On February 21, 2014, Ms. Anarmaa Sharkhuu, presented EducationUSA alumni lecture series at American Information and Culture Center under “My Experience in the US” title and shared her experience as a PhD student in Environmental Science at University of Pennsylvania. Among many useful suggestions and tips she gave, we are presenting some.
- PLAN EARLY AND ALLOW TIME FOR YOURSELF. At first I wanted to study in the US for my bachelor’s degree; however, when I found about the college admission’s procedure, I was already little late. In the US, college admission deadline varies, but most receive their applications by December-January and send their acceptance letters in spring, March-April. Therefore, students should apply in their last year of high school. If you start application process when you graduate from high school, you will be already late and will not have many options. As for me, I spent whole two years from contacting professors to actually going to the university.
- ALWAYS PRACTICE YOUR ENGLISH. I graduated from Mongolian-Turkish High School and had some level of English. However, I still had to improve my English. I used to read and listen to speeches a lot all the time. I had flash cards for new words which I reviewed while in a bus or car. Thankfully, I had an opportunity to do internships with foreigners working on environmental projects in the countryside. They improved my pronunciation and speaking skills. I would advise students to find such opportunities at their schools, in their communities—they will be helpful not only to improve your language skills, but also for your future endeavors.
- CHOOSE SMALLER COLLEGE FOR BACHELORS DEGREE AND GO TO BIG UNIVERSITIES FOR YOUR GRADUATE DEGREE. In small colleges, students have better interaction with professors and greater chance and opportunity to learn the subject and succeed. And famous prestigious universities like Harvard has a very low admission’s rate which means there is a very little chance for us to get admitted and you might not have that special close connection with your professors like you would have in small colleges. However, for your graduate degree, you should aim for bigger universities as they would have more research options.
- NO GRE, NO PHD. You need to take this test if you want to do your PhD in the US. However, you have to keep in mind that some areas require other professional exams such as GMAT, MCAT or LSAT. Most other areas require GRE test. As this test is designed for not only international students but also all native speakers, you need to prepare rigorously in advance, especially for the verbal and analytical writing sections. Writing skill is very important in the US; and it was one of the main challenges I faced at first when I studied in the US. You can take GRE test three times a year in Mongolia—October, November and February at Mongolian University of Science and Technology.
- CONTACT PROFESSORS AT US INSTITUTIONS. Professors play an important role in admissions decisions as well as in financial aid. Many professors have research grants and they look for graduate students, especially PhD students to work on the research project. They have both power in admission’s procedure and financial means to fund your studies. Of course it might be different in social and humanities, but in my area, environmental science or in ecology, almost every PhD students get funding from research grants. Therefore, you should identify professors in your subject area, reach them out and introduce yourself. In my case, I contacted about 30 professors and worked with four of them. Then two of them wanted me in their department. Thus, I applied to these two universities and got admission from both. Professors are busy people and they may not respond back but you have to try nonetheless. I would advise not to reach to super top, famous professors but to medium ones who have more time and interest in working with prospective international students. You may identify professors while you read various journals, articles or news in your subject area or even through social media such as LinkedIn. LinkedIn has groups of professionals and you can find them through that.