How is life as an Indian student in USA different from student experiences back in Indian engineering colleges?
What problems can you face when you arrive on campus, and in the first few months?
Is work experience important to get a job after MS in USA?
Amala Rangnekar sheds some light on these commonly asked questions by MS in US aspirants.
As a student pursuing BTech Computer Science in Mumbai, I became highly interested in my field and really passionate about certain subjects like Software engineering and web technology. I always felt that the studies in Bachelors were only the tip of the iceberg and that I wanted to learn more. During my second year BTech itself, I decided it is best if I do MS in Computer Science after graduation.
During my third year engineering, I took the GRE for the first time, with honestly not much preparation. As a result, I got an average score and was getting into average universities (30s and 40s rank). Coming from a middle class background and knowing my parents are going to spend a lot of money for my education, I wanted to give it one more shot and try for one of the best schools (at least ones in top 20).
I am so glad I did :) I re-appeared for my GRE, got a much better score in the new format and secured admits from 4 out of 10 universities I had applied to. I chose University of Southern California (USC) because they have labs and professors who have invented some of the software engineering models that we implement all over the world.
The school, although very expensive, also has great infrastructure, professors, good software engineering courses, strong recognition in the industry and a strong sense of alumni and school spirit. All of these were extremely important to me as an individual.
USC is not a school that gives out scholarships for MS in CS unless you come from the A-list colleges in India (like IIT) or have an extremely strong research/extra-curricular background. Graduate assistantships are also awarded for exceptional students, so plan your career path accordingly.
USC has a vast variety of campus associations, student clubs and community mixers. The ‘Association of Indian students’ and ‘Viterbi Graduate Student Association’ are very popular amongst desis on campus. I found their activities so interesting that I even ran for senator and won. It was a memorable phase to represent the CS department’s student body along with a couple of other senators. I learnt a lot as we had to take a lot of responsibility, plan and manage events during that semester.
The experience in a classroom in the U.S is very different from an Indian class. In a typical Indian class(at least from my experience), the focus is on exams, grades and most importantly placements. The courses are also theoretical involving a few ‘computer programs’ as practicals. In india, I did not bother to think much beyond our textbooks and labs, just like most other students.
In the U.S., the focus is on understanding concepts, directed research, group discussions, on campus projects and even internships(paid as well as unpaid). This change can be very overwhelming even for the brightest students from India. My grades were average in the first semester because of the same reasons. Also, studies were accompanied by doing my own chores like cooking, cleaning, laundry and of course, getting homesick too!
Although, it seemed quite a struggle back then, that experience made me stronger and a more independent thinker. Besides, it gets better from the second semester for most students since we all settle in and get used to that kind of a life. It got better for me too grades-wise as well as in terms of living by myself.
I am extremely lucky to be in a field where there are plenty of jobs most of the times, unless there is a financial recession. The bigger issues, which many people do not know of, are getting into a good company, getting work visa and sponsorship etc.
The best way to get internships and jobs is to attend on campus job fairs, network with seniors, stay updated on LinkedIn and peers for referrals. Unlike India, here, grades will not be the primary deciding factor to get good jobs.
It is more about how well you are prepared to crack the coding interviews, how deeply you have understood subjects like algorithms, what projects and internships you did and how you think as a problem-solver.
Work experience after Bachelors, from my personal observation does not matter in securing a job post MS (unless you have worked for over three years and are highly skilled). That is the reason, I did not take up the job offer I have after Bachelors.
Where this experience might matter is shaping you as an individual because you might have more confidence/soft-skills thanks to your experience back home, landing you in a slightly more senior role than your peers. Also, it can help you decide about MBA/MS if you are confused.
I have two years job experience in the industry here in the US as of today. I am currently employed at Oracle Inc. headquarters as an applications developer. I definitely wish to study further, mostly an MBA for a tech-focused role.
However, I want to decide about the next steps only after at least three more years of work experience. This is because I need to have strong technical understanding and design skills before transcending to a role that involves tech business decision making. By then, I shall know what I want to specialise in and what role I would like to see myself in further down the road.