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How to select Universities, Graduate Schools for MS in USA ?

The biggest question many aspiring graduate students to the USA face at a point, either before taking GRE/TOEFL or after, is which school to apply to and how to decide upon a few while there are too many options available. I have been through the same journey and below are the key lessons learnt from the entire process, including the ones that I could have done better during my process.

Select Schools based on Standardized Test Scores GRE, TOEFL / IELTS

You need to start your quest for colleges based on your GRE, TOEFL/IELTS scores as these are the one of the primary deciding factors for your admission into any school. I do not deny the point that you might be interested in particular major whose course work is noteworthy at some particular university/school but you also need to see if your standardized tests scores are good enough to apply to that school. In this case where you have specific course interests, make a solid internet search to find the schools offering that major, taken in concern your test scores. This will minimize your options to the first major level. Usually many good schools publish minimum or average acceptance scores for graduate school, which can be found on the schools website.

  • Firstly, shortlist Universities/Schools by filtering on your major of interest.
  • Further shortlist the outcome of the above list based on your GRE, TOEFL/IELTS scores.

Filtering Criteria like Fees, Course Duration, Difficulty of courses

In the list of the colleges you chosen above, look up for the below important criteria and cut your slices of bread for each of those schools and save for further review.

  • Fee per semester
  • Course duration- minimum to maximum
  • Level of difficulty to complete the courses

How to go about Tuition Fees

Fee structure is important to consider as some schools offer by-monthly payment plans, quarter semester and half-semester plans etc. You can always plan your bank loan or any other form of your financial source taking the payment plans the schools are offering into consideration. Remember there are ample schools in the USA with good course work and reasonable tuition fee. So, choose wisely!

Course Duration Decision  

Time is everything in today’s digital world and you cannot miss this parameter while planning for your graduate degree. Many schools offer variable time limits to complete a degree. If you need to finish off early, in few semesters, the number of courses/credit hours you take per semester should be more than the minimum credit hours per each semester.
Course Difficulty: Do not ignore the course difficulty levels as you might not be able to handle more work in a single semester.  The best way to get this information could be to speak to someone at the school, who are taking the course or have done it in the past.  Social media is also a good place to find this info.

Contact some current students of the school through social media and pull good information about fee structure, course duration and course difficulty before coming to any conclusions based on the information from the internet. You may read How to find current international students in US to get some ideas.

Visa Acceptance Rate, Internships, Co-ops, Jobs after Completing Degree

Visa acceptance rate and Job market opportunities at the University/School is an issue which most of the graduate aspirants give a blind eye to. One would end up in low spirits and in discouragement if the VISA rejections occur. I have seen few people applying for VISA 3 or more times and I seriously appreciate their patience and strength in doing so. But why do you want to take a chance and let your school be a reason for your VISA rejection while there are several other factors to be considered for the same?  Check for the VISA acceptance rate of the schools you shortlisted after the above steps and I need not say to choose the schools with high acceptance rate.

Consider the after-graduation job market opportunities for the schools you decided upon. Be it internships during your CPT or full-time jobs during OPT. There is a good job market for certain reputed schools. If you have a prior job experience, this is not a big thing to consider but otherwise educate yourself on this and shortlist your schools. You may read campus placements in US schools

University/ Graduate School Location , Campus Life, Cultures

Above three steps will bring down your list of schools to a fairly low number. Now you can think about the location preferences. Small town, countryside and suburban schools can be chosen if they come under Division 1 and Division 2, which means they have large student bodies and active campus life, with many interest groups and student organizations. Otherwise, schools at such locations would be really boring both academic-wise and activities-wise. You would end up spending time in room, eating home cooked ethnic food, meeting more and more friends from the same country or group and it doesn’t make any difference if you live in any country for such life. If you choose a school which is not in Division 1 or Division 2 with meagerly any student bodies, even though in an urban location, the situation would be same except that you can have lot of activities to do outside the college.

Exposure to different cultures and different people will shape you up into a better person.

Location could also help you gain exposure to job market and most of the cases if you are in an urban location, you need not relocate to a different place during your job search. This might not be a really big issue to consider but one cannot deny it totally too.

Cost of Living for International students in USA

Also cost of living is a criterion to be taken into account as this will decide major of your outdoor activities and entertainments irrespective of the location.

Your lifestyle defines your activities and your cost of living ! 

Contact with people living in the locations you’re interested in is the best way to know the living conditions and expenses of that place.  Read Cost of Living MS in US  $250 or $950

Overall, I think with all the above steps followed, you will have just a handful of schools in your list and I bet you might have gained enough knowledge about the schools in the USA-given you followed above steps doing solid research- that you already know which Schools you want to apply to. Wish you the best for your school selection.

Did I miss anything?  What are your factors for selecting a School ?   Share your thoughts.


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  1. My self swapna priya a pharm d graduate with 76% and ielts score 6.5 . I am imtrested in masters public health in epidemiology. I am thinking of 4 universities to apply but had little comfusion plz any one can help me out.

    1. The university of southern Mississippi
    2.kent state university
    3. Missouri state university
    4. Tulane university

    • Hi Swapna, Now in 2023 I’m also planning for the same(MS in Public health). Could you please help me in this regard? Even small suggestions are invaluable to me.
      Thanks in advance,

  2. Hello Kumar
    It’s always interesting and helpful to read your article. I want to ask you as there are two ranking for an university overall and the other is department ranking. Which one should we follow and why?
    Waiting for your valuable reply.

    • Nitesh,
      It is always good to look at department ranking as you would be studying in that department. Typically, top ranked schools are specifically known for some specific degree and research. For instance, some may be top 10 in MBA rankings, but may not be in top 10 for history or sciences. if you are studying in Sciences or History, your department ranking is important.

  3. I like to know as my employer has been filed an H1B rather waiting for the process at the same time could i apply for higher studies in any country. If i get offer from any university or college can i apply for student visa … or else not… please do suggest me clear on it my frnds, brothers, & sisters.

  4. hie Swetha
    It was a great and helpful article thanks for such a valuable piece of information.I want to ask that there are two ways for admission in universities one is in-state & other-one out-state. By default we are under out-state category is there a way that we can take admission through in-state way. Is there any difference b/w these two categories other then tuition’s.


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