This blog post serves as a detailed guide for international students interested in pursuing their academic career in the U.S. I, too, was an international student once, so I TOTALLY understand the mammoth work that goes into preparing an application as a foreigner. While the process is a challenging part of the journey, it's worth every minute!
Here is a list of 5 things you must do in order to study in America: 1. STRATEGIC PLANNING • Submit applications by December 1st of the year before your intended start date (e.g., applications by December 1, 2023, are for students starting in Fall 2024). • Use the summer before your targeted start date for thorough research on schools and program options.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: I had a notebook full of impressions about every school I researched and a table hanging above my computer with all the application requirements/deadlines/personal deadlines for the selected schools. I would check off items I completed and have an overview of my progress. The application process comes with a lot of things to keep track of; I knew I couldn't keep it all in my head, so writing it down helped!
My first week on a U.S. campus at Illinois State University 2. ENGLISH LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY • Most U.S. universities require proof of English proficiency through TOEFL and IELTS. Recently, Duolingo became a possibility, too. • Confirm test preferences with the Admissions Office and aim for the required scores.
• You will also likely have to find a specialized testing center in your area. Book your test date ahead of time, as the slots fill up quickly. TOEFL and IELTS are two of the most popular test formats. They both have four sections: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. For further details, check out this website. ADVICE: Once you pay for and schedule your test (I took the TOEFL), create a profile on their website. This will give you access to online test samples. I highly recommend that, regardless of how comfortable you feel using English (how much you travel, watch movies/series, take classes, etc.), review the provided materials and take practice tests before you take the official test. The test isn't difficult when you are aware of the test format and the scoring system.
Replicate the environment you'll be taking your test in. 3. STANDARDIZED UNIVERSITY ADMISSION TESTS • Identify and prepare for required tests based on your chosen level of study (SAT/ACT for undergrad, GRE/GMAT for grad studies).
• Simulate test conditions for effective preparation.
• These tests will require you to go to a specialized testing center. Book your test date ahead of time, as the slots fill up quickly. The sections of aforementioned tests differ, but all include language skills (yes, language skills again, even though you're already taking another English language test), mathematics, with the possibility of some additional science (ACT offers this option) - all depending on what your school requires you to take. Most of these take between 3 and 4 hours.
ADVICE: The plan of attack is similar to the English language tests. Make sure you know which test you need to take and the level of knowledge you must demonstrate. When you register for the test, take as many practice tests as you can. Look up institutions adjacent to the American Embassy, such as American Corners. They might offer help in preparation (in terms of courses), or provide access to books that you could use. PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: I took the GRE because of the doctoral programs I was interested in. I started early (during the summer between the first and second year of master's studies, a few months before taking the test in the fall), and felt comfortable with my preparation pacing. I went through two Kaplan books and took a few private math lessons in Belgrade, as I hadn't taken any math courses since the end of elementary school. The math part of the GRE was truly not difficult; I didn't even have to learn new material, but simply revisited ideas we learned about in elementary school. In the month leading up to the test, I spent an hour or two each day working through the prep books, making sure my brain is in 'test-taking shape'. I knew that the vocabulary part might be challenging, so I downloaded apps designed to help me learn new words daily, studied etymologies, and made my understanding of English better by investigating a bit of Latin. The efforts paid off!
4. AUDITION • Familiarize yourself with audition requirements posted on school websites. A pre-screening (video or audio submission) may be required. This is the pre-audition portion of your application and one you must pass in order to be invited to audition.
• If you can, I highly recommend for you to audition in person. It allows you to meet the professor, see the campus, and hang out with the students. You definitely want to invest as much as you can in this part of the process as it will help you get a feel for the place where you will spend a significant amount of time.
• If you cannot attend an audition in person, reach out to the professor and ask if there are other options, such as video auditions. Inquire about potential audition dates in your region as some schools send representatives to audition students internationally. ADVICE: If you can travel, start planning about 6 months in advance. Find out the best way to transport your instrument(s)/mallets without becoming a victim in one of those airline horror stories. Inquire about an affordable place to stay - you can ask your professor if they can connect you with a student who can offer you a couch to sleep on. I have found people here to be very hospitable and they gladly open the doors to their homes to international students auditioning.
Making my audition tape for a master's degree while at the Faculty of Music in Belgrade, Serbia 5. DOCUMENTATION Schools typically require the following to be submitted with the application:
Artistic Statement (sometimes called a personal statement or statement of purpose)
Transcripts and diplomas (official English translation and the original version, perhaps even a foreign transcript evaluation - you should check with your school about the detailed requirements)
Letters of recommendation (typically three)
Financial proof (a letter from the bank)
I recommend starting work on the paperwork as early as you can. I've often heard that life puts people in situations where they struggle to get transcripts, write their own recommendation letters, hire someone to write their artistic statement, etc. This is a lengthy process, and you'll be glad you started early. The most common challenge international students face is the financial proof. This is a bank statement proving that you (or someone willing to vouch for you - be it a parent, relative, acquaintance, sponsor, public figure, whoever) have the exact sum of money (each school asks for a particular $ amount) available during the upcoming academic year. Some schools issue forms that you need to fill out with information about the scholarships available to you, your savings, loans, parental/sponsor support, and thus cumulatively arrive at a sum. Since it's a sum of several tens of thousands of dollars, it often happens that extended families contribute money to support the person going to study. In other circumstances it might be a benefactor - a foreigner, sponsor - who is found who wants to issue that guarantee. This sum of money depends on the tuition fee at that school, combined with the cost of living in that city, which is another reason to consider schools outside of big cities and flashy school names. The price tag difference can be huge - for a nice university in a smaller town, about ~$20,000 might suffice as proof, while for studies in a big city, the sum will be between $50,000-$60,000.
ADVICE: Whether it's $20K or $60K, the sum is substantial—particularly for those of us coming from countries with notably disadvantaged economic conditions. However, there are many ways to meet the condition. I know people who have received financial statements from celebrities or whose relatives from abroad provided support. There were also those who didn't know that there was money in their extended family because someone managed to gather funds for "rainy days." Don't hesitate to knock on all doors and ask for help because many would gladly help ambitious young people! PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: You don't have to touch the money presented in the proof of finances - just like I didn't touch it! (That's good news for your sponsors!) By combining full scholarships for studies, assistantships, and awards, I managed to earn enough money to cover all expenses.