Completing a Master’s Degree in the USA

As the world’s most popular study abroad destination, the United States of America has plenty to offer you as an international postgraduate.

You’ll be one of over 900,000 overseas students, many of whom study on the country’s renowned master’s programs. That’s where this guide comes in.

We’ve put together detailed information if nearly everything you need to know about postgraduate study in the USA.

us masters degree

How long does it take to do a master’s degree in the USA?

A Master’s degree at an American university takes around two years of full-time study to complete, though some courses take a shorter time to complete.

This is longer than in some other countries (such as the UK) but reflects the greater emphasis on structured training and regular assessment on a US graduate programme.

In most cases, the greater length of your degree will be offset by the additional maturation opportunities and transferable skills you acquire during it. Possession of an American Master’s degree will also reduce the amount of time needed to achieve a Ph.D. in the same field.

In some ways, American Masters degrees are a lot like those in other countries. You’ll study at a more advanced stage and be needed to think and study more independently.

But, you’ll also have a much more structured experience than some other international postgraduates. Assessments will be more frequent and you’ll be encouraged or required to undertake supplementary training.

Your day-to-day experience will depend on the type of graduate programme you enroll on and what its intended outcomes are.

But this experience is better understood if one can divide this process into two major categories: academic programmes and professional programmes.

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How much does it cost to do a Master’s degree in the USA

It’s no secret that the cost of a Masters in the USA can be quite high. At the same time, it’s important to bear in mind that a relatively small number of students in America pay the full cost of their programmes. Instead many receive Masters funding from their institution or a wide range of other organisations.

Masters fees at public and private universities in the USA

America is home to one of the world’s largest and most complex higher education systems, with a wide range of institutions setting different fees for Masters degrees. Fees can also differ between academic and professional Masters programmes.

All of this can make the cost of US graduate programmes difficult to summarise with a simple guideline figure. What follows is a general range, but you should remember that fees for actual programmes may be higher or than the amounts suggested here.

Public universities

Masters fees at public – or ‘state’ – universities in the USA are usually lower than private alternatives, with prices offset by state funding. Public universities also base fees on a student’s residency, with students from out-of-state paying at a higher rate (this also applies to international students).

There’s still plenty of variation in public university fees, but, as a rule, you can expect to pay between $20,000 and $60,000 per year for their Master’s programmes.

Professional programmes

The fees given above refer to typical academic programmes. Fees for professional Master’s programmes in the USA are likely to be higher – particularly in the case of MBA programmes, offered by renowned business schools.

The following American universities have some of the most affordable tuition fees:

The City University of New York (CUNY)
California State University Long Beach
Western Kentucky University
South Texas College.

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Tuition fees at top-ranked universities

Here is a list of tuition fees at top-ranked U.S. universities:

  • Princeton University – average tuition of 44,000 USD/year
  • Harvard University – tuition between 5,500 – 33,000 USD/year
  • The University of Chicago – tuition between 13,500 – 39,500 USD/year
  • Yale University – tuition between 22,000 – 46,000 USD/year
  • Columbia University – tuition between 23,000 – 59,000 USD/year

At these top American universities, some study programmes like Law, International Relations, Visual Arts, MBAs, and others can cost over 60,000 USD/year.

Best universities for master’s degree in the USA

Let’s start with the big one. The Ivy League is probably the most famous university association in the world. Its name is shorthand for academic excellence and student prestige.

The Ivy League members are:

  1. Brown University (established in 1764)
  2. Columbia University (established in 1754)
  3. Cornell University (established in 1865)
  4. Dartmouth College (established in 1769)
  5. Harvard University (established in 1636)
  6. The University of Pennsylvania (established in 1740)
  7. Princeton University (established in 1746)
  8. Yale University (established in 1701)

Seven of these universities pre-date the creation of the USA itself, with their origins in colonial colleges established during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Today the Ivy League is associated with academic renown. It functions similarly to the UK’s Russell Group, or the Australian Group of Eight: an association of a country’s most elite and selective universities.

However, unlike those other groups, the Ivy League doesn’t admit members based on their quality. It doesn’t admit new members at all.

Ivy League universities do have a lot to be proud of (fourteen of their graduates have gone on to be US presidents). They’re also very selective, admitting around 10% of the students who apply to them.

Can I get a USA masters degree online?

Yes, you can get a master’s degree online.

There are many top universities in the United States that have developed competitive models of digital learning and adapted their curricula to online education methods to offer students some of the best distance learning courses possible.

Below are some of the U.S. universities which offer distance-learning Master’s programmes.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

UCLA prides itself on its commitment to provide free access to information, free debate and mutual respect and tolerance. UCLA prides itself with 290 medical research centres and institutes.

New York University

New York University has been innovating in education since 1831 promoting a global vision of the world to its students. NYU has been designed as an institution with a democratic spirit that answers the demands of the American commercial culture.

Johns Hopkins University

John Hopkins University is dedicated to helping the self-development of its students and encouraging the collaboration between them and the university’s faculty leading to discoveries that improve lives.

Boston University

Being one of the largest, non-profit universities in the United States, Boston University managed to develop a reliable online learning environment for higher education.

What are the requirements for a Masters degree in the USA?

Admission to a US graduate programme will require an appropriate undergraduate degree. This should be in a similar field to your Masters, but it may not need to be in the same subject.

Universities will set their minimum requirements, but you’ll normally need to hold a second-class upper-division honour (2-1) or its equivalent. Very selective universities will have much stricter requirements.

Whatever your degree result, it will normally need to be converted into a GPA before it can be used for an American graduate school application.

Apart from your application letter and your undergraduate degree, You may need to submit a full academic transcript as well as academic references and personal statements. If English is not your first language you may also be asked for a language test score.

Academic programmes may also ask you to submit a specific research statement with your application. This is particularly likely if you are applying to a graduate programme with the opportunity to continue to PhD work.

Tips for foreigners who want a Masters Degree from the USA

The USA may have a fairly strict immigration system, but the country welcomes huge numbers of international students each year. Over 900,000 people study abroad in the USA. That’s more than the UK and France combined!

Provided you’re a genuine student, you shouldn’t have any problem gaining a visa for postgraduate study in the USA.

The US Department of State grants two different kinds of student visas:

  • The M-1 visa is for non-academic vocational training programmes.
  • The F-1 visa is for attendance at universities and other higher education institutions.
  • You will need an F-1 visa to study for a Masters in the USA.

F-1 student visa

If you are studying towards an academic qualification conferred by a US institution, you will need an F-1 visa.
This applies even if your time in the US would otherwise be covered under a visa waiver programme or through another existing visa (such as a B visitor visa).

In normal circumstances, an F1 visa will be valid for the duration of your program, as defined by your higher education institution.

Note that the F1 visa is usually only granted to students on full-time programmes.

Application tips for an F-1 student visa.

1) Be accepted to study at a SEVP approved institution – To get a US student visa, you must have successfully applied to a higher education institution approved by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Programme (SEVP).

2) Enrol in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System – This will start once you have been accepted by a SEVP approved institution, but will require the payment of a SEVIS I-901 fee (usually $350 for an F-1 visa application). At this point your institution should also provide you with a Form I-20, confirming your acceptance and student status. You will need to present this at your interview.

3) Complete a Non-immigrant Visa Application online – This will require you to complete Form DS-160 and print its confirmation page ready to present at your interview. At this stage, you will also need to upload a suitable photograph of yourself. Your photo should be in colour, less than six months old and provide a full, unobscured view of your face in front of a white background.

4) Arrange an interview at a US consulate or embassy in your home country – Interviews will usually be required for all applicants aged between 14 and 79. You will need to bring your passport, together with your Form I-20 and the confirmation page of your form DS-160 (see above).

Your interview will be used to confirm that you are entitled to the F-1 visa and that your travel and study intentions are legitimate. In some cases, you may need to provide copies of academic transcripts proving your existing qualifications and academic background, but acceptance at a recognised university should usually be sufficient for this.

Your interviewer may record a digital fingerprint from you – this is a normal security procedure. Once your interview is complete you will be informed about the process and timescale for issuing your F-1 visa.

5) Pay any additional fees – Depending on your nationality, you may need to pay a visa application fee before or at your interview and a visa issuance fee once your visa is approved. If paying for your visa application in advance, you will need to bring the receipt to your interview, above. The embassy or consulate you apply to will be able to provide more information on the requirements and procedure for fee payments.

6) Collect your visa – The timescale for issuing a visa can vary between nationalities and from person to person. In most cases, your documents will either be delivered to you by recorded courier or made available for collection at the embassy or consulate that interviewed you.

Required documents for an F-1 visa application.

  1. Your passport – You should already have this. Or your father might have it. Either way, you need it. Don’t lose it.
  2. Form I-20 – You should get this from your university once you’ve paid the SEVIS I-901 registration fee. It proves that you’ve been accepted as a student in the USA and recorded as such.
  3. Form DS-160 – You complete this online as the first part of your actual visa application. Print out the confirmation page for your interview.
  4. Receipts for fee payments – If you’ve paid a visa application fee before your interview, bring your receipt. It’s a good idea to keep hold of other receipts related to visa fees too.

Things you might also need:

Academic transcripts – You’ve probably already sent these to your university as part of the application for your Masters. Your visa interviewer probably won’t need to see them once you’ve been accepted as a student, but it won’t hurt to keep copies handy.

Proof of financial support – Your interviewer may want to confirm that you can support yourself during your studies. Evidence of relevant scholarships, assistantships or other existing financial resources should demonstrate this.

The following are the normal steps involved in receiving an F1 visa for study in the USA:

Note: Most legitimate students will receive a visa to study in the USA without difficulty.

Individuals with certain criminal convictions may be denied a US visa. This restriction covers prosecutions for drug use, serious crimes against person or property, or periods of imprisonment exceeding five years Bottom of Form

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