How to Apply for a Master’s Program in the US

How to Apply for a Master’s Program in the US

Choosing a Master’s course may seem like an intimidating prospect—after all, you will be studying a topic in extreme depth and will most likely build your career out of this topic. First of all, you should decide what broad area you want to specialize in. Usually, this will vaguely follow on from what you did at undergraduate, however you will usually focus on something more specific for a Master’s. For example, if you studied or majored in ‘Geography’ at undergraduate level, you could advance to an Msc in ‘Climate Studies & Meteorology’. Bear in mind though that this is not always the case. You could have majored in ‘Economics and Finance’ for your undergraduate degree, yet spent those three years constantly doing art and design in your spare time. In this case, you could choose ‘Graphic Design’ as a Master’s option. Whatever the case, do a lot of research into the various options and specializations that are on offer- they are endless! You can use this handy tool to compare more than 40,000 masters courses with just a few clicks.


Another thing to consider when choosing your Master’s course is the employability of your degree after you graduate. Your Master’s degree will probably cost you a lot of money, and if not then a lot of time. So, you want to make sure that your postgraduate degree will help your career prospects. A good place to start is MastersAvenue’s ‘Global Degree and Career Survey’.


The MastersAvenue team analysed the careers of over 7.5 million graduates, and created an easy-to-use and free tool for you to find the most popular career paths of Master’s courses. It will show the percentage of professionals who hold the Master’s degree and the ten most popular occupations of graduates. It then has a comprehensive list of where these Master’s courses are offered, including course rating, university rating, and value for money. Click here to see the survey and learn more about your options.


Letters of Recommendation for a US Masters Program

Letters of recommendation, or referral letters, are a vital element of the Master’s application. Referral letters demonstrate to the admissions committee that you will be able to flourish in a rigorous, academic setting. You will usually need three letters. It is a good idea for all of your letters to be from academic sources (e.g. your undergraduate academic advisor, or one of your professors), instead of professional sources, (i.e. a previous boss).


The three referees you decide upon should generally be professors that knew you well during your undergraduate studies. Prospective students should email their choices well in advance to the deadline, usually about two to three months before. This is because professors may be on sabbatical or under a heavy workload. Be sure to be polite, professional and grateful in your request, as letters are completely voluntary and they are doing you a massive favour. If they agree, send them a hand-written thank you note as well!


The university, Berkeley has created an extremely useful guide to letters of recommendation. Visit to read more.


Standardized Tests


Apply for a Masters Program in the United States


Almost every US University will require the Master’s applicant to take some sort of standardized test. First of all, you need to work out which test you will be taking. This depends on what course you are applying for, but the four major tests are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The university website will usually inform you on which test is required, and if this information is difficult to find, you should just go ahead and call the admissions office.


The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is normally needed for most Master’s and PhD programmes. The GRE General Test is a computer-based exam, which tests the applicant’s quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills. The analytical writing sections are tested from 0-6 in 0.5 point increments. The verbal and quantitative reasoning are tested on a scale from 130-170 in 1 point increments. The importance of the GRE varies from university to university, but a great score will help your Master’s application to get noticed.


The analytical writing section is separated into two sections; an ‘Analyse an Issue’ task and an ‘Analyse An Argument’ task. You have 30 minutes to complete each section. The ‘Analyse an Issue’ task will require you to respond to a statement in your own words. You will need to discuss the issue from many different angles, with a strong argument that structures your essay. There is no right or wrong response to the question; you just need to show that you are able to think critically, write coherently, and produce a persuasive essay. The ‘Analyse an Argument’ section will put forth a short passage, and you are required to respond to the argument, weighing up its strengths and weaknesses. For more information on how to complete the essay sections you can visit the website


For the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections, you need to practice, practice, and practice! There are three types of questions on the verbal reasoning sections; text completion, reading comprehension, and sentence equivalence. You will probably need to brush up on your vocabulary for the GRE, and this is why you should start revising months in advance—your brain won’t be able to take in hundreds of new words a couple of days before the exam. A good tip would be to go onto the Magoosh GRE Word List, and learn ten new words every day. In the quantitative reasoning section, there are three main question types; quantitative comparison questions, numeric entry questions and multiple choice questions. You will be tested on your arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis skills. You will be able to see an overview of the types of questions you will be tested on on the official GRE website-- For practice tests, the Princeton Review published an extremely helpful textbook, ‘Cracking the GRE’, which is available on Amazon. This book breaks down every element of the GRE, giving you vital tips and simplifies everything that seems intimidating at first.


To book your test, create an account on ETS, and find the nearest test centre to you. You can do this on



The resume you submit for a Master’s application is very different to the resume you would submit for a job application. You should emphasize your academic achievements on your Master’s CV. Specify on the degree you earned—what year did you graduate? What was your most impressive achievement? Did you receive any academic honours?


You should limit your resume to one page, because this can show that you can be direct and persuasive at the same time—two valuable assets for the postgraduate admissions office. Be sure to use active language, as this will demonstrate that you are an active learner. For example, say ‘I completed an essay on…’, instead of saying ‘I was assigned an essay on…’


For more information and tips, visit the USC blog on how to write resumes for a Master’s programme:


Writing Sample


How to Apply for a Master’s Program in the US


You will need to submit a writing sample for almost every Master’s course you apply for. You want to show to the university that you won’t just survive during your Master’s, but will thrive. Your sample should evidence your strong writing skills, your capability to construct compelling arguments, and your top-notch analytical skills. The length of your writing sample will vary from university to university, but American universities usually ask for a sample between 15-20 pages, with double line spacing. If you’re unsure which sample to use, ask your referees their advice, and also submit essays, which are related to the course you are applying for. Check the department website to see if there are any precise formatting requirements.


International Students

US universities are renowned for their international scene—there are more international students in USA than in any other country in the world. International students will need a F-1 non-immigrant visa. You can apply for this visa after you’ve been offered a place on a Master’s course. You must be able to prove that you will be able to pay for the university fees and living expenses, as well as confirm that you intend to leave the US after completing your graduate degree. With an F-1 visa, students can stay in the US for up to one year after they have finished university. To learn more about US student visas, visit


Also, if your first language is not English, you will need to take a test to demonstrate that you are proficient in the language. This will either be a TOEFL or an IELTS test. To learn more about the differences between these two tests, visit



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