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How to Apply for Admission to a US University

This subweb was developed by the webmaster to share information on how to apply for admission to US or Canadian universities or colleges. It reflects experience of a non-US national and therefore may not be interesting to US nationals.

The subweb reflects its author’s experience in getting admitted to three US and one British University in 1994-2001 and studying at three US universities. The page has both publicly available and insider information as well as opinions of past and present international students. The information contained herein will be most useful to Moscow Military University  (formerly known as Military Institute of Foreign Languages) graduates, but graduates of other ex-USSR institutes and universities, as well as potential applicants from other countries may be able to get something useful from it. The information will also address some cultural differences between the US and ex-USSR and the ensuing tips for applicants form the former USSR.

The webmaster will stress it right upfront that to get admitted to a US university may seem difficult to most Russians (graduates of Military University/Military Institute and not) due to the lack of funds and other hurdles (including, but not limited to, a lot of paperwork). However, it is doable, as the webmaster’s example proves.

Provided you have graduated from Military University/Military Institute (MU/MI), you are eligible to apply for admission to a university seeking your second Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s, or a Doctorate degree.

 

The structure of the subweb is as follows:

 

- Resources available in Russia

- Availability of funds

- Tests and examinations

- Evaluation of educational credentials

- Personal resources planning

- Cultural differences to be taken into account

- Visa and departure

 

Resources available in Russia

 

The main resource in Russia for prospective applicants to US is the American Center at the Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow. The Center carries all the reference materials, guides, tutorials, and its staff should be able to provide the necessary assistance to a prospective applicant.

 

Each university publishes its own reference materials. The primary references include a catalog (there may be an undergraduate catalog and a graduate one published separately) and a current schedule. A catalog may be a book 300-500 pages long. It has all the information about a university. A schedule is essentially schedule of classes, their time, location, updated fees, other relevant information, 20 or so pages long. A catalog may be published annually, every two or three years. A schedule (usually with two or three semesters ahead of the current one) is often published each semester.

 

 

 

Availability of Funds

 

 To be able to apply for admission with a US university, one has to show availability of sufficient funds. The required amount varies greatly among the schools in the US, and depends upon local factors, such as local income level, tuition and other fees at a given university, local standards of living, etc. To apply and study at a private university is more expensive than at a state one.

 

In terms of financial support a potential applicant shall be ready to have the following:

- a certain sum of money readily available;  

or

- a certain sum of money as a pledge from a person or institution to be spent to cover this student’s expenses during the school years. A relevant form must be filled out in regard to this pledge, called “affidavit of support”. It may be filled out by a US legal resident or national of any other country, and must be accompanied by an official statement of a bank or other relevant institution verifying that the required sum is available to the individual who signed the affidavit. The amount may be available in cash or other assets, such as real estate, cars, merchandise, etc.

  If you have enough of your own money to support your studies, you need to write a statement saying that you will support yourself with your own funds. You will also need official statements from banks or other financial institutions certifying that the necessary funds are in your possession. If you have some, but not all the money necessary to get admitted, you may have a combination of your statement saying that you will use your own money for some expenses, and an affidavit of support from a third party. Again, statements from banks or other institutions are needed in regard to own funds and third party support. The affidavit of support may be written for the balance of the funds in such case.

 Pages from Catalogs of the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Athens State University with tuition fees are given below (tuition is payment for taking a course at a school). All international students are non-residents in regard to tuition fees. The fees change every year, so be sure to have the most recent information from your university of choice about the current fees.

 

 For planning purposes you will need to know that an international student must be taking a full course load during the fall and spring semesters (depends upon university, on the undergraduate level it is 12 credit hours, or 4 courses, in most cases, on the graduate level 9 credit hours, or 3 courses, in most cases). This means that you are able to take more than 4 courses on the undergraduate level (more than 3 on the graduate level). There is also an upper limit on the courses that a student can take during one semester.  The schedule for the upcoming semester shall carry information on how much money an international student must have to start his studies during that semester.

 

A sample page from the Schedule of Athens State University is given below.  

 

 

 The webmaster’s experience shows that you must have a larger portion of the money that the affidavit of support, but it is not necessary to have the whole amount. A student can save on food, clothes, transportation, housing, books, supplies, and in real life spend less that what is taken into account by universities. All in all, on such items as the above a student can save from 30% (books, housing) to 60% (food, clothes). Thus, in reality, you may really need only about 80% of the money specified in the affidavit of support.

 

 As of 2000 the US legislation allows international students to apply for work permit after the first year of studies. There are several grounds for such application, the most common being “economic hardship”. In most cases, a student will be knowledgeable enough by the end of the first year of studies to be able to correctly substantiate the need in obtaining a work permit, and most such applications are approved by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The webmaster’s advice for those who do not have sufficient funds is to plan to apply for such work permit (official name - Employment Authorization Document, or EAD, which is a plastic card with photo) after the first year of studies. The EAD will allow you to work 20 hours a week during school year, and 40 hours during breaks. A student can find a job that may be paying anywhere between $6 and $10/hour (this does not mean he cannot find a position that will be paying $40/hour). Thus he may be able to earn a portion of the money for his studies during the second and subsequent years of school.

 

 In view of this a student will definitely need an affidavit of support for the second year for the sum required by the university, but may really need only about 60% of the money specified therein. During subsequent years a student may come to the situation where he will need the affidavit of support as a required document only (not the money), and become self-sufficient. In particular, if a student is able to take a break from school during his second summer (assuming he starts classes in the fall he will not be able to work during the first summer as EAD can be issued only after one year at school) and work 40 hours a week, he may be able to earn a considerable portion of his upcoming tuition expenses.

 

Tests and examinations

 

The experience of the webmaster shows that one of the first steps to be taken by a prospective applicant to a US or Canadian university is getting ready and taking the Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL). This test is required by all US and Canadian, and, to the best knowledge of the webmaster, most European ones.

 

TOEFL, GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test necessary for a graduate degree in Business, Management, Accounting, Economics, other disciplines) and a number of other tests are administered by Education Testing Services (ETS), Princeton, NJ, USA, or other authorized agencies. All the information on tests, including their time and locations, tutorials, grading, etc., is available on the Internet site of ETS (www.ets.com).

 

Upscale universities will require a TOEFL score of 600 and higher, and there will be no schools that will accept an applicant with a score lower than 550. Those who are seeking admission to journalism or literature schools, shall do their best to get a score of the 620 order. The author’s experience shows that the higher the score the less problems an applicant will have to go through during the process of admission. Naturally, it will be easier to study as well. The author was using self-preparation tutorials at the American Center in the Library of Foreign Literature for about six months in 1992-1993, and scored 625  on his TOEFL in 1993.

   

Evaluation of educational credentials

Concurrently with readying for TOEFL a prospective applicant shall submit his diploma and all other educational credentials for evaluation with an agency whose evaluation is accepted by the university of choice. The list of mainstream agencies for evaluating foreign educational credentials is given below.

1. World Education Services

P.O. Box 745 - Old Chelsea Station

New York, NY  USA 10113-0745

Tel.: (212) 966-6311

www.wes.org

 

2. Education Credentials Evaluators, Inc.

P.O. Box 92970

Milwaukee, WI USA 53202-0970

Tel.: (414) 289-3400

 

3. International Education Research Foundation

(formerly Credentials Evaluation Services)

P.O. Box 66940

Los Angeles, CA USA 90066

 

4. International Consultants of Delaware, Inc.

109 Barksdale Professional Building

Newark, DE USA 19711

 

5. International Evaluation Service

(formerly Indo-Chinese Document Evaluation Translation)

P.O. Box 20348

Long Beach, CA USA 90801

 

6. International Education Evaluation, Inc.

363 Ridgewood Avenue

Charlotte, NC USA 28209

 

Each of the evaluation agencies will have several options of evaluating foreign educational credentials. A prospective applicant should choose the following option: 

Course-by-Course.

Before sending his credentials to an agency an applicant should consult the catalog of a university (most universities will have this information on their Internet sites) and make sure that the university will accept the evaluation of that agency. These requirements are updated annually, so do your best to find the most recent information. None of the Russian agencies doing this kind of evaluation are known to be acceptable to US universities, so do not waste time and money getting them to evaluate your credentials.

One problem with Soviet and Russian diplomas is that neither diploma or supplement to diploma do not show hours spent on each particular course. Courses at American universities have their value expressed in credit hours, which are calculated on the basis of total hours spent on each course and types of activities that the students are engaged in while taking this course. To address this a what is sometimes called “arkhivnaia spravka” is needed. This document in the best case shows all the courses taken during all years of study, how many hours were spent on each course during each semester, what course papers were written and when, what practical training (internship) was completed and when, and other relevant details. In the case of Military University (Institute) this document may or may not be classified, however, it is needed for the best possible evaluation. The webmaster did not have and did not try to obtain that kind of document, and it may have been one of the reasons for his evaluation to be inaccurate.

The webmaster believes that World Education Services (WES) is the agency of choice of the clear majority of US universities and colleges. The webmaster has experience of dealing with this and one other agency, namely

The webmaster has some expertise in foreign studies, and on the basis of it, his conversations with university professors, as well as foreigners who submitted their credentials for evaluation to WES, it can be stated that WES’s evaluations  often have major flaws. In particular, both the webmaster’s and his wife’s credentials were evaluated with a significant number of errors and inaccuracies (described in more detail below). However, provided that WES’s evaluations are widely accepted there is sort of no-choice situation in most cases.

 

The first evaluation that the webmaster received from WES was totally unacceptable. The webmaster had to go line-by-line with his original educational credentials and the evaluation to discover distortions, omissions and inaccuracies. The author had then to resubmit the results of his check back to WES. WES reevaluated his credentials to reflect most, but not all objections and suggestions. WES’s revised evaluation of the author’s educational credentials is given below.  

 

 

 

Real life shows that WES and other agencies after receiving all the materials required for evaluation will often later ask that original diplomas and other credentials be sent to them for verification (initially only verified and translated copies are to be sent). The experience of dealing with these agencies shows that in most cases this cannot be avoided. Applicants living in the former USSR should only use one of the international courier services (UPS, FedEx or DHL). The package should be insured for not less than $10,000. The package should be sent so that a signature of the recipient’s representative is obtained and sent back to sender.

 

The author first came to the US as Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow. The Humphrey Fellowship Program is sponsored by the US State Department and administered by USIA. It is a non-degree program for mid-career professionals for graduate or doctorate education and research in the US. The webmaster stayed at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey at its New Brunswick campus in 08/1994-07/1995. The Humphrey Fellows were assigned to the Department of Urban Planning and Development, but were taking courses at all campuses and with any College they needed.

 

In 08/1995 - 12/1997 the author studied at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH, www.uah.edu), at the College of Administrative Science, and earned a Master of Science in Management degree. He was also Graduate Teaching Assistant with the Department of Economics and Finance, chaired by Dr. Chris W. Paul II at that time. In 05/1999-05/2001 he is enrolled with Athens State University (www.athens.edu), in Athens, AL, and is getting his Bachelor’s in Computer Science degree. Some of the examples to illustrate the author’s points on this page are drawn from the catalogs of the universities the author attended.

 

 

Bachelor’s Program

 

A typical Bachelor’s program at a US university will require about 130 semester credit hours. The majority of courses have 3 credit hours, though a few may be 2 or 4 credit hours worth, so on the average one has to take and pass  45 courses to get this degree. All courses have an alphanumeric index, with the first two letters usually standing for the abbreviation of the course title, the next digit indicating the year (recommended or implied) of study, the next two digits indicating the level of difficulty of the course on the scale from 00 (the easiest) to 99 (the most difficult).

 

All US universities will accept credits transferred from other educational institutions. To transfer a credit means to count a previously taken course into the course count for a currently earned degree. An applicant should be interested in transferring as many courses from his previous education as possible, as it cuts the time needed to obtain a new degree and leads to considerable money savings. Unfortunately, there are only a few courses that can transferred from an evaluated Military University/Military Institute (MU/MI) Diploma to a US university.

 

The courses required for a Bachelor’s degree will usually consist of two groups. As an example, the program requirements for a degree of Bachelor in Computer Science at Athens State University are given below (this is an excerpt from the 1999 ASU catalog):

Section 1 concerns school education, TOEFL and results of other applicable tests for international students. In most cases, this section should not concern any graduate of MU/MI. For reference, the catalog page with General University Requirements is given below.

 

Section 2, General Education Requirements, is subdivided into 5 paragraphs. We will here discuss each of them as applicable to applicants - graduates of MU/MI.

 

I. Written Composition. 6 semester hours.

If you had English as first or second language, all six semester credit hours will be transferred from a MU diploma. 

 

II. Humanities and Fine Arts. 12 semester hours.

These courses will be transferred from a MU (MI) diploma

 

III. Natural Science and Mathematics. 11 semester hours.

Before 1985 the courses from this group were not taught to students of Department of Western or Eastern Languages. The webmaster is not familiar with the current situation. These courses will include Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, Nutrition, and similar courses. An applicant will decide on which exactly courses to take after his admission. The student’s choice of these courses should be discussed with the student advisor.

 

The webmaster’s evaluated Military Institute diploma did not have a single course of this group. He was able to transfer 6 credit hours from his M.S.M. degree, and had to take two courses (Chemistry 402 and Introduction to Astronomy 300) for his degree in Computer Science.

 

IV. History, Social and Behavioral Sciences. 12 semester hours.

These courses can be transferred from a MU/MI diploma.

 

V. Pre-professional, pre-major, and elective courses.

To the best of webmaster’s knowledge, none of these courses were or are currently taught at the School(s) of  Foreign Languages at MU/MI. An MU/MI graduate will have to take them.

 

Section 3. Major requirements.

To the best of webmaster’s knowledge, none of these courses were or are taught at School(s) of Foreign Languages at MU/MI. Some may be taught at other schools. If they were not taken previously, a student will have to take them.

 

Section 4. General Electives. 8 semester hours.

These courses can be transferred from a MU/MI diploma.

 

Calculating the bottom line, a graduate of a School of foreign languages of MU/MI will in the best case be able to transfer the following number of credits from his MU/MI diploma:

 

Section 2, P. I                         6

Section 2, P. II                       12

Section 2, P. III                       0

Section 2, P. IV                      12

Section 2, P. V                        0

 

Section 3                                 0

 

Section 4                                 8

 

Total                                        38

 

Thus all in all 38 credits can be transferred from a MU/MI School of foreign languages graduate for a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. We would like to note that this will be the best case, often unattainable in real life. Reasonably thinking, you should be glad if you get about 30 semester credits from the above diploma transferred into a degree in Computer Science.

 

This will leave a student with about 100 credit hours to be earned. A reasonable course load will consist of 5-6 courses of levels 1 and 2 per semester, and 4-5 courses of higher level per semester. Most of the courses that will be transferred from a MU/MI diploma, will count as Level 1 or Level 2 courses. Thus a tentative plan will include about 33 courses, including about 10 of Level 2, and the rest of Level 3 and Level 4.

 

All universities have summer semesters, and many regular (3 credit hour) courses are taught during summer. So if a student is planning to study during three semesters a year until he graduates, it may take him 8 semesters (2 years and 9 months if he starts his studies in a fall semester).

 

Master’s Degree

 

A typical Master’s degree will require about 36 semester credit hours. The majority of courses at this level have 3 credit hours each, with several courses weighing 4 hours. There will be prerequisites for a Master’s degree depending upon the area of specialization. You will find an excerpt from the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) Graduate Catalog for 1999-2001 concerning the degree of Master of Science in Management below.  

 

 

 

As you see in Basic Skill Curriculum paragraph, there are 5 prerequisite courses for the M.S.M program (prerequisite means you must have taken or must take them in order to get this degree). Out of these, a graduate of MU/MI will be able to transfer EH 101 and 102 from a MU/MI diploma, and will have to take the remaining three courses.

 

As you can see in Section “Business Administration Core Areas Curriculum”, one will have to earn 18 credit hours of courses from this group. If the only diploma you have is the one from MU/MI and you want to earn a M.S.M. Degree from UAH, you will have to take:

 

Prerequisites:

MA 145, MSC 287, MIS 146

Subtotal                                 9 credit hours

 

Business Administration Core Areas Curriculum:

ACC 600, FIN 601, MGT 550, MGT 600, MKT 600, MSC 600

Subtotal:                                18 credit hours

 

Advanced Curriculum:

ACC 602, ECN 626, MGT 601, MGT 622 or MGT 631, MGT 690, MGT 698, MIS 634, MKT 606, 2 elective courses

Subtotal:                                30 credit hours

 

Total credit hours for M.S.M. degree:                   57

 

An international graduate student must be taking a full courseload during fall and spring semesters, which is 3 courses at this university. If a student decides to study during summer, and take 3-4 graduate courses during each semester, in other words, vigorously pursue the degree, it is possible to finish degree studies during 5 semesters, or 21 months. If a student decides not to study during summer, 5 semesters will extend into 28 months. If one decides to go by the minimum required courseload (3 courses) and take breaks during summer, the studies will take 6 semesters and last 33 months (a student will have to take 4 courses during one semester).

 

If you have taken any courses in Russia from an affiliate of a British or any other European university, you may be able to transfer some credits to your M.S.M. program.

 

An international student may once face a situation when he has one or two courses left to finish his degree. Under such circumstances he will have to take three courses though one or two will be redundant. It happens because an international student is not allowed to take less than 3 graduate courses a semester. Thus, to maintain your legal status in the US, you will have to take not less than 3 courses during each semester even if you do not need but one for the last semester (and pay for three courses, including two that you do not need). In view of this it is advisable to plan one’s program of study in advance and thoroughly enough to avoid this situation.

 

Cultural differences

 

An individual from Russia seeking admission to a US university must comprehend some cultural differences to avoid counting on factors playing in Russia, but not in the US. We are not discussing what is better and what is worse here, just giving some tips and a broader cultural context to nip the unsubstantiated expectations in the bud.

 

Most differences flow from the US being a state of law (Russia is considered an area of lawlessness). One consequence of this is that the approach in Russia is that even during the age of technological progress a human being continues to play a major part (e.g. in functioning of a company, university admission procedures, modern war, etc.). This approach may well work in the current Russian environment, but it will never work in the US.

 

The US approach is exactly the opposite. In the state of law, such as the US,  every individual should play a role of a reliable “screw” (Russian allegoric reference) and fulfill his duties exactly how they are prescribed by law (regulation, ordinance, policy, rule, etc.). As a result, every individual performs his duties, in most cases exactly how it is written somewhere (not a bit less, not a bit more), and almost always is excellent in doing that. There are rules in the US that prescribe most every human activity, and all the procedures for admitting students to a university are described in detail at every university. There can and will be no exceptions to the rules, except when these exceptions are included in the rules. Every US university official that a prospective Russian applicant should deal with, will be following  some kind of rules, and an applicant should not ask anybody to do something in excess of the rules or to do something as an exception. Any requests of this kind will be to the applicant’s disadvantage and may even undermine all his efforts for enrollment. There can be no favors or possibilities to understand one’s inability to do something. A US official will not be interested in why you cannot do this or that, the only thing he will want to know is if you will do it or you won’t. If yes, your admission goes ahead, if not, admission procedure is suspended or canceled. One mention of you paying someone back at a later time if someone helps you get admitted (practice widely accepted in Russia) will result in immediate cancellation of your admission procedures and your inability to get admitted pretty much anywhere in this country in the future due to the exchange of relevant information among universities.

 

Do not get offended by somewhat impersonal attitude of many university officials you will be talking to or dealing with during the admission process and the first weeks of your stay at a university. Do not ever try to cheat, deceive, defraud or outsmart anybody. If you are an honest and creditworthy person, do your best in abiding by law during the admission process and during your studies, earn the trust of the Americans that you will be dealing with, and many of the same university officials will become your friends and will go their extra mile for you when and if needed.  


 © Art Shvetsov 2000-2001