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FAQs Graduate Studies

General Questions

What are the differences between graduate studies and undergraduate studies?
Graduate education differs from undergraduate education in that it offers a greater depth of training, with increased specialization and intensity of instruction. Study and learning are more self-directed at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level.

What Graduate Programmes are available at the U.S. institutions?
The two graduate degrees offered in the U.S. are the master’s degree and the doctoral degree; both involve a combination of research and course work. Graduate courses assume that students are well-prepared in the basic elements of their field of study. Depending on the subject, courses may be quite formal, consisting primarily of lecture presentations by faculty members, or they may be relatively informal, placing emphasis on discussion and exchange of ideas among faculty and students. Seminars involve smaller groups of students than lecture courses, and students may be required to make presentations as well as participate in discussions. Class participation, research papers, and examinations are all important.

Master’s Degrees : The master’s degree is designed to provide additional education or training in the student’s specialized branch of knowledge, well beyond the level of baccalaureate study. Master’s degrees are offered in many different fields, and there are two main types of programs: academic and professional. For more information, visit
Since policies vary from institution to institution and within various departments of each institution, it is best to check directly with individual graduate departments to determine the structure and admissions policies for their master’s and doctoral candidates.

Doctoral Degrees : The doctoral degree is designed to train research scholars and, in many cases, future college and university faculty members. Receipt of a doctoral degree certifies that the student has demonstrated capacity as a trained research scholar in a specific discipline. Doctoral programmes involve advanced coursework, seminars, and the writing of a dissertation that describes the student’s own original research, completed under the supervision of a faculty adviser.
The Ph.D. degree is awarded to those students who complete an original piece of significant research, write a dissertation describing that research, and successfully defend their work before a panel of faculty members who specialize in the discipline. This may take an additional two to three years. To earn a doctoral degree, therefore, may take anywhere from five to eight years beyond the bachelor’s degree, depending on the field of study.
In the United States , you will find a variety of nontraditional doctoral programmes; these might have very different types of requirements from the traditional ones. Prospective students should be sure of what is required to enter any program they are considering, and what is required to obtain the degree. This information is usually available from university catalogs and Web sites or directly from individual departments.

What is the best time to start a graduate programme?
It is best to start a program in the fall term (beginning in August/September). Many courses must be taken in sequence, and time may be lost in completing the degree if you start in another term. It is also easier to become accustomed to studying in the United States and to meet other students in the department if you start at the beginning of the academic year. Lastly, scholarship opportunities may be more readily available to students starting in the fall rather than midyear.

How do I know which programme is best for me?
Choosing universities from thousands of miles away presents some challenges – especially when there are so many outstanding universities to choose from. Every student is different, and it is very important to consider the factors that are important to you in both your education and your lifestyle. Finding the right academic and personal match requires careful planning, research and networking on your part. You should begin the process 12-18 months before you wish to start studying in the U.S.

Step 1: Define your Education and Career Goals. This will help you select the most appropriate programmes and will help motivate you through the application process. It will also assist you in writing the application essays in which you often will be asked to explain your career goals and how they relate to your application for graduate study. Lastly, it will lead you to find out exactly what qualifications are required for that career. To help define your education and career goals, ask your self these questions:

  • What career do I want to pursue?
  • Is employment available in my country in this field?
  • What advanced degree is required to enter this profession?

Speak to people already working in the field and to representatives of professional associations.

  • How will Study in the United States enhance my career?
  • Will a graduate degree help me earn a higher salary?

Consult educators, government officials and working professional about the value of U.S. study for you at this stage in your career, including any increased earning potential.

Step 2 : Consult the Student Adviser at the US-SL Fulbright Commission
The Adviser is available to assist you in answering questions about:

  • equivalency between the educational system in Sri Lanka and the United States ;
  • entry requirements for study in your field;
  • using reference materials to find institutions that are appropriate for you;
  • sources of financial assistance available in Sri Lanka and in the United States ;
  • testing and other application requirements;
  • preparation of your applications;
  • planning your education;
  • adjusting to academic and academic and cultural life in the United States ;

Step 3: Develop a Short List of Programmes: Deciding which institutions to apply to is one of the most important decisions you will make. Since there is a great deal of diversity in graduate programmes, it is especially important to clearly articulate what it is you wish to accomplish and find out which institutions offer the kind of programme you are seeking.

  • Identify universities that offer your field of study. Use the following resources to shortlist your choices
    • Printed directories: e.g. Graduate Programs by Petersons, university catalogues and the other guides available at the US-SL Fulbright Commission’s library.
    • Contacts: Discuss your plans with col

      leagues and with others who have studied in the U.S. Contact universities in the U.S. directly with questions about your programmes.

    • College web site and e-mail: Almost every university and college has a web site that offers information about degree programmes, application procedures, academic departments, faculty members, facilities on campus etc. Once you have narrowed down the colleges and universities you are interested in, you may wish to e-mail professors and admission personnel to have specific questions answered before you finally decide where to apply.
    • Check accreditation status: It is important to check that all institutions you are considering are appropriately accredited. Use
    • Rankings: Rankings that you may come across are usually produced by journalists and are likely to be subjective. Check on the criteria on which the rankings are based. Use rankings with discretion
    • Size: Consider the size of the institution as well as the size of the department and degree programme. Visit for more details.
    • Location
    • Student Services: These are varied, and you should find the ones that have services tailored to your needs.

Step 4: Decide where to apply. Once you have narrowed your list to 10-20 institutions according to the criteria given above, you will need to compare the objective data among these institutions. Refer

What are the requirements for admission to a graduate programme in the United States ?
The main requirements for admission to educational institutions in the United States are:

  • a strong academic background;
  • demonstrated command of the English language;
  • for many programs, scores on one or more standardized admissions tests;
  • adequate financial resources.

Academic Background
Candidates for graduate level education should have completed or be nearing completion of an academic or professional degree equivalent to a U.S. Bachelor’s degree. In the United States this typically takes four years of undergraduate study to complete.

English Proficiency
To participate in graduate study in the United States successfully, students must be able to read, write, and communicate orally in English with a high level of proficiency. A good score in the TOEFL is expected. See Supplementary Tests for graduate studies

How do I prepare a successful application?
No uniform procedure exists for graduate admission in the United States . The graduate admissions office almost always shares the responsibility for admissions with the academic departments and most commonly there is a graduate admission committee for each department. ( )

I have done a 3-year (general) degree. Can I apply for a graduate programme in the U.S?
Some universities may request you to do a one-year bridge-programme to complete their requirement of a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Others may consider the difficulty level of your course content for the first degree. Some others may ask you to get your credentials evaluated. It is best that you get a course-by-course evaluation from a credential evaluator in the U.S. (e.g. WES: , ECE: or IERF ) Remember to send your G.C.E.A/L certificate along with your Bachelor’s degree certificate and transcripts.

I am interested in doing an MBA. Do I need work experience?
Most universities ask for a minimum of two years of work experience.

Supplementary Tests for graduate studies


Web Resource Guide :

Contact information for General Inquiries & Paper-Based Testing Registration:

Phone: 1-609-771-7100 Fax: 1-609-771-7500 E-mail: [email protected]

Mail: TOEFL Services, Educational Testing Service, P.O. Box 6151 , Princeton , NJ 08541-6151 , USA .

Express courier Delivery: TOEFL Services (25-Q-310), Distribution & Receiving Center , 225, Phillips Boulevard, Ewing , NJ 08628-7435 , USA.
Methods for Registration :

Mail: complete the registration form in the envelope marked "Paper-Based Testing Only" in the center of the bulletin and mail to:
TOEFL Registration Office, P.O. Box 6152 , Princeton , NJ 08541-6152 , USA .

Online Registration: for test takers with valid credit cards

Scheduling hints:

  • Register early: test centers fill up quickly
  • Take the test as soon as possible so your scores will be received in time to be considered with your application.
  • Spell your name exactly as it is spelt on your identification documents.

Validity: scores are valid for two years

Graduate Admission Tests
Most graduate admissions departments require satisfactory scores on the GRE General test and/or the GRE subject test, or the GMAT.
In addition, most universities require a good score at the TSE before considering the award of an assistantship.

General Test

Subject test

Format :
3 hours

Analytical Writing: 2 tasks (75 minutes)

Verbal: 2×30 minute sections/ 38 Questions per section

Quantitative : 2×30 minute sections / 30 questions per section

Measures achievement in specific subject areas.
(Subject list given below)


Mail and online ( )

Mail and online
( )

Contact information for General Inquiries
Web Resource Guide :
Phone: 1-609-771-7670 (Monday to Friday) Fax: 1-609-771-7906
E-mail: [email protected]
Mail: GRE-ETS, P.O. Box 6000 , Princeton , NJ 08541-6000 , USA.
Preferred Forms of Payment : Credit cards( VISA, MasterCard, American Express) or with a Bank draft
List of Subject tests : Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology/ Biology/ Chemistry/ Computer Science/ literature in English/ Mathematics (rescaled)/ Physics/Psychology (Computer Science Test will not be administered in April 2005
Reporting Score Reports : Within 4-6 weeks.

Scheduling hints:

  • Register early: test centers fill up quickly. Take the test as soon as possible so your scores will be received in time to be considered with your application. Spell your name exactly as it is spelt on your identification documents.

Test Center : 10289 Colombo , U.S. Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission
Validity: scores are valid for five years
GMAT ( Graduate Management Admission Test)
Format: Measures basic verbal, mathematical and analytical writing skills. It is specifically designed to help graduate schools assess the qualifications of applicants for advanced study in business and management.
Web Resource Guide :
Contact information for General Inquiries
Phone: 1-609-771-7330 Fax: 1-609-883-4349
Preferred Forms of Payment: Credit cards (VISA, MasterCard, American Express
Methods for Registration :
Online registration :

Scheduling hints:

  • Send the pre registration form as soon as possible so your test preparation material will arrive on time.
  • Spell your name exactly as it is spelt on your identification documents.

Validity: scores are valid for 5 years
Please refer the GMAT reading file in the US-SLFC’s reference library for more information.

TSE ( Test of Spoken English)
Most universities would need the applicants to have a good score at the TSE when being considered for assistantships
The primary purpose of the TSE is to measure the ability of nonnative speakers of English to communicate orally in English. Required by some universities when granting assistantships.

Format: consists of 9 items, each of which requires examinees to perform a particular speech act. E.g. narrating, recommending, persuading, giving and supporting an opinion. There are two categories within the TSE program:
TSE-A is for teaching and research assistant applicants or for undergraduate or graduate x\school applicants.
TSE-B is for all other individuals, such as professionals or for those in an occupational field.

Web Resource Guide :
Contact information for General Inquiries
Phone: 1-609-771-7100 Fax: 1-609-771-7500 E-mail: [email protected]
Mail: TOEFL/TSE Services, Educational Testing Service, P.O. Box 6157 , Princeton , NJ 08541-6151 , USA .
Express courier Delivery: TOEFL/TSE Services, Educational Testing Services, Distribution & Receiving Center , 225, Phillips Boulevard, Ewing , NJ 08628 , USA .
Preferred Forms of Payment: Credit cards (VISA, MasterCard, American Express) / Bank draft
Methods for Registration :
Mail: complete the registration form in the center of the bulletin and mail it to ETS in the envelope provided.
Online Registration: www.toefl.gre/tse for test takers with valid credit cards

Scheduling hints:

  • Take the test as soon as possible so your scores will be received in time to be considered with your application.
  • Spell your name exactly as it is spelt on your identification documents.

Test Centers : Sri Lanka H 400 Colombo
Test Dates : See page 20 of bulletin
Scoring : The score is reported on a scale of 20-60.
Validity: scores are valid for two years

Financing Your Education


How do I finance my graduate studies programme?
Education in the United States may seem expensive, but you have probably already realized that it offers excellent value for the money invested. Educational financing requires effective applications, assessing your personal funds, identifying financial assistance, and reducing educational costs. The following options may be available for outstanding applicants

Planning Ahead
It is a myth that international students can easily get the money they need for study after they have been admitted to a college or university in the United States . In fact, such an assumption can lead to hardship and disappointment. Most institutions have committed all their scholarship and loan funds long before the academic year begins. Also, as part of the application for a student visa, you must be able to show proof to both the graduate school admissions office and to your local U.S. embassy or consulate that you have sufficient funds to meet the total annual expenses. If you plan to bring a spouse and/or children with you to the United States , you will also need to prove in advance that you have funds to support your family.

Calculating Your Expenses
There are two main types of expenses – tuition/fees and living expenses. These vary widely, which gives you some control over the costs involved in your education. All U.S. universities publish information on the costs for their institution and area. For more information please refer

Funding opportunities available for Sri Lankans

Fulbright Scholarships : Please visit for more details.

Funds from U.S. Universities: About one-third of international graduate students finance their studies through financial aid from U.S. universities. However, availability o

f financial assistance varies by field of study, level of study, and type of institution (research universities are likely to have the most funds available). Also, some universities will give aid to students only after they have successfully completed their first semester or first year of study.
To identify universities that offer financial assistance, consult university reference books or computer search software at information and advising centers. You can also find information on financial assistance directly from university catalogs and Web sites. Some university reference books provide information on financial aid awarded to first-year graduate students, but these statistics include U.S. students as well as international students. Also, all students, including international students, are required to pay U.S. income tax on certain forms of graduate financial assistance. If you are awarded a grant by a university, be sure to check with the institution to see if you are subject to any type of taxation.

The main types of financial aid available from universities are:

  • Fellowships : Departments and institutions award fellowships on the basis of academic merit, normally after the first year of study. Graduate fellowships may be modest, covering only tuition and fees, or full grants, providing the cost of tuition, fees, and monthly stipends for maintenance. Fellowships rarely cover the total cost of living and studying.
  • Assistantships : Assistantships are the most common form of financial aid at the graduate level. Assistantships are cash awards that require the performance of services related to the field of study, usually about 20 hours per week. Sometimes an assistantship carries with it a waiver (a remission or reduction) of tuition and fees. Awards may range from as little as $500 to as much as $30,000 (or higher, if high tuition costs are waived) for an academic year, so it is important to check what proportion of your costs the assistantship will cover. There are several types of assistantships:
    • Teaching assistantships may be available for the first year of graduate study in university departments with large numbers of undergraduates in introductory courses. Teaching assistants (TAs) supervise undergraduate laboratory classes, lead discussion groups, or teach small classes. Increasingly, universities require that applicants achieve a high score on the Test of Spoken English (TSE) before receiving a teaching assistantship. Often universities require teaching assistants to complete training programs that prepare them to teach in the U.S. educational milieu. If you are interested in applying for a teaching assistantship, be sure to mention in your application any previous teaching experience that you have had.
    • Research assistantships involve performance of research services related to the field of study. The advantage of a research assistantship is that it can be related to your thesis or long-term academic interests. Research assistants (RAs) are chosen for their demonstrated research and interpersonal skills. Computer ability, writing skills, and experience working as part of a team are three essential qualifications. Find institutions that have grants in your field, and apply to these universities for research assistantships. If you apply to institutions whose research funding matches your interests, professors who are the principal researchers for grants in your area will often single out your application for funding, especially if you have proven research experience.
    • Administrative assistantships usually require 10 to 20 hours per week working in administrative offices of the university, such as the International Student Office. You will need to contact each office individually at most institutions, although a few may have a central location for applications. Read the material from each institution to learn where to send applications.

Competition for all types of assistantships is intense, since only limited numbers are available at any one institution. International applicants must compete with U.S. students. In general, doctoral students are more likely to receive support than master’s candidates. Although financial need is taken into consideration, the most important factor in selection is academic achievement and promise in the field of study. Practically all awards for graduate study are made one year at a time. Renewal is not automatic and depends on your performance and the availability of funds; however, in general, departments will do all they can to ensure you receive continued financial support. Once enrolled at an institution, you should begin seeking funding for the next academic year.
To apply for university funding, find out which offices are responsible for the various programs and request application materials. The graduate school may control the funds, or the department or program may administer them, or a combination of both. Read carefully all the information pertaining to funding, since the application process can be complex and time-consuming.
When an offer is made, compare the total award package, including tuition and fees, amount of stipend, length of award, and work responsibilities. If you receive more than one offer, you will have to weigh the benefits of each award from each institution and make the best decision. The decision of which institution to attend should never be based on the amount of an award alone, since financial assistance has nothing to do with the quality of the program. Selecting an institution is a complex and important decision; be sure to take all factors into consideration to make the choices that are best for you.

Writing a Research Proposal

To receive funds for research or study in the United States , some organizations require a carefully designed research proposal. Please refer

For more information and guidance, please contact the Student Adviser: [email protected]