Karthik was interested in the best masters programs in USA for Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), a highly specialised field within Computer Science and User Interface Design (UI). Study abroad consultants looked at his relatively low GRE score and suggested low ranking MS universities. But Karthik stuck to his guns and applied to his original list of top HCI masters programs in the world.
The result – all the universities rejected him!
In the subsequent year, with the previous year application failures weighing on his mind, Karthik still wasn’t ready to change his university list. He went back in as a reapplicant and faced the same issue.
In his third attempt, he converted the top 2 best programs in the HCI space – Master of Human-Computer Interaction (MHCI) at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and MS-HCI at Georgia Tech. And as an icing on the cake, he got scholarships too.
A very common tip that every higher education consultant gives to an MS aspirant while choosing the colleges is to categorize the list into ‘Ambitious’, ‘Moderate’ & ‘Safe’ and then slot in 2-3 colleges into each. I had the courage to break this golden rule and many others to end up in some of the top programs.
This wasn’t an overnight success; in fact, I was rejected by every single university the first time I had applied.
A flurry of rejects, months of self-doubting and hard work later, I saw the light. I wish to provide you with the much-needed confidence and bust out few myths regarding application to a Master’s program.
It was during my undergraduate research that I decided on pursuing an MS because I enjoyed doing research and assimilating information. After completing my under graduation, I started preparing for GRE, and was simultaneously on the process of shortlisting my target universities. I came across this article MS in US with average GRE score: MIT (scholarship) vs Stanford University written by Anamika Agarwal.
A week later I gave my GRE test and ended up with an average GRE score (316). I recollected the article I had read previously, and had addressed a few queries to Manish Gupta (MG). Instead of wanting to re-take my GRE, I decided to put all my efforts on the strengthening the other components of the application.
Things went well in this phase and I got the best output. I was confident that I would get to where I wanted, but it was raining rejects and there wasn’t even a consolation.
Months passed by, I was earning money and experience but could not shred the horror off my mind. I mailed MG once again, and realized that writing a strong SoP is tough without the right guidance. I immediately sought his help with my application material.
While we were discussing the storyline of the SoP, MG fed me with key points and questions I had not thought of. He asked me to connect with current students of the program, which helped me understand the university better and reflect this on my SoP. MG was able to read between the lines and help me establish the connection between my aspiration and the resource the university provided. I had a strong product in my hands.
Unfortunately, the only college I had applied to for the Spring term handed me a reject. I had the faith in the application material and went ahead with the application for the immediate fall term. The list of universities was not formed based on the golden rule that others tell; according to their ideology, all the colleges in my list would be classified as highly ambitious for any mortal.
All the colleges that I had applied to this time had handed me rejects previously, yet I did not change the list because I was clear where I wanted to go and did not want to compromise. Though I would secure an admit if I had applied to a program of lower quality, they would never be the ones I would want to go. I wanted admits, and only from the places that interested me.
Now that you have read my journey, I have few strategies that would help you and also why some of the popular ones do not work always.
Do not follow the rule of listing out ‘Ambitious’, ‘Safe’ & ‘Moderate’ and then slot some colleges in. Instead, go through the website of as many universities as possible. After learning about each of them, ask yourself whether the particular program interests you, do you fit into the program, whether you can see yourself matching with some of the students already admitted there, and whether your vision aligns with that of the college you picked.
If the answer for all these questions is yes, then that university deserves to be in your list. Picking the colleges should be similar to choosing your life partner, only the right ones will make you feel the match is made in heaven.
Make sure the number is big enough to accommodate all your interested programs, big enough to avoid getting rejected by everyone and small enough for your recommender.
Scoring less than required can be heart breaking. But then it does not always take away your admit. A well written SoP and a meticulously crafted CV may tilt things in your favor. I have got good admits despite an average GRE because I put my heart into SoP and CV as well.
We all need lots of help for applying to higher education; it’s a long and hard process, so any help you can get is useful. Take help from your friends to proof read your material, take inputs from current students for your target program, seek help from proven consultants like MCB (they are awesome).
But please do not listen to consultants who have no record of helping students to get to your target programs. One such consultant said I will never get to any of the universities in my list.
Because, I did not, kept fighting again and again. Some things take time and effort to happen, but they are worth it. Remember, Rome was not built in a day.
A lot of people believe that greater the work experience, better their chances. No, this is not right. To correct it, you require relevant work experience. Since I decided to pursue my Masters early in my undergraduate days, I got this right. I picked my work in-line with my specialization for MS.
For others who are late, I suggest you to apply for Masters in a related field you are working. If not, use online learning portals like courser, Udemy etc to learn, and work on course projects related to the area you want to do Masters, which you can put on resume and SoP to show you’ve done something relevant.
Good masters programs are highly competitive. They are tough to get into, but not impossible. If you are an International student, a lot is expected from you.
In my case, I had a strong CGPA, funded research projects in undergraduate, relevant work experience, a clear vision of future after MS, all of which I believe helped me stand out from the crowd.
My advice to International applicants would be prove yourself as a maverick, take the tough decision when they matter. Because Darwin’s principle applies even to International Masters applicants.