Graduate Schools and specialized colleges (Eg. College of Engineering, College of Management etc.) offer various degree programs such as Engineering, Arts and Sciences at the post-graduate level, leading to Master’s and Doctoral level degrees. These degrees are called the ‘Master of Arts (M.A), Master of Sciences (M.S), and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Duration of these programs range from one to five years, depending upon the course and level of study. Most of the Master’s level programs are of two years and Doctoral level are of four years duration.
Admission into Master’s level program is possible with a four-year degree from India. It is also possible to seek admission into the same, with a three-year degree from India. Some universities may ask to take additional pre-requisite courses to compensate for the fourth year requirement. Others ask applicants to complete a ‘Bridge’ program comprising a few additional courses, while simultaneously doing the Master’s program. Such ‘Bridge’ programs are mainly offered in the fields of Computer Science, Information Systems, IT and Business Administration. Also, some universities do directly accept the three-year degrees as equivalent to their Bachelor’s degree and enroll students from India into their Master’s programs, especially in MBA. Pre-requisite tests that are required for admission at the Master’s are,
For MS and MA programs – TOEFL and GRE General Test
For MBA and other Management related programs – TOEFL and GMAT
Note: For some programs at top universities (like in CS, Chemistry etc.), a good score in the relevant GRE Subject Test is required in addition to the GRE General Test score.
IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is becoming popular even in the US too and is being accepted by many universities now. For more information, please see: http://www.ielts.org/pdf/USA_Recognition_List.pdf
Admission into Doctoral level programs is possible normally after completion of Master’s. However, US universities are flexible in admitting even those with a Bachelor’s degree. But, the length of program might be longer than for those with a Master’s degree. Typically, the duration of Doctoral level programs is between 3 and 6 years, depending on the field of research and university.
Education in the US universities is on a semester system, the main one being the Fall semester, which starts in August/September. Almost all universities offer admission during Fall semester invariably. Many universities offer admission during the Spring semester, which starts in January. A few universities offer intakes during Winter semester, starting in November and also during Summer semester (in April). Colleges offering admission during three terms are known to be operating on a trimester system and those offering during all the four terms, on a Quarter system.
Most programs offer admission (especially in very good universities) during Fall semester only and many others during both Fall and Spring. While Summer intake is possible in a few universities, Winter is rare. Top universities offer only one intake during Fall, especially for MBA programs. And, some universities start their professional programs during Summer! It is best to verify which program is offered for what semesters in the universities you plan to apply for.
It is best to prefer admission during Fall intake, since that is the most popular semester and possibility of financial aid is more during this semester. Also, due to lesser/non-availability of faculty members, admission may be difficult and you cannot obtain credits during Summer and Winter semesters. More importantly, Visa could be a problem if one seeks admission during these two off-beat semesters as very rarely applicants prefer to go during these terms.
Education system in US allows students to seek a ‘transfer’ from one program to another (within the same university) and one university to another. During such transfers, whatever ‘credits’ the student obtain during their previous study will be transferred to the new course/university depending upon the policies of the new university.
Also, transfer is possible for international students from one level to another. For example, if a student who has completed a three year degree and wants to enroll in a Bachelor’s program in US, he/she could take a transfer into the third year of the Bachelor’s degree. While this may entail a loss of one year, that helps students to choose a specialization during the last two years at the Bachelor’s level and continue with their professional or career-oriented education.
Students are evaluated for their performance, based on the number of credits they obtain during their academic performance. These credits are calculated depending upon the performance in semester-end examinations, class room preparation, seminar participation, laboratory hours etc. In certain cases, ‘units’ or ‘semester hours’ are used instead of credits. For every course of study students will earn a particular number of credits per semester. Professors and advisers assist the students in organizing their course schedule for their academic year.
To complete a Bachelor’s degree, students are usually have to complete 112 to 120 credits (24/30 per year) for four years. At the Master’s level, students have to complete at least 36 credits (18 per year) for a two-year program. Please note that in order to maintain the legal status as a ‘student’, USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) specifies that a particular number of credits have to be enrolled for, by international students. For example, a minimum of nine credits per semester have to be enrolled for, at the Master’s level.
Sometimes, a student would be given ‘Grades’ based on his academic performance. After completion of a particular course successfully, he professors would award a letter ‘Grade’ for each course.
For every course/unit, the university will pre-determine the number of credit hours. For example, for most courses the no. of hours to be completed are THREE Credit hours. For some, however, even FIVE may be assigned. These letter grades will be assigned with a numerical value, as follows: