Application for Ph.D. in the US

Posted date: June 02, 2017

Application for Ph.D. in the US: Tips for International Students

Not many people have guts to apply for a Ph.D. simply because obtaining this degree requires a great amount of time, stamina, and determination. Yet, there are many of those you dare to face this challenge and eventually never regret since Ph.D. is a considerable boost for a career. All the time spent and efforts made definitely pay off. If you are as daring as these people are and consider the possibility of gaining Ph.D. in the US, this article is for you. We will show how to deal with an expensive and time-consuming process of application to have satisfying result in the end.

Step 1: Search for Programs and Schools

First of all, you need to decide what you want. Analyze your research interests and mull over previous experiences. You will surely find the aspect that is a bit more attractive than the rest for you. Perhaps, it is exactly what you should research being a Ph.D. student. However, mind that you are not required to have an outline or even a topic of your dissertation at this point. You just need to be sure about the direction in which you want to move. If you are willing to obtain a degree in psychology, for example, you at least need to decide what school of thought fits your preferences and worldview. Thus, think of what you know and what you like in order to make sure that studying will not become a burden in a year or so.

Then, start looking for schools and programs that will comply with your research interests and needs. The establishment, its facilities, and faculty should be the support in your endeavor to get a degree, not a barrier. Moreover, the availability of necessary equipment, for instance, a lab or state-of-art tools, is crucial, especially for those willing to pursue the degree in physics, chemistry, engineering, etc. With these points in mind, do your best to find as many options of suitable postgraduate schools as possible. The chances to be admitted grow proportionally to the number of applications submitted.

Writing a dissertation is not fully independent works. You will need guidance and pieces of advice throughout the entire process of research. To have a helpful and insightful supervisor and support on the part of the faculty is vital in this regard. Therefore, having chosen some variants, research people working in the establishments. Find out whether your current research interests coincide with those of others. You should find the school with like-minded people. Besides, the work of others should genuinely appeal to you. Try to find a place where you will be able to learn from the experience of the best in their field.

Another aspect that you need to take into account is funding. To gain a Ph.D. degree is expensive for Americans and luxurious for international students. Not many people can afford these additional years of studying, which require not only paying tuition fee but also having much money for living expenses, books, participating in conferences, etc. Hence, an aspiring Ph.D. student should find as many funding opportunities as possible. Look for establishments that offer research or teaching assistantships and small stipends, which will help to handle the studying process financially. Although the chances to get funding are little, you should try.

When choosing where to study, you should also think about more down-to-earth things as well, for example, cost of living and locations. Surely, they are not as important as the availability of the necessary equipment or genius supervisor, but they do influence the studying process. They are:

  • Location. If you would like to go home during holidays or hardly bear the heat, you should think of the location of a university. The distance to the place where you need to go frequently and climate peculiarities do matter as they may have a detrimental effect on your financial status and well-being. Still, do not treat location as a principal factor in choosing where to study. Otherwise, you will limit yourself to a great extent.
  • Cost of living. Certain cities are very expensive to live in, and a person having no income other than a stipend will have difficulties with getting by. When choosing between the options, take the cost of food, housing, commuting, etc., into consideration. Even though these are not the key factors in selecting a school to study at, but they can affect quality of live tremendously.
  • Extracurricular activities. The years that will be devoted to gaining a Ph.D. degree cannot be about studying only. There should be a healthy balance between studying and extracurricular activities. Therefore, keep in mind that you need to research this aspect as well and find out whether there are some club for students, a possibility to study and improve English, or go in for sport.

Step 2: Ensure Own Eligibility

To have your application at least considered, you need to be eligible, i.e., meet basic requirements. Although very similar, they might slightly differ among universities. Find out what a school wants to see and ensure you can give it. You should:

  • Obtain degrees. Regardless of university, Ph.D. programs are available only for those who have a bachelor’s degree. Some schools demand the applicants to hold Master’s degree as well.
  • Take IELTS or TOEFL. If English is your mother tongue, disregard this point. If, however, you are not a native speaker, you will have to prove that your knowledge of English is sufficient to handle the studying in English and living in the US. Taking an internationally acknowledged tests, namely IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language), is the only acceptable way to do it. The requirements regarding the scores usually differ between the schools. Nevertheless, as a rule, it is necessary to have 7.0-8.0 at least for IELTS and 600 or 95 out of 100 for TOEFL depending on the format of the test. The preparation process is rather lengthy, and it takes quite a long time to receive the results. So, try to pass either of the tests long before applying.
  • Take GRE test. GRE is Graduate Record Examination that every aspirant should take. Each university sets the barrier of a minimum score. It will take you several months to prepare and several more to get the results. So, take care of this test as soon as possible. The best approach is to do it 7-8 months before the application process begins so that you have a chance to retake it in case of an unsatisfactory score.
  • Request recommendation letters. To strengthen own chances to be admitted, you should ask your professors and supervisors to write letters of recommendation. Think carefully of who can actually assess your research abilities and describe them to others. Besides, this person should teach relevant classes rather than electives that you liked a lot. You might also consider requesting a recommendation letter from an employer if you have work experience directly connected with what you are going to research. Find someone who can help make your application stand out.
  • Find out the fees. Universities spend much time checking your application and want a compensation for this time. Therefore, applying is rarely free of charge. Usually, the fee is around $100. Since you will definitely apply not to one school but to several, you should be ready to the substantial expenses. If, for instance, you decide to apply to 10 schools, you will have to spare at least $1000 for this purpose. The more prestigious school is, the higher the fee is.
  • Order transcripts. Each school that has a Ph.D. program has a requirement to provide a transcript. You need to order it from your home university in advance and do it as soon as possible. They, as a rule, send it as a letter to the establishment of application. As you are an international student, it might take much time before the letter arrives from your home country to the US. Mind the associated fees as well.
  • Look for specific requirements. Certain universities demand a personal statement, some want to read your motivation letter, some provide particular questions to be answered while some school are not interested in such things at all. Study the website of the establishment and Ph.D. program page to identify the aspects that might be appealing to the admission committee.
  • Prepare writing sample. Some programs require submitting writing sample as an admission officer might want to assess your abilities in this regard. Choose the topic that allows demonstrating research skills and genuine interest in the subject matter. However, it still should be a piece of writing relevant to the program, not the fanfiction you composed the other day after reading Harry Potter. Provide the writing that you can be proud of and the one that was published if applicable. It will give you a great advantage over other applicants.

Step 3: Write Statement of Purpose

Most universities require a statement of purpose as a part of the application package. When composing it, it is necessary to remember a couple of things. Although all schools need the same piece of writing if to consider its name, the content expectations are usually different. You should read the requirements closely with regard to every university and make sure that you answer the questions asked if they are provided. The best approach in this case is to create a template and add or delete information depending on what a school demands.

A statement of purpose is supposed to have an introductory part. Use it to reveal own background. Do not discuss your love for cooking and comedies in preference to cleaning and horror films respectively. An admission committee is not interested in your hobbies. What matters is your capabilities and academic background, which might be, however, related to some personal experiences. For instance, you may write, “Ever since I saw my grandmother forgetting who her children were, I decided that medicine was the only thing that I wanted to do in my live.”

Apart from the background, you should tell about own preparedness to the upcoming studies. It implies addressing coursework done, relevant projects that you had completed, internships, conferences you took part it, articles published, etc. In other words, you should show that you have a solid fundament to base the new level of education on. You may, for instance, write, “I was an organizer and participant of an on-campus conference concerning mental disorders. Moreover, I have a number of articles in academic and professional journals published during MA program.” It might be pertinent to mention relevant courses, research you were the part of, etc.

Furthermore, you should persuade an admission officer that you could be an asset for the institution by showing what contribution you are likely to make. Tell about your plans, aspirations and add about the way they might be useful for the discipline in general and the establishment, in particular. For instance, you might announce, “I hope to find the treatment for Alzheimer's disease.” Discuss how you would like to use the gained knowledge and on which projects you are willing to work. It might be useful to indicate a specific professor you would like to cooperate with. It will demonstrate that you have made in-depth research, have a profound interest in this institution, and are indeed determined to study in this school. You might write, for instance, “I would be honored to work under the supervision of Dr. Jackson as we share the similar view on the bipolar disorder.”

Finally, make sure that your writing is vivid. To make it is as such, spice the facts with bright examples. It is not enough to tell that you are passionate about the discipline. You should be able to illustrate and prove the claim by describing the instances when this love and interest were clearly visible. Similarly, if you state that you admire a particular professor’s work, you need to explain what the admiration stems from. Otherwise, such statements might be misinterpreted. Therefore, ensure that there are examples throughout the statement of purpose.

Step 4: Submit the Application Package

Once you have documents prepared and feel ready to start the final stage of the application process, do the following:

  • Fill in an online application form. Most universities have online forms for the applicants. They are not difficult to fill in since they usually concern such aspects as name, address, date of birth, contact information, etc. The likelihood of making a mistake at this stage is quite high so be very attentive and double-check everything you write.
  • Provide recommendations. You might be required to either submit an actual letter or just type in the credentials, an email and/or phone number of a professor or employer who can recommend you. Alternatively, you might be asked to provide access to the application system to a professor or employer so that they could submit the recommendation.
  • Mail documents. Not all institutions accept scanned copies of the documents only. They want to have hard copies. Therefore, you should be ready with transcripts, a statement of purpose, and writing sample, which are likely to be required. Pack them in an envelope and be prepared to send them as early as possible not to miss the deadline. Make sure to double-check the addressee’s details as a minor mistake might have an adverse effect on your future. Remember that you will have to pay pretty much for the international postage.

Wait. It is probably the most difficult phase of the application process. At this point, you can change nothing, but your destiny is yet to be decided. Besides, it may take months for the final decision to be announced. Once it is taken, you will receive a notification via email and a letter. So, just monitor your inbox and keep an eye on a postman.