The Application

 

So you have finally decided to pursue higher studies and are wondering what are the necessary steps to be taken to get an admit from a good university. Do your friends keep referring to cryptic things like SOP, GRE, TOEFL ? Don’t worry. The gradvisors have got you covered. Read on to decipher these elusive terms and find out about the application process
The application process consists of four parts, which I will describe in detail below :
1. Your grades, resume and other credentials : This is a very important part of the application. Unless your research profile is highly astounding, there is no denying that your resume and grades you scored in your college reflects your capabilities as a student. An impeccable resume leaves no scope for doubt that the applicant was sincere and serious about his/her academics. If you do not have great grades, make sure that you give a good explanation for it in your Statement of Purpose (SOP). Apart from grades, your intern-ships, awards and honours as well as research papers matter. It is a great advantage to have a research paper on your profile. Try to get a paper published, even if it the research you did is not of very high standard, or the conference/journal your are getting published it in is not that reputed. Having a paper on your resume shows that at least you tried and that you have an inclination towards research work. If you have a foreign internship, that is a huge advantage. If you have an industrial internship in a well-known company, that is great too. If you interned at a not-so-well known startup, make sure to write the learning experience there in detail so that it compensates for the lack of brand of the start-up. Do not forget to mention your extra-curricular achievements in your resume to show that you have a well rounded personality.
2. Statement of Purpose (SOP) :   Have you always wanted to brag about those stellar grades of yours ? Or was there a eureka moment in your life where you realized what it was that you wanted to pursue ? If yes, the SOP gives you a platform to do that. If no, good enough, write that in your SOP too. The details you write in your SOP must be relevant to the field of study you are applying. If you have other project works which are not relevant to the field, do not take more than 1-2 lines to mention about them.If you have achievements, hobbies or other extra curricular activities you want the graduate committee to consider, write them in you resume but drop them from your SOP. This will make the SOP concise and specific. Keep a flow maintained while you are writing. Never forget to mention if you have been a teaching or research assistant. This will help you in getting funding, if it is available.Your SOP must cover the following topics:
i. Why you are suitable for graduate studies in the college you are applying to. This should have a brief history of you as an undergraduate student, the courses you took related to the field  you are applying to, the relevant project work as well as any research or internship experience you might have which is related to the discipline you want to pursue.
ii. Why you want to apply to graduate studies. In this section, you might want to quote what got you interested in your subject and why is it that you want to pursue graduate studies;may be you want to open a start up, may be you want to gain deeper knowledge, may be you want to diversify your field of study… whatever the reason is.
iii. Why the particular college and the particular program is suitable for you: In this section, write about the name of the courses you would like to take (Yes, search the college website and write the exact names and course codes), the professors you would like the work with and the kind of facilities the college has (this might include research labs or a holistic environment). You might have to customise this section for each college you would be applying to, but believe me it is worth the effort. I landed a research assistantship because one of the professors I had mentioned in my SOP happened to read it and he took my interview on Skype.
3. Letters of Recommendation (LORs) :  Most graduate schools require three letters of recommendation. Some colleges require that all the three be from professors who have taught you will others might require that the LORs be a mix of industrial and academic professionals. You must try to adhere to these requirements. LORs should reflect those traits of the applicant’s personality which the decision committee would be unable to gauge from other parts of the application.Try to have the three letters show different facets of you else you might end up with three redundant LORs. If possible, request your professor  to skip generic comments like “The student was excellent in academics” (which can be inferred from your CGPA as well ). Instead, request him to quote anecdotes in which he got to know something specific about you. For example, he could write that you took the initiative to discuss topics out of the syllabus with him from which he got to know that you were inquisitive.Try to get at least one letter of recommendation from a professor who has supervised a project that you have mentioned in your SOP. He might be your B.Tech Project Mentor or a professor under whom you took independent project work.In this LOR, request your professor to throw light on your research abilities, analytical skills and ability to think independently. If you have been a teaching or research assistant under some professor, the second letter should preferably be from that professor so that he can comment on your ability to manage people and work well in a team. The third LOR can be from a professor or a manager you worked under during your internship.
If your professor has asked you to draft your own LOR, be sure to keep the above points in mind. Synthesise incidents with your professor as student-teacher interaction is highly valued abroad though it is almost absent here in India.Lastly, be sure to get it proof read by your professor so that you don’t land up in any sort of trouble.
4. Proficiency test (GRE/TOEFL/IELTS):  Many people ask me if  GRE scores matter significantly in the application. Unless you have a very bad GRE score, it does not. While making a decision on your application, the admission committee would probably use GRE score as a tie breaker. A very good GRE score will not guarantee you an admit if other parts of your application are weak. And as long as the other parts of your application are strong, you will not be denied an admit solely because your GRE score is average. If your GRE score is really awful, it is only then that I would suggest you to retake GRE. A marginal improvement in score really will not matter in the application process. Generally a 330+ score is considered as excellent, a 320-330 range is decent (in which most of the Asian students score), a 310-320 score is average while a below 310 score is poor.
I have some practice material with me which can be downloaded from the link given below:
TOEFL is relatively very easy compared to GRE and most of the schools require that you clear the threshold mark set by them (threshold varies from college to college but in general, a 100+ score is good to go). Your TOEFL score might be decisive in getting you a Teaching Assistantship where it is required that you have high English proficiency.
It is important that you take both these tests well within time. You can save a lot of money and time if you can research beforehand which colleges require TOEFL and GRE score reports to be sent directly by ETS. Write down the codes of the college and department and memorise them so that you can send the free score reports to these colleges.
Some colleges require a Personal Statement to be submitted too. A personal statement should reflect how you can add to the diversity of the college, the experiences from your past that have made you a better person and how you aim to give back to the society.
I hope this blog has given you some insight to the graduate application process. Have more questions ? Head to the comments section below !

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