When you choose to apply to US Universities for studying Masters (MS/MBA) or even PhD program, depending on the time of graduation and when you take GRE and TOEFL, you are often confused on what term to apply… either to apply for Fall or Spring. There are some misconceptions among students too about admissions and visas like : “ Is it easy to get admission in Spring ? Will visa stamping be easier in Spring ? Many visas get rejected in Fall ? , etc”. This article will focus on some of the advantages of fall and when is it advisable to apply either Fall or Spring.
Before we jump in, we should understand the academic year, fall, spring and summer terms in US schools.
Academic Year – Fall, Spring and Summer Term
One of the most important things for admission are getting funding of any sort. First we need to understand academic year concept, when the terms start and end. For instance, in India, typically for High School or 12th grade, it starts anywhere between July or August and ends anywhere between March or May next year. Of course, it varies by country. The same concept applies to Masters or Bachelors program in US Universities. The academic year starts in August/September and ends in May for most of the schools. Summer is optional and many students end up working in internships or in summer jobs of any kind to earn some money for school.
- Fall Term : Starts in August – Ends in December
- Spring Term : Starts in January – Ends in May
- Summer Term : Starts in June – Ends in August.
Scholarships, Fellowships, Assistantships (TA, RA, GA)
Most of the scholarships, Fellowships, Teaching assistantships(TA) and Research Assistantships(RA) are given to students for one academic year. It may vary for TA, RA and GAs based on the offering of classes, but most of the Scholarships and Fellowships for sure are awarded in fall for one year. (You may read What are TA, RA, GA and their Funding ). What does that mean ? There will be less funding options in Spring available in universities. One more logical thing, most of the students start their college in Fall and Graduate in Spring. From TA, RA and GAs perspective, there is a high chance of senior students graduating and you have more opportunities for funding. Fundamentally, most of the students try to continue in the regular academic year schedule that they are used to since high school unless they mess up something or take additional time or break for specific reasons.
Course Offerings – Introduction vs Advanced
Another important thing to consider is regarding course offerings in Fall vs. Spring. In general, most of the classes that are offered in Fall are prerequisites for advanced courses offered in Spring. For instance, you may have “Introduction to Data Structures” in Fall and “Advanced Data Structures” would be offered in Spring and have the one in Fall as prerequisite. The basic idea is that class schedules are planned with a progression of starting in Fall and continuing with the course work in Spring. Most of these Fall classes are offered once in an year and they have set schedules like this particular course will be in Fall and others will be only offered in Spring. If you apply for Spring and come to US, you have a disadvantage in choosing your classes. You may not be following the usual University class schedule plan. One caveat is that this pretty much depends on school’s number of professors and their offerings.
Class students’ Composition, Team projects
Students around you in the class maybe an important thing to consider as well. If you are a new student starting in Spring, the group of students who may be with you in classes, are very likely one semester ahead of you as they would have started in Fall as per general academic year cycle. You may be at disadvantage, when choosing students for group projects, because students in Fall would already have their group project teams selected and most of them tend to stick to their groups, if there is bond established. Of course, there is no hard set rule, it is just a flexibility thing to have your own group. Logically, if you know the people and team you worked with, you prefer to work with those students in rest of the class projects too right ?
Student Organizations and Involvement
If you like to be part of any student organizations on campus, Fall is when most of the recruiting for the student organizations is done. Many organizations plan their activities for an academic year with events kick off starting in Fall. Also, if you plan to run for any position like President or Treasure in an organization, Elections for organizations happen typically at the end of Spring, so that new leaders are ready for fall. If you are starting in Spring, you do not know how the organizations work; people in student organization do not know you as a person; you may have hard time winning the election because of lack of network in the organization. You may read 8 reasons why you should join Student Organizations
On Campus Jobs Availability Schools
Most of the on campus jobs are filled in Fall, due to the fact that most of the students leave the University by graduating in Summer or Spring. Also, new positions may be available due to expansion of any facilities that kick off in Fall. Read How to get On-Campus Job in US Schools
Finding Summer Internships
Summer internships chances are more favorable for students who come to US in fall because they would have completed half of their coursework and have enough qualifications. You know your professors better and they can give you better recommendations. If you come in Fall, you get to know the system well in US, network by joining few student organizations and increase your chances for Summer internships. You will have a good resume too because you have lot of things of class work, leadership and volunteering skills you can add to make your resume stronger. Also, check Working CPT vs OPT
Weather if you plan to attend schools in Northern States:
This may not be a big deal, but if you are coming from a warm country with 70 – 80 F ( 21 C to 27 Celsius), it would be a challenge to adjust to the cold temperatures in Northern states immediately with Snow and freezing temperatures of -20 F to 20 F ( -29 C to – 6 Celsius ). This may not necessarily apply for Southern states. Advantage of Fall is that it starts off with less cold climate and then gets cold, so you get used to it.
What if you get admission for Spring only – Is it really so BAD ?
No, not really. All the stuff said above, are the advantages of applying for Fall. But, for some reason, you had to take a break or you could not come to US for Fall, you should NOT waste another 7 – 8 Months of your career, just for these advantages. Some of these may be nice to have, but not worth wasting time. The goal of my explanation is for all of those who have a choice to plan ahead of time to apply for Fall and come to US for Fall. If you miss Fall for some reason, do not worry. There are always chances and you have to work a little smarter and harder to get the opportunities.
What do you think? Fall or Spring ? Your experience ?