International Graduate Student Life: What Is It Like Living and Studying in the US?

August 31, 2023 5 min read Liaison

Discover what international graduate student life in the US looks like and what you can expect.

Key Takeaways

Some students experience culture shock and need time to adjust to a new lifestyle.

You may also need to adjust to different learning and teaching styles as well as using English throughout the day.

Graduate studies require more time and dedication than undergrad, so you'll need to set aside plenty of time to go through course materials, do assignments, and study.

If you plan to work, keep in mind that you’ll need a work visa that authorizes your employment.

On campus, there are various seminars and workshops to attend and groups to join that will help you adjust and build friendships.

If you don't have a scholarship or fellowship, apply for campus assistantships.


Did you know there were almost 950,000 international students in U.S. colleges and universities in 2021/2022? For five years in a row before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were more than a million international students.

If you come to the United States to experience international graduate student life, you'll have an amazing academic journey. Upon completing graduate studies, you will have gained skills and expertise that will help you advance in your career.

In this article, we discuss what the life of a graduate student entails in the US, the challenges international students face, and the resources you'll have.

What is Grad School Like?

Compared to undergraduate studies, you'll have to set aside more time and energy in order to finish the program. Many students face similar challenges, and they often overcome them during the first year.

In most programs, no matter the specialization and type of degree, you'll focus on research, critical thinking, and problem-solving. You'll likely have fewer courses per year, but they will be more challenging. In the final year, you'll get a mentor and have to write a thesis on your chosen topic.

Graduate Student Life: Important Things You Should Consider

The experiences of international students in the USA can vary depending on their background, chosen programs, geographic location, and individual experiences.

Adjusting to Life in the USA

It's common for international students to experience culture shock as they adjust to a new culture, lifestyle, customs, and food. Besides these differences, you may feel isolated, especially if you have no relatives in the United States. Also, you should get used to using English throughout the day.

Graduate programs are generally more demanding than undergraduate studies. As an international student, you may have to adapt to new teaching and learning styles.

Time Management

No matter which graduate program you choose (master's, doctoral, or professional degree), you'll have to learn to manage time efficiently.

Compared to undergraduate studies, graduate school programs usually require you to take fewer courses, but you’ll need to spend more time on them. Depending on which academic studies you pursue, you'll have to set aside time for reading materials and completing assignments. In some graduate programs, you'll also have practical work in research labs or fieldwork, which can take a lot of your time.

To have a smoother grad school experience, you should learn to manage your time properly. Create a schedule with all the recurring tasks and responsibilities you might have. If you start working at your graduate school, you'll have to juggle between work and studying. In addition to managing your time wisely, you need to pay attention to your mental health. Be sure to leave time in your schedule to get enough rest and take care of your own well-being.


Some international students face financial challenges, including having enough money for tuition, living expenses, administrative fees, and healthcare costs. Unlike US citizens with a Social Security number who can apply for federal student aid, international students often must rely on their personal savings and family assistance.

You should fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form even though you cannot apply for federal aid or loans. Some schools may require your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for scholarships, fellowships, or assistantships, which can help you begin to build a professional network in academic circles.


Usually, international students live in campus dormitories and shared housing, which are more affordable solutions. However, you may want to rent an apartment independently, which can be pricey if you haven't saved enough.

It's important to note that each graduate school experience is unique. Some might find it relatively smooth, while others might encounter more challenges. Universities usually offer various forms of support to help international students.

Support and Resources for International Students

Life as a graduate student may be challenging at times, so you should look for support if you need help with your English language skills, visa, etc. If you need information on activities you can engage in, look for student information offices on campus to see what is available at your university.

Language Proficiency

Graduate programs in US schools require a higher level of language proficiency as classes, reading materials, and assignments are more complex than those in undergraduate schools. Some schools offer language advisory services where you can work on your communication skills.


As an international student, you'll have opportunities to form many personal and professional relationships through workshops, seminars, and other activities. Most schools have international student organizations where you can meet other international students.


During your graduate program, it’s essential that you pay attention to visa rules and requirements and follow all guidelines. There's usually an office on campus that can provide valuable advice to help you with this process.

International Graduate Student Life — Conclusion

For five years in a row before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were more than a million international students. In 2020/2021, there were 948,519 international students in the US.

As an international student in the United States, you may experience culture shock, and you'll need time to adjust to new customs, lifestyle, and using English all day long. Also, if you have no relatives in the USA, you might feel isolated, but that's a problem that domestic students have, too. In graduate programs, you may also have to adjust to new teaching and learning styles.


A graduate student is an individual who earned an undergraduate (bachelor's) degree and has enrolled in a graduate school to earn an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree or Ph.D.

Graduate students usually rent apartments near the campus. However, many schools have dormitories on campus, which costs a lot less than apartments off campus. Alternatively, you can check shared housing options near the school you've applied to.

Graduate schools offer master's, doctoral, and professional degree programs. You typically complete a master's program in two years, a doctoral program in as many as 10 years years, and professional programs, such as medical or law school, in three and four years, respectively. Most graduate studies involve research, problem-solving, and writing a thesis or completing field work at the end of the program.

The median salary in 2022 for a graduate teaching assistant was $38,050. Salaries depend on the type of assistantship you're able to get.

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