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Important

  • Some schools and programs are not so popular on rankings but have great grad programs. Why they are not popular is because they are post-doc places. Examples from biology are the Scripps Institute, the Salk Institute and the Sloan-Kettering Institute.
  • Do not hesitate to send any manuscripts under preparation to the admissions committee, if you are lacking enough publications already.
  • Several of the courier services come up with attractive schemes targeted at grad school applicants. Watch out for one!
  • The UC (University of California) system has very good amount of funding for international students.
  • Get an international credit card – you will need it for the GRE/TOEFL registration and to pay application fees.
  • Often people ask the order of importance of GPA, GRE scores, research experience, reference letters in the application. Well – there is none. Grad admission committees typically look at the candidate as a whole, and see if he/she can withstand the rigors of graduate research.
  • Take time to prepare for the GRE and try to take several practice tests. Familiarity with the way questions are asked can boost your score by 50-100 points. You can find sources online, both on the web and in other places.
  • Unless absolutely urgent, do not email/call your university regarding petty issues. All you will receive is an automated reply or an answering machine. Try to find the answers on the university website.
  • Gaining some sort of research or work experience in the field you plan to apply to will greatly improve your chances of admission.
  • Have a clear idea of which faculty you would like to work with in the programs you are applying to, and indicate this on your personal statement. If possible, contact these faculty before you apply.
  • It will help a lot if you already have an idea of what your dissertation or graduate research will be about when you apply. Admissions committees prefer candidates who already have a clear notion of what they would like to do.
  • Even if a university is unable to provide you with direct funding or a scholarship, there may be other opportunities for you to earn an income while you are there, such as research assistantships. Look into this before turning down an offer from a university you might otherwise want to attend.
  • If you have a Bachelors degree (and not a Masters), be prepared to prove exceptional potential for graduate research. Ideally, this comes from summer research experience in labs/groups of national or international repute or publications in premier peer-reviewed journals.
  • Most schools interview potential candidates. Typically international candidates are interviewed by a member of the school’s faculty on telephone. Be prepared to explain and answer questions on your coursework and projects. An invitation to interview almost certainly means you are going to be offered the position if you can justify what you have written in your paper application.
  • Strong applicants usually hear from grad committees in January itself. Most decisions are made known to the students by early March. Rarely, notifications are made in April.
  • Admittances are notified beforehand, while financial aid decisions are often pending till a month or two after that.
  • The last date for the candidate to make his/her decision is usually mid-April. Do not hasten the decision-making (unless you have a great offer at your dream university!) , and contact students or professors, or if possible, schedule a personal visit to the programs, before you decide where to go. Do not delay informing the school once you have decided – remember that someone else’s career is at stake!
  • Once you are done with everything, do not forget to thank everybody who helped you, especially the referees who wrote letters of recommendation.

Warnings

  • Use a reliable courier service to send documents to universities – FedEx, DHL, UPS etc. Do not use a service for which you cannot track your package.
  • The December season is a rush season due to Christmas, so postal delays occur quite frequently. Moreover, a lot of the graduate offices remain closed from Dec 23 to Jan 2.
  • Wherever possible, put everything into one packet and send. If you are sending your documents in different packets, clearly mark your name, address and any reference number on each of them. Underline your last name.
  • Keep your address consistent throughout – do not abbreviate or introduce variations. This makes it all the more difficult for the graduate office to file your documents.
  • Do not make errors in writing your institution/department code while reporting scores. This may seem very obvious, but this mistake happens more often than you might think!
  • If you’re in your forties or older, expect age discrimination at popular schools.

Things You’ll Need

  • GRE General Test Score
  • TOEFL Score (often)
  • GRE Subject Test Score (sometimes)
  • At least 3 Recommendation Letters from scientists and/or teachers who can assess your ability to perform research.
  • Transcripts from all post-high school institutions attended.
  • A credit card (preferably Visa or Mastercard; Discover doesn’t work on some websites).
  • A passport is needed for taking the GRE in some countries.
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