Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Is admission/funding to US public graduate schools harder for international student?

  1. Sep 25, 2007 #1

    I am a Korean(South) citizen finishing my undergraduate degree in Canada and planning to apply to US graduate schools. I heard that public gradaute schools are more stringent towards admitting international student because amount of funding is less available compared to domestic student (due to more expensive tuition for international student etc.). Is this true?
    Then should I apply to more private grad schools than public schools to increase my chances?

    Btw, my area of interest is semiconductor physics and devices so I will apply to ECE, MSE, or physics department depending on universities.

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 25, 2007 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    "Funding" is only an issue if you wish to obtain some form of assistantship as your criteria for acceptance. If you are paying your own way, then if you qualify, many schools will accept you. For many schools, most international students are initially admitted without any financial support from the school.

  4. Sep 25, 2007 #3
    Public Grad School vs. Private Grad School

    Sorry I wasn't quite clear in my original post. I wanted to ask if there is a difference in funding/admission preference in public and private graduate schools for international applicants.
  5. Sep 25, 2007 #4
    Does anyone know how widespread it is for graduate schools to set a "quota" on international graduate school applicants? Or even if it's not a quota, how often they set higher minimum grades / GRE scores for admission?

    I talked to UVa and Stony Brook and they say that they don't judge international applicants differently. But the websites of UColorado-Boulder and UT Austin clearly say that they do.

    So I'm wondering whether I should be prepared to get a 990 on the GRE Physics or forget about applying to any top 50 school, just because I was born on the wrong side of the border? (I'm a Canadian (Univ. of Toronto) and therefore need a "visa" like any other international) :(

    Do you know of which schools discriminate against non-U.S. citizens and which don't?
  6. Sep 25, 2007 #5
    I don't know about admissions practices or quotas, but foreign students tend to make up a damn high percentage of many graduate-level physics programs. Funding...some sources won't be available to you (particularly most government-sponsored programs, for obvious reasons). But there are many different sources of graduate funding, so you'll probably just end up with a TA/RA or private fellowship instead. It can't hurt to bring your own funding - but many places will still be able to offer you something, international status notwithstanding.

    One issue America is trying to address is actually the *high* number of international students. But this is more about trying to see why there aren't more domestic candidates and what we can do to get more of our students into the sciences. This takes the form of government programs and subsidies, physics education research (with corresponding programs in other fields), et cetera. I think this weighs more in your favor than against you - we just don't have enough good students applying to graduate programs here to fill all the space available (with much work being done as to the causes and how to interpret it), so there are plenty of slots for you. You're more likely to have to beat out other international students than worry about American students.
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2007
  7. Sep 25, 2007 #6
    I think the point is that these are public institutions that have ostensibly been funded by the taxes of the parents of a naturalized student for years (22 years in most cases), less for those recently naturalized.

    In addition, naturalized students who take advantage of the subsidized education afforded by public universities are more likely to stay in the country and contribute to the economy of the nation than resident aliens, who are prone to return to their country of origin.

    You're free to try your hand at any of a number of private institutions that I'm sure couldn't care less about your country of origin, but I don't think it's unreasonable for a nation's public institutions to cater more to it citizens. That's not to say that I think public institutions should exclude international students, quite the contrary. I just believe that there should be a certain percentage of spaces set aside for citizens.
  8. Sep 26, 2007 #7
    Is it easier for international students to be admitted into Colleges(Us) in Europe, for instance Germany or the UK?
    And funding????

    All three countries have almost the same quality of studies and research, don't they?
  9. Sep 26, 2007 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Public or State schools, due to its funding nature, will make preferences for in-state students, i.e. students/families whose official residences are within the state of that school. This preferences can be in the form of the minimum number of in-state students accepted and/or lower tuition and fees. For most state schools, out-of-state students are considered in the same manner as international students (unless the school has some reciprocity agreement with one or more other US states).

    For most private schools, unless there's some agreement or provisions with the state or federal funding agency, all applicants are treated the same way without any quota.

    The caveat here is that this issue can vary from school to school within the same state, and even throughout the US. This is one one should never, ever apply only to one school, or only schools within just one state, or the same TYPE of schools.

    Last edited: Sep 26, 2007
  10. Sep 26, 2007 #9
    A note from personal experience and research,

    Most physics graduate departments rely heavily on grad students to fill up TA slots. Foreign students often perform very poorly in these positions, even if their English is not too terrible. I've heard many people say in hushed voices that they want more native students for just this reason.

    However, I don't think that actually affects foreign applicants much. The number of native students applying to physics grad programs is fairly small in all areas except maybe astrophysics. Departments can wish all they want; to fill up the ranks, they always turn to foreign students in the end.
  11. Sep 26, 2007 #10


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    I agree with you on this, on a personal level. I'm from Asia, and I can tell you I'll much prefer a local TA explaining things to me compared to a foreign one. It's just that local TAs understand our lingo, language and prior high school education better than foreign ones can.
  12. Oct 1, 2007 #11
    The thing is that I'm from Canada

    Our university system is like the U.S.'s: unlike most schools in Europe/Asia, we don't just take hard science courses, we are forced to take a variety of courses outside our major

    We have a similar high school system (except that there isn't an emphasis on sports)

    We have the same culture, language and even slang as the U.S.

    Yet are Canadian applicants still thrown into the "international applicants" pile to compete with the GRE-990-ers for the international quota spots?
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2007
  13. Oct 1, 2007 #12
    International isn't about how you bastardize your English, it's about if you pay taxes (more importantly at college age, whether your parents do...and whether we can statistically expect you to stick around and pay taxes as a high-wage college graduate).
  14. Oct 1, 2007 #13
    I wouldn't spend my time worrying about this. If you're a good student you'll get into a good school somewhere. Don't waste money applying at a university if you can't find a prospective supervisor who is willing to fund you fully.

    I did my undergrad in Canada and most of my friends ended up going to grad school in the US. Yes, my friend who got in the 99th percentile on the GRE went to an ivy league school, but so did my friend who got in the 74th.

    At one of the US schools where I was accepted for a PhD I actually talked to an American professor who admitted a REVERSE bias towards Canadian students because they were usually better prepared than the Americans! (He qualified this by saying this was a general statement and that the really top US schools produced excellent undergrads).

    The chair of the graduate admissions committee where I did my undergrad in Canada once remarked gloomily that it was often hard to distinguish which candidates applying from China were mediocre and which were really good - the students had special prep classes for the physics GRE, so their scores were all high. Meanwhile, none of the Chinese students typically had research experience and it was hard to tell from the references how well a student worked with others.

    Although there is good research happening in the UK, it really only makes financial sense to go there if you can get a hard-to-get scholarship. Several of my friends investigated the possibility of doing graduate work in the UK, but all of them backed off when they realized that they would have to pay to do their PhD. British universities have only recently started to wake up to the fact that other countries are enticing away foreign students by providing better financial support:


    I recently moved to the Netherlands and I can't understand why foreign students aren't climbing over one another to do PhDs here. There is excellent science going on and the universities and funding agencies treat PhD candidates like human beings who are undertaking valuable training (instead of like herds of lemmings which need to have their weakest ranks culled off). One of my friends is doing a PhD at one of the Max Planck institutes in Germany and he is also enjoying the lively research environment there. The graduate programs in the sciences in Germany and in the Netherlands are all in English.

    I also have experience at universities in NZ and Australia. My impression is the physics departments there do not have high expectations of the students in terms of publishing and how far they will go in physics careers (as compared to other universities around the world which I or my friends have spent time at). The pay at universities in Canada, the US, NZ, NL and Germany is comparable.

    Of course, the biggest factors in where you go to school always wind up being the supervisor and the project - even middling schools have a few people doing great research.
  15. Oct 1, 2007 #14
    When you say PhD, do you mean a research-based PhD (i.e. 3 years) or like in the US where a PhD generally includes a MS (as in it takes 5 years). I have looked into TU Delft in the Netherlands as well as Stuttgart in Germany and it seems that you can only apply for a MS if you are coming right out of undergrad (not direct to PhD). Do students usually continue at the same university for a PhD? Also it seemed as if Delft in particular did not seem to provide much, if any, funding at the MS level. Also, it seemed like you have to prove when applying that you can support yourself for an entire year (and they do not want you to work). I am very interested in graduate school in Europe but the financial hurdles seem almost too great. Am I missing something?
  16. Oct 1, 2007 #15
    I am from Asia, and if I was given the chance to go to grad school, should it be the US, Canada, or Europe?
  17. Oct 2, 2007 #16
    The way the Dutch and German systems work is that students must complete an MSc (which consists of coursework and a project/thesis - and for which you are student who pays tution) before they can start a PhD. This is because a Dutch MSc is more closely tied to the undergraduate program than to the PhD program. You've made a good point, which is that it's not cost effective to do a masters in physics in the Netherlands. However, once you have an MSc, doing a Dutch PhD becomes an attractive and internationally competitive option.
  18. Oct 2, 2007 #17
    OK, thanks for the response. That is what it seemed like. I suppose it just seems easier to do graduate work in the US since you generally apply for PhD programs after getting your B.S. It appears that most of the "better" schools do not even offer a terminal M.S. degree in physics. The prospect of being able to support oneself in another country while paying for tuition for two years while not working is quite daunting, compared to the funding levels normally found in the US.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook