How to apply for a PhD in the US
Have you always wanted to see the letters Ph.D. after your name? Heres how to apply for graduate study in the US, with an emphasis on Biological Sciences and on foreign applicants.
1. Choose your major. This will be determined by your past research experience, your interest and your undergraduate coursework.
2. Get hold of a list of universities with those programs. There are several helpful websites listed below under External Links. Or, you can try searching the web for "NRC rankings."
3. Assess your chances of getting into a particular school of your interest. You will need to take into account the following factors:
- your college GPA
- your research experience
- your citizenship status
- geographical location preferences
- whether you want to go into a research institute or a full university
4. Take the GRE General Test, TOEFL and the GRE Subject Test as needed by the programs that you are thinking of applying for. Visit the ETS homepage (also listed below) for more information on the pattern of the examination, scoring and score reporting.
5. Choose the people you want to write the recommendation letters for you. Ask them if they want to do it online or on paper. Some universities do not offer the choice between paper and web-based recommendation letters. Inform your references well in advance and keep reminding them till it is done.
6. Write a statement of purpose (SOP) for your interest in each program. While it might be a pain, its better to write out a different SOP for each school, indicating a fit between you and the program. In your SOP, you can also explain any shortcomings or issues that cannot be dealt with in rest of the application.
7. Arrange for transcripts from each post-school institution attended.
8. Have the scores reported to your university. You will need the institution codes, department codes, your credit card number and its date of expiration and of course, our test registration number and date of testing.
9. Use a Calendar program and an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of what documents are needed, which ones of them have been sent and which ones are pending. Also keep a list of the tracking numbers, date of posting and the contents of every packet that you send to universities.
- Some schools/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 Scripps Institute, Salk Institute, Sloan-Kettering Institute.
- The UC (University of California) system has very little 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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 doesnt work on some websites).
- A passport is needed for taking the GRE in some countries.