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How to navigate American university websites when applying to study abroad

As a prospective international student, if you have started your online search for universities, you may have spent hours lost on various American university websites. You might find it hard to understand all the subtle connotations and wording.  A virtual tour guide could be beneficial in finding the best information and to assist you in interpreting the complex websites. To help you start, here are our best tips to help you explore your future university website.

Where do I start?
Fortunately, the majority of the American university websites are built similarly: First, an entrance to the university’s main campus, its vision, values and a personal word from the dean/president of the university. You will also have the chance to view a great deal of information, which can help you get a better grasp on the atmosphere of the campus. Then you should search for the specific schools and colleges within the university that you are interested in applying to: Business School (finance, accounting, tax, marketing, management), Law School, School of Engineering (may be in conjunction with the School of Arts and Sciences), School of Computer Sciences, School of Communication (journalism, writing, public relations).
In the United States, universities are well-known for their esteemed research departments, which therefore have a strong impact on their ranking. You will surely see this on the first page and though it may be interesting, it won’t help you to get the information you need for your application.  

The location of the page for prospective international students all depends on each university’s specific website. In most cases it can be found upon entrance to the website or in the student or admissions sections. We strongly advise you to start getting in touch with the university when starting your application online. The office for international students can help you with scholarships and the immigration process required to study in the United States. In fact, the school you are applying to will ask to work with them during and after your application process.

Should I apply directly to the school or to the general admission center?
This is a significant question when exploring the websites. Usually you will have to apply to the school of your choice: School of Law, Engineering, Business, etc. Each School has its own programs, dean, faculty, process of admissions and campus. You will have to choose a field of study within the school at the beginning of your admission process. Each school has several programs for graduate students and although this may be confusing, it is crucial for you to read all the provided information. Be sure you choose wisely to which program you want to apply. Our different Admissions predictors can be of great help to you. If you have any questions or concerns you should get in touch with administration faculty. Everything should be clear before you start your online application process for graduate programs in the United States in order to avoid any mistakes.

Some keywords you need to know:
Application, registration, admission or enrollment?
Don’t worry- all of these words have the same meaning! In one university you may find an enrollment office and in other a board of admissions or even a registration office. They will be your first contact when working on your online application.
Each university has their own online application system where you can submit all the required documents, letters of recommendations, GMAT score and more.

Undergraduate or graduate?
As an international students, you will need to navigate to the undergraduate (Bachelor’s) or graduate program (Master’s or PhD level) section of the site - these programs require a bachelor degree first. Undergraduate programs are for younger students who are just out of high school. When selecting a graduate program you can find the full description on the website and all the requirements before starting the application. Before applying to a Law School, you must check if your bachelor degree can be accepted in order to apply to a Master of Law (or LLM). The LLM degree is an advanced law certification that has global credibility. International students can usually apply for it and pass the bar exam in America if they intend to work there.

How can I get to know faculty & staff members?
If you’re curious and want to know who your professors will be, take a look at the faculty section of the website. There you will find their contact information and their publications. They are generally not the ones you should contact for your admission, unless you are applying to a graduate program that requires an academic supervisor when applying. Staff and administration members are your point of contact. Many universities have an excellent application service help desk with admissions/enrollment counselors who can help guide you through the numerous steps.  

Useful pages you shouldn’t miss!
Campus life:
This page will become your favorite when you’re admitted! All of the useful information about daily life on campus can be found here: food, housing, sports, students clubs, etc. It is also a great way to get information about the student life and ambience on campus, which can help you determine if this university is right for you.
A daily calendar of university events and a full school year calendar with every important deadline you do not want to miss, all in one place.
Financial aid:
This page may be found in the admissions sections or in its own section, depending on each website. It is a great source of information to assist you in figuring out if specific funds are available for international students, and for you spevifically.

Need more help with getting accepted, planning your studies, and the steps following graduation?

Best university clubs for international students

When you are an international student studying abroad in a new and foreign country, it can be challenging to feel involved and part of your campus activities, especially if you just arrived. US universities know that international students can have a hard time fitting in with American culture and they have many clubs for you to join as soon as you arrive on campus, whether you want to meet new people and different cultures or want to meet people from your home country. There are academic, sports, and culture clubs dedicated to bringing students who have similar interests together to promote the development of students’ leadership and campus involvement.

Academic clubs for graduate students
As a general rule, if your field of study exists on campus, there is a club to go along with it. Academic clubs exist so you can mingle with people who have similar interests to yours and in the your field of study. You’ll most likely be taking classes with these people as well, so use this opportunity to get to know them. Joining an academic club during your studies abroad gives you the benefit of meeting other people in your field of study that you otherwise wouldn’t have met. Academic clubs have other benefits as well. You can use this opportunity to do homework and study with other people. If you prefer to work with other people this can make your life easier while making new connections. Also you can use this opportunity to explore your field of study and go deeper into the subject. You may learn new things that you haven’t learned in class and can make you enjoy your studies even more.

Sports clubs for graduate students
If you love sports but aren’t a top level athlete, don’t worry! There are opportunities to play any sports at any level, even at smaller universities. There are sports clubs at universities that don’t have any commitments or practices and you just play for fun. There are also higher level clubs with coaches and practices so you can choose what’s best for you. Even sports that aren’t always as popular in America such as football (soccer) and rugby have a place on campus. This is a great way to stay in shape and not gain weight from the all-you-can-eat dining halls. So if you’re itching to get on the soccer field or the basketball court, these clubs are perfect for you.

Culture clubs for graduate students
As an international student you may want to meet people like you. There are clubs on campus specifically meant for meeting people of the same ethnicity and culture as you. If you are from Italy you can join the Italian club and meet students from Italy or American born Italians. This is a great way to meet people who are similar to you while studying overseas in a graduate program. Clubs like these get funding from the schools so they generally have fun events with free food and entertainment.
If you want to be in a specific student club, but there’s nothing like it at your university - you can start it yourself. If you talk to the university center and student activities staff and they approve of your idea you can head your own club or student organization. There are almost no restrictions on which clubs can be formed, so be creative and create or join a club related to something you genuinely enjoy doing. It will make your time studying abroad much more enjoyable and you will have unforgettable experiences and meet interesting people.
Need more help with getting accepted, planning your studies, and the steps following graduation?

International students: What you need to know about GRE Scores and Scholarships

If you're preparing for the GRE, chances are good that you're seriously considering graduate school. But graduate school doesn't come cheap—it can run you tens of thousands of dollars per year, not including living expenses. Don't give up your dreams of that Master's degree just yet, though! There's good news: if you have a strong score on the GRE exam, you put yourself in the running for lots of great financial opportunities. Here are just a few…

University-Based Scholarships
While it's important to realize that the organization that administers the GRE (ETS, in case you were wondering) doesn't give out scholarships itself, that doesn't mean that there aren't other routes to getting more funding. The first place to look is your university and the program to which you've applied or been admitted. Universities often use GRE scores as a major criterion to determine how much scholarship money you'll receive.

However, as with most scholarships relating to the GRE, the scores aren't usually sufficient to get you money on their own. Instead, the school may take them into consideration in combination with your grades, letters of recommendation, or even actual scholarship applications. Yes—keep in mind that you may not be automatically considered for some scholarships, even from universities. These require separate applications and can take some time to put together; it's a good idea to look into this well in advance of enrollment.

University-Based Funding
While not as prestigious as a scholarship, funding is nothing to turn up your nose at! The difference is that while scholarships usually come without strings (other than a thank-you letter to the donor and/or selection committee!) funding can require that you teach a class, work as a research assistant, or otherwise contribute in a specific way to the university.

So how do you get this money? Usually, universities will automatically consider graduate applicants for funding—but not always. Check with admissions departments at the schools to which you're applying. In many cases, great GRE scores can help you secure it, as funding in many departments is extremely limited and those scores can help you stand out.

Organizational Scholarships
Organizational funding is one reason that it's important to scout out GRE test dates early: while many of your programs and university-based scholarship applications are probably due around the same time, independent organizations can set deadlines whenever they want to, and strong GRE scores may be required for these scholarships—and can help you land them. Don't put off looking into them; while the requirements for organizations' scholarships can be extremely specific, this source of funding can be extremely lucrative.

And don't rule organizational scholarships out if you don't meet the requirements for some of them! Instead, search for scholarships targeting students with your unique characteristics.

Here are just a few examples…

If you're a college athlete, you may qualify for a scholarship from the NCAA or the Walter Byers Scholarship Program. If you're a Methodist, you may qualify for a World Communion Scholarship. If you're African-American or Hispanic and going to school in Florida, look into the Florida Education Fund. If you received your undergraduate degree from a small-to-medium liberal arts college, the American Graduate Fellowship may be for you. If you have visual impairment, check out the American Foundation for the Blind. If you are a new American citizen, look into the P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

Government Programs
Nope, I'm not talking about student loans. Instead, look into particular U.S. government branches' programs to explore their offerings. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy offers a graduate fellowship program for students in STEM subjects. Similarly, the U.S. Department of Education offers a fellowship program for students in other fields (social sciences, the arts, and humanities).
A Final Word
A strong GRE score can definitely give you a boost in your scholarship applications. Taking a GRE practice test weekly and working through lessons and question sets can definitely help you get where you want to be. Remember that while your GRE scores aren't the only factor that will help you reel in money for grad school, they are an important component of your application—and one that you can influence now!

About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London.

International students - Need help? It may be close by

There are resources on every university campus that help students with their studies or any questions they may have or challenges they may be facing. Libraries, tutoring centers, career counseling and more are all available for students. If you are having a problem or have any questions there is usually a place for you to go right on your campus. Additionally, there are events or places to go specifically for international students who have any questions. All you have to do is search through your school's website or call the main office for information on where or when you can find these resources on your campus.

As an international student, your first important step is not to miss the orientation day. Important information will be given to you: buildings locations, processes, useful contacts and security information. You will also get in touch with most of the other international students who will be with you on campus. This is a great way to get to meet other students and create your support network.
Many universities have a library with meeting rooms, access to school databases, computer labs and obviously books for assignments or pleasure. The libraries on university campuses are great places to study and get work done if you need a quiet place to work. Also, if you have group projects for classes and or you just need a quiet place to work with a group you can usually find meeting rooms at the library designated for this purpose.
On university campuses you can find tutoring sessions and testing centers where you can get help with work you are not understanding or tests you have to make up. There is also additional help for a variety of reasons, if you need more time for tests and so on due to learning disabilities. Take advantage of these tutors, especially as international students you are trying to save money and these resources are usually free or at least cheap. Not to mention if you want to make some extra money or volunteer you can work as a tutor on your university campus.

Connecting with other students
On campus, international students tend to hang out together, and it is a great source of help. Still, do not forget international students who are a year ahead of you, or in another program. They can be of a great help given the fact that not long ago, they faced the same challenges. On many campuses, international students are also organized in students clubs or have an office to help new arrivals and organize international events (sometimes called an “International House”). Do not miss this opportunity to get good tips from these students. You can also use our online coaching platform at GradTrain to get help from mentors who were also international students in the past few years.

Remember, moving to study abroad is an exciting, yet challenging experience. In many cases you may miss the resources that can help you, that are right under your nose. Take advantage of the resources mentioned here and your adjustment to life abroad will be much easier.

Need more help with planning your studies, internships and the steps following graduation?

7 Ways to get Positively Noticed as a Graduate School Applicant by Dr. Don Martin

When attempting to accomplish anything important in life, there are many do’s and don’ts.  When it comes to applying for graduate school abroad, the don’ts can profoundly affect the likelihood of being accepted. However, even more important are the do’s.

Over more than three decades as a graduate school admissions dean, I witnessed dozens of positive steps taken by applicants. Of these, seven particular and simple steps, beyond the preparation of applications that all candidates undertake, will help you get positively noticed by the admissions committee.

1.  Carefully consider and prepare for your first contact.
For better or worse, it is not a cliché: first impressions are lasting and take a long time to change. At some point you will engage in a first contact with the admissions office. Whether via email, phone or in person, it is critical to make sure you do everything possible to plan and prepare your first outreach. As you do, focus on leaving a lasting positive impression. After that first contact, take the time to send a hand-written thank you note. Despite an “instant messaging” world, a hand-written note really stands out and is a great way to positively reinforce your initial interaction.
2.  Follow directions.
This cannot be overstated. Do what you are asked to do—no more, no less. If you have a legitimate question about an application requirement, ask. But please do not assume. One’s ability to follow directions sends a very positive message and allows a candidate to move through the application review process without the unwanted attention many applicants receive simply because they did not do as instructed.
3.  Choose recommenders who really know you.
While submitting a letter of recommendation from someone famous or a prominent graduate may seem like an impressive strategy, if these individuals do not really know you the impact is entirely lost. Your best approach with recommenders is to ask someone who knows you very well, has been associated with you for at least a year, and can point to and validate specific personal, professional and academic qualities that make you stand out.
4.  Smile.
A smile is part of the universal language. It is simple, easy to do and can make a huge difference. When meeting any of the admissions staff or even speaking on the phone, smile. It sounds so simplistic, but it works. It helps lessen nervousness, lightens the moment, and makes personal interactions more relaxed. It also demonstrates that you are a nice person. And believe me, admissions folks, like all of us, respond positively to nice people.
5.  Stay calm and keep your cool, always.
Admissions personnel are not perfect. They sometimes make mistakes. It is not altogether uncommon for certain elements of one’s application to be misfiled or disappear. This is obviously not deliberate, nor is it a test.  Given the amount of time one takes to prepare an application, and even more, if the institution is one’s first choice, it would be easy become unraveled if something goes wrong. But do not let that happen.

Keep your cool and see it as an opportunity to practice handling disappointment and the mistakes of others, which you’ll undoubtedly be doing throughout your life. Be appreciative and positive. Do your part to correct the situation as soon as possible. Believe me, when application issues arise, admissions staffers often receive quite negative reactions from applicants. So remain calm and responsive. It will help you stand out in a very positive way.

6.  Demonstrate that you did your homework.
In American universities, graduate school students, staff and faculty have great pride in their institutions and expect the same from applicants. Showing that you have a broad understanding of the institution, the program, and the application process will make a positive difference.

One excellent way to impress and demonstrate due diligence is familiarizing yourself with faculty research. Select one or two faculty members with whom you would like to study and review their published research. When communicating with decision-makers or faculty, be prepared to discuss elements of their expertise in appropriate context. Demonstrating that you cared enough to explore academic information of this depth at this stage in the process, and can discuss it intelligently, will make a strong impression.
7.  You want in. So, let them know.
Let the admissions committee know you want to attend. If a program is honestly among your top choices, or your number-one choice, it is perfectly acceptable to let the admissions office know that. But here is a critical tip: when you do, be prepared to explain what you believe you bring to the table as an applicant. Provide specific and relevant reasons that illustrate the match. Also, focus on issues that are important and highly valued by that institution. Remember, the application process is a relationship-building exercise. Therefore, begin the relationship motivated not only by the value the program gives you, but also by the value you bring to the program.
All the best with your graduate school application(s)!
Dr. Don Martin, Ph.D., is a higher education enrollment expert, author, and former admissions dean at Columbia University, University of Chicago, Northwestern University and Wheaton College.   For additional tips on the graduate school application process, visit