If you are reading this page you must be looking for information on higher studies to USA. Education is an exciting journey of life. Taking that leap after Bachelor/Honors degree and going for higher studies require careful planning and hard work. This is the first part in this series.
WHEN TO START PREPARATION FOR HIGHER STUDIES?
You have finished your higher secondary exams, spent hours preparing for university entrance exams and successfully admitted in the institution of your choice-congratulation! You should spend the first year in the university concentrating on your courses so that you can achieve very good grades. From your third semester onwards think about which country you want to go to for higher studies. The selection of country may depend on the University of your Choice, or you can choose a university in the country of your choice. The selection of country will determine the type of standard tests you have to take. But, make sure that you decide where you want to go for your higher studies sooner than later. If your desired country is USA then read rest of the sections.
CHOOSE THE STANDARD TESTING EXAMS
USA probably has one of the most structured admission procedures compared to other countries. If you want to go to a good Graduate school, preparation for GRE (Graduate Records Exam) and TOEFL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language) is a must.
GRE exam has three parts: 1) Analytical Writing 2) Verbal Reasoning 3) Quantitative Reasoning. In order to have a good command in the first two sections, it is imperative that a good knowledge of English vocabulary is needed. If you start early and try to learn at least 10 words with their synonyms every day, by the time you will appear for GRE you will be able to master about 3000 very difficult words which are very common in such exams. So, the bottom line is to start early and regularly rather pushing the limit before few months of the exam. Most of the book shops around Dhaka University or BUET carry several books for GRE preparation. I would recommend a copy of Barron’s or Kaplan, and/or, a copy of GRE Big Book. The latter is out of print from the publisher but you may find it in the bookshops which carry old books. Also, ask your seniors in the University who may have a copy of good test preparation book inherited from their seniors.
The writing section of GRE exam is a bit tricky as English is a different language with different grammatical and semantic context than Bengali. We process the foreign languages inside brain through our native tongue, thus it takes some time to get used to the literary connotations of English writings. To overcome this, pick one or two English novels and try to read from cover to cover multiple times with the meanings of all words unknown to you. If that is difficult at the beginning, then read the English dailies for few weeks and see if it gets easier for you. After finishing the novels, go to the essay section of one of the GRE preparation books mentioned above and practice your writing and comprehension capability. You will be surprised to see the correct answers of seemingly easy questions but you will get the grasp of it as you proceed.
The quantitative section of GRE should be a breeze for anyone with Science background. If you studied Humanities you can still pull through if you practice more and more. The GRE big book has past questions of GRE and solving those will prepare you for quantitative exam.
Official website of GRE is:
Now, lets talk about TOEFL. Most of the US universities will require TOEFL/IELTS even if you have taken GRE. You may ask why?. The reason is there is no listening and speaking in GRE which is a must have skill for successful immersion into a Graduate school. In TOEFL exam your reading, writing, speaking and listening skills will be tested. It is not a difficult exam but you still have to practice well. GRE and TOEFL preparation complements each other in reading and writing sections. But, for the other two it is better to enroll in courses conducted by different institutions as the listening part can be compensated by buying audio books but there is no alternative of speaking to someone else in English for few hours every week to prepare for speaking test. The official TOEFL website gives a nice overview of this test. Go through this website for detailed info:
SELECT YOUR UNIVERSITY
By third year you should know which university you should go to. If you are top 1% of your class make sure that universities like Harvard, MIT or Stanford is in your list choice. Do not think for a moment that it will be futile to try for top tier schools, as the selection criteria in USA is very different than Bangladesh. They not only care about your academics but also for your co-curricular activities. If you have 3.5/4.0 GPA but you came out in top 5 in regional programming contest, you have better chance of getting into a good university compared to a straight 4.0/4.0 GPA student with no other credential. So, choose your university and rank them in three classes:
Top Tier : Everybody knows them
Mid Tier: If you can go here you will still be very happy
Bottom Tier: Ok school, nothing bad about them but they are not #1 or #2.
The above classification is not scientific but it will at least help you in taking the first step in your searching.
If you are planning to go for research track in Grad studies, go through the profiles of the Professors of the related departments and find out whose research interests you the most. Go through some of the publications of the Professor and see if he/she is hiring Graduate student for research.
One more thing about choosing university is the opportunity of getting a scholarship. Tier 1 schools have big endowment funds and they have more money to give in the form of scholarship or bursary. Most of the Professors have funds from Government or private or institutional sources and they employ graduate students as research assistants. Most universities also provide Teaching Assistantship where the graduate student will receive salary for spending certain number of hours with mostly undergraduate students in tutorial class or labs. Scholarship is probably one of the most important factors for any graduate student as working outside the campus is illegal and the amount earned with the limited hours of work is not enough to cover boarding and food let alone tuition fees. Moreover, income and study cannot go hand in hand in Graduate level. You have to choose either money or study at least for the first year of your study. So, your best bet is to snatch a scholarship and arrive at the door of the university.
To summarize, selecting a university in USA depends on three factors:
Your academic result and co-curricular activity
YOUR GPA HAS TO BE THE BEST
May be a different section is not required for these few lines but I want to overemphasize this point. No matter what is out there your GPA is the “first criteria”. If it is glowing then you can achieve the rest. Think of it as a touchstone which can turn anything into gold. So, you have to work as hard as you can to achieve the best academic result.
JOIN CO-CURRICULAR ACTIVITY
Good students in Bangladesh are very book oriented. But, here in USA if you meet any student from top schools you will see that beside their excellent grades they are also well versed in extracurricular activity. One of my colleagues in office is a graduate of MIT who was also a concert pianist, short-list national ping-pong player and a hobby carpenter. When you get into such activity you get to know people and nature around you which in turn prepares you to find application of your knowledge for the betterment of humanity.
In the next installment funding in Graduate schools will be explained.
Comments and suggestions welcome.
Dr. A. N. Abdullah