Studying in the US was a dream for me, and I am glad that the Fulbright scholarship enabled me to do it. The experience has been both challenging and enriching, but through hard work and consistency, I am able to continue this exciting journey at Rice University. I am going to summarize my experience as an international graduate student in the US; I will explain the process I went through, and I will offer advice to anyone willing to embark on this type of journey. These pieces of advice are good for both Fulbright and non-Fulbright students who would like to apply independently.
A summary of my background
To start with, I studied civil engineering at the State University of Haiti, and I graduated in 2014. Then I was selected in 2016 for the Fulbright scholarship administered by LASPAU, which allowed me to go to the Intensive English Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (IEI at UIUC) in January 2017. I went there to improve my TOEFL score, and I succeeded. Then I transition to the University of Pittsburgh (UPitt) in August 2017 to begin my master’s in civil engineering. At UPitt, the experience was tougher than I expected it. I took 51 credits of coursework because I was doing a master’s in civil engineering and also a Graduate Certificate in Latin American Studies. The academic load was intense, and it was mixed with culture shock, which caused me to have many bad days during these two years in Pittsburgh. But, through the right balance of hard work and recreation, I was able to finish the 51 credits, and I graduated in 2019. Then I began my experience at Rice University in August 2019 to start my Ph.D., which has been a wonderful experience. Rice University is the third U.S. institution I went to in this journey and the experience is again enriching there. Rice is located in Houston, a city I admire for its diversity, climate, and architecture. This diversity makes it easier to adjust as an international student.
What paperwork is needed generally to apply for graduate studies in the US?
A first and very important requirement is to have a bachelor’s degree in your country from an accredited university. Then you would need to apply to a U.S. university with the following paperwork: TOEFL score, GRE score, diploma and English-translated diploma, transcripts and English-translated transcripts, letters of recommendation, resume or CV, a statement of purpose and other application forms to fill.
What is the TOEFL test, and minimum score at Rice University?
TOEFL is a test given by the ETS organization (https://www.ets.org/), a widely used test for assessing non-native speakers’ English. It is currently comprised of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and each is over 30. Each university has its own minimum score, and the minimum score at Rice is 90/120. This score could be hard for a beginner, but there are a lot of online resources that can help a prospective student increase his/her score. The ETS website has some practice tests, and there are several good books of preparation: Barron, Kaplan, etc. There is also a Center for English Training at Rice that international students can apply to, to help them improve their English.
What is the GRE test, and minimum score at Rice University?
The GRE is also given by the ETS Organization (https://www.ets.org/). It is comprised of verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. The ETS website has resource for that also, and there are Kaplan’s and Barron’s books that can help. Some universities in the U.S. may advertise their own minimum score, and within one university there can be different minimum scores across departments. However, at Rice University there is no minimum required score, and many programs waive the GRE requirement entirely.
Diploma and transcripts
To apply for a master’s degree or for a Ph.D., it is necessary to have a diploma and transcripts from an accredited university. The English translation of these documents is also necessary. Rice University has a minimum GPA requirement of 3.0/4.0. If the prospective student’s university does not use a 4.0 scale, it is useful to mention that and explain his/her country’s grading system. A GPA of 3.0 over 4.0 does not necessarily mean 75%. Make sure to use a good conversion scale or explain your country’s grading scale.
Letters of Recommendation
It is also important to have recommendation letters from different recommenders. A good recommender is a professor or a coworker that knows the applicant well or had experience with him/her that allows them to judge the ability of the applicant in research or to succeed in graduate student. Do not chose friends or family as recommender.
Statement of Purpose
The Statement of Purpose (SoP) is a document where the candidate explains his/her study objectives. This is the reason you are applying, and why you think you are good fit for the program. The SoP is an occasion to show the person you are, the hardship you went through, your motivations and preparation for your prospective study. Avoid taking the SoP as the development of your CV, because you will submit the CV in the application.
Why apply for a Ph.D.? And why Rice University?
A Ph.D. is degree that gives great credential and skills in research. If you are wanting to do research, I recommend you apply for a Ph.D. A Master of Science (M.S.) is also research-oriented. However, if you do not want to do research, you can apply for a professional master’s degree at Rice too.
Rice is a university that value diversity. There are many groups of students including the Latin American Graduate Student Association, the Black Graduate Student Association and others, which help students get together. Rice also provides financial assistance in many graduate programs once admitted.
About the author: Marc-Ansy Laguerre is a PhD student in civil engineering at Rice University who enjoys his time as international student in the US and feels very welcomed at Rice. His research focuses on seismic retrofit of low-rise reinforced concrete buildings. Learn more about Marc-Ansy here, and more about Fulbright@Rice here.