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Applying for Grad School.

Hello everybody!

This is an attempt to make the application procedure less frustrating for you than it was for us.

One of the most common questions about studying abroad is "why?". There is no unique answer here. The academic environment, famous professors, groundbreaking research, adequate funding, international colleagues are some reasons. Living in another country is a major reason by itself. Trust us, visiting a country as a tourist is nothing compared to spending a few years there! The fact that you see how "things" can be done differently (from taxes to entertainment) is a horizon-broadening experience.

Enough with that!!! You're not here to be attracted to the States, you're here to learn how you can get there! And get there you will!

When should I start thinking about it you may ask? Some start thinking about it before their first undergraduate class, others do it because they loved their undergrad classes and other because they hate them. However starting the whole mental procedure early is very important. What I mean by "mental procedure" is the whole information-gathering fuss. Once you feel that you might want to study abroad, there are a few things you should do. You should do them even if you're not sure whether or not you want to go to grad school, because it's a nice way to get the information you need in order to decide. The first step is actually what you're doing right now: using the WEB. Phrases like "I'll ask google first" have quite a bit of truth into them. Go to the web-sites of universities you would be interested in and see their academic program. See if it fits your taste and your goals. Furthermore each university has its own Application Guideline section, such as http://web.mit.edu/admissions/.

There are also a number of web-sites that are specifically there to give information about universities. US-news pblishes a list of top universities in each field every year. These would be worth checking out. However, you can also do the ranking yourself. phds.org lets you rank the PhD programs of US universities according to a wide variety of characteristics that you can choose. Finally, a web-site that is specifically developed to help applicants is the Fulbright foundation's web-site www.fulbright.gr. It is important that we emphasize this more. Once you take a look at their web-site, you can actually go to the Fulbright foundation's offices and talk to some experts, who can offer you advice about applications and funding opportunities (Fulbright itself also offers scholarships). However, you should talk to the people you trust and the people who have gone through the same thing you're going: your Professors and former students in your field who are studying abroad. To help you with the latter, we have set up a database containing present and past students in MIT and other Boston universities. You can contact them and ask for advice. However try to be specific, since (as you will soon realize) a graduate student's time is quite limited! You can also address general and specific questions using our forum.

Now it's time to get practical. What do you need to have to apply for grad school? First of all you'll have to go on-line and create a personal "folder", where you will upload your information and at the end pay the application fees (ranging from $60 to $100 in most cases). Going to each Department's web-site will guide you on how to log-in and which of the following documents you will have to upload. The rest you might have to send via surface-mail.


You will have to get a transcript from your department's secretary. There are a few issues here. First of all, give them plenty of time to issue it! A lot of people ask for transcripts and it can get pretty busy around application season. After you have it, you take it to be officially translated. Be careful!!! The people who translate it are not engineers and don't have to know how to translate a course named "dynamic optimization of multivariable functions in curved manifolds with application to spacecraft trajectories" (I'm pretty sure such a course does not exist). However you get the point. The best thing to do is to have translated it yourselves and give your translation to them. They will use it as a guideline and so you will be sure that the technical terms are translated correctly. Of course, when you get your official translation back, give it a look. Mistakes can happen. And by the way, get plenty of transcripts and translations, since you'll apply to more than one university. Since many people apply during their last year and might have missing grades in their transcript, it's OK to include a letter explaining that you will be taking courses in this year, what are they and even what grade you expect to get.

Statement of Purpose (SoP)

Every applicant's nightmare! This is a two-page letter explaining who you are, what you want to do and why you're the person who can do it! Being yourself is really important. Don't try to impress the admissions committee (chances are you can't)! Talk about your research interests, how you chose your field of undergraduate studies and what you hope to gain from your graduate education. Talking about why you are interested in joining the team of a specific university is helpful, so make sure you know who they are and what they're working on. Advice from your Professors as well as from older students is priceless.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

A CV must be short, easy to read and contain all the essential information about you. Don't talk too much and be sure to put your "strong points" first. Taking a look at other students' CV's can give you an idea about the format.

Recommendation Letters

This is one of the most important part of your application. Recommendation letters can give more information about you than cold facts, such as grades. You have to think before Choosing the people to write your Recommendation Letters. First of all you have to be sure that your letter is uniquely yours! Generic letters describing you as "a nice guy who did OK in my class" DO NOT WORK! This means you should choose the Professor who know you best, ideally people you have worked with. A Professor who has himself studied abroad or has written Letters for other students is also a good choice because he knows what admission committees people expect to see in a Recommendation Letter. Finally Professors have lots of responsibilities, so giving them enough time to prepare the Letter will work to your advantage.

Standardized Tests

This is one of the most confusing parts of the application process. Since people from all around the world apply for grad school in the States, different levels of difficulty of different universities mean that the grades relative rather than absolute. In order to have a common measure, standardized tests have been introduced. Let's see them one by one:


This tests basic English knowledge. It is pretty easy, and with adequate preparation you won't have any trouble getting a good grade. It is Internet-based and given all-year round. You should go to www.toefl.org for more information and to book your exam. Be sure to do this early, because testing centers become quite crowded around October and November. In all standardized tests, TIME is of the essence! So be sure to practice before taking the actual exam, so you can feel confident about beating the clock. So how do you prepare for the TOEFL? You can buy a book with sample exams and see how well you do in them. Studying with friends who are also taking the exam with you is very helpful for the Speaking part. If unsure, you can always join a special preparation course. But if that's your decision, do it early.

GRE General:

This has three parts, testing both English as well as basic Mathematical skills. The Verbal part consists of multiple choice question that are quite hard. You will need for example to find synonyms, or relations between words. So it's hard, but the thing is that you don't have to ace it! "Experience" show that scientists and engineers who score around 400/800 or above are pretty safe. The only suggestion that one could provide here, is for one to learn to discover patterns rather than memorize words. The Analytical part is the essay-writing part of the exam. If you are confident with writing in English, you should read some samples and write a few essays yourself. However if you feel that your writing skills are rusty, you should take some time to practice. The Quantitative part is the easy one. It consists of simple multiple choice questions testing simple mathematical skills and common sense. Again, time is an issue. Practice, because you HAVE to ace this one, if you're into science or engineering. As far as preparation is concerned, you can again buy some books with sample exams or join a preparation course. In either way, make sure you start early! The whole experience will be less stressful that way (trust us)!

GRE Subject:

As far as exams are concerned, this is the real thing! Good news is you probably won't need it. Bad news is that as long as you need it you have to be serious about it! It is an almost three-hour long paper-based test, offered three times per year, in October, November and April. It has the following eight areas: Biology, Cell and Molecular Biology Biology Chemistry Computer Science Literature in English Mathematics Physics Psychology It is supposed to test the basic knowledge acquired in a certain area, during one's undergraduate education. There are subjects, such as Physics, where the GRE Subject is required by almost all Physics Departments in the States. Computer Science GRE on the other hand ranges from being required to being ignored. So be sure to read the relevant part of each university's web-site about whether or not you have to take it. If you decide to take it, STUDY!!!

Finally let's see a few things that can make your application stand out. Good grades and graduation on-time are an asset. Good recommendation letters are of paramount importance, especially when aiming at highly competitive universities. Any research or work experience that you may have (whether or not it is in the field you're applying for) shows them that you're not just a bookworm, as does any proven ability to collaborate and communicate effectively as part of a team. In general, show them that you care about your education!

This part of the web-site was made in the aftermath of a Q&A session held at the National Technical University of Athens in December 2009. There about one hundred students listened to our presentations about studying abroad. This session was our way to give back to the greek academic community, our way to re-connect with it. The Fulbright foundation supported this idea and Mr. Tourides came and gave a presentation. Some slides from this event can be found here (for our presentation) and here (for Mr. Tourides' presentation). We plan to continue, improve and extend these sessions and collaborate with other Hellenic Associations in the US for that purpose. This means that we'll be coming soon to a University auditorium near you!

Until then don't forget that we include a forum in our web-site, as a place for students to interact with each other, ask questions, try to give and receive help and in general create a live on-line community, before, during and after the application season.

The best of luck to all of you,

Your friendly neighborhood HSA