It is no news that most Nigerian students are usually faced with many uncertainties when they are close to graduating from the university. The reason for this is not far fetched – the unemployment rate in Nigeria is often on the upward trend; An average graduate in Nigeria is not sure of securing a job after their four to five-year programs in the university. Also, the state of the nation is obviously not good to support aspiring and young entrepreneurs. As a result, most youth especially those that are still in the university are constantly seeking for a way out of the unbearable status quo. I have also decided to stop complaining about the obvious decadence in the state of the nation but to offer my best support to the most ambitious youth of my beloved country. Hence, I write to inform the youthful population in Nigeria (especially the university students) about the available graduate opportunities in the U.S.
I will be discussing what an average university student in Nigeria need to know to be ready for an academic career in the U.S. from the very step of making the decision to getting the VISA to study in America. I will be doing this by answering some questions which many applicants have asked me in the past regarding admissions to graduate programs in the U.S. The first question is “can I get into a graduate program in the U.S. with scholarship?”. As an applicant to a graduate school in the U.S. (either a master’s degree or a PhD program), you will mostly be considered for a graduate assistantship or research assistantship (which is a form of scholarship). This is pretty much a routine because you will be expected to teach undergraduate labs and or classes depending on your course of study (the graduate admissions are sometimes referred to as graduate recruitment because of the stipend and waived tuition that mostly come with it). In some cases, you may get a research or teaching fellowship with your admission or few semesters into your program. Whichever one you get; each school has its own policy regarding the award and disbursement of the associated fund. In other word, if you are applying to a graduate program in the U.S., you can be rest assure that you have a chance of getting into the program with some form of assistantship. Some people have said that if a U.S. school will not fund you, they will not accept you (I don’t totally accept that though. I have seen some applicants that were offered admissions without assistantship).
Another question I get is, “I don’t know if I will be eligible for an assistantship”. To answer this question, I will like to point out that anyone, that is well prepared, can get into the graduate program with assistantship based on equal opportunity policy that most schools in the U.S. practice. Another way of looking at this question is from the angle of the students’ preparedness. I do advise students to put an excellent preparation into this while they are still in the university. The best time to prepare for graduate admissions into U.S. school is when you are in the third or fourth year of your bachelor’s degree program. Some may find this too early but you will soon know why that is the smartest thing to do when you are out of the university and faced with making the decision as to what next to do career wise. As a Nigerian applicant, your NYSC year is also a great time to do this. So, from the perspective of preparedness, the question of eligibility is a self-imposed question. You really don’t have to be the best student in your class to be able to get into a graduate school with funding. You just must be the student with the right mindset and making the necessary preparation as and when due. I can’t over emphasize that you must study, which is why I do encourage students to start preparing for the graduate school application when they are still in college.
One other important question is, “how do I apply to a graduate school in the U.S.?”. This is a loaded question. Applying to graduate programs in the U.S. requires that you send some documents to the schools. So, I will be writing about how to prepare each of those documents that will form your application packet in the next few paragraphs.
After you finally decide to apply to a master or a PhD program in the U.S, the first thing that should follow is to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). However, you need to know how much time you need to prepare for these admission tests. The two tests are administered by Educational Testing Services (ETS). I will recommend that you give enough time to take them (nevertheless, I will leave this to your judgement). While you are studying for the tests, you can start gathering facts about the schools you are willing to apply to (e.g GRE and TOEFL cut off, if any). You have a huge pool of universities in the U.S. to apply to. So, you want to make sure you do your research well to be able to narrow down on at least four schools that you will be sending your applications to (ETS will normally send your GRE and TOEFL results to four schools that you would have chosen during the test registration).
Basically, everything will have to be done concurrently once you start the application process. You can start the school application before your test date since ETS will be the one to send the results to them anyway. While the preparation for admission test is ongoing, you will need to start contacting your professors for letter of recommendation. Usually, the link to the letter of recommendation will be sent directly to the recommenders when you put their names as recommenders in the online application. Another important part of the application is your undergraduate results transcript. You need to request that your school send official copies of your transcripts to the school you are applying to. Although, some schools will accept an unofficial transcript for review purpose, while they wait for the official copy from your undergraduate university.
I will like to dedicate the following paragraphs to another crucial part of the graduate school application, the statement of purpose (SOP). It is also known as admission essay. There are a few things that you want to know before you start writing your SOP.
First, it is important you know that SOP is an important part of your application credentials and it must be treated as such. So, you really need to give enough time to draft the SOP, proofread, re-read and get friends to vet it for you. If you need a month to put up a great SOP, it’s worth it! On top of that, SOP presents you with the opportunity to be face-to-face with the admissions committees. It’s therefore onus upon you to utilize it.
Secondly, you shouldn’t submit your SOP without dedicating two to three paragraphs to talk about your research interests and how recent developments in that area have spurred your interest. The people that will review your applications are deeply rooted in research. For that reason, an SOP without a research talk is mostly considered empty. While it is good to write about your passion for your chosen course of study, you shouldn’t dwell on ‘passion’ talk too much. Show it to them by way of what you have done; don’t just tell them you are passionate. Being passionate is almost becoming commonplace.
Lastly, it’s a great idea to use your SOP to address some weak points in your credentials. But talk about how your grades improved not how long you spent crying about your bad grades as a freshman. It might also be helpful to indicate in your SOP some faculties that you would be willing to work with upon your admission to the school. That shows the admissions committees that you have done your homework well. And before finalizing on submitting your SOP on the school application portal, you should check for obvious errors in grammar and keep your writing as simple as possible. Obvious errors just make you come across as not paying attention to details, which is an important virtue as a graduate student.
It will be to your advantage to submit your application to the schools very early as this may be the deal breaker in ensuring that you get funded. Some schools make decisions on a rolling basis (that is, they make decision as they receive each complete application), while some wait to receive all the application and then make decisions. After submitting your application to the school and ensuring that the school have received your complete credentials. It is now time to begin the waiting game! You can get impatient sometimes, its completely okay. I recommend you read this article on how to increase your chance of getting accepted, ‘Practical Ways to Make Sure Your U.S. School Application is Accepted‘. Another thing I will suggest you do is to occasionally send emails to graduate coordinators and or graduate director of the program you applied to. But keep your message very short. You don’t want to come across as being pushy. I will recommend you spend quality time on the faculty page of the program website just to familiarize yourself with the program and get to know more about what your potential advisor is working on.
Finally, you checked your email and woo! You got accepted!! Congratulations!!! Now, what? The very next thing you want to do is to go ahead and accept the offer while you wait on other offers from other schools you have applied to. When you finally decide on which of the school to go, it’s now time to start gathering immigration documents. Typically, you would be contacted by the school’s international students and scholar services department (ISSS), which some schools also refer to as department of global engagements. Your program department will also send some documents to you. After getting the immigration document (i-20) from the school’s ISSS. Then, the VISA interview application…
Before you apply for VISA, you will need to fill out and submit the online DS-160 form and generate the bar code which will be required of you during visa application. Also, you need to pay the VISA fee and SEVIS fees. After that, you can go ahead to book an appointment for the VISA interview. One important thing about the VISA application is to ensure that you keep every information about you consistent. That way, your VISA is mostly guaranteed.
In conclusion, any student who is well prepared can most definitely get into any graduate program in the U.S. The key is to make sure you start early and submit your application early. And it will be great if you can share this article with your friends. I do belief there is love in sharing. That is one of the reasons I devoted my time to writing this article. So that students who don’t know the process of applying to schools in the U.S. can begin to do so. I hope to see you here soon. I will also be more than happy to answer any question that you may have. Thanks for reading and best wishes!