I've got some really naive questions about Grad Schools in the US, please be patient. I'm a possible prospective for 2010, from good old Europe.
I've lurked around, but still have some doubts.
I read that usual wage for a grad student with scolarship and TA is around 2K dollars per month. I suppose that it covers university taxes but not accomodation, right? Where are grad students supposed to live? In a campus/college or do they usually look for private housing? Is the income ok related to the cost of living? I am not expecting to jerk around with a Ferrari during my Phd, of course, just a decent life, decent accomodation, going out sometimes and small savings. (side question: is there a good social life for grad students?)
I am also confused about the real chances of a continental European applicant. Let's say, apart of standard tests to take (for whom it seems that international applicants need a better result, right?), even if I am in the top 5% of the class (doh, is there somewhere a conversion to GPA from other grade systems?), our system is quite different from the US one, and focuses more on courses than on research for the first years. If on one hand I think we attend more challenging topics on our 4th year (for instance, QFT, Cosmology, Electroweak Physics, High Energy Astrophysics, and so on), on the other hand research is mostly confined to the last year, which is intended to produce a one year work thesis. That can be a really good work, but for sure it can't produce publications and good results by the time of the grad application in December. Next December I will be able to say just something like "ok, I am working on this topic, from January to April (let's say) I will be working in that institute, and I hope that before my graduation in the Summer I will have been able to work out something good". Well, I did also a REU and gained some experience in astronomy observing with a 2m telescope, but I don't know if it's that impressive, even if I had extremely enjoyed everything I did.
Do you get the point?
That's all folks, thanks for your attention