Tuesday, December 3, 2013

[STUDENT AMBASSADOR] Jiayi Xu - My Experience Applying to Grad Schools

WES Student Advisor: What were some of the factors that determined your decision to pursue graduate studies in the U.S.?

First is related to my personal goal in that I wanted to become more independent and autonomous. Also, I realized was that if you want to succeed in this world, you need to gain a deep understanding of other countries, their people, and their cultures. By living in another country, I thought I would be able to better understand the world. The second major factor is related to my academic goal. By reading news, speaking with my advisor, and friends who had or were studying in the U.S., I learned that there are a couple of universities that are very strong in education.

Also, all international students have the opportunity to do practical training in the U.S. for at least one year after they graduate. Whether you choose to work in the U.S. or return to your home country after you graduate, working in the U.S. for a period of time will always be a valuable experience.

WES Student Advisor: What steps did you take to prepare for applying to U.S. institutions? 

First, I spent a lot of time preparing for the TOEFL and GRE test. Then I looked for programs that “fit” me by thinking about the following questions:
  1. where is it located;
  2. how is the program structured;
  3. what are the professors’ research interests;
  4. are scholarships or fellowships available for international students;
  5. what kind of jobs do the students have when they graduate;
  6. and is it worthwhile to invest a large amount of time and money into getting a post-graduate degree? 

WES Student Advisor: During which application stage did you need the most help with to complete the application?

I think one of the most challenging and time-consuming tasks were writing my personal statements. I found it very difficult to articulate my thoughts in an organized and succinct way as English is my second language. I would suggest you find a native-speaker to help proofread and polish your P.S. before you submit it.

In addition, I was at first overwhelmed by the complicated application materials I needed to prepare because each school asked for different materials with different application deadlines. In order to organize the information, I created separate folders and designed a checklist to keep track of the application process of each school.

WES Student Advisor: What resources did you refer to in trying to find financial aid/assistantship related information?

First we should know that there are basically two ways of applying for financial aid. One is to apply for aid at the same time when you apply for the graduate programs. The other way is to apply after you get into the school. I was able to apply for financial aid after I got in by working as a Teaching Assistant.

My advice for international students is to keep close contact with professors and other students who are one year ahead of you in school in order to find out possible TA and RA positions. They may also look at school’s Career Services Website to see if there is any on-campus job. Besides, they can always go to the Office of International Students (OIS) or Office of Financial Aid to seek help.

WES Student Advisor: What is the most important advice you would give to an international student wanting to study abroad in the U.S.?

Be well-organized and prepared. Another thing is plan ahead! Do not wait until the last minute to submit your application materials. It is also very important for every applicant to have a positive attitude during their application processes. Things happen, so you really need to be optimistic when you encounter problems! Believe in yourself that you can fix them and you will.

Overall, it was a rewarding experience for me because it was during these processes (like writing personal statements) that I was able to understand myself, my interests more clearly and what I want to do in the future. I am really grateful that my efforts paid off. In short, to quote an old saying, no sweet without sweat. Good luck to everyone here!


Hello everyone! I am Jiayi from Shanghai, China and graduated with a masters in Bilingual and Bicultural Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. 

I am very happy to share with you my experience of applying to graduate schools in the U.S.

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