the different strategies out there, so you can pick the one that works best for you.

How will I do?

Beyond the specific question type and actually practicing the questions, there isn’t too much more. That said, I would be remiss if I did not mention scoring. The GRE scores are broken into three parts, one for math, one for verbal, and one for writing. Both the verbal and the math sections are based on scale of 130-170, yielding a composite score of 340. The essay is graded from 0.0 to 6.0.

And at a high level that is really all you need to know to get started. Good luck with your studies, and tell us how you do on the test!

This post was written by Chris Lele, resident GRE expert at Magoosh, a leader in GRE prep. For help with GRE vocabulary, check out our free flashcards and Vocab Wednesday videos on the Magoosh GRE Blog.

Best ways to keep in touch while studying abroad

Deciding to study abroad can be a daunting decision, whether it’s for a semester or entire degree. This experience will likely change you in many respects, and have a significant impact on your career. One of the biggest challenges can be staying in touch with family and friends back home. Luckily, we live in an incredibly technologically connected world and there are many tools to easily stay connected with your loved ones while you explore your new home. One of the most obvious is Facebook, where you can easily private message or write on people’s walls, as well as post updates and photos during your time abroad for everyone to see. You could even create a Facebook group and invite your closest friends and family to post updates and stay in contact. Most international programs will form a group specifically for your peers, so you will be able to stay in touch with them even after the program is over.

In some countries, depending on the phone carrier, you can purchase a local SIM card to put into your own phone. You could also buy a new phone, carrier, and service plan when you get to your new home. These two options are best for students who will be studying in their new country for an extended period of time.

Smartphones, including iPhones, Android phones and Windows phones, offer tons of apps that make talking or messaging easy, often avoiding expensive data or other charges. Here’s a rundown of some app highlights:

WhatsApp: A free messaging service, WhatsApp allows you to direct messages (like Facebook messaging) with anyone who also has the app. You need an internet connection to use WhatsApp, so either a data plan or Wi-Fi.

Viber: Like WhatsApp, you can send messages and photos to users, but Viber also allows you to make voice calls when you have an internet connection.

Skype: Skype has been around for years and is one of the most popular ways to voice or video chat with other users. If you have an internet connection, you can Skype with anyone around the world who is also on Skype for free. If you buy Skype calling credits, you can call a landline or mobile number at a rate usually cheaper than other phone plans.

Facetime: Automatically loaded onto all Apple devices, Facetime allows you to video chat with anyone who also has the app for free. Facetime works best when using Wi-Fi.

MessageMe: A relatively new application, MessageMe allows you to send free messages and photos to other users.

Google Hangouts: A video, chat and screen sharing application that you can use with your google / gmail account for free.

GradTrain: Through GradTrain’s online video and chat platform, you can stay in touch with your coach as you make the transition abroad and throughout your studies.

This is just a short list of some of the most popular apps you can use because there are constantly new apps being created. Aside from all the technology, you can also stay in touch with friends and family the old fashion way - through “snail mail”—sending an actual letter or postcard at the post office. With so much of what we do based around the internet and social media, it can be refreshing to send a handwritten letter or postcard from where you’re studying, especially to someone dear such as your grandparents or parents.

Another easy way to stay in touch and also document your time abroad is through blogging. If you choose an online blog versus keeping a personal journal, there are many websites to choose from, such as Tumblr, Blogger and WordPress. It is free and easy to create an account where you can then update your blog with stories, pictures, and anything else you want to share!

Aside from all the social media and messaging services, a simple phone call also goes a long way towards staying connected with friends and family back home. As you are adjusting to studying abroad, possibly dealing with an episode of homesickness, a phone call home can be reassuring and comforting.

Stay in touch and connect with our global community at

You need to know: the 9 most common application materials

TOEFL, GMAT, personal statement, essay, application form... what do all these terms mean?

So you've decided to go for a study abroad program. But now, you look at the list of the things you need to submit to the school, and all kinds of words you've never heard keep coming up. The GradTrain blog is here to clear things up a bit with an application dictionary.

So here we are with 9 most common expressions about applications to universities abroad and their meaning:

1. English language certifications – Many programs ask you for English Certificates. The point here is that you've got to prove that your English level is good enough for the program you’re applying to. If you are applying to a graduate program, most universities require one of the two tests below (we have a full blog post about this topic):
  • TOEFL  - take this if your dream school is in the US or if you have not decided in which country you would like to study.
  • IELTS  - take this if your dream school is located in UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland or South Africa.
For more information on the differences between TOEFL and IELTS see here.

2. Standardized tests - if you are applying for a master’s or PhD program, most universities require one of the tests below:
  • GMAT – generally, you’ll need to take the GMAT if you want to study business (MBA & PhD).
  • GRE – most likely, you’ll need to take this if you are applying for a degree in Finance, Economics, Public Policy, Social Sciences or International Relations. The GRE is becoming more popular for MBA as well, so watch the trend!
  • SAT/ACT - these are standardized tests that serve as a criteria for admission in some North American undergraduate programs. Each school may have its own requirements. There is a cool map here that shows the trends.
3. School or college transcripts – the program you are applying to wants to know how well you did in your previous educational institution. A transcript is a document which reports the courses you have taken and the grades you have earned. It may contain information like how often you were evaluated, all courses taken, all grades received, all honors received and degrees given to you. We recommend that you start contacting your former school about 2 months before the application deadline, as it may take them time to produce the document. Ask them both for this and for number 5 on this list.

4. Degree certificates - when you finish a degree, you always receive a certificate or diploma. The school you apply to requests this as a proof that you've actually completed your studies.

5. Personal statement / essay / statement of purpose - it’s time to promote yourself! Be creative and write a 500-800 words essay (exact length may vary depending on the school). Each school and program has specific requirements. You should take some time to think and include in the statement every relevant experience, ranging from academic, sports, volunteer, leadership, etc. In a nutshell, explain your reasons for wanting to study the course and why you fit in. Some things you should not do on the personal statement:
  • Avoid long sentences.
  • Do not state the obvious, such as “As you know, being communicative is important for a marketing career.”
  • Avoid rhetorical questions, such as “And why should I study in the University?”
  • Don't be negative.
  • Don’t be too abstract.
This may take some time to do. Start doing this around August or September (depending on the program you are applying to), when collecting other documents. For more on the personal statement, click here.

6. Research proposal – some Master’s / PhD programs ask you for a document in which you need to provide a detailed description of your proposed research program. We suggest you start working on it together with the personal statement.

7. References / recommendation letters  - these are letters in which someone important who knows you well will attest to your qualities, capabilities and fit to the program in order to help convince the admissions committee that you are a great candidate. For tips on recommendation letters, how and when to obtain them, check out "The 10 Commandments of Recommendation Letters".

8. Application form – each program provides its own online application form. As the name says, this is a form to submit your information and pay a fee to allow the school to . This should be filled out along with number 9, in the end of the process, around December/January depending on the program.

9. Financial Aid Application – this is typically not one of the required documents for the application. Rather, it’s an option provided by some of the schools to request a scholarship or tuition discount. Usually you need to provide information on your financial situation. In some programs you submit this request together with the regular application. In others you submit it separately. As a general rule, especially in top schools, requests for financial aid do not influence your chances of getting in, so it doesn't hurt to fill it out if you need it.     

Don’t forget: each school has its unique calendar and requested documents. Therefore, the dates and expressions written here are a general overview and not necessarily your target school’s requirements.

If you have any questions about this or other international education topics, check out our forums. Also, be sure to follow our blog through the “Follow blog by Email” on the top right of this page.