US universities
Planning to attend graduate school in the US this fall? Here’s how you can stand out in the admissions process. Source: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

US universities have been losing their lustre over the past few years, no thanks to factors such as pandemic-related travel restrictions, the Trump administration’s unfriendly immigration policies and tightening of post-study work visa rules. The Biden-Harris administration, however, could reverse the perceptions of the US internationally with less restrictive immigration policies. 

Echoing this on India Today, Pavithra Srinivasan, Stanford alumna and Galvanize Test Prep founder, said admissions for the fall 2021 semester in graduate schools in the US is expected to be competitive for incoming Indian international students due to friendlier immigration policies, COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, and a growing need for STEM graduates in the US. So, how can international students remain competitive for admissions into US universities in fall 2021? 

Apply to more US universities

If you get into a US university in 2021, it could pay to cast your net wide. Srinivasan recommends students to shortlist up to 50% “safe” university applications for fall 2021 and to apply to more universities if their budget permits. “Applicants generally classify their universities as ambitious, moderate, and safe. Safe universities are ones where students can assume an 80% or higher chance of getting admitted based on their profiles and test scores,” he said. This is in contrast to the pre-pandemic days when students could shortlist an equal number of ambitious, moderate and safe universities.

Write a compelling Statement of Purpose

Spend some time carving out your Statement of Purpose (SOP) — or the long essay applicants send to the admissions committee to convince them why they belong in a particular programme — to ensure that it’s persuasive to the admissions committee. “Many students begin their SOP right before they need to submit their application. This is a mistake as a persuasive SOP can help make your case to the admissions team about why you are the right choice for their university,” he explained. Some tips for writing a good SOP include clearly articulating your interests and goals, including why you’re a good fit, demonstrating your past experience and success by examples, and keeping it concise. 

Take standardised tests

COVID-19 has meant many US universities have decided to go test optional for common entrance exams, such as the SAT, GMAT and GRE, although students can still submit them. This means that many institutions are focusing on other parts of an applicant’s profile.  Srinivasan notes that getting a good score on your standardised test can demonstrate  strong aptitude for graduate studies abroad, which makes for a compelling reason to take the test anyway even if it’s optional. “For decades now, GRE scores have served as an equaliser to help compare international student applications where there may be great variance based on their home countries. Any students unsatisfied with their score can always choose not to report it to universities where the GRE is waived,” he opined.