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The Ultimate Guide to Pursuing a Master's Degree in the USA (2024)

This guide covers everything you need to know as an international student pursuing a Master's degree in the US: from program research and admission process to funding options.

Mar 19, 2024
  • Education
  • Student Tips
  • Study Abroad
Master's students in the USA

Master's degree in the US: key info

💰 The cost of studying

Tuition fees for international and out-of-state students in the United States range from $10,000 to over $60,000 per year. This doesn't include living expenses.

Read the full cost breakdown ▼

📋 Scholarships for international students

See more scholarships ▼

✈️ Visa requirements

The most common student visas are F-1 (academic studies) and M-1 (vocational study).

To apply for a US student visa, you'll need to complete the DS-160 form, upload a photo of yourself, submit Form I-20 and pay the $185 application fee.

More on student visas ▼

United States, with its high-quality education system and internationally recognized universities, is a prime destination for international students. The country boasts numerous higher education institutions, offering over hundreds of Master's programs in English across numerous fields.

The academic and social culture of the US is known for its focus on independent research and critical thinking, attracting a large number of international students each year.

Ready to start looking for graduate programs?

Browse thousands of Master's degrees using our free portal!

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What's a Master's degree in the USA?

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The US offers a diverse range of Master's programs, including MA, MSc, and MLA degrees.
  • Master's degree programs in the US are typically 1-2 years in duration, with variations depending on part-time or accelerated study options.

The United States is renowned for its diverse range of Master's programs, cutting-edge technology and research and networking opportunities.

US universities encourage a multidisciplinary approach to education, allowing students to customize their studies to suit their interests and career goals.

  • MA in USA: programs in humanities, social sciences, and fine arts
  • MS in USA: engineering, technology, and natural sciences
  • Master of Liberal Arts (MLA): literature, theater, art and similar subjects

Want to study a MSc in Computer Science in the US? We cover 4 reasons why you should do it.

How long is a Master's degree in the US?

Master's programs in the US are typically one to two years long, depending on the field of study and the structure of the program.

Some programs may also offer part-time or accelerated study options, which affects the overall length of the program.

You can learn more about the factors that impact your Master's degree length in our dedicated article.

Prospective Master's students looking for programs

How to choose a graduate program

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Reflect on personal interests, strengths, and career aspirations.
  • Conduct extensive research on US universities, focusing on curriculum relevance, faculty expertise, program accreditation, and student testimonials.
  • Organize research findings in a detailed list or spreadsheet, including key information.

Step 1: Define your goals

Take some time to reflect on what you are passionate about, where your strengths lie, and what you hope to achieve in your career.

  • Which academic field draws your interest the most?
  • What career outcomes do you expect from your Master's degree in the United States?

Step 2: Research your options

You need to do conduct thorough research on what universities and programs are available to you. Here are some features to look out for:

  • University-industry collaborations: Seek out US universities that maintain partnerships with leading corporations and research institutes. These collaborations can offer invaluable networking opportunities and a head start in your career.
  • Relevance of curriculum: Ensure the program’s curriculum is in line with your career objectives, including possibilities for research or internships that can enhance your practical experience.
  • Faculty expertise: Delve into the achievements and qualifications of the faculty in your chosen field. Consider their research, publications, and the mentorship opportunities they may offer.
  • Program accreditation: Verify the program’s accreditation and look for student testimonials to assess its quality and the reputation it holds in the academic and professional community.

Step 3: Organize your findings

Keep your research organized in a list or spreadsheet, capturing the essential details of potential universities and their Master's programs:

  • Tuition fees
  • Scholarship opportunities: Record any available financial aid and scholarship options to support your studies.
  • Application deadlines
  • Application requirements: Note the specifics such as language proficiency tests (e.g., TOEFL, IELTS), course prerequisites, and any specific degree requirements.
  • Program highlights: Identify any unique courses, state-of-the-art facilities, evaluation methods, and chances for internships or study abroad exchanges.
  • Application fees: If applicable.

How to apply for a Master's degree in the USA

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Prepare required documents such as academic transcripts, degree equivalence, personal statements, letters of recommendation, resume, and proof of English language proficiency.
  • Ensure documents are in English or officially translated.
  • Tailor your applications to specific programs and faculty.

Step 1: Gather documents

You should prepare several crucial documents. While requirements might differ by institution, international students aiming to study in the U.S. should be ready with the following essential documents:

  • Academic transcripts: Obtain official transcripts from your undergraduate education, detailing your courses and grades.
  • Degree equivalence: You'll need a degree equivalent to a U.S. Bachelor's degree to apply for Master's studies.
  • Personal statement: Draft a compelling personal statement that highlights your motivation and why you are a good fit for the Master's program in the U.S.
  • Letters of recommendation:
    • Give your referees ample time to write them.
    • Provide them with details about the specific program or major you're applying for.
  • Academic CV/resume: Assemble a detailed CV that includes your educational history, work experience, research initiatives, publications, certifications, and additional skills pertinent to the Master's program.
  • Proof of language proficiency:
    • Non-native English speakers might need to furnish evidence of English language proficiency.
    • TOEFL or IELTS scores are widely accepted.
    • Verify the language prerequisites and minimum scores needed for your selected program.

💡 PRO TIPS

Specific entry requirements: Check out what documents are necessary for Master's applications in the U.S. based on your country of origin.

Official translations: If your documents are not in English, you'll likely need a certified translation, endorsed by a notary.

Be concise: Keep your resume and personal statement limited to one page each, unless specified otherwise.

Tailor your application: Mention specific faculty members, research projects, or university features that match your interests and aspirations.

Keep asking "So what?": This ensures that every detail you include emphasizes your suitability and dedication to the program.

Step 2: Start applying to universities

Use the right application portal

For Master's applications in the US, it's essential to use the appropriate online application system:

  • Most US universities have their application portals or utilize common platforms like the Common App for graduate programs. Research each institution's preferred application method.

Don't forget the deadlines!

U.S. universities have specific deadlines for Master's program applications.

  • Fall semester (starts in August/September): Applications often close around December or January.
  • Spring semester (starts in January): Deadlines can be around October.

Note the exact deadlines for the universities you're interested in.

US student visa requirements

US student visa requirements

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • F-1 and M-1 are the most common international student visas.
  • To apply for a visa, you'll need a completed DS-160 form, a photo, Form I-20, and payment of the $185 application fee.
  • There are a lot of restrictions for international students who want to work during their studies.

Once you've been accepted to your desired university, you'll have to apply for a US Student Visa. The first step is to know what visa you should apply for.

Know your visa type

  • F-1 visas are for full-time international students in academic studies.
  • M-1 visas are for students pursuing vocational studies.
  • J-1 visa is for students taking part in work-and-study-based exchange programs.

Different visas have different requirements. If you need help deciding what visa to apply for, or how to do it, reach out to your local U.S. embassy.


M-1 and F-1 visa requirements:

Look at the full list of requirements for M-1 and F-1 visa.

Things to keep in mind:

  • If you plan on working while studying, you should keep in mind that there are many limitations on where and how long you can work.
    • F-1 visa holders can't work off-campus in the first year, and can only work on-campus under certain circumstances. In your second year, you can mostly work in jobs that relate to your academic studies.
    • M-1 students can do practical training after their studies.
  • Even though you can submit your application up to a year before your program starts, you won't be able to enter the United States on your student visa more than 30 days before the program start date.
    • To enter the country ahead of time, you must apply for a Visitor (B) Visa.


J-1 visa

J-1 visa has a different set of requirements from the other two visas.

Things to note:

  • If you want to work outside of your program of study, you will have to contact your responsible officer to find out if you qualify.
  • You won't be able to enter the United States on your student visa more than 30 days before the program start date.
    • To enter the country ahead of time, you must apply for a Visitor (B) Visa.

How much is a Master's degree in the USA?

Tuition fees range from $5,000 to $50,000 per year, but international fees for graduate school tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average graduate student paid $19,749 per year in tuition and fees in the 2020/21 academic year.

Higher education in the United States is among the best - and among the most expensive ones.

The cost of your Master's degree depends on:

  • Your citizenship (international students pay roughly double than in-state domestic students)
  • Whether you're studying at a community college, or at public or private university
  • If you're studying at a top-ranking university or not
  • The availability of scholarships and other financial aid options

Forbes Advisor writes:

As of 2020, 73% of postsecondary students were enrolled in public institutions. Private, nonprofit institutions enrolled 22% of college students, and private, for-profit institutions held only 5% of the postsecondary population.

Keep in mind that public schools charge different rates to in-state and out-of-state domestic students.

The cost of living in the USA

United States is an expensive country to live in, and especially so for international students.

The exact amount you'll need varies between cities and states, so you should research the specific living costs of your study destination. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Accommodation costs
  • Transit costs
  • Health insurance
  • Food
  • General life expenses

Scholarships for Master's degrees in the US

You can find dozens of scholarships for international Master's students in the US in our free Master's Scholarship Directory. Here are two notable scholarships:

🎓 Graduate Study in the USA Scholarship

$5,000 scholarship for graduate studies in the United States

🌎 Go Global MBA Scholarship

$7,000 scholarship for MBA studies anywhere in the world, including the US


Governmental scholarships

The United States spends billions on scholarships every year. Here are a few governmental scholarships you can apply for as an international student:

  • The Fulbright Scholar Program - Scholarship program provides various types of financial support to U.S. and non-US “visiting” scholars. The program is funded by the government of the United States
  • Peace Fellowship - Rotary International sponsors fellowships for international students pursuing Master's degrees in fields related to peace and conflict resolution
  • American Association of University Women (AAUW) International Fellowship - Provides financial support to international women pursuing Master's degrees (up to $50,000)

Careers in the USA: your opportunities after a Master's

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The USA has many opportunities for continuing your education or pursuing a career in ndustry
  • Students with F-1 visas can apply for the Optional Practical Training program and stay in the USA for up to 12 months
  • STEM graduates can apply for a 24-month extension

After getting a Master's degree in the USA, you'll have many career options available to you. Here are some potential paths you can choose from:

Continue your education

The USA has a lot to offer if you want to pursue a PhD. With a growing demand for high-quality research, the United States spent $885 billion on Research and Development in 2022.

A PhD is very valuable to employers, particularly in fields like engineering, science, and technology. Moreover, a Doctorate degree can significantly boost your salary. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings for PhDs are 25% higher than for Master's degree holders.

Pursue an industry career

Many industries require the expertise and specialized knowledge gained through a Master's degree. The demand for medical professionals, in particular, is growing at a rapid rate:

  • Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners (median annual wage of $125,900) are projected to have 38% employment growth with about 29,200 openings each year
  • Physician Assistants (median annual wage of $126,010) have a 27% projected employment growth, and about 12,200 openings each year

Other fields, like IT, finance, or marketing, will welcome you with open arms as well.

Visa options after graduation

  • The OPT program for F-1 visa holders enables students to gain employment within a year after completing their Master's degree. If you are authorized for post-completion OPT, you must work at least 20 hours per week.
  • The STEM extension of this program allows for an additional 24 months' stay in the USA for STEM field graduates.
Keystone Team

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The Keystone Team is comprised of experienced educators and advisors dedicated to providing valuable resources and advice to students all over the world.

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