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Generalizations about graduate admissions practices are not always helpful because each institution has its own set of guidelines and procedures. Nevertheless, some broad statements can be made about the admissions process that may help you plan your strategy.
Selecting a graduate school and a specific program of study is a complex matter. Quality of the faculty; program and course offerings; the nature, size, and location of the institution; admission requirements; cost; and the availability of financial assistance are among the many factors that affect one’s choice of institution. Other considerations are job placement and achievements of the program’s graduates and the institution’s resources, such as libraries, laboratories, and computer facilities. If you are to make the best possible choice, you need to learn as much as you can about the schools and programs you are considering before you apply.
The following steps may help you narrow your choices.
• Talk to alumni of the programs or institutions you are considering to get their impressions of how well they were prepared for work in their fields of study.
• Remember that graduate school requirements change, so be sure to get the most up-to-date information possible.
• Talk to department faculty members and the graduate adviser at your undergraduate institution. They often have information about programs of study at other institutions.
• Visit the Web sites of the graduate schools in which you are interested to request a graduate catalog. Contact the department chair in your chosen field of study for additional information about the department and the field.
• Visit as many campuses as possible. Call ahead for an appointment with the graduate adviser in your field of interest and be sure to check out the facilities and talk to students.
Graduate schools and departments have requirements that applicants for admission must meet. Typically, these requirements include undergraduate transcripts (which provide information about undergraduate grade point average and course work applied toward a major), admission test scores, and letters of recommendation. Most graduate programs also ask for an essay or personal statement that describes your personal reasons for seeking graduate study. In some fields, such as art and music, portfolios or auditions may be required in addition to other evidence of talent. Some institutions require that the applicant have an undergraduate degree in the same subject as the intended graduate major.
Most institutions evaluate each applicant on the basis of the applicant’s total record, and the weight accorded any given factor varies widely from institution to institution and from program to program.
You should begin the application process at least one year before you expect to begin your graduate study. Find out the application deadline for each institution (many are provided in the Profile section of this guide). Go to the institution’s Web site and find out if you can apply online. If not, request a paper application form. Fill out this form thoroughly and neatly. Assume that the school needs all the information it is requesting and that the admissions officer will be sensitive to the neatness and overall quality of what you submit. Do not supply more information than the school requires.
The institution may ask at least one question that will require a three- or four-paragraph answer. Compose your response on the assumption that the admissions officer is interested in both what you think and how you express yourself. Keep your statement brief and to the point, but, at the same time, include all pertinent information about your past experiences and your educational goals. Individual statements vary greatly in style and content, which helps admissions officers differentiate among applicants. Many graduate departments give considerable weight to the statement in making their admissions decisions, so be sure to take the time to prepare a thoughtful and concise statement.
If recommendations are a part of the admissions requirements, carefully choose the individuals you ask to write them. It is generally best to ask current or former professors to write the recommendations, provided they are able to attest to your intellectual ability and motivation for doing the work required of a graduate student. It is advisable to provide stamped, preaddressed envelopes to people being asked to submit recommendations on your behalf.
Completed applications, including references, transcripts, and admission test scores, should be received at the institution by the specified date.
Be advised that institutions do not usually make admissions decisions until all materials have been received. Enclose a self-addressed postcard with your application, requesting confirmation of receipt. Allow at least 10 days for the return of the postcard before making further inquiries.
If you plan to apply for financial support, it is imperative that you file your application early.
The major testing program used in graduate admissions is the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) testing program, sponsored by the GRE Board and administered by Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey.
The Graduate Record Examinations testing program consists of a General Test and eight Subject Tests. The General Test measures critical thinking, verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills. It is offered as an Internet-based test (iBT) in the United States, Canada, and many other countries.
The typical computer-based General Test consists of one 30-minute verbal reasoning section, one 45-minute quantitative reasoning section, one 45-minute issue analysis (writing) section, and one 30-minute argument analysis (writing) section. In addition, an unidentified verbal or quantitative section that doesn’t count toward a score may be included, and an identified research section that is not scored may also be included.
The Subject Tests measure achievement and assume undergraduate majors or extensive background in the following eight disciplines:
• Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology
• Computer Science
• Literature in English
The Subject Tests are available three times per year as paper-based administrations around the world. Testing time is approximately 2 hours 50 minutes. You can obtain more information about the GRE by visiting the ETS Web site at www.ets.org or consulting the GRE Information and Registration Bulletin. The Bulletin can be obtained at many undergraduate colleges. You can also download it from the ETS Web site or obtain it by contacting Graduate Record Examinations, Educational Testing Service, P.O. Box 6000, Princeton, NJ 08541-6000; Phone: 609-771-7670 or 866-473-4373 (toll-free in the U.S., U.S. territories, and Canada), Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–7:45 p.m. Eastern Time.
If you expect to apply for admission to a program that requires any of the GRE tests, you should select a test date well in advance of the application deadline. Scores on the computer-based General Test are reported within ten to fifteen days; scores on the paper-based Subject Tests are reported within six weeks.
Another testing program, the Miller Analogies Test (MAT), is administered at more than 500 Controlled Testing Centers, licensed by Pearson Education, Inc., in the United States, Canada, and other countries. The MAT computer-based test is now available. Testing time is 60 minutes. The test consists of 120 partial analogies. You can obtain the Candidate Information Booklet, which contains a list of test centers and instructions for taking the test, from the Web site at www.MillerAnalogies.com or by calling 800-622-3231 (toll-free).
Check the specific requirements of the programs to which you are applying.
The program you apply to is directly involved in the admissions process. Although the final decision is usually made by the graduate dean (or an associate) or the faculty admissions committee, recommendations from faculty members in your intended field are important. At some institutions, an interview is incorporated into the decision process.
In addition to the steps already described, there are some special considerations for international students who intend to apply for graduate study in the United States. All graduate schools require an indication of competence in English. The purpose of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is to evaluate the English proficiency of people who are nonnative speakers of English and want to study at colleges and universities where English is the language of instruction. The TOEFL is administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS) under the general direction of a policy board established by the College Board and the Graduate Record Examinations Board.
The TOEFL iBT assesses the four basic language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. It was administered for the first time in September 2005, and ETS continues to introduce the TOEFL iBT in selected cities. The Internet-based test is administered at secure, official test centers. The testing time is approximately 4 hours. Because the TOEFL iBT includes a speaking section, the Test of Spoken English (TSE) is no longer needed.
The TOEFL is also offered in the paper-based format in areas of the world where Internet-based testing is not available. The TOEFL paper-based Test (PBT) consists of three sections—listening comprehension, structure and written expression, and reading comprehension—plus a 30-minute writing test, the Test of Written Englisht (TWE), which measures the examinee’s ability to compose in English. The total testing time is approximately 3 hours. Examinees receive separate TOEFL and TWE scores. The Information Bulletin contains information on local fees and registration procedures.
Additional information and registration materials are available from TOEFL Services, Educational Testing Service, P.O. Box 6151, Princeton, New Jersey 08541-6151. Phone: 609-771-7100. Web site: www.toefl.org.
International students should apply especially early because of the number of steps required to complete the admissions process. Furthermore, many United States graduate schools have a limited number of spaces for international students, and many more students apply than the schools can accommodate.
International students may find financial assistance from institutions very limited. The U.S. government requires international applicants to submit a certification of support, which is a statement attesting to the applicant’s financial resources. In addition, international students must have health insurance coverage.
Indicators of a university’s values in terms of diversity are found both in its recruitment programs and its resources directed to student success. Important questions: Does the institution vigorously recruit minorities for its graduate programs? Is there funding available to help with the costs associated with visiting the school? Are minorities represented in the institution’s brochures or Web site or on their faculty rolls? What campus-based resources or services (including assistance in locating housing or career counseling and placement) are available? Is funding available to members of underrepresented groups?
At the program level, it is particularly important for minority students to investigate the ‘‘climate’’ of a program under consideration. How many minority students are enrolled and how many have graduated? What opportunities are there to work with diverse faculty and mentors whose research interests match yours? How are conflicts resolved or concerns addressed? How interested are faculty members in building strong and supportive relations with students? ‘‘Climate’’ concerns should be addressed by posing questions to various individuals, including faculty members, current students, and alumni.
Information is also available through various organizations, such as the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities (HACU), and publications such as Diverse Issues in Higher Education and Hispanic Outlook magazine. There are also books devoted to this topic, such as The Multicultural Student’s Guide to Colleges by Robert Mitchell.
Excerpted from Graduate Schools in the U.S. 2011 by Peterson's Copyright © 2010 by Peterson's. Excerpted by permission.
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