Applying to US Universities
Once you’re done with your GRE and obtained a satisfactory score, you will start feeling relaxed thinking, “Well, now my job’s done”. It won’t be long enough when you’ll realise that appearing for GRE exam was just the beginning. The major chunk of the work still remains and frustration slowly creeps in because you keep forgetting one thing or the other. Listed below are the important steps that you need to follow after your GRE :
- Appear for TOEFL:
TOEFL isn’t an important criterion for withholding your admission process. Basically, TOEFL is a test of your English skills. Its role comes into play at the time of VISA and during your Teaching Assistantship (TA). But it is always better that you are done with all the exams before applying to the universities.
Ideal Time: August-September.
- Deciding your course & university:
This is probably the most important and the most hectic time you will go through. You should choose a course purely based on your interest. Usually, students opt for a course based on their undergrad stream, although you can apply to any other different course. The only important part is that you should be able to justify to yourself why you want a course different from your undergrad stream.
Work should begin on deciding a course and a university around September third week, earlier the better. You can go through our 'List of Universities' and 'List of MS Courses with descriptions' for detailed information.
- Arranging Documents:
This is, as usual, tedious and boring. You have to run here and there, from the office on the first floor to the HOD on the 4th floor, each will keep dumping the work on the other. It isn’t so easy to obtain transcripts, LOR’s, attested mark sheets and Bank Statements. As said before, earlier you engage in this work lesser will be the problems.
Below is a brief explanation on how and when you should arrange these documents:
As soon as the final year begins (7th semester), start talking to the respective professors who will give you a recommendation. Honestly, it isn’t that simple to get a reco (as adorably it is said) unless you have an excellent rapport with the teacher. You should learn how to butter them and make sure they write well about you. It is a long process as you have to make a lot of rough drafts and eventually ready the final document.
It is better that work should begin on this the very first day and the final draft should be ready by October last week to avoid last minute hassles.
NOTE: There is no need to make a hardcopy for the LOR as all the universities accept it online unless the specific university asks for one.
A transcript is an official document which comprises all your marks in detail (Semester-wise, subject-wise breakups, term work & viva marks) in a single sheet and is issued by your college. You have to make frequent visits to your college office for getting the sample transcript, entering the complete details of all the subjects starting from semester 1 till the current semester, approving it, getting it stamped and then sealing it.
Work can begin as soon as semester 6 results (for fresh applicants) are declared around September.
Number of copies required are around 15.
Frankly speaking, arranging this document isn’t very difficult. Firstly, you need to know how much are you willing to, or in other words, how much can you spend for the next two years in USA (roughly around USD 55,000). Talk to your bank manager and get attested copies of the bank statement which is a proof of your financial solvency.
So, once your finances are in place and you've had multiple meetings with your bank manager and decided the amount with or without loan, final papers should be ready by November first week but it is advisable that you start approaching the bank early in October.
Number of copies required are generally 15.
An affidavit is similar to the bank statement, just that it is an official document issued by the Government and it states who will be financing your education. You can make an affidavit by simply going to the court and telling the lawyer the exact details to fill in.
Preparring this document doesn't take more than a day once you know who is ready to sponsor you and the exact amount. Tentative time is around November first week.
Number of copies required are generally 15.
Important: Make sure that the bank statement and affidavit amounts are the same.
The heart of your application process. This is the only document which is supposedly compulsory. Start making your SoP around October first week as you have to make a lot of rough drafts for a week or 10 days. Get a few opinions from your seniors (to see whether you have written all the data properly) and an English expert (for the language and the grammar).
Suggestion: Although you may have secured a good GRE score, try to keep the language simple and make sure you focus more on the content rather than flaunting your knowledge of GRE words.
Note: Hardcopies aren’t required by the universities. They have around 500kb size to upload the softcopy, which is quite enough.
It is a document highlighting your achievements. It usually consists of your academic achievements, GRE and TOEFL scores, Co-curricular and extracurricular activities, explanation of your academic projects and personal details.
A good time to engage in making a Resume would be mid October.
Before you hear your classmate or any colleague talking about any counsellor, ask yourself the following questions -
Is Counselling Necessary?
If you feel an education consultant or a counsellor is going to reduce your work, then you are highly mistaken. You still have to do all the hard work; they just guide you along the way. It is a form of spoon feeding, no doubt about it.
Don’t get carried away by their tempting talks as they give you a lot of hope before joining them and in the end you may find that you didn’t get all that was promised.
Who should NOT join a counsellor?
- If you are too lazy to do your work and may think that a counsellor will save your day.
- If you think joining a counsellor guarantees admission.
- If you think joining a counsellor guarantees obtaining visa, scholarships and financial aid.
- If you are scared that your application to the USA will go through a lot of problems if you work alone.
If you fall in the above mentioned categories (which usually you will), then you SHOULD NOT make the counsellors rich.
Who should join a counsellor?
- If English writing skills are weak. Basically if you are not good at writing and don’t have a hold over the language.
- If you want assurance about your application procedure (what you are doing is right).
- If you don’t have any people (seniors, relatives, friends) to consult with.
- If you are unaware of the various courses available and do not know which course you want to apply (though our Courses & Universities will surely serve the purpose). Also the counsellor will help you in narrowing down the schools which you should apply for your course.
How will I manage work without a counsellor?
Ideally, your seniors are the best counselors. If someone from friends & relatives has gone for an MS, even better. Consultancies will provide you with a standard list of universities which is more or less the same for everybody. The list is (most of the times) irrespective of the course, which you could have prepared on your own. Again, before you feel that a counsellor can fit in your shoes and get you the best university, we suggest you take a look at the Grad School Finder which predicts chances of based on your profile.
Tip: E-mail your profile to the seniors from your respective department and follow their opinion.
The university online application forms are extremely simple and are more or less the same for all the universities. They are the “Apply Yourself” forms. You have to read the instructions properly which even a seven-year old can understand!
I've got good entrance scores, I've double buttered the recommenders and my SoP is in place. So, I definitely deserve to go to the top university in USA. But, I don't know how to go about with university selection and making a list of universities to apply to. What are the probable criteria before I shortlist them, how many should I apply to, and application schedule, forms and deadline, etc.
This is certainly the crucial stage in your journey from GRE to the VISA and you can't (rather, you shouldn't) take it lightly. So, here's a detailed yet easy-to-understand step-by-step questions that everyone of you must consider -
- How do I select Universities?
- How many universities should I Apply?
- What is the Ideal time to Apply?
- How to Apply?
- Preparation of Packets?
Planning to pursue higher studies in USA often gets complicated as one doesn’t know on what basis he/she should select a university for his/her masters degree. Selection of a university depends on the following factors:
- On-Campus Placements
- Tuition Fee and Living Expenses
- Location (advantage in getting Off Campus Job)
- Acceptance rate of International students
Of these the most important factor is Course/Stream. Your future is decided by the course you opt for. Ask your seniors who have been there in the previous Fall and tell them about your course or you can check the List of MS Courses.
Result: You will get an ideal list of universities as they themselves must have surveyed a lot.
Alternative: Another fool proof but major time consuming method is to browse through the websites of US Universities and learn about them.
You can apply to as many universities as you wish, with only one factor restricting you, MONEY! Yes, the cost is pretty heavy on your pocket. On an average one application costs you around $100. Sure you want to know what costs so much. The split is as follows:
- Online application form: $60 approx. (varies from $50 to $100 depending upon the university)
- Reporting your GRE score through ETS: $23 (official scores are compulsory)
- Reporting your TOEFL score through ETS: $17 (official scores are compulsory)
Now, there is no rule book to how many universities an applicant should consider and whether it's easy or difficult to get in but generally, students apply to 8-10 universities with 4 ambitious, 3 moderate and 2 safes (Huh?!? What’s this??)
- Ambitious: An ambitious university means the acceptance rate is low and the best profile gets in.
- Moderate: A moderate university means the acceptance rate is medium and the chances of making to these universities are above average or somewhat realistic for your profile.
- Safe: By now you would have understood what does safe mean. Yes, it means the acceptance rate is pretty high and the chances of getting through are very high (though it is never 100%)
Caution: Don’t apply to all safe universities so that you get more admits. There’s no point of getting an accept from all the safe ones. Getting at least one admit from an ambitious university should be the target. One admit from an ambitious wins over many admits from safes.
This is by far the most common question you would hear from a student applying for MS. Ideally, the application process should begin by November first week. Generally, engineers apply during this time as after a month they have to go through the university exams which is stressful. In other words, all the documents required for the application should be ready by the start of November.
As soon as you have shortlisted your universities, start filling the online application forms. Generally, the deadlines are around mid December for most universities, though some have in January, a couple of them have it in March and some have a rolling admission process. Earlier you apply better it is, as many universities have two deadlines - General and Financial aid which falls between second week of November and first week of December.
In short, if you are applying for Fall 2013, then you should start applying anytime post October 2012.
Note: You get a financial aid only if you apply to a respective university before its ‘financial aid deadline’. Secondly, you are eligible for an F-aid if your scores, academic marks and achievements are marvellous.
Is applying early to a university an advantage? Answer is mostly No. Good universities review the applications after the deadline. That doesn’t mean you should delay your admission process. Few of the good universities start evaluating the applications as and when they receive it. This is known as ‘Rolling Admission’. Example: University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). The advantages of an early application are that if you satisfy the criteria of the university you will get a admit at the earliest irrespective of other applicants.
- First and foremost, you need a credit card. You are going to pay a hefty amount (around 60,000/- INR) for applying to around 8-10 universities; so you can’t keep knocking on your relatives or friends doors for a credit card.
- Go to the particular university’s website and see the tab for prospective students or apply now. See to it that you select the 'Graduate Programs' section as there will be a lot of data on the website which will be general for both undergrad and grad students.
- The forms are generally quite long extending upto 7-8 pages and you are bound to get bored and restless. But, make sure you are careful while filling the form and use the autosave facility available in all application forms.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Start filling the form even if your SOP isn’t ready (usually it’s not ready). Enter your recommender’s email address as early as possible. The university will send an email to them and they will complete the rest of the procedure. Recommender’s are EXTREMELY SLOW. You have to keep reminding them frequently.
Packet (in application terms) is a set of documents enclosed in an envelope which is to be mailed physically to a university. A packet generally consists of the following:
- Cover letter: It’s a letter which states the list of documents you’re sending inside the packet to the university. It consists of your application ID No. along with address of the college. The letter is directed to the admissions committee or the Graduate Admission office.
- Official transcripts: This is the most important document inside the packet. It’s the official copy of your marks issued by your undergrad college and junior college (if required).
- Resume: Usually the resume is uploaded when you fill the application form but if there is no provision for it, then get a resume print out and send it along.
- Attested Marksheets: You have to get attested photocopies of your mark sheets of all attended semesters. The universities prefer that you get it attested by the Principal or the Registrar of the college.
- Attested photocopy of the passport
- Attested GRE and TOEFL scorecards
- Bank statement*
*Refer 'What after GRE' to know about the last two points.
Letters of Recommendation and Statement of Purpose are to be uploaded directly within the Application Form. Over the last few years, universities have made a provision of uploading all the documents in their application form including official transcripts. So, we suggest you check with the concerned university before sending any packet.
What is a Letter of Recommendation?
Letter of Recommendation (LoR) helps the admission committee know about your technical, academic and non-academic expertise through your recommender. The content in the recommendation is extremely important. So, choose your recommenders wisely. There are certain areas on which the universities expect you to be rated by your receommender. They are as follows:
- Current standing in your undergraduate class
- Comparison with the students who have gone for graduation in the same university
- Communication skills (Oral and written skills)
- How well he understands the subject
- Teaching Potential
- Emotional Maturity
- Recommendation with Financial aid or not
- How strongly they recommend you (Very strongly, strongly, moderately, etc.)
Who can give me an LoR?
Usually, the recommenders are from your undergraduate institute (your respective department especially) and work/internship place (if any). So, does designation of the recommender matter? Honestly, it does. You can’t take a recommendation from a teacher who has just joined the institution and has an experience of a year or two. An LoR from your institution’s dean or principal holds a lot of weightage. An LoR from the company’s manager makes a difference. In most applications, following are the recommenders -
- Your final year project guide
- Professor who has taught you during your undergrad course and you have scored well in that subject
- Any project guide/companies you have worked
- Project Managers/Corporate Officials where you've worked/interned.
Recommendations cannot be given by:
- Any random personality you met in a conference
- It would be great if you can get an LoR from a Math Professor if you are applying for a Financial Engineering course.
- Make sure that you are on good terms with your recommenders. If not, then try improving them. Learn Buttering. Don’t force your teachers to write good about you (if you succeed, lucky you). Always remember, they are doing a favour to you.
How should I write an LoR?
Generally, all universities expect you to give three LoRs. Moreover, a letter of recommendation should ideally be drafted by the recommender himself/herself. Unfortunately, every recommender is so lazy and less interested that the applicant is forced to draft on it's own and will finally be moderated by the recommender.
Now, the next question will be - what should I write in my LoR? So we enumerate the following points:
- First Para: Write about your recommender’s qualification and the time since s/he knows you and is serving the institution.
- Second Para: Highlight your academic details under that teacher, how you have performed in his/her subject. Write marks and more importantly write it in percentage (Example: s/he stands in the top 5% of the class)
- Third Para: This will vary from recommender to recommender. If you're taking one from the project guide, you can describe about the project and your incredible role in the same. Similar is the case with publications, presentations, internships and work experience.
- Fourth Para: Please flaunt as much as you can in this paragraph. This is the extracurricular section, so write about all your achievements in the last three years (Event Head, worked for this and that committee, Sports, etc.)
- Last Para: Keep it small (say 2-3 lines) and it should conclude the above points and tell the university to grant him admission along with Financial aid.
- Bottom Left of Your Draft: Your teacher’s name, signature & stamp, qualification and his/her post in the current institution/company.
Warning: Don’t make the LoR so exceptional that you are the best student in India. Make it quite real and cover the above mentioned points.
NOTE: Split the content in the LoRs so that all three are different from each other.
What is an SoP?
An SOP stands for Statement of Purpose. Purpose means the reason for which something exists. To be precise, SOP is a lettter of intent which describes you, your goals and intentions that the admission committee will evaluate. An SoP is a document which shows your passion, clarity of thoughts, dedication, inspiration, and most importantly, uniqueness.
How important is the SoP?
The evaluator has never seen you or heard of you. So, the SoP serves the purpose of telling the admission committee why they should choose you. To apply for admission in US universities, you have to take utmost care in SOP preparation. It is “the” most important document. They want to know a student in and out and not just by his transcripts and final year project. An SoP document carries a lot of weightage. A well written SoP, particularly for the top universities in US for MS courses, can tilt the scales in your favour.
How should I write an SoP?
SoP is basically an essay and a major chunk of it will be boring. However, it is the most important document which means preperation of SoP will take a lot of your time. Start working on it from around 1st week of October (if you’re applying for Fall). It’s not an essay on a political leader which will get over in a day. To draft the best SoP, you have to make several rough drafts, keep on editing your SoP. Then get it proof-read by your seniors and then you will have your final copy ready.
What is a good SoP format? What should I write in an SoP?
- You can start off with a quote that has inspired you the most. Though it is not needed as the MS Admission Committee knows that you're certainly not inspired by it, still many applicants do write (in like 2 lines).
- First Para: Describe your childhood interests in an innocent way (don’t drag it for long) and how that interest is still in you.
- Second Para: Highlight your undergrad percentage (make sure the achievement is big, else don’t) in a subtle manner. Also, write about your current subjects that inspired you towards the course (as a part of your Master's Degree) and express it as one more element towards your interest.
- Third Para: Give an idea of your Final Year Project and explain what you are learning from it rather than boasting about your project. Explain your publications, internships in the same way as your projects.
- Fourth Para: This is the most important paragraph. Don’t bore the reader by praising them irrelevantly. Express your liking of the university in terms of Research work, Labs, Faculty, and current Projects. You've to cater to three primary questions in this paragraph -
- Why have you decided to choose the USA for Masters Degree? (Okay, everyone knows it's the fat pay package but you can't mention it, of course.)
- Why have you opted for this course and university?
- What have you liked about the university? (not only pertaining to the course but a general liking)
- Fifth Para: Explain your goals-short term and long term, where you see yourself some years down the line. Express the content in this paragraph pretty well (one of the crucial factors that decide if you get your admit.)
- Last Para: This is the concluding paragraph (in 2-3 lines) saying that you will serve really well in the respective university and will bring a lot of value to the institution and your home country.
Important Note: You have to make as many rough drafts as the number of universities you are applying to. All the content more or less remains the same except the paragraph where you describe the specific university. So, finish the common parts of an SoP as early as possible and then start searching for particular university as mentioned in point no. 5.
Tip: First and Last sentence of every paragraph is very very important as the evaluator won't spend more than a minute on your essay. So, s/he might skim through the SoP and would focus on the first/last sentences of the paragraph which can decide your result.
What NOT to write in an SoP?
- Don’t boast about your achievements, especially marks. Put it in a subtle way. Write more on how that particular achievement helped you and spurred you on.
- Language is an important parameter so you should avoid using slangs (Yeah!, Chuck, etc.). Also avoid using short form for words like you, are, etc. Keep your vocabulary in control though. Don’t refrain yourself from using nice GRE words. Make sure that the usage of the word makes sense.
- We love copy-pasting but, this is not the place. You can take an SoP template, but it would be appreciative that you make your own as unique as possible.
- Your SoP shouldn’t highlight your interest in working in an MNC or earning heavily in dollars. It should hit your goals and targets. It should be inclined towards your interest in the course and the respective university.
- Don’t make it too long and boring on a particular topic. Understand that a reader is a man and not a computer.
- Make sure you keep your SoP in a safe locker. Don’t share your SoP or the idea of it with anyone. The people reading your SoPs are experts and will surely be able to identify copied SOPs.
Q. Am I suppose to submit all the documents before the deadline?
A. Well, ideally, the deadline means that all the necessary requirements mentioned on the department website of the concerned university should reach the admission office but, in most cases, all the university wants is that you pay up the application fee and submit all the online documents. Physical packets can reach a week or two late.
Q. Can I submit the application without the test scores (GRE and TOEFL)?
A. It varies from university to university but most US universities are flexible and allow applicants to submit their test scores (like GRE, TOEFL) even after the deadlines. It's always advised to inform the university about it.
Q. Should I submit bank documents and affidavit at the time of application?
A. The role of bank documents and affidavit comes into play after you receive the admit. Universities will ask for bank statements and accordingly will issue the I-20 form.
Q. If I don't meet the admission requirements of any university, should I still consider it for my applications?
A. You can. Even though university websites clearly states many criteria for admission, not many of them follow it religiously. If you're far away from meeting the criteria then you should be smart enough to discard it from your choice. Again, you should refer to Past Experiences and take a call.
Q. Can I get financial aid?
A. Many universities have financial aid deadlines. If you meet them followed by a good profile and a genuine need of funding, the possibilities are brilliant.
Q. How many universities should I target?
A. There is no cap on the number of universities you should apply. Generally, a student targets anything between 7 to 12 universities.
Q. What's an ideal list?
A. Going to the best university should be every applicants aim. So, targeting the top rung universities should be your preference. Having said that, keep a few universities in the list where getting in is a bit easy. It's a smart as well as a subjective approach.
Q. Will more number of admits help me during VISA?
Q. Should I send hard copies of Statement of Purpose?
A. Almost every university asks the applicant to upload the pdf copy of the Statement of Purpose (SoP). So, hard copies aren't required.
Q. How many characters should the SoP have?
A. It varies from department to department of university to university. Three is no specific cap and the best way is to read the requirements on the university website. In most cases, an ideal SoP should <=1000 characters.
Q. Are the top rung universities always difficult to crack?
A. A profile with many qualitative and quantitative aspects can breakthrough the admission requirements of top rung universities.
Q. What are quantitative aspects?
A. Test scores like GRE, TOEFL, IELTS and Undergrad Academics come under the quantitative aspects.
Q. What are qualitative aspects?
A. Factors like recommendations, statement of purpose, project details, resume, etc. form a part of the qualitative aspects.
Q. How many semesters do I've in one year?
A. Generally, there are 2 semesters in one year. Some universities also have a trimester pattern.
Q. How do I calculate the tuition fee?
A. Tuition fee, in most cases, is based on the number of credits you take to complete the Masters program. Again, to complete the Masters program, the number of credits can vary from 27 to 35 credits. So, calculate the tuition cost based on the number of credits your particular program demands.
Q. Calculating the tuition fee based on the number of credits, I've to pay X dollars for 2 years but the I-20 amount shows almost 2X dollars. Why?
A. I-20 includes the tuition fee, living expenses, books, insurance and other small yet important expenditures. Though the other criteria can be managed by the applicant, tuition fee is purely dependent on the admission office. So, every applicant has to pay the tuition fee according to the admission rules. But the universities issue the I-20 amount based on all the expenditures. Hence, the amount is always more than the actual amount.
Q. Why do the universities inflate the amount?
A. The universities do not want to get sued by any applicant if, at any point of time, they are forced to increase the tuition fee or miscellaneous expenses. Hence, they inflate the amount so that the candidate is, at least, able to pay the figures mentioned on the I-20.
Q. So, do I exactly spend the I-20 amount?
A. No. You don't spend the I-20 amount. You'll certainly spend lesser.
Q. How much amount will I spend when I'm in the US?
A. It depends from university to university. Location, too, plays a vital role in the living expenses. We suggest you check the University Reviews to understand about the university expenditures for two years.
Q. Is fee always calculated based on the number of credits?
A. Most universities calculate the tuition fee based on the number of credits. However, some universities do charge the tuition fee based on the entire semester.
Q. Can I complete the Masters program in 1.5 years?
A. It varies from university to university but most universities do allow you to complete it in 1.5 years. Again, it depends on the number of subjects you take. Whenever you complete the number of subjects (say 30), you'll receive the Masters degree. So, you can finish it 1.5 years, 2 years, 4 years and more based on your potential.
Q. Are course and credits the same?
A. In simple understanding, course is a superset of credit. In most universities, one course will have 3-4 credits. So, if you take 10 courses, you'll complete, roughly, 30 credits; which means you'll receive the Masters degree.
Q. Can I take any courses/subjects based on my interest?
A. There will be some mandatory credits which will be based on your major. So, you've to take those compulsorily. Once you complete the mandatory credits, you can select any electives from various courses offered by the university.