Journey to Graduate Study in the U.S. (English Version)

By Wei-Hao Lee (李偉豪), Systems, Synthetic, and Physical Biology Program, Rice University

Lovett Hall

Studying abroad is a dream for many students, especially in the United States, which is often their top choice. However, many students tend to retreat during the preparation process because it involves not only English exams, CV writing, personal statements, and various school-specific document requirements but also the pressures of academics and work, leading them to feel overwhelmed and defeated. So, how can we reduce this stress and achieve our dream of studying at our desired institution? Planning the application timeline is the first crucial step. In this article, I will share my past experiences, which may differ slightly from information found online and may vary from person to person. I encourage you to consider if this approach aligns with your personal habits! Toward the end of this article, I will share my experience applying to and attending my current school, Rice University.

Firstly, when applying to foreign universities, I recommend viewing it as a year-long plan (excluding personal experiences, such as publishing papers or work experiences). We can roughly divide it into two six-month periods: the first six months (Dec. - May) and the latter six months (June - Dec.).

First Six Months (Dec. - May): Focus primarily on preparing for English exams, reading previous applicants' experiences, selecting schools, preparing recommendation letters, and working on your CV. First, passing the language exam with the minimum required score is crucial, as not meeting this standard may hinder your chances of being considered. Hence, I recommend students achieve a qualifying English score as soon as possible. However, the time required for this step varies depending on individual language proficiency, so it might be possible to start earlier. Next, during the first six months leading up to the application deadline, you can learn from various online resources how others prepared for interviews, overcame challenges during interviews, and ultimately secured admission. This process helps you familiarize yourself with the application procedure and make preliminary preparations. Lastly, work on your CV, recommendation letters, and list of schools during this time. Since the CV is less affected by specific school requirements, you can draft it at this stage. Additionally, you can decide on potential recommenders and establish initial contact with them.

Latter Six Months (June - Dec.): This phase focuses on thoroughly understanding the information requirements and deadlines of the schools you're applying to and crafting tailored application documents for each institution. At this stage, pay close attention to the information requirements of each school and write Statements of Purpose (SOPs) or other documents specific to each school or department. This step demands considerable effort, as students must demonstrate how they align with the school's characteristics, faculty research areas, and the kind of talent the department seeks. Each document needs to be independent and tailored to the respective school. Furthermore, when registration for applicants opens, complete the process early and submit basic information, language exam scores, and request letters of recommendation through the system. Finally, remember to submit all required documents and fees before the deadline! By this point, you'll have completed the paper application part, and now you can await interview invitations.

The next four months (Jun. - Apr.) will be a three- to four-month interview period, which varies depending on each school and department. Therefore, students need to search for resources online, read about experiences shared by alumni or current students, and reach out proactively to inquire about interview processes and content.

With this rough timeline in mind, you should now have a framework for your application process. However, remember that each step mentioned above has its own intricacies, so students should utilize online resources to fill in the details! Now, let me share my application process for Rice University. I followed the aforementioned plan and completed all necessary documents on time. Then, I conducted comprehensive research on the program I wanted to apply to (Systems, Synthetic, and Physical Biology Program, SSPB). This involved studying the faculty, research resources, curriculum, student demographics, and alumni outcomes. Additionally, I learned about the resources Rice University offers, such as its geographical location, available facilities (e.g., gym), student housing, cost of living, registration fees, etc. All these factors helped me thoroughly understand the university and program. In my SOP, I highlighted Rice University's unique features in the U.S., like its proximity to Texas Medical Center, which offers opportunities for medical research and collaborations. I integrated these details into my SOP and presented how they aligned with my own characteristics and research interests, making a more convincing case and ultimately securing an interview opportunity.

I hope this article has been helpful to those interested in applying to foreign schools, providing insights into the application process and tips for applying to Rice University. If you want to learn more about Rice University, please visit our school's website and the websites of various departments, and feel free to contact a Rice Student Ambassador for further application information!