Applying Abroad FAQ

1. What is a good GRE score?

There is nothing called a “good” GRE score. It all depends on your overall profile and the universities you would like to apply to. If you are aiming at the top 20 universities then 1400+ is enough and 1450+ is good. But if you are looking at universities in the range of 20-50 then, 1250+ is enough and 1300+ is good.

2. What is a good time to give the GRE?

I feel the best time to give the GRE is the beginning of 3rd year or even beginning of 2nd year.  Your GRE score is valid for 5 years and giving it early is a good option. 3rd year is a hectic time, so get it done before that, that way you can spend more time that year on thinking what exactly you want to do ahead.

3. What is a good TOEFL score?

Just as the previous answer on a “good” GRE score, there is no absolute here. But most universities need a TOEFL score of 100. High ranked universities, especially in the UK, need a score of 110. Don’t be scared if you don’t get that much score +/- 5 marks is negotiable with universities and just in case it is not, it very easy to re-appear for the TOEFL.

4. When should I give the TOEFL?

Your TOEFL score is valid only for 2 years, so I feel that the best time to give TOEFL is beginning of the final year. After your IPT spend 2 weeks studying and practicing and give the TOEFL.

5. Should I apply to universities outside of the US?

You most certainly should. There are a lot advantages.  US universities are a plus on funding, that’s about the only good thing about them. But if you are applying for MS, then you should definitely consider other places.  I’ll speak for the UK, as I applied there, but you may also consider, Germany, Australia, Sweden. The UK, has a good system of giving taught masters in 1 year and choice to do a research masters after that or a direct research masters for 1 year. Thus, you have flexibility. UK is not as cheap as many places in the US but 1 year expenditure in the UK is definitely less than a 2-year expenditure in the US. Then, people feel that you have more job opportunities in the US, you most certainly do. But it is not that having a US degree gives you a higher chance to get a job. When it comes to employability, there are a lot more factors than just your university; it’s your grades, your projects, your capacity to fit in the job, etc. So just to thwart away the choice of applying to other countries over this one factor is totally an unfair option for you. Applications in the UK are free (except for application to Oxford, Cambridge). So all you have to spend on is a few more recos (recos are more than cash, spend wisely) and courier charges.

6. So if I am applying for a PhD, I should not consider the UK?

I would say you should. Specially, Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial…these universities have a lot of funding and a lot of scholarship options. It’s worth going through the grill to be able to make to these universities. Plus, these universities offer you a PhD in 3-4 years not like the US where u need 4.5-5 years at least. And for sports and music fans, UK is life! J

7. When applying to universities in the UK do I need to give any exam other like the GRE?

GRE is not needed in the UK. And now, most universities in the UK accept the TOEFL score so you would not need to give the IELTS.

8. What kind of marks from my undergrad acads would I need for good universities?

This is a very subjective question. I would speak from my experience and nothing else. I had a 67% aggregate over 3 years, I had a falling average. But I had a good overall profile. 3 projects: one with Prof. Samant, one at University of Sheffield and one with Prof. Degani. I had 2 publications in Bombay Technologist, some 3 technical paper presentation prizes and a lot of extra-curriculars. I applied to Penn State which is ranked 16th in chemistry. So did the topper of my class, who had an average of 74%, she had a national publication, a Bombay Technologist Publication, good extra-curriculars but no research projects. Both of us got in to Penn State and Syracuse for PhD with full funding.

When it comes to PhD, research experience matters a lot. I can’t comment on how much it would matter for MS. So if you have decent acads and overall good profile, I would suggest you to aim high. Many a times, a good SOP v/s a bad SOP can give you an edge over people who are few marks above you. Sometimes even recos make a difference. All this is just thinking back, no one of us will ever know how exactly univs choose a candidate and I’m sure every university has different criteria.

9. How much do extra-curriculars matter?

Again, varies from university to university, but no extra-curriculars would look bad. You should have a good amount of extra-curricular. This is the area on your CV which speaks for other skills you need to complete your degree, extroversion, communication skills, your attitude towards life, etc…these things definitely make a difference to the application. But to what extent, no one can guess.

10. How do I shortlist universities?

For MS, I guess you look out for what type of courses are you looking for in your degree. Because the same program, say (M. S. in Chemistry), has different coursework in different universities. Also, look out for flexibility in the program so that you have choice to skip a few things and do others.

For PhD, try and refine your research interests before you short listing. Have at the most 2 different field in mind. Browsing through universities can help you refine your interest. Once you do that, start looking at universities in an order (generally using the ranking, USNews or F1 or PhD. Org) and then mark the universities which have atleast 2 professors you would be interested to work with. Leave a short mail to these professors, saying you are interested to work with them and would they have space in their lab this fall or ahead. When looking at professors, 2 parameters normally measure their success, the no. of publications and the group size. A professor having 20 publications a year with 10 group members is more successful than a professor getting 20 publications a year with 20 group members.

11. What makes an application?

An application generally consists of the following:

1.       SOP

2.       Resume/CV

3.       Recommendations

4.       Transcripts

5.       GRE/TOEFL scores

6.       Application Fees

Some universities ask for your Xth and XIIth marksheets, some extra-curricular certificates, etc. but generally an application consists of the above.

Ok, these are few questions that I thought of, if there are anymore you would like answered here, please let me know.

**Note: These are my personal views and they may not be politically “correct”

Get in touch with me at rathi.akshat@gmail.com for further help if you need.

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