Embarking on a graduate program in a new country can be both exhilarating and challenging. International students, in particular, face unique hurdles as they pursue their academic dreams. SPSP Student Committee Past-Chair, Stylianos Syropoulos, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Boston College and shares his experiences as an international graduate student through a new SPSP featured resource, Insights and Advice for International Students. This guide shares Stylianos' experiences and aims to provide invaluable insights and practical solutions for international graduate students stepping into the world of social or personality psychology doctoral programs in the United States.

Stylianos delves into the intricacies faced by international students when applying for graduate programs in the United States. Important themes include financial barriers, the U.S. immigration process, and embracing cultural diversity.

Overcoming Financial Barriers

In the quest for financial support, international students can explore various avenues. Universities often have pools of funds available for international students, and persistence in applying can yield results. Additionally, small grants offered by professional organizations are worth pursuing. These channels require a proactive and thorough approach, but can be a reliable funding source.

Simplifying the Immigration Maze

Navigating the U.S. immigration process requires strategic planning and careful documentation. Keeping track of critical dates like visa, passport, and I-20 form renewals is essential. Maintaining all I-20 and I-94 forms and tax documents is also crucial for future immigration steps. Students should familiarize themselves with the regulations surrounding Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) to maximize their work experience in the U.S. Consulting with one's country's consulate or embassy can provide tailored assistance for unique issues.

Embracing Cultural Diversity

Adapting to a new cultural environment involves actively seeking connections and community. Regular communication with family and friends back home offers emotional support, while engaging in university life through student associations and departmental events helps build a new support network. Participating in cultural and religious groups can also provide a sense of belonging and ease the cultural adjustment process.

A Journey of Growth and Opportunity

As an international student, you embark on an enriching journey filled with growth, learning, and unique cultural experiences. These explorations are part of a larger adventure that will shape you professionally and personally. With an open heart and a determined spirit, embrace these opportunities and lean on the help of SPSP resources, such as Stylianos' Insights and Advice for International Students, additional SPSP International Resources and SPSP Graduate Student Development Resources

International Student Resources

Stylianos discusses that universities typically have dedicated portals listing funding opportunities and recommends checking these regularly. Social and personality psychology professional societies also list grants and awards on their websites. For immigration-related information, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website is a comprehensive resource. Additionally, university international offices often organize programs and events for cultural exchange and support, which can be very beneficial. The key to finding the right school is to research and consider your interests and goals. Start your search early, as the graduate application process can be time-consuming, and we recommend that you start researching and preparing 12-18 months in advance, giving yourself ample time to gather the necessary information and write a stellar personal essay. Some institutions may require ESL standardized tests or require your transcripts to be translated if they are not in English. During the process, connecting with alumni and faculty will help build professional connections and can be a great way to learn more about your program of interest. Stay organized by knowing essential dates and deadlines, maintaining all immigration documentation, familiarizing yourself with work authorizations, and diligently consult your consulate or embassy for questions unique to your situation.

Here are some resource links to help you on your journey:

  1. U.S. Department of State - Student Visa
  2. APAGS Student Resources for International Students
  3. APA International Programs Resources
  4. EducationUSA - Financial Aid for International Students
  5. College Board - International Student Admission Requirements
  6. U.S. News & World Report - Studying in the United States

For additional expert advice from the SPSP member community on international student graduate applications, check out this two-part series from prior SPSP's SPSPotlight newsletter feature articles:

  1. Expert Advice on Applying to Doctoral and Postdoc Programs for Students from Underrepresented Groups (Part One)
  2. Expert Advice on Applying to Doctoral and Postdoctoral Programs for Students from Underrepresented Groups (Part Two)

The world of personality and social psychology in the United States is as rewarding as it is challenging. By staying connected and utilizing available SPSP graduate student resources, your journey is set to be a vibrant and enriching experience.

Good luck!