A Quick Guide to the Master’s Application Process

Zeroing in on a specialization to pursue a master’s in can be a mind-numbing task for many of us. Not to mention all the work that follows after that decision is made. This includes preparing for GRE, TOEFL/IELTS, working on SOPs, LORs, finding the perfect course which will fit in with your interest, aptitude and experience.

The earlier you start getting yourself ready, the more enjoyable the process will be. Plus, it doesn’t have to be boring or take up all your hard-earned relaxation time.

Here are a few things which you could do to make your journey to master’s a little less tiring and a little more exciting!

#1 Introspect:

Although I understand that you have decided to go ahead with higher studies, step back and think about which course you want to pursue. Selecting the right course for specialization is the most important task as it will define your career trajectory.

You can ask yourself questions like ‘Where do I see myself?’, ‘What do I really love doing?’, ‘What has been the highlight of my work?’ to help better assess your own condition. You can talk to your seniors working in different domains and get an overview of all the potential specializations you can pursue. It will clear your mind of any ambiguity and provide a fresh perspective towards all the fields of study!

In addition to this, the best way to truly find your “calling” is to try and secure an internship in the field which you find drawn towards during your sophomore and senior year in college. The hands-on experience which you will gain during these internships is invaluable. Some form of work experience is a great way to give your CV a boost before you begin your Master’s preparation.

#2 Research:

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This step is a demanding one. You need to look into a lot of factors and prioritize according to your needs and requirements. You have to decide which factors to focus on viz ‘University ranking’ or ‘Subject ranking’ or ‘Location’ or ‘Placement statistics’ or ‘Country’ or ‘Course structure’ and many more…

Write this down in the order of your preference (add more if you please) and start researching. But also keep in mind that university ranking is very subjective and varies a lot from sites to sites. Although, I can safely say that the top 10–15 universities will have more or less the same quality in terms of student experience and are separated by some nuances based on certain factors (viz. Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Faculty/Student Ratio, Citations per faculty, International Faculty Ratio and International Student Ratio).

You can use the following sites to get an understanding of where your university stands in various fields (and overall) in the world:

Once you have shortlisted all the universities based on your priorities, categorize them into three sections: Safe (back-up), Moderate and Ambitious universities. The total number of universities you apply to is again very subjective, but approx. 8–10 universities is a safe bet with at least 2 universities in each category.

Do make use of the ‘FREE’ chance ETS gives you, to send the scores to 4–5 universities, carefully with the help of these websites.

#3 Statement of Purpose (SOP):

As the name suggests, Statement of Purpose is your personal statement explaining to the admissions committee these main features about yourself:

So, your SOP is your chance to stand out from a crowd with similar educational background and qualification as yours. It gives you an opportunity to portray your intent and desire to learn, prove your worth, and convey why you are the perfect candidate for the respective course.

People tend to put off and delay writing SOP till the last minute. But for a perfect SOP, I would suggest you all start early! Spend as much time as possible writing, polishing and refurbishing your SOP because that is one of the most important aspects of your application. Send your drafts to your seniors whose opinion you value the most and ask them to evaluate the SOP. This will help in bringing a different perspective into the picture.

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Once you think you have reached your final draft, stop and don’t look at it for a week. Then go back again the following week and read it as a third person and see again if you want to change anything!

#4 Letter of Recommendation:

The next hurdle in the race is the Letter of Recommendation! This is the part where good relations with your professors and project guides will go a long way.

Every application will require a minimum of 2 recommendations. One has to be a person who has taught you some course(s) and knows your academic standing. The other can either be your employer or again someone under whom you have done any research project/coursework.

Professors receive at least 30–40 emails every day from students asking for a recommendation. They also have their own research work to do. So, it is not advisable to directly send the professor mail asking for a recommendation. First, send them a mail giving them an update on what you are doing in life. Then, send them a mail stating your intentions to pursue MS and your future career plans. Once they reply to this mail, you can ask them whether they would be willing to provide you with a recommendation, and if yes, how many?

You can even maintain an excel sheet (recommended) of who is giving you recommendations and to which college you want to send that particular professor’s recommendation.

#5 Resume:

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Too often, students spend too little time on their Resume writing. But a resume is a very important part of your application. Your Resume is ‘Your Marketing Point’. Hence, you must invest a significant amount of time writing your resume, get it proof checked by your seniors and some professionals (there are quite a few websites which do it for free!).

There are a lot of aesthetically pleasing and professional Resume formats available online. LaTeX is one of the better software for your Resume making. But even if you are not familiar with the software, check out https://www.overleaf.com/. This site has hundreds of templates pre-coded. You just need to edit your information in the code and download it.

The points which you must include in your Resume (may include other additional points):

The points which you should avoid writing in your Resume:

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That’s it. You reached the finish line. Now you just have to wait for the admissions office to review your application and send out the decision.

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Don’t get disheartened by the rejects you get. Always remember the saying, “No experience is ever wasted. Everything has meaning.” The things which you will learn through rejects (like how to cope with failure and stay composed come what may) is far more than what you would learn through the admits!

Best of luck to all for your applications!!

Written by — Siddharth Pandit

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