A friend of mine sought advice on how to apply for grad school in the US. Would it be better, he asked, if he found a job first? That way, he could earn enough money to pay his way. Since another friend (and former student, if you can believe it), Roy Patrick Tan -- ahem! make that Dr. Roy Patrick Tan -- had taken that road before, I passed the query on to him. What follows is a succinct explanation of the who, what, when, how, and why.
Most US schools start their school year around September, but of course you will need to submit your application earlier than that. Some will require application submission as early as December of the prior year. So be sure you know the requirements for the schools you choose to apply to early. In general, the more prestigious the school, the earlier you have to submit your application.
Many people are not aware that a large number of graduate students in the US actually get free tuition and a small salary by being a graduate teaching assistant, or a graduate research assistant. I would definitely recommend the teaching assistant/research assistant route, if you can get it. If you come to the US on a student visa, on-campus employment is basically the only kind of employment you're allowed to get anyway. (If you come on a working visa, it's different, but I don't think you'll get time to study).
Read more from Roy himself.