Those were the words that greeted my parents on the morning of March 16, when I told them of my acceptance into a master’s degree program at Yale University. Relatives and close friends were anxiously awaiting the results of my application into the Ivy League university. I remember being so tense and lost while waiting for the results: it was a grueling 60 days!
The fall semester is about to start and I’m preparing to leave for the United States. I’ve learned a whole bunch these past months going through countless forms, visa applications and the like. Allow me to share my insights for those considering studies in the US.
1. Don’t do it for the prestige.
Please don’t go to study in the US if your only motivation is prestige. I must confess that I myself fall for this temptation sometimes. Yale is academically known as one of the best in the entire world, developing profound scholarly research in areas that range from law to drama.
But, remember that with great power comes great responsibility. With great power comes a greater moral expectation to use it for the good. So, I believe that this whole idea of how you’re going to use your US education in the future is an apt area for reflection. But don’t worry, you don’t need to have all the answers now. You can figure out your whys as you go through your journey, making full use of the opportunities you have in the present.
2. Plan a year ahead.
When I say one year, I literally mean one year—or even more! In the Philippines, senior high students take their college entrance exams around September then start college around August of the following year. It takes that long. Same idea for Filipinos who want to study in the US.
As a starting point, narrow down your list to a few universities you want to apply to. Then check the requirements of the program/s you intend to pursue. Note that different universities and even different programs within the same university may have different requirements. Also, consider the geographic location of the university. For example, I think it snows heavily in New Haven, Connecticut, where Yale is located. But it might not snow in Texas or Louisiana in the south.
In my case, all that my program at Yale required were college transcripts, an updated curriculum vitae, and such. It wasn’t too difficult. But others might require you to take various exams, submit proof of English proficiency, and even present your intended research plans for doctorate applicants. So, plan ahead!
3. Start building your profile several years ahead.
By this, I mean join extracurricular activities, sports and the like during high school. Every bit of experience will count. Polish your skills in different languages. In the Ivy League level—Yale, Harvard and University of Pennsylvania, etc.—what will help you get accepted is your uniqueness, not just your grades. Many can get high grades, but not everyone has uniqueness!
4. Keep confident.
Once you’ve been accepted into your desired school or program, own it! In the months from your acceptance to you actually starting the program, you may doubt yourself. You may feel that you aren’t worth it. I’ve absolutely been in that spot even after my acceptance to Yale. But, own your decision and pursue it! Don’t let your mind tell you that you aren’t capable.
5. Consider every possibility.
This is incredibly important especially because of COVID-19. Have contingencies for visa appointment backlogs (which might delay your entry to the US), possible COVID-19 exposure, flight cancellations and such. Again, plan ahead.
6. Look for a student job.
If you hold an F-1 visa, which is a student visa, you’ll be eligible to seek employment within the confines of your university. It seems to be a norm that students in the US have jobs to support themselves, such as when buying food, paying for laundry and the like.
In my case, I was able to secure a hire at Yale’s world-renowned School of Music!
7. Follow the Facebook page of the US Embassy in the Philippines.
It’s always great to be informed about general developments posted by the US Embassy here in the Philippines. You might also want to follow EducationUSA Philippines on Facebook. According to their page, they are “the official, trusted source of information about US higher education based in the Public Affairs Section of the US Embassy.” I was able to attend several virtual events with them, which were very useful.
8. Remember your home country.
And lastly, while the US may welcome you for a period of time for the purpose of your studies, do remember that you have a country to go home to. Wherever you go after you graduate, remember your Filipino roots. If you’re Catholic, I do encourage you to remember your Catholic religion or rediscover it once again if you’ve lapsed. It’s the “faith of our fathers.”
Oftentimes, you’ll find Filipinos filling the Catholic churches abroad. You might just get a taste of home!
I know that this may seem overwhelming. There really is a lot to prepare for. But take everything one step at a time. Breathe and you’ll be fine! —CONTRIBUTED
The author is a full-scholar graduate student at Yale University. Email him at [email protected]