Application timelines and how to go about it

Students should make sure to visit websites of shortlisted institutions to check the admission intakes available

By   |  Monika Setia  |  Published: 21st Mar 2021  12:05 amUpdated: 20th Mar 2021  11:25 pm

In EducationUSA, we started discussing five steps on how to apply for master’s programmes in the United States in one of our recent columns and talked about Step 1 (Research your options) and Step 2 (Finance your studies) in the subsequent articles.

Today, we continue our discussion on these five steps and speak about Step 3: Complete your Application to pursue a master’s degree at US universities. We start by talking about the application timelines.

Academic intakes and application timelines for master’s studies in the Unites States vary by university. Fall and spring semesters are the two major academic intakes. Fall semester starts around mid-August/September, marking the beginning of the academic year. The spring semester, on the other hand, starts around January – in the middle of the academic year. While a few higher education institutions in the United States only offer a fall semester intake, many offer both fall and spring semester intakes. Before students start working on their applications, they should make sure to visit the websites of the shortlisted institutions to check the admission intakes available at these institutions and the corresponding application deadlines.

Master’s programmes at US universities have a few different application deadlines. The regular deadlines for fall intake are typically between October and March, and for spring intake between March to August. Another type of application deadline is the ‘priority’ deadline, for which a student applies earlier than the regular deadline. Priority deadlines are generally between October and November. If a US institution offers funding support, then students should consider applying by the priority deadline to be considered for this financial support.

Aside from fall and/or spring admissions, some US institutions offer rolling admissions throughout the academic cycle. Such institutions have corresponding rolling deadlines for master’s programme admissions.

Each institution in the United States has different deadlines, so it is important to check the university’s website for application deadlines before starting the application. Also, if a student is considering applying by the priority deadline, they should plan well and be ready with their test scores (e.g. GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS) and all components of the application package before the application deadline.

Next week, we will continue to talk about Step 3 and discuss other components related to master’s degree applications at US institutions.


Q. We have heard about community colleges in the United States. We want to send our son to a community college after his 12th standard. Can you please elaborate more on this option!
– Rajagopalan

Ans. A community college is a great cost-saving option for international students. It is important to note that community colleges usually offer a two-year Associates Degree. If a four-year bachelor’s degree is your son’s goal, identifying a community college that has “articulation agreements” with four-year institutions is a wise choice. Articulation agreements usually mean that the community college has an agreement with a four-year university so that the majority of the student’s community college coursework will count towards a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university. Ultimately, a student could complete two years at community college at a lower cost and then transfer to complete the remaining two years for a full bachelor’s degree (otherwise known as a 2+2 program).

Community colleges operate on an ‘open’ admissions policy.  This means anyone who wishes to enroll and meets the minimum entry requirements can do so. Each institution will have its own set of admission requirements, but the minimum usually includes the following:

• Completed application form
• Proof of secondary school completion, usually 12 years of schooling
• Certification of English language proficiency – TOEFL or IELTS
• Evidence of financial support

The English language proficiency requirement is often lower for a community college than it is for a four-year institution.  In addition, if student’s score is a little below the entry requirement, the community college may still admit the student into its English as a Second Language (ESL) program.  Successful completion of all the prescribed ESL courses will open the door to the wider academic world of the community college.

Please note that if the goal is not to pursue a bachelor’s degree after finishing two years of study, it is important for students to think about how they plan to use their Associates Degree, especially since the degree may not be recognised in India.

Q. I plan to pursue my master’s degree in the US. When I went to register for the IELTS exam, there were two test options: Academic and General. Which one should I choose?
– Ashraf

Ans. The International English Language Testing System or IELTS is available in two types: Academic or General Training. The Academic format of IELTS is for individuals who want to study or train in an English-speaking university or institutions of higher education. The General Training format focuses on basic survival skills in a broad social and educational context and is for those who are going to English-speaking countries to do secondary education, work experience, migration, or training programs. If you are applying to US universities, you should take the IELTS Academic.

(The author is the Regional Officer and EducationUSA Adviser at the United States-India Educational Foundation based at the U.S. Consulate General Hyderabad)

Also read:

Cost and potential sources of funding

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