Applying to U.S. grad schools from abroad

Are you a U.S. citizen working or volunteering abroad? Know someone who is?

Check out the newest article on Idealist.org‘s Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center: Applying to a U.S. Grad School as a U.S. Citizen Living Abroad.

The article offers considerations for working with your local mail system, finding test prep materials and taking tests, and finding good alternatives to the campus visit.

Idealist.org grad fairs are not as useful if you can’t participate, however, you can and should check out the list of registered schools at some of the events (for example the 117 schools at this week’s San Francisco fair and or the 107 schools registered for the Los Angeles event).

Also note that Idealist is still looking for bloggers including current or former term-of-service participants (like Peace Corps and VSO volunteers), and people crossing borders to attend grad school.

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The Grad School Campus Visit

Top things to know when you are shopping for schools

I don’t travel to as many of our Idealist.org graduate admissions fairs as I used to, but when I do I love to hear from admissions staff who table at the events about their day-to-day activities back at school. Over time I have had quite a few conversations about the Campus Visit and wanted to share some nuggets of wisdom here.

Visiting the admissions office:

One recent discussion was with Emmett Griffin of Georgetown Public Policy Institute about prospective students’s visits to his office. These are his tips:

As with any professional encounter, it’s wise to make an appointment with an admissions officer, a week ahead of time if possible. Admissions staff are busy. You’ll make a much better first impression if you set up a time to meet, and they are expecting you.

Read before you go. Of course you want to ask a lot of questions. But before asking anything of a school’s faculty or staff, read the web site and/or any available print material. Those will likely answer a lot of your questions, and you’ll make a better first impression if you have done your homework (this is, er, school, after all). (Imagine if you had a job where you were constantly asked questions — wouldn’t you answer all the most common questions on your web site and in your brochures?)

What if you happen to be visiting a city for other reasons and decide to drop by campus for an unannounced visit? Still call ahead, even if it’s just an hour ahead — and read as much as you can, even if it’s skimming all you can get your hands on in the admissions office itself, before chatting with an admissions officer.

Visiting classes:

The tips below are from conversations with Idealist’s Graduate Admissions Advisory Board (of which Emmett Griffin is a member):

Consider visiting a class or two while you are on campus.  But do not show up to a class unannounced. Schools love for prospective students to sit in on a class or two and will have different policies about how to set up the class visit.

Contact your target school’s admissions office, or the department. Sometimes you can sign up for a class visit right on the web site, other times the admissions office will direct you to the registrar or individual professor.

Also, professors might want you to have read some course materials ahead of time and expect you to participate in class discussions. Find out about these expectations ahead of time, if possible.

Other activities while you are on campus:

• Talk with someone in the career center about internship and career transitions support (grad schools often have their own career office)
• Meet with a current student to ask what it’s like to be a student there (see this article about informational interviews)
• Participate in a campus tour; many schools offer these a few times per day. The admissions office can let you know the details

Before you go, write a list of questions and/or considerations you’d like to keep in mind on the day of your visit. It might also be a good idea to jot down your top priorities in a school so you can objectively evaluate your experience later on. For example, if you intend to use the athletic facilities, you’d want to make sure you get to see them and find out how much (if anything) it costs to use them. You might be looking for an academically rigorous environment, or a lot of support setting up excellent internships.

Reflection:

When you get home, reflect on your list of questions:

√ What did I learn?
√ How interested am I in exploring this academic program further?
√ What values, skills, and interests of mine fit – or don’t fit – with the degree, department, or student culture?
√ What are my next steps from here?

Thanks:

After you visit, send thank-you notes to the professors, students and staff you met with. You can have the thank-you notes stamped, addressed and ready to go (save for writing the note itself) when you arrive on campus. As your last stop on campus, take a few minutes over coffee or lunch to write the notes, and pop them in the nearest mail box. The important thing is to make  the note meaningful, and to state something specific you learned. If possible, enclose your business card in the envelope.

Read more about grad school choices, admissions, and financial aid.

Find an Idealist.org Graduate Degree Fair for the Public Good in a city near you. (We are only going to 18 cities this year — we are genuinely sorry if we miss yours.) We’re coming to Philadelphia Monday 9/22, then off to the West Coast!

Blog for us (deadline extended).

Grad school for social change

This week, the Idealist.org Graduate Degree Fairs for the Public Good kick off the 2008 fall tour on September 10th in New York City!

(Please note that due to the Service Nation Summit‘s Presidential Candidates’s Forum on Sept. 11 at Columbia, the venue for the NY fair has changed!)

The fairs bring together graduate schools that focus on positive societal change, and public service professionals– like you? –who want more education to further their careers.

If you are thinking about grad school, it’s one of the best ways we can think of to meet staff from some of the country’s top schools in degrees ranging from nonprofit & business management and social work, to public policy & administration, public interest law, public health, journalism, international affairs and more.

If you don’t live near one of the cities where the fairs will come this year, check out the Idealist.org Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center with lots of resources for going back to school. Read here for information specifically for service corps alumni.

Looking for experience before going to grad school?

Graduate admissions staff recognize service corps programs as a great way to get valuable, practical experience in the field to prepare for grad school.

If you are considering participating in a service program, know that several programs have benefits that await you after you are finished with your term.

Programs funded through AmeriCorps offer the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award; the amount varies depending on the term of service, but a full term typically means $4,725. (The amount hasn’t been increased in a over a decade, though RPCV Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn) and others in Congress are working to rectify that with the AmeriCorps Act of 2008.) The ed award is held by the National Service Trust until you are ready to use it, and can go towards tuition at most schools, or for student loans. Dozens of grad schools match the ed award so that your award may be doubled if you enroll at those schools.

Teach For America, an AmeriCorps program, has also fostered partnerships with many top graduate schools around the country that benefit TFA Corps members through application deferments, scholarships and ed award matches, and application fee waivers.

As we have written about before on this blog, Peace Corps also has two programs, Masters International and Fellows USA. The latter is specifically for people who have returned from Peace Corps service already.

A pretty good comparison (including education benefits) of some of the more famous service corps programs can be found in Chapter Five (PDF) of the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers. Also check out Equal Justice Works blog about public interest law. Other associations of social-impact grad schools can be found among Idealist’s grad fair cosponsors.

Do you know of other benefits for service corps alumni not mentioned here? We’d love to hear about them!

Also Idealist is still looking for grad school bloggers! Click here to see if blogging for us sounds compelling to you!

Also note that many grad schools offer benefits to service corps alumni that aren’t through official partnerships with the service programs. It’s always a good idea to ask at your target institution.