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Applying to a Master’s Degree Program

In this article, learn about the typical application process for a master's degree program in the U.S.

By Nick Pipitone

A master’s degree typically requires two years of full-time study in a major field. A U.S. master’s degree is often referred to as a graduate degree and is designed to provide additional training in the student’s specialized area of knowledge. In order to earn a master’s degree, you must have a bachelor’s degree first. Many people choose to pursue a master’s degree in order to advance their career and increase their earning power.

Admissions to a U.S. master’s degree program for international students can be very competitive. It is important to have a strong academic background and a high level of proficiency in the English language. Each college sets its own admission requirements and they vary greatly with each institution. To be eligible for a graduate-level program, most schools will require you to first have a bachelor’s degree, or its equivalency. You will also likely be required to take academic entrance exams, and most graduate school departments will be looking for excellent grades in undergraduate work. Research ability and relevant work experience in your intended area of study will also increase your chances of admission.

Applying for a master’s degree in the U.S. will take a great deal of preparation, so start your planning early. The deadlines and specific requirements for each institution and program vary widely. Once you have done your research on which schools you would like to attend, visit their websites and, specifically, admissions offices for more information on how to apply. While each institution differs, here are some general guidelines you can follow as you prepare to apply:

1. Academic transcripts

A prerequisite for applying to a U.S. master’s degree program is the attainment of a bachelor’s degree. Institutions will require you to submit an official copy of your bachelor’s degree and transcripts and detailed records of the subjects studied. If the documents are not in English, you must have them translated and submit both the translation and original language documents. Credential evaluation services provide translation services for a fee and usually charge $50 to $250 per document.

2. Academic entrance exams

Nearly all U.S. graduate admissions departments require applicants to take standardized tests that are designed to measure a student’s aptitude for further study. Most schools will require you to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which will test your proficiency in English reading and writing. Many schools will require a score of at least 500 on the TOEFL exam for admission and a score of 600 or better if you plan to study a field that requires a high level of English proficiency, such as journalism or literature. Check out the TOEFL website for more information on how to obtain the test.

Most graduate school programs will also require you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test or the GRE Subject Test, which tests proficiency in your field. Graduate business schools usually require the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). Other specialized tests are also offered for professional programs in law, medicine and dentistry. Check with the institution you are applying to and their admission requirements to see which test they will require you to take. Also be aware that all of these tests are written in English and will require a high level of English proficiency. Visit the GRE and GMAT websites for more information on how and where to take the tests.

Essay and letters of recommendation

Most applications will charge you a fee and require one or more essays or a personal statement. The purpose of the essay is to gauge your English writing ability, academic ability, organizational skills, purpose in applying to a U.S. institution and reasons you chose your field of study. The essay questions will vary from institution to institution, but they are generally either open-ended or require a specific response. Try to keep your focus narrow and personal in the essay and develop your main idea with specific facts and examples.

Most institutions will ask you for letters of recommendation from your former teachers, personal tutors or school counselors, as well. It is your responsibility to ask these teachers to write and mail the letters to your college of choice. Remember to read the applications carefully, as some colleges may require the letters come from an academic teacher rather than someone you know outside of the classroom. It is also best to ask a teacher that you have had more recently, as colleges want more current perspectives on their candidates. Since you already know your intended major when entering graduate school, it is wise to ask a teacher in that subject to write your recommendation.


Looking for more information? Read these related articles:

The U.S. College Application Process | Master’s Degrees in the U.S.

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