Have you ever found yourself contemplating the idea of applying to a graduate school in the U.S.? If so, you are not alone. Every year, many students from around the world struggle to decide whether they should apply to schools in the U.S. or they stay back in their home country to pursue their degree of interest. The reasons for this divide into many factors, some of which are emotional, and others are physical. Whichever factor it might be, you need to know that it is only natural to feel that way. More importantly, you need to know that you can overcome any reason that might be presenting itself as an obstacle from letting you consider applying to graduate schools in the U.S. In this article, I will be addressing some factors that may pose fear into students and discourage them from moving forward with the idea of pursuing the U.S. education. Also, I intend to offer some suggestions that might be helpful in dealing with the situation.
Graduate School in the U.S. – A Perspective
Before we move on, let’s put some things into perspectives. According to a 2017 survey, there are over 1 million international students in the U.S. The U.S. is at the forefront of scientific and creative innovations. It hosts more than 50 of best universities in the world with some highly sophisticated research facilities in an average school. I cannot overemphasize that the U.S. schools are the most diverse in the world. This provides a stimulating and vibrant learning environment which encourages cross-cultural understanding and networking. More so, regardless of which country you are coming from, there is an equal educational opportunity for everyone. If you show that you are qualified, you will get accepted and often, get funded. That is not to say that admission or funding is automatic when you have dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s, because the admissions committees are human, and they make mistakes too. Studying in the U.S. usually offer a competitive edge once you enter the job market. The interaction you have had while studying in the U.S. with a diverse range of people will enhance your ability to interact with people and analyze issues with a global perspective.
The Fear of Rejection
When presented with the opportunity to apply to graduate school in the U.S., many students and out-of-school individuals (folks that have already completed their 1st degree) deal with the fear of rejection and failure. This is one major factor that may stand in your way from applying to graduate schools. It is an emotional battle that almost every graduate school applicant must deal with. You are probably thinking, is it normal to feel that way? Yes, it is normal! Even the smartest students experience it at some point in time. It’s just a psychological response to how prepared you are even when you are well prepared. For some people who have already completed their first degree and are working, the fear may be more. Again, it is normal! The best way to reduce this feeling is to combat it with a lot of positive attitudes and just DO it. Do what you are afraid of doing. If you don’t act fast, the fear may overcome you, and you find yourself doing nothing. Always remind yourself that you can do it. If everyone let the fear of rejection overcome them, nobody would ever apply to graduate school. So, start now!
The Fear of Admission Tests
Let’s now talk about the admission tests, the fear of whether you will ace or even do well at all on the tests. Let’s face it; it might be very tiring to study for the graduate school admission tests like the graduate record exam (GRE), test of English as a foreign language (TOEFL) and graduate management aptitude test (GMAT) to mention a few. Don’t get it twisted; you don’t have to take all the tests. Typically, you would need to take the GRE and TOEFL to apply to a graduate school in the U.S. Many students are afraid of taking the GRE test and any test at that. Listen, it’s just a test! Think about what lies at the end of the tunnel, think about how studying well for the test would help you, think about the benefit to your career, what about the joy of finally making it to graduate school. The best thing you can do and which I always do is to know that the time you need to study for any exam is just a transient moment in your lifetime and history. So, why not give it your best and enjoy the stressful moment while it last. Putting a lot of efforts into it the admission tests will provide you with a better chance of getting into top-notch schools and more funding opportunities. In a separate post, I will write on how to prepare for the GRE and the TOEFL tests adequately
The Fear of Loneliness and Change
Another factor that contributes to the fear of applying to graduate school in the U.S. is the fact that you would now have to live in a new place, make new friends and probably live alone. The way everyone feels about this kind of change is different, but the good news is, almost all international students will have this kind of feeling. So, you are not alone, and you are entirely normal feeling that way. Occasionally, your best of friends might apply to the same school as you, but the odds are you may never get accepted into the same school. As a married individual, the fear might even be more as you plan to apply to graduate school. The dilemma of deciding to leave your spouse and child (if any) to go live in a country that you probably haven’t been to. Again, this is normal. And for the married applicant, it will be in your best interest to discuss with your spouse as to how the journey may look like and what sacrifices might be involved. So, they can help you in making the best decision. One way to reduce the fear of change of environment and loneliness is to zero your mind from the get-go that you are going to feel homesick and soon after, you would get over it. For the married applicant, it is worthy of note that your spouse can join you in the U.S. or even go with you on the same day.
The Fear of VISA Denial
This article might be incomplete if I don’t mention the fear of getting a permit to travel to the United States (the VISA as you might know it). No doubt, every student that has crossed the U.S. border nursed this fear of denial of VISA. Again, it is normal to feel that way. However, it might surprise you to know that the U.S. probably need you more than you need the VISA. In fact, by paying visa fees, you are already contributing to the United States’ economy. After you have obtained a letter of acceptance and or i-20 document from the school that accepted you, the next thing is to book a VISA appointment. At the VISA interview, be very clear about your purpose of going to the U.S. Use a minimalist approach, you might shoot yourself in the leg by giving out too much information. Say or submit only what has been asked for but make sure the documents are consistent with what you have submitted in your DS-160 form. It’s a good idea to prepare a mini-speech mentally; Why you want to go to a given university, how will you finance your program, when are you traveling, when will you return. More importantly, you need to be able to convince the VISA officer to believe that you have a solid reason to return to your home country. Usually, this is a maker or breaker of most visa applications. So be prepared, stay calm and maintain a straight face. Keep in mind that the VISA officer is only a human too, probably with the same circumstances as you.
The Undergraduate Transcripts – The Nigerian example
The first doubt that students have when thinking about applying to graduate school in the U.S. is: ‘will my GPA (grade point average) get me into any graduate school?’. While there is no clear answer to that because admission to graduate school is a holistic process, you should generally be good if you have graduated with at least a second class upper. However, the admissions committee are often interested in seeing how well you performed on your upper-level classes. For example, if you are applying to the master’s or a Ph.D. program in Telecommunications, the person reviewing your application would like to see your performance in courses you took in year three or four of your undergraduate degree (e.g., Advanced Electromagnetism, say EEG 419). He may not care about your performance in courses like introduction to Physics, which you took back in year one. Having said that, other factors are essential when the admissions committee are deciding whether to accept your application. Statement of purpose, letter of recommendation and how well you perform on your admission tests all contribute to their decision. So, don’t stress about a seemingly weak part of your credential. Just make sure you put in your best into each component. Meanwhile, use a portion of your application to state the reason for having a low score on a component but spend more time talking on how you have improved.
The Concluding Message
One common message that is ubiquitous in this article is that it is only natural to be afraid when you are about to take a new course of action. The good news is that the fear will neither hurt you nor stop you from achieving success. Just know that you are being human. Despite that, always strive to maintain a positive attitude throughout the application process. It is worthy of note that your friends that are already pursuing their graduate or undergraduate programs in the U.S. may not be necessarily smarter. They have only perfected the act of doing. If going to graduate school is critical in your chosen career path, I will encourage you to go for it. It won’t hurt you; it will only make you better. So, stop nursing fear. Get up and start doing, good luck!
Please share this article so that it can reach more people. Also, kindly subscribe to my Youtube Channel (just click the red YouTube button below) and share it with your friends to subscribe. Thanks!