With increasing competition for MS admissions, the acceptance rates are going down. Additionally, the availability of various resources, online tools, and practice of opting for professional admission consulting are also having a significant impact on the number of admits. Demonstrating genuine interest to the admission officers and standing out in a diverse and talented applicant pool is not too easy these days. However, if you avoid the common mistakes, you can do yourself a favor. In this post, I will be recapitulating the Top 6 Common Mistakes in MS Applications.
6 Common Mistakes in MS Applications that Indian Students Should Avoid
It’s almost the end of the application cycle for Fall 2018. This has been my 4th year of study abroad counseling and admission consulting. It’s always a pleasure to help young students (and few matured folks in their mid-30s) with their study abroad plans and application processes.
The application process can be very daunting and overwhelming. Applicants are human beings, and humans do commit mistakes. Like every year, almost all the applicants made few mistakes here and there. However, some of them were very common. All the international applicants should avoid them by all means if in order to increase the admission chances. Here are the most Common Mistakes in MS Applications that I saw among Indian applicants.
1. Starting Late
The application round of all the universities starts around October or November for the following Fall intake (Aug/Sep/Oct). The majority of the application deadlines (~60%) fall between Dec 1 and Jan 31. I received several queries and requests from students in January, and they looking at to apply for the fall 2018 intake. It doesn’t matter how multi-tasking or efficient you are. You have to start well in advance.
Starting late can hamper the whole process. Several students appeared for GRE and TOEFL in November and December. They started to gather information on application process after that only. C’mon, that’s way too late.
Ideally, you should start with GRE and other exams in your pre-final year (3rd year if you are pursuing a 4-year undergraduate degree). One of the pitfalls of appearing late for GRE or TOEFL is if you fail to score the desired score or fall well short of the competitive range for your targeted universities, then you will not have time to re-sit. You should be ready with your test scores by September, or October at the latest.
Even if you are done with your GRE by November, it’s kind of fine. But, researching universities and working on your SOP should start earlier than that.
Writing the SOP or Personal Statement takes time. You should spend at least 3 weeks for brainstorming and self-reflection. You can’t have your final draft without going through 3 – 4 iterations. Tailoring the SOP for a specific university can be done in 3 – 4 days. But, the generic draft does take time. I started working with three students as early as October, and their drafts took almost 6 weeks.
Then you also need to arrange recommendation letters, transcripts, and several supporting documents. So, don’t ignore the advice of starting early.
I know engineering students are damn good with last-minute assignments. But guys, this is not your internal or a coursework. Starting late (even by 2 weeks) can cause you to lose out on a year. Honestly, it did happen with two candidates this time.
One of them couldn’t arrange to get the LORs from current employer (Delhi) and University (in a different city). She had a great GPA (almost 95%) and GRE score (326). But, after discussing all the scenarios, she decided to apply for Fall 2019.
The second candidate was looking for universities in Europe, where GRE is not mandatory. He appeared for TOEFL in November but failed to score the minimum requirement. He re-appeared for IELTS, but he couldn’t get an earlier date. Anyway, he did get his score in the first week of January. But, he was yet to get his transcripts from the university (Hyderabad) and LOR from college and employer (Bangalore). He didn’t spend a single hour till the January 11 for his SOP. Guess what, he was targeting two universities with Jan 15 deadline for scholarship consideration. He didn’t have the financial back-up to finance the whole costs through loan and family support. So, he also postponed his plans for next year.
Another applicant from Mumbai approached me on Jan 28 to help with his Essays for a top-tier university with Feb 1 deadline. This applicant had a GRE score of 330 and a great GPA (9+ on a scale of 10). Besides, his SOP draft was ready. But, still, both the applicant and I had to go through 2/3 very late nights.
Don’t leave the MS applications until the last moment. University admissions do not work like that. I know there are competitors out there in the market who provide such last-minute services by charging almost double. I don’t follow that. Firstly, that’s not my style. Secondly, it reduces the admission chances significantly.
2. Not Researching the Universities and Programs
More often than not, the applicants – students and even parents, shortlist universities after referring to the ranking tables. An ideal scenario is like this – a final year Computer Science Engineering student who wants to do MS in Computer Science in the US. S/he selects as many as 15 universities after referring to the rankings on QS and US News.
Applicants completely ignore the facts like choosing the right university for his/her area of interest and other parameters.Rankings are definitely useful, but only up to a certain point. Even location plays an important part in college selection for biomedical or biotechnology students.
Don’t rely too much on rankings, and put considerable effort in researching universities and programs. For example, if you are someone who intends to specialize in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) or Robotics, you need to sort out universities accordingly.
Alternatively, it’s also fine if you do not want to specialize at the MS level or maybe you are not too sure at the time of application.
But, the majority of the universities will ask for a preferred area of specialization while submitting the application. Secondly, you also need to come up with one or two research areas and faculty members that interest you.
If you express interest in an area (randomly) that’s not among the focus of the particular university, you are likely to get rejected from that university. If you showcase fake interest, the other parts of your application will look inconsistent with your SOP. So, that again will increase your chances to get rejected.
Finally, the researching part also needs to do in parallel while by reaching out to the university staff – professors, researchers, admission officers, alumni, and recruitment people.
3. Not Engaging with the University – Failing to Demonstrated Genuine Interest
Be practical and face it – if you are applying to a top tier university, you are not the only brilliant student applying to that university. With increasing competition and available resources (test prep, admission consultants, online samples, free insights etc.), things are extremely competitive these days.
It’s very normal that the applicant pool will have very high grades and high GRE scores. Of course, you can stand out by showing of research projects; internships at top MNCs, graduating from a top brand (say IIT or IISER).
So, you really need to put serious effort into standing out from the crowd. Besides, you also need to gather information to find out the right universities. So, it’s only wise to reach out to the universities and engage.
In today’s digital age, you do not need to visit the universities in-person. Well, the universities will definitely like that; but, it’s not possible for everyone.
Reach out to the admissions counselor or international recruitment officer (or manager) of the university. Send polite emails to the Professors. There is a certain rationale for the existence of the international office or admissions office within a university.
Get in touch with the alumni and/or current students. The universities need to know if you are genuinely interested in their university, or just submitting application randomly. They need to be sure if you are taking an informed decision or not.
Even following your targeted universities on social media can prove to be helpful. You can’t ignore online presence and engagement these days. Yes, social media presence is not a gimmick anymore. Since 2010, universities do take social media seriously.
Learn more about how social media is transforming the college admission process.
4. Wrong Approach to SOP and CV
By far, the statement of purpose (SOP) or personal statement turns out to be the biggest pain point of all applicants. Even the matured applicants with more than 10 years of work experience struggled very badly. Firstly, they struggle with what and/or how to write a personal essay.
The majority of applicants approached the SOP writing by rehashing their resumes. The essays are full of technicalities, test scores, and work experience etc. Phrases like “I graduated from XYZ with a GPA of 8.9. Here, I took courses A, B, and C and did projects E, F and G. After graduation, I joined company K and worked on blah blah” adds nothing to what you have already told in your CV or application form.
Quite often applicants missed out on creating a proper CV and an effective SOP. Get to know what the admission officers and faculty members look for in a personal statement or SOP.
5. Not Addressing Failures and Flaws
No one is perfect. It’s okay to have an average GRE score or poor marks in or two semesters. But, you need to address them. Learn to leverage the SOP while addressing your weaknesses. You should showcase your failures to demonstrate your ability to overcome these, and that makes the application strong. Have a look at the following example.
6. Failing to Identify the True Interest and/or Clear Passion
There will always be few buzzwords and trends around. Like, these days Big Data and Data Science & Analytics are in great demand. Recent IDC forecast shows that 2018 will see a six-time growth in the big data & analytics job market. Social media platforms are getting bombarded with blog posts and videos on data science, big data, and analytics. With a lot of hullabaloo going around, students and professionals are going crazy after data science and business analytics programs.
All the top and elite universities are re-structuring their program-curriculums. But, on the dark side, all these fuelled the mushrooming of the specialized Master’s programs in business analytics and data science all around the world. Don’t forget about online courses that pop up on your screen every time you check websites or Facebook feed.
As per IBM predictions, the number of jobs for all US data professionals will increase by 364,000 openings to 2,720,000 by 2020. But, that doesn’t mean you have to go with that. There are several other specializations like Software Engineering or Information Systems. Do take caution and self-evaluate yourself.
One of the Most Common Mistakes in MS Applications this year – students mix enthusiasm/trends with passion. Trends keep changing; especially in the technology space. Read more about Career Advice for Aspiring Data Scientists.
Besides, passion (or interest) is not good enough. You need to be good at it as well. If you don’t possess Mathematical Modelling and Statistical skills, there is no point in applying to an MS in Data Science program. Even if you get admitted, you will struggle to complete the program; or even worse – no jobs.
If you are not good at programming or do not enjoy writing codes, don’t go for MS Computer Science or MS Data Science. Instead, go for other alternatives like MS Information Systems or MS Interactive Media. Even those program have got great demand. And you might do better in those fields.
Any queries or feedback with the Common Mistakes in MS Applications? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And don’t forget to share in your social media circles 🙂