Master’s in the USA with funding: triples in the diploma are not a hindrance

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completed my undergraduate studies at the Financial University with a degree in HR management in 2018. The process of entering the master’s program began in the midst of a pandemic in 2020 – in 2021 she entered the University of Utah and moved to Salt Lake City. Now I studying system education USA program is called Educational Leadership and Policy with Emphasis on Student Affairs. I combine my studies with work in the career center at the university.

In this article I want to talk about the experience of entering the master’s program at an American university c full tuition funding and a scholarship, as well as to share their impressions of the first year of study.

What influenced my decision to enter the USA?
I was born and raised in the Republic of Kalmykia. Once representatives of NYU (New York University) came to our gymnasium in Elista. At that time, they were recruiting students from different regions for their new campus in Abu Dhabi. So I learned about the advantages of education in the USA, but it seemed unrealistic for me, since at school I was not an excellent student and an activist to receive a grant, and I did not have a lot of money for education. In those years there was an exchange program for high school students Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), I thought: “Maybe this is my chance.” Under this program, one could go to study at an American school for a year and live with a host family at the expense of the US State Department. In 2011-2012 I reached the final round twice: I took an English test, wrote motivational essays and had an interview, but in the end I was not chosen: at the last stage of the selection, it was necessary to show leadership qualities, but shyness, it seems, let me down. Later this program was closed in Russia. But I did not give up, I continued to intensively study English, and the path from refusing the exchange program to entering the master’s program took 10 years.
What countries did I consider for admission?

In addition to the USA, I considered France as a country with a budget education (I have a DELF B2 certificate). The financial university has partnerships with universities in different countries, so during my undergraduate studies, I applied for an exchange program at the French business school in Lyon, but I was rejected because of Cs, in particular in such difficult subjects as mathematical analysis and economic theory. Having received another refusal, I almost gave up. However, I eventually went to France, but already on volunteer summer programs: I reconstructed the wall of the ruined castle and helped at the folk music festival, where I met guys from different countries from Mexico to South Korea. Then I decided not to rush into applying abroad and consider options in other countries (besides the USA and France).

From a classmate, I accidentally learned about the possibilities of studying in Italy, and decided to go there as a volunteer to find out if the country is right for me. So I ended up in southern Italy on the European Solidarity Corps program of the non-profit organization Basilicata Link: I taught local English and organized career development workshops. I liked Italy for its culture and, of course, excellent cuisine, but I realized that I could not imagine my further professional development in this country. However, it was this experience that made it clear that I wanted to go to a master’s program in education and work in career counseling to help people realize their potential.

Why even with triples in the diploma can you enter the USA for a master’s degree?

Americans in the admissions office look at the grade point average (GPA), usually a requirement to have a minimum of 3 out of 4 on their system. I have seven Cs in my undergraduate degree from the Financial University, but also quite a few A’s. When I calculated my GPA using the GPA calculator, it turned out that my GPA, even with threes, is not so bad – 3.27 out of 4.

The admissions committees of American universities practice holistic review (a holistic review of the candidate). So, grades are only part of the application for admission to a master’s program in the United States. In addition to grades, the experience, motivation, and background of the applicant are taken into account. In my resume, I indicated my experience of internships at AIESEC, Hays, Yandex, Lamoda, publications at scientific conferences on the impact of cross-cultural communications on education and business, volunteering in Europe, and even my blog on social networks about international opportunities and learning languages. Although I was not an excellent student at the university, but I learned to be active, these efforts were not in vain.

Internships, volunteering, personal projects and scientific conferences are optional, but they can definitely strengthen the applicant’s application.

You can write not only about your achievements, but also about the difficulties that made you stronger. For example, if your parents do not have higher education, then in America you are a first-generation student (first generation student), they also pay attention to this, they try to give an opportunity to those who historically did not have access to education. Diversity and inclusion (diversity and inclusiveness) are also highly valued here – for example, I wrote in my essay about how I grew up in the Republic of Kalmykia in southern Russia, where Buddhism is developed and representatives of different peoples live.

When I started my graduate studies, I found out that my teacher worked on the admissions committee at the University of Pennsylvania (included in the Ivy League), now he is selecting for our program. It turned out that he remembered my application. I asked him what he first of all pays attention to when selecting students. His advice to all applicants is to clearly state in your essay the reasons for applying for a master’s program and be specific (be specific). For example, I wrote what subjects from the curriculum (curriculum) of the program will help me achieve my professional goal.

What package of documents was needed for admission to my program?

The list of documents for admission was quite standard:

  • motivational essay (statement of purpose)
  • additional essay (situational essay)
  • resume showing professional and leadership experience
  • 3 recommendations (2 academic and 1 professional)
  • grade transcripts with translation
  • confirmation of the level of English proficiency (TOEFL), at least 80 points out of 120

If we talk about language exams, I also advise you to pay attention to the Duolingo English Test. The University of Utah, where I study, accepts the results of this test on a par with TOEFL and IELTS. There are hundreds of other American universities and colleges where Duolingo results are counted by admissions: for example, Duke University, Columbia University, New York University, University of Washington, University of Colorado Boulder. Applicants are encouraged to contact graduate school admissions by mail to see if your particular program accepts Duolingo results. Also keep in mind that at the moment you can pay for the exam only with a foreign bank card.

I applied to 2 programs (University of Utah and Northern Arizona University) which had similar requirements, but the main difference was the length of the essay. At the University of Utah they asked for a 250-word essay, and at Northern Arizona University the requirement was to describe their motivation in 5 pages.

I advise you to carefully read the requirements so as not to miss anything. It happens that they ask for an evaluation (evaluation) of a diploma, an example of written work in English in an academic style, and for creative professions, a portfolio is often needed. I was glad that my programs did not require GRE or GMAT exams, fortunately, not all universities require them.

I advise you to start writing an essay and collect a package of documents for the US master’s program as early as possible. The whole process took me a year and a half. In October 2019, I actively began to search for information. In March 2020, I took up preparation for TOEFL, in January 2021 I sent applications, in February I passed interviews for assistant positions, in March 2021 I received an invitation to the university and a funding offer, in August 2021 I was given an F-1 visa and I She began her studies in Salt Lake City.

What is graduate assistantship ?

This funding program applies to master’s and PhD (graduate students), so it is called graduate assistantship. Most often, the work of an assistant does not exceed 20 hours a week, so that it is convenient to combine with study.

There are three types of graduate assistantships:

  • Graduate Teaching Assistantship – you teach undergraduate students as an assistant professor
  • Graduate Research Assistantship – you are doing scientific work, for example, in a university laboratory or department
  • Graduate Administrative Assistantship – you work in one of the many offices at the university
How to get graduate funding assistant ship ?

Often such positions are not uploaded to the public domain, or they are very difficult to find. I learned from my own experience that getting into a master’s program in the US is easier than getting funding.

I advise all applicants to start correspondence with program coordinators in advance to find out if they are hiring graduate assistants, what benefits they offer, and how the selection process for positions at a particular university works. If these are teaching or research assistantships, then it makes sense to write to teachers and find out if they are looking for assistants in their team or department. It happens that they don’t answer letters, but you don’t need to be upset, there will always be a person who can tell you something.

I’ll tell you about how the process was arranged for me. Firstly, I specifically chose universities with the possibility of funding. To do this, I corresponded with universities in advance in order to clarify the details of interest to me. Half of my classmates have assistantships, since we study the US education system assistantships and are directly related to our major (specialty).

There is a separate selection process for a funded teaching assistant position at the University of Utah. I had to send a resume, cover letters (cover letters) for 16 vacancies, go through 12 interviews. As a result, I received 2 offers.

What does my graduate cover assistantship ?

Different universities have different conditions for graduate assistants. I never tire of repeating that it is very important to correspond with American universities in order to find out details that are not usually published in the public domain.

My graduate assistantship covers the following funding package:

  • 100% tuition fee
  • monthly stipend for rent and food
  • unlimited travel pass for public transport
  • 85% health insurance coverage

When I was looking for universities, I found out that NYU (New York University) has a program suitable for me. Like many international students, she dreamed of studying at a top university. I wrote to the program coordinator to ask about assistantships, and she replied that NYU does not offer full tuition fees to assistants, and not even all positions have a monthly stipend. This option did not suit me, so I did not even begin to submit documents. On my program at the University of Utah, I made friends with a girl from California, who was just taken to NYU and offered graduate assistantship, but she refused the offer, since our university offered her better conditions, and in NYU she would have to take out a student loan .

What do I do as a graduate assistantship ?

The duties of assistants depend on the position, place of work and on the university. For example, I am a graduate administrative assistant, I work as a career coach in the office of the Career and Professional development center – I advise students of my university on job searches and internships, help with resumes, as well as with admission to a master’s program and PhD. From 3 to 10 people contact me a week, these are both Americans and international students from different countries. My university has a campus in South Korea, so Korean students also often turn to us for help.

I also help organize events, our main event is a career fair, which takes place 2 times a year. Representatives of various companies come to it to tell students about employment opportunities. Also, my colleagues and I hold workshops in various departments of the university, and now we are working on an online course. This fall, I will be teaching a Career Exploration course for bachelors.

My classmates work in different offices. For example, Emily creates mentoring programs at the Women’s resource center (a resource center for women), Janet organizes events at the TRIO center for students from low-income and underprivileged families. Naomi is on duty in the hostel, here this unit is called residential life, and Danny attracts students to the Alternative Breaks program, which is a volunteer project in different cities of the United States designed to develop student leadership and solve social problems.

What can I tell you about studying and student life in the USA?

My program is organized according to the cohort model principle, that is, the training takes place in a group – I have 14 classmates, and we all follow the same program, we have only one subject to choose from. Such a system is more similar to the Russian one. I have only 3 subjects per semester, sometimes there were classes online, but basically we saw each other offline every week (it was necessary to wear masks in the classroom). There are no lectures on my program, only seminars. Each teacher sets a lot of materials for self-study: these can be scientific articles or excerpts from books, in total 200-400 pages every week. Reading is necessary in order to fully participate in discussions. I am the only international student in the group, but I am not shy about expressing my opinion on a particular topic, as our teachers are always ready to respectfully listen to different points of view. During this year, we had several group assignments to develop project ideas for various American universities. It is useful that we study not only the theory, but also how to apply it in practice. And we are often asked to write an essay – to tell about our opinion based on the material we read and the discussions that took place. Sometimes an obligatory part of the essay is criticism of the author. If you have difficulty writing an essay, you can always ask for help from a free tutor (tutor) on campus at the Writing Center (Center for helping students with written academic papers). that we learn not only theory, but also how to apply it in practice. And we are often asked to write an essay – to tell about our opinion based on the material we read and the discussions that took place. Sometimes an obligatory part of the essay is criticism of the author. If you have difficulty writing an essay, you can always ask for help from a free tutor (tutor) on campus at the Writing Center (Center for helping students with written academic papers). that we learn not only theory, but also how to apply it in practice. And we are often asked to write an essay – to tell about our opinion based on the material we read and the discussions that took place. Sometimes an obligatory part of the essay is criticism of the author. If you have difficulty writing an essay, you can always ask for help from a free tutor (tutor) on campus at the Writing Center (Center for helping students with written academic papers).

In addition to studying and working, during the first semester I tried typical American activities: I went to a Halloween party, celebrated Thanksgiving Day with my classmates, only instead of Thanksgiving they called it Friendsgiving. We were also given free tickets to American football, however, I did not understand anything, although my friends tried to explain the rules of the game, but it was fun – I managed to feel the atmosphere of American films. In addition, interest clubs are developed on campus. I participate in the French language club to meet fellow French culture lovers, and in the Russian language club I communicate with Americans who are interested in learning about Russia firsthand. It is important to note that during this year I did not notice discrimination in my direction. Vice versa, this spring, the international center of the university organized several events for students from Russia to answer pressing questions, and we were all offered psychological support from the Counseling center. On the part of American classmates and colleagues, I also felt warmth, they wrote and asked if everything was all right with me, they were ready to listen and help, the teachers were also understanding.

How are the career opportunities?

My program includes a mandatory internship in the second year. Since I am studying the US higher education system, the internship should be in this area. I accidentally learned from a classmate that Ivy League universities offer internships for students studying in our direction, sent my resume to the coordinator of summer programs at Cornell University (Cornell University), and they were interested in my candidacy! I reached out to my colleagues at the Career Center to thoroughly prepare for the interview. As a result, I passed the selection, they gave me an offer for an internship on a campus in the state of New York.

In May, my second semester ended, I had already started packing my bags to fly to the other side of the country, but, unfortunately, the international center of the University of Utah did not approve the internship permit (CPT – curricular practical training), I had to refuse. In any case, I’m glad I did my best. I ended up staying at the University of Utah Career Center and doing an internship at one of the campus offices.

Often, international students in the US need to invest several times more effort than local students to build a career, as there are some restrictions associated with the F-1 visa. I advise you to take care of your professional development as early as possible. It is important to contact Career Centers to get feedback on resumes, cover letters, pass test interviews and thus increase your chances of getting an internship and finding a job. According to various sources, more than half of job seekers find work in the US through networking, so it is very useful to build connections.

How do I live in Utah?

When I applied to the University of Utah, I knew little about this state, I only heard that the 2002 Olympics were held here. It turns out that the technology industry and startups are actively developing here. It is in Utah that the Americans are trying to create something like a second Silicon Valley, and the state’s economy is in the top 3 of the United States. Utah is located in the mountains, there is amazing nature (5 national parks). The main entertainment of the locals is hiking, and in winter, skiing and snowboarding.

Salt Lake City is a salt lake city, but you shouldn’t swim in it. I like that it’s quite a big city with skyscrapers and an international airport, but at the same time it’s pretty quiet here. I don’t know if I want to stay and work in Utah after I graduate, but I certainly don’t regret choosing this place to study.

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