Expertspeak on Student Queries

An EducationUSA adviser answers questions frequently asked by students.

By Unnati Singhania

April 2023

Expertspeak on Student Queries

EducationUSA adviser Unnati Singhania addressing a group of students from Gauhati University. (Courtesy Unnati Singhania)

Indian students planning to pursue higher education in the United States are often uncertain about a number of factors during their research and application process. These can range from the right time to apply and the application process to scholarships and return on investment.

Check out answers to some of the questions frequently asked by students.

Should we pursue undergraduate studies in the United States or wait to apply for graduate studies?

I faced a similar question at the age of 17. I decided to take the leap of faith and accepted a spot at the College of Wooster in Ohio because there was no guarantee that I would have financial and family backing a few years later, if I had waited to apply for graduate studies.

As an EducationUSA adviser, I realize now that undergraduate studies prepare you for a stellar graduate application that may fetch you full funding based on merit. A U.S. degree provides you with

  • research opportunities,
  • practical learning projects,
  • opportunity to build strong relationships with professors who will write recommendations and
  • exposure to a career and alumni network that will help you articulate your future goals in the statement of purpose.

Graduate recruitment is done by departments. If you are familiar with them, they are more likely to admit you for graduate studies, especially with the 3+2 integrations where, in five years, you can get both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Some students wait to apply for graduate studies, expecting more scholarships. But note that scholarships are department-specific and depend on the nature of the program. Connect with your nearest EducationUSA student advising center to get personalized advice.

Who gets priority for graduate funding?

Graduate funding is merit-based. Students can apply for two types of university-based scholarships—assistantships and fellowships. Assistantships can be of three types:

  • Research assistantship, where you help a faculty member with their research;
  • Teaching assistantship, where you teach an undergraduate class on behalf of a faculty member
  • Graduate assistantship, where you do clerical work for the department.

Fellowships are awarded to stellar students to take their research forward. They get an entire tuition waiver, a living stipend and a portion of health insurance waived. However, graduate students of research-based programs are more likely to get full funding than those of course-based programs. This is also department specific—science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields get priority for funding.

Deadlines for scholarships and grants can be as early as 18 months before the program start date. Before you submit your application, research independent scholarships, and identify universities with financial aid in your field of study. Contact professors in your department of interest since they play an important role in choosing grant and funding recipients in their departments. Students also finance their studies by taking out low-interest loans and external scholarships.

Are extracurricular activities important for graduate school applications?

For graduate applications, students need to showcase experiences specific to their field of study in their résumé. This includes educational background and awards, research, relevant internships or job experiences, special technical skills, language skills and community service. Extracurricular activities may help admissions officials dig deeper into your personality and the diversity you bring to the classroom but may not be the defining factor for admission decisions.

How important are admission test scores for applications to U.S. universities?

Many undergraduate colleges and some graduate departments in the United States are test-optional, which means they have waived the SAT/ACT or GMAT/GRE aptitude test requirements. In this case, the students’ entire academic strength will be judged based on their transcripts or marksheets. If students are confident that their marksheets are better than those of the average students at the university or are in the top range, they may forgo submitting this test score.

Do check the official college website to determine if you require a test score. However, test-optional does not include waiving the English proficiency test score requirement (TOEFL/IELTS/Duolingo/PTE). International students are still required to submit this score.

Why should I choose a U.S. education?

In the academic year 2021-22, almost 200,000 students from India chose the United States as their higher education destination, according to the Open Doors Report. There are various reasons for this choice. These include the flexibility of U.S. education, stellar resources, vibrant student and campus life, research, scholarship and internship opportunities, comprehensive support services and a diverse student body.

These opportunities allow students to become global citizens valued by employers and educational departments around the world.

Unnati Singhania is EducationUSA adviser at USIEF Kolkata.


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