As more an more international and Indian students get attracted to MS in Computer Science degrees in the Mecca of technology (USA), the amount of curiosity also increases.
We wrote this post on what’s better after engineering – MS or MBA addressing a few aspects. But there are many more unanswered queries too.
What is the typical background of MS in CS applicants? How did they get into U.S. Masters programs?
How is life in the US in the class? How’s life after completing the MS program?
How easy is it to get a job after MS in US companies?
We thought it was best to have someone who’s gone through the Masters experience to shed some light. We invited Rahul to answer all these in a guest post.
MS in Computer Science in USA
Masters in US experiences as an international student
by Rahul Kotian
Profile in India before MS in US
Studying bachelors in Mumbai (BE in Information Technology); I always had my eyes for a MS in US. My sister who was doing her PhD from VCU was definitely one of the inspirations behind this.
But I still wasn’t sure by the last year of my Bachelors in Engineering whether I should pursue MS outside of India or not.
Several reasons kept me from taking a clear decision on this matter; the financial aspect, family aspect, the fact that you will be starting all over again. So I decided to work for a year and give myself some more time to decide on this.
Working in the software field gave me some first-hand experience of working in India and eventually I realized I can do better with advanced degree.
GRE Preparation & MS applications
Six months after I started working, I started to prepare for my GRE exam in India and gave the test a couple of months later.
I prepared for GRE on my own using the official guide and online resources. It was difficult to come after work and then prepare for the exam but I managed to get a decent score, not great score but good enough.
I did however take help for my application process and for short listing my colleges.
Expense was a major criterion for me in selecting the colleges. I had picked up some expensive colleges too thinking that I might get some scholarship based on my work experience.
Out of the 7 universities that I applied, I got 4 accepts. I did get some scholarship from my safe bet colleges, but then I got an admit from University of Texas at Dallas , which in my list was a good college because of its good academic standings, cost effective tuition fees and its proximity to big telecom companies like Cisco , Research in Motion , Ericsson, TI and many more.
The fact that Dallas weather is not too adverse also helped my decision making.
Experience in the Masters in CS class
Classes in US universities was a very different experience from back in India. Classes have a very informal feel to it and conversations are very open with the Professor. Don’t be surprised if you find that majority of graduate students are either from India or China with a few Americans sprinkled here and there.
Most of the universities will have an Indian Students Association (ISA) which helps incoming students with everything from accommodation to helping pick the right courses. ISA and other student organizations will be your family away from home and makes your stay more enjoyable.
One of the major advantages of doing MS from US is the opportunity to interact with students from all over the world; and I got ample opportunities to do that.
I have made friends from different parts of the world and also got to work on projects with them. This gave me a good understanding of different thought processes and got a glimpse of other cultures too.
Living in USA as an international MS student from India
Living in the US all by myself gave me a lot of confidence as here you have to take every single decision all by yourself – getting electricity connection, managing your expenses, doing groceries, doing your laundry etc will make you a lot responsible especially if you have not done this before in India.
Weekends were always fun (not when you have a deadline for assignments or a test coming up); everyone is high on the independence that they get from living all by themselves. Assignments and tests are usually done by doing night outs in the labs or libraries.
Getting internships was easier because of my job experience in India. I did get to intern at big companies like Motorola, Research in Motion (BlackBerry), and a couple of local companies.
This was a huge deal for me as I got to get the corporate experience as well as earn money to pay my tuition fees.
Life in USA after MS in Computer Science
I graduated in December 2008, not a great time to graduate because of recession. Most companies had a hiring freeze and it was even more difficult for foreign students to get a job as they would require visa sponsorship in the future.
I did some volunteer projects to maintain my proper visa status and kept hunting for jobs. Finally in April 2009 I got a job at a startup and it was a great learning experience.
I worked there for almost 3 years and then moved on to a more stable company (this company has a monopoly in Rewards Programming in the gas industry). I have learnt various new technologies on the way and it’s been an eventful journey so far.
At this point of my career I feel I am ready to get into a more managerial role and would want to do my MBA soon (most probably start in a year or two).
Tips and advice for international Masters degree applicants
Looking back I feel there were some things that if I had known before I would have taken some different decisions:
1. If you get admission in a reputed but expensive college and you have partial scholarship or even no scholarship; I would say go for it. I know for someone coming from a middle class background and taking a huge loan doesn’t seem like a good idea ; but my point is once you get a job you can repay that amount in a year or so easily. Getting a degree from a good college matters a lot, because even your compensation will be more compared to someone graduating from an average college.
2. When choosing courses take tough courses which will teach you a lot and not courses which will give you good grades but doesn’t add much to your knowledge. Remember these courses are expensive so make it worth your money. This might be difficult for some of us coming from Indian education system where we give more importance to grades than to education experience. You might get a lower grade but make sure to get your concepts right; you will understand the importance when you are giving interviews at big companies like Google, Microsoft etc.
3. Work for at least a year after graduating from your Bachelors; it gives you crucial experience based on which you can make your future decisions. Many people find out that they were not meant for this technical field and it’s better to do something else, like MBA or MIS. Others will find out if they like a particular branch more than others and decide to do specialization (MS or PhD) in that area.
4. MBA vs MS: Like I mentioned in the previous point, working after you graduate will help you in making this decision. If after working for a year you find that you enjoy working in technical field and you see yourself in this field in the next 5-10 years at least then go for MS. If you find out that you don’t like the technical field you are in and want to completely change the direction than go for MBA.
While Rahul figures out how to take his career to the next level, you might want to check out this related post from Anamika, an Indian student who got into MS in Stanford University, and rejected it.