The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. Graduate Programs
Image courtesy of EducationUSA Belarus, with permission
This month we hear from Dr. Viktar Khotsim, Educational Advising Center Director, EducationUSA Belarus. Dr. Khotsim has been advising prospective students from Belarus about student opportunities in the United States for over twenty years. He brings unique insight to this topic of researching U.S. graduate programs.
1. How does EducationUSA assist international students hoping to study in the United States?
By offering accurate, comprehensive, and current information about opportunities to study at accredited postsecondary institutions in the United States through a network of EducationUSA centers located at U.S. embassies, consulates, Fulbright commissions, bi-national centers, universities, and non-profit organizations in almost 180 countries in the world.
2. Describe your role at EducationUSA Belarus?
I provide regular advising on U.S. study for all interested students, as well as cohort advising for graduate’s students (Graduate Study Cohort) and administer Opportunity program, i.e. program for talented individuals with low income. I also assist U.S. institutions in verifying educational documents from Belarus, arrange joint webinars and provide virtual and physical outreach trips to Belarus. Finally, I work with alumni of our programs and support our social networks related to advising on U.S. study.
3. What are the top academic graduate programs that international students seek out in the United States?
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs
4. What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for graduate/post-graduate education?
Of course, it is the total cost of studies.
5. How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?
The majority of students start the application process one year in advance. But we observe a tendency (also due to our efforts) that students begin to start their research much earlier, i.e. typically between 2-3 and even 4 years in advance.
6.How can international students seeking graduate study (for master’s or doctoral programs) in the United States begin their search?
Of course, the internet is where most students will start their research. In Belarus we run a Graduate Study cohort advising program. This systematic approach has three main features:
- The distance and off-site outreach training programs complement each other
- The program is synchronized with the opportunity program and the U.S. admission cycles
- The model’s operation is based on active involvement of the Opportunity alumni and representatives of the U.S. educational institutions.
7. What are the most important factors prospective international graduate students look at when reviewing U.S. graduate programs?
First, program attractiveness and relevance to a student’s career goals. Second, overall interest in selected institutions’ environment and campus. Third, options for financial aid. Finally, admission/financial aid requirements, acceptance rate and deadlines.
8. What role do English proficiency tests like IELTS play in the admissions process for international graduate applicants?
IELTS is very popular in Europe and in our country as well. Student like this test because it is applicable for educational institutions in both regions, i.e. Europe and America. Also, some students can demonstrate better results in IELTS, so they prefer to pass this exam.
9. When it comes to paying for graduate programs in the United States, what should international students know that can help off-set the significant costs of studying there?
First, financial aid is typically limited and is very competitive. To improve their chances of qualifying for merit aid, normally in the form of graduate assistantships, students should have a strong mix of academic and extracurricular activities. Second, that financial aid for international graduate students in the United States is not based on students’ financial need. It is an “exchange” of current and future student achievements for better financial conditions of getting high quality education.
10. What is “finding a good fit” when it comes to finding the right graduate program in the United States?
“Finding a good fit” for our students is when they consider a program of study in the U.S. as an “instrument” which will bring them new knowledge and skills. And they know what they would like to learn and how to use it in the future in their career. “Good fit” appears when they hunt for the “instrument” and take into consideration its quality (programs content) instead of seeking a famous named institution.