Studying in the US

Studying in the US

Postgraduate study in North America

The land of opportunity may sound like the perfect place to pursue postgraduate study, but don't rush into anything. Take the time to research the courses, lifestyles and application processes on offer.
With some of the most renowned institutes of higher education in the world, North America is certainly an impressive place to do your postgraduate degree. However, with a whole host of universities, colleges and grad schools to choose from and no universally accepted recognition of overseas undergraduate qualifications, you need to allow time to do your research and start your applications 12-18 months in advance of your start date.

Student life in a different timezone

As in most European countries, the academic year in North America lasts for nine months. It usually begins in late August or early September and goes on until mid to late May, with an extended break over the summer months. The year will be split into two, three of four terms known as semesters, trimesters and quarters respectively. While most students are free to do as they please during the long vacation, many universities in the USA run a summer school, where it's possible to re-take any classes you underperformed in or study additional modules for extra credits.

Deciding where to study as a postgraduate

The USA has a mixture of state universities of 20,000 or more students, private universities (a quarter of which are operated by religious groups) and smaller colleges. You can study for a PhD or a taught Masters but be aware that small colleges don't usually offer doctorates. In Canada you can study for a PhD, taught masters or a masters by research in one of the country's 92 universities. 66 teach in English, 22 in French and 6 in both - so check what language(s) you'll need to speak before you apply. Deciding where to study from thousands of miles away can be a daunting task, so look at www.educationusa.state.gov/fairs/europe.htm for a list of North American university fairs in your country.

Get your applications in early

The application process for North American postgraduate study is intense - you'll need to take the general Graduate Record Examination at a test centre which can last up to four and a half hours, and possibly complete an additional paper-based subject-specific test. Allow time for these to be posted, processed and graded before you apply to any universities. Applications require these standardised test scores as well as recommendations and a personal statement - it's not just a case of ticking boxes. Each university will require an individual application and you should aim to apply to between three and six. Deadlines can be as much as nine months before the course is due to begin.

Viva las Visas

For an international student visa you will need a strong academic background, sufficient financial resources for the duration of your course and to be fully fluent in the English language. You will also need a letter of acceptance or proof of enrolment to be granted a student visa - an F1 for most US universities, an M-1 for vocational courses or non-academic institutions, or a J-1 for the ISEP exchange programme. Go to www.unitedstatesvisas.gov for more information and visit the US embassy in your home country to apply for a visa.

The cost of postgraduate study in North America

International students typically pay more than home students, regardless of where they study. In the USA there is a mix of state and private universities, meaning the fees vary considerably for home students too. As an international student you should be prepared to pay up to $13,000 a year at a state university and up to $35,000 for a private university. If you live on campus, as most students in North America do, you will probably have living expenses of $3,000 to $5,000 per annum in addition to your fees.

You may also like to consider spending one year of your course in North America, rather than the full duration, as part of the ISEP exchange experience. This way, you'll pay fees at the usual rate to your home university, and swap places with a student who will do the same thing - the application fee is $315 and there's more information at www.isep.org.

Loans, scholarships and funding

You don't have to break the bank to do your postgraduate studies in Canada or the USA. A lot of students from North America get financial aid for their studies, and this is true of international students too. If you're headed to Canada, check out the Commonwealth Scholarship Plan at www.acu.ac.uk or the list of postgraduate awards at www.fullbright.co.uk if it's the USA you're opting for. You'll have the option of a student loan if you've applied to an approved school - you can borrow up to $50,000 for most courses and $70,000 for medical, dental, law or business degrees. Or take an assistantship on campus - the university will cover your fees for you in return for 20 hours a week assisting a professor or helping a research department.