FAQs for International Applicants

General questions

What relationship does the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies have to the University of Chicago?

The Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies extends the University of Chicago’s intellectual mission to a broad community of students who seek professional skills or personal development via part-time and flexible programs of study. The Graham School fosters the University’s rigorous approach to learning and scholarship in the form of graduate degrees, certificate programs, and open courses in the humanities, arts, and sciences. It provides visiting international students with unique opportunities to study at the University.

What is the difference between a college, a department, a school, and the university?

The University of Chicago is organized by divisions which group methodologically related disciplines together. At the University of Chicago, you will find four graduate divisions of study: Humanities, Social Sciences, Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences. The professional schools offer graduate studies in more applied fields. The University of Chicago currently possesses seven such schools: the Chicago Booth School of Business, the Harris School of Public Policy, the Divinity School, the Law School, the Pritzker School of Medicine, the Social Service Administration and the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. The College is home to all undergraduate studies within the University. Departments within the four divisions are the organizational units by academic discipline for faculty and administrators. The Graham School’s Graduate Student at Large (GSAL) program enables qualified students to register for classes across the divisional landscape of the University of Chicago and in all of its professional schools with the exception of the Pritzker School of Medicine.

I know that the University of Chicago uses the quarter system. What is the difference between a quarter and a semester?

The quarter system is modeled on the British academic calendar and divides the academic year into three terms: autumn, winter and spring. There is also a summer quarter which offers the chance to enroll in intensive study. At the University of Chicago each quarter is eleven weeks long, ten weeks of classes and one week of final examinations. By comparison, a semester typically runs for 16 weeks. The quarter system can be challenging because faculty will in most cases cover the same amount of material that would be extended over the longer semester system. It is important for international students in particular to have excellent reading and writing skills in order not to fall behind in a faster paced term.

The University of Chicago is not in the Ivy League. How good is it compared to Ivy League institutions?

The term “Ivy League” refers to a small group of eight private universities all located in the northeast United States—the term initially described the athletic conference that these schools, belonged to. Since then, it has come to describe an elite group of prestigious and highly ranked institutions. Two of the most important issues for an international student to keep in mind when applying to schools in the US are: global reputation and academic excellence. The University of Chicago, despite not being an “Ivy”, ranks with or ahead of those schools in all of the most prominent global rankings of universities. In the 2012-13 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, the University of Chicago was ranked tenth in the world, ahead of all but two of the Ivies. It places in the top ten in the 2012 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). In the 2012 QS World University Rankings, the University of Chicago also earns a place in the top ten, with only two members of the Ivy League ahead of it.

The University of Chicago consistently ranks as one of the world’s top ten universities and has more Nobel Laureates in economics than any other university in the world. Our faculty count amongst the world’s leading researchers in a broad range of disciplines and are committed to fostering that tradition of excellence in their graduate and undergraduate students.

Is it easy to get straight A’s at the University of Chicago?

One of the campus bookstores sells a t-shirt popular with students that reads: “If I wanted straight A’s, I would have gone to Harvard.” This is a playful reference to universities where “grade inflation” means that students don’t need to work as hard to get an A. T-shirt humor aside, international students should be aware that professors at the University of Chicago have high expectations for their students, and that those who come here should be prepared to work hard.

Is Chicago an expensive city to live in?

Like any major city, the cost of living in Chicago is not as low as small towns in the US. However, students can find a wide range of inexpensive cultural activities, outings and good budget dining. Hyde Park, where the University campus is situated, is an affordable residential neighborhood with new and used bookstores, plenty of free-to-the-public University events, and different options for accommodation.

Where can I find a map of the university?

http://visit.uchicago.edu/transportation.shtml Open in new window

Can I apply for a job while I am a student? Is it easy to find a job?

Yes, international students are eligible to work on campus for a maximum of 20 hours per week. Student jobs typically pay about eight to twelve dollars per hour. We don’t recommend that students work the maximum number of hours per week while they are taking classes, but some students find that they can work between five and ten hours per week and still have time for their studies. The number of hours that you can work will depend on the types of courses that you are taking, your level of English proficiency and the other activities that you might want to spend time on outside of class. We do not advise any international student to take a student job during the first quarter that they are on campus.

Student employment and research opportunities can be found online: (add link)

I heard that the campus is unsafe. Should I take precautions?

Chicago is the third largest city in the US, after New York and Los Angeles. The University of Chicago is located in Hyde Park, a small residential neighborhood on the south side of the city. Hyde Park is an interesting, diverse neighborhood with bookstores, shops, cafes and restaurants. Many families, faculty and students live within just a few blocks of the university campus. While no urban campus is immune to safety issues, the University of Chicago takes the safety and well-being of its community members seriously and has put into place emergency call stations throughout campus and the surrounding streets, as well as employing its own campus police and security teams. Free campus transportation options are also available to students during the day and into the night. (Provide link)

Students should practice the usual safety measures for any urban area, and a campus safety and security presentation is included as part of the international student orientation in the fall.

I am engaged in a research project at my home university for my MA or PhD. Can I study under a professor at the University of Chicago and count my research as a course for credit?

Because the faculty are generally busy with very full schedules—research, teaching and advising doctoral candidates—visiting students are not typically able to work individually with faculty. However, it is usually possible to take a course with a faculty member in your area of research. If you hope to study in a class under a particular professor, it is best to indicate this during your admissions interview so that we can make sure that the professor will be teaching and not on leave during the time of your study.

Who are the former students in the GSAL program? How do they do in this program? Is there a typical length of time that international students pursue their studies at the University of Chicago through the GSAL program?

International students enter the GSAL program at various stages in their academic or professional careers and from all over the world. Applicants must have already earned their bachelor’s degree or equivalent. There is a wide range of students in the program who already have master’s degrees, PhDs, or are in the process of earning these degrees and plan to transfer credit earned at the University of Chicago towards their degree. Others have yet to enter a graduate degree program, and for them, the GSAL program provides the opportunity to study in the US at the graduate level and earn a transcript (and sometimes a postgraduate certificate, depending on their program) from the University of Chicago. Our international students have represented Asia, Europe, Africa and South America—a global community in Chicago.

The majority of students do very well in the program, earning grades of B and higher. In addition, our students often get to know faculty and graduate degree students on campus. For many international students, the program is an excellent way introduction to how graduate education works in the US—from the admissions process to research and funding decisions.

The University of Chicago sponsors I-20s for all international students admitted to GSAL. The minimum period of study is one quarter, but the program does not impose a maximum length of study—once admitted, students may study for as many quarters as they need, although they must maintain good grades. Most students tend to study for two or more quarters, although some certificates can be earned in just one quarter.

Do international students have to submit translated documents?

Yes, in order to ensure timely application processing, transcripts, when necessary, and recommendations, must be submitted in English.

How many courses must I take to become a full-time student or maintain full-time status?

Full-time status is obtained by enrolling in 300 units each Quarter, during the regular academic year. During the Summer Session, full-time status is obtained by taking 200 units (2 regular courses), or 1 intensive language course, as these are considered full-time.

Who should I contact if I have additional questions?

If you are an international applicant looking for advice on Graham School programs, or have visa compliance related questions, please call +001-773-702-1723 or email: mailto:internationalgraham@uchicago.edu.

Visa Questions

For which programs can I obtain a student visa?

A: Student visa documents are issued to students admitted to a full-time program at the Graham School. Currently, the following programs qualify international applicants for a student (F-1 or J-1) visa:

  • Graduate Student-at-Large (GSAL)
  • Master of Liberal Arts
  • Summer Session
If the program in which I am interested does not qualify me for a student visa, can I enter the US on a visitor (B-1/B-2) visa to enroll in courses?

US immigration regulations explicitly prohibit any form of study on a visitor visa other than study that is avocational or recreational in nature. Studying cannot be the primary purpose for visiting or remaining in the U.S. in B-1/B-2 status.

Can I enroll in courses if I am in the U.S. in a different status than B-1/B-2?

There are several non-immigrant visa categories that permit studying. For specific questions please call 773/702-1723 or email internationalgraham@uchicago.edu.

How long does it take to receive an I-20 document?

Admitted students can expect the I-20 document to be mailed approximately 2 weeks after all required documentation has been received by the Graham School’s director of international programs.

English Proficiency Questions

English is not my first language. What are the expectations for proficiency and how long does it typically take for me to become more comfortable in English?

The University of Chicago requires TOEFL (minimum: 104) or IELTS (minimum: 7) scores for international students who have not previously studied for at least a year in an English-speaking school. Applicants who meet the minimum scores should expect to be fine. In addition, a personal interview is part of the admissions process for all qualified applicants, and this provides another opportunity to assess English language skills and for the applicant to raise any concerns that he or she might have about language.

Depending on the area of study, the day-to-day language demands will differ for each student. For example, someone studying history will be expected to take on lengthy reading assignments, participate in class discussions, and write both short and long papers. A student who is enrolled in math classes will experience very different course demands. It is best to communicate your concerns during your admissions interview.

Do you offer English as a Second Language (ESL) courses?

The University does not have an accredited ESL program for which students can receive student visa documents. The English Language Institute located at the International House of Chicago does offer English language courses and modules for matriculated University students, their family members, and the wider community.

When can the English proficiency tests be waived?

The English proficiency test requirement may be waived for credit program applicants who are natives of or have studied within the past 5 years in full-time status for at least one academic year in a country where English is the official language The English proficiency test requirement may be waived for Summer Session applicants who for two or more years have attended a high school where the primary language of instruction is English.


Listing of US Consulates: http://usembassy.state.gov

Visa Appointment Wait Times and Processing Times: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/wait_4638.html