Some of you may be aware of my background, some not. A quick bio can be found on our MBA consultants profile page.
This post is not about my life history overall, there is still some more time before I get to that.
The purpose of this post is to share my experiences while applying, with 100% success, for Master’s programs after/during undergrad and decisions therein.
I pursued a Dual Degree (Btech + Mtech) in Chemical Engineering from IIT Bombay during a time, when going to the U.S. for further studies was the norm for most ‘good’ students.
I was one of them and hence, went after this as a sort of preordained career path but ended up doing something entirely different. Read on to get a sense on the process involved, some suggestions and finally some career advice.
Selecting the right University in USA for Masters / PhD
Being part of an institute such as IIT means you have lot of alumni who have already been there and done that. So there is no dearth of help available.
There is a set process that you can follow; of course the result depends on how good you are. I had decided during my Master’s thesis to focus on Bioinformatics/Biotechnology since I never had the kicks for core Chemical Engineering.
This is an important point which many falter on. Simply chasing an Masters MS + PhD dream to get to the states is not prudent – more often than not, it leads to frustrations later.
If you want to change your field, do sooner rather than later so you have some credibility. In my case, I had already prepared 2 draft journal papers in this field.
I worked closely with my Master’s thesis guide to arrive at the target schools/programs. I was fortunate that he was a visiting faculty in 1 of these programs.
Using his inputs, alumni feedback and my own research, I arrived at my list of 4 schools to apply to. I decided to target top schools for my particular subject as well as Ivy League.
MS / PhD Application Process and SoP writing
While the school selection is a longish process, the real thing that seals your decision is taking the GRE exam. I prepared for a month or two using the standard material (again passed down by seniors mostly) and had a decent score.
On reflection, I could have done better with a bit more preparation or by being a bit less cocky. I used to be more interested in finishing the test early rather than being meticulous. So the advice is to take your time and ace it.
I then went on to the Statement of Purpose (SoP) writing phase. This was always an area I took pride in and hence, rather than following the norm of taking SoPs of seniors and trying to copy paste them, I created an original one from scratch.
Unfortunately at the time, there weren’t many professional guides out there so I relied on friends to read the drafts and ensure accuracy. The most important part of this process however was the research.
I had identified my potential MS / PhD guides in each of these schools, written to them and bounced off my research ideas with them. This is critical because in many schools, these professors are the ones who decide who to admit.
Till the time I submitted my applications, I was committed to pursue further education.
Results of my MS / PhD applications
In the end game, I got a full tuition waiver from Princeton UniversIty, a fellowship offer from Penn State University (PSU), partial funding from the University of Delaware (then the numero uno choice in Chemical Engineering) and admit from Rice University.
The professor I had been interacting with at Princeton University was the one who sent me the news of my admit.
In hindsight, I feel my Statement of Purpose played a big role in getting the scholarships at Princeton and the other universities.
Accept or reject the Ivy League university scholarship offer
During my final year, apart from academics, I also got interested in the practical application of what I had learnt in my engineering.
This was also partly driven by my desire to stay back in India and in part driven by certain books I read.
All this meant that by the time I had gotten these results, which were really tempting to put it mildly, I had almost made up my mind to not to.
Chemical engineering jobs were not that very many in those days and it was not going to be smooth ride.
But to ensure that I did not end up wasting a seat, I sent declines to all the universities except Princeton where I was still not sure. As expected, I had an IT Consulting offer from campus and the Princeton university opportunity came back to me.
Fortunately for me, I could use the alumni network to get into Asian Paints which was arguably the ideal place for a chemical engineer to practice his/her skills.
The career thereafter has been an interesting ride.
After my MBA from ISB, I worked at McKinsey as a strategy consultant for several years and then led the marketing department for a huge US company in India before getting into my passion of career counselling and admissions consulting on a full time basis.
Advice if you are applying to MS / PhD Universities abroad
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are targeting MS/PhD degrees abroad:
- Be sure that this is what you want to do. Especially PhD is a big commitment and once you do it, there’s no turning back
- Research, research and research. Do not shoot in the dark and do not just go by hearsay. But get as much help as you can from people who’ve been there and done that
- Do not make any compromises on your GRE. That really makes a difference here as the data points for schools to assess your potential are not that very many to begin with
- Aim right. Don’t just go for brand names or places where you’ll regret later.
- Last but definitely not the least (in fact, it might be the most important tip) is to take your SoP very seriously.
– How to get into Princeton University