Steps to get an admit for a Master’s degree from a good university in the United States
Here are the 12 main things you need to build a profile for getting an admit from a decent university. It might take ~4 months up to a year, so don’t expect things to run smoothly and go in the US just next month. I have a Computer Science background, so things might be a bit (very) different for someone from medical or law.
I’ll also include my timeline for the Fall semester so that you get an idea of when to take GRE, TOEFL, and apply.
Here is a step by step guide that you need to follow:
- Get a good CGPA in undergrad: Well, this is a no-brainer. You often hear students saying: ‘Grades don’t matter, here, take a shot before tomorrow’s exam!’ and since Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, both dropped out of college early, you might feel that’s true. Well, you are wrong my friend. I agree with some extraordinary cases but there are people with 10 pointer competing with you. Think before you feel that grades don’t matter. I thought the same and am regretting to date! A good GPA is not required to be successful in life but just to get a good college.
- Take GRE: Ideally, you might need about 3 months of preparatory time. You can check out the GRE Website. Make sure you prepare well for the exam as it is a very very (can’t stress enough) important factor on the level of the university you’ll end up getting. For my Indian audience, let’s consider GRE as our good old JEE. Out of 340 if you get 330+, you’ll get the prestigious IIT (considering your background is good as well). If you get 320+, you might end up in NITs or the top college in your city. With 310+, you can get the few top colleges in your city, and below 300 might land you up in a college far far away which you never heard of, making you think if the job at McDonald's would have been better for life (Just an analogy). Usually, students use a good GRE score to mask their low CGPAs. A low GPA and great GRE score might put you in a better than average position. ‘People with low CGPA, take some notes!’
- Take TOEFL or IELTS: Oh, this is one fun exam. I remember seeing the format of the paper a day before the exam, waking up on THE day, giving the test effortlessly, and coming home with a 7.5 out of 9 (Well, 10 days later). This does not mean you should do this. Two or three mock papers would be enough preparation if you think you are good at English. If you feel you aren’t and you struggle with basic grammar sometimes, this is another tough exam, possibly tougher than the mighty GRE!
- Write a Statement of Purpose: It’s a hell of a lot of work. It took me more than a month to draft SOP which I still don’t think is perfect to date! You might struggle to remember your life events and if you do remember, you would struggle to fit it all in one page. If you want, I might write another blog on how to write a good SOP. If you are a rookie, SOP consists of points like why do you want to do a Master’s, why this University, what are your life expectations, etc., and most importantly, your past work, projects, and what you learned from it.
- Draft a Resume/ Curriculum Vitae: A no-brainer again. This would just be a normal resume focusing on your education, work-ex, projects, skills, achievements, etc. I think everyone in this world has a resume, just get it reviewed by someone for errors.
- Get a transcript from your undergrad university: You would need to ask for a transcript at your college. It might be online so you don’t need to visit if you are out of the city. They make you pay for approval as well as sending hard copy transcripts to each university. You are not required to send official transcripts to the universities before getting an admit, although some of them ask for it.
- Get professors or (and) managers to write you a letter of recommendation: It is an ideal scenario to have one professional and two academic LORs. If you have 3+ years of work experience, having two professionals and one academic would also be fine. You cannot know the contents of the LOR, as it is sent directly by your manager or professor to the intended university. Also, do this well in advance as they might take a lot of time to draft and send. You might miss deadlines, I know I did :(
- Decide Universities: Finally to my favorite part of the process, I could do this step again anytime! Your counselors might try to hook you up with certain universities that they have tie-ups with. I was shocked to see a counselor giving me a list of universities that were few of the worst in the country. I did not fall for that as I had done a lot of research myself, but many people I know have. Here are a few websites which I used and you should check rankings before making a decision: QS World Rankings, USNews, and Times Higher Education Ranking. How many universities to apply to? Umm, I did 12, but I would say ~10. Many students apply only to 6–7 or even less. Out of 10, 3 ambitious (which are your dream universities and a very low chance of you getting that), 4 moderate (Good chances of you getting and admit, perfect profile for that university), 3 safe (easy and definite admit). Remember, you might get admit from an ambitious one and rejected from a safe one. You also need to do extreme research and get the university list verified from 5+ seniors at least.
- Apply: This is not a fun part. You need to sit down and apply to every single university which might take a day each. There are many deadlines when you can apply, like priority deadline, early deadline, last deadline, extended deadline, final deadline, etc. It is always advised to apply before the priority deadline. There are low chances of getting an admit if you apply after the priority deadline.
- Send LORs and transcripts: You would have to request your professors or managers to send recommendation letters to every university which is a headache for them and us too. It would be better if you apply to all universities, give them a list, and on one fine weekend, they’ll submit all your LORs. If the university requests an official transcript for a profile evaluation, you need to request your college to send a hard copy which also would take ~5 days. Check the priority deadlines and act accordingly.
- Wait for decisions: The anticipation of waiting for admission is the worst. You would probably get safe admits sooner than others. I remember being under stress for months after numerous rejections and finally shouting ‘WHATTTT’ in a restaurant with my friends while randomly seeing the admit message in the notification bar on my phone!
- Accept one admit: When you finally decide on a university you would attend, send them your acceptance. They would then process your i20 and now you can apply for a visa.
- Get ready for a visa interview: Well, I wouldn’t know. The covid batch has been the worst where students are not getting a chance to even book an appointment. Anyway, I’ll write a post for the same in a few months. (Pray for me!)
An ideal timeline:
Let’s say you are going for Fall 2022: (else, change the year)
- Prepare for GRE and take before August 2021 (Score valid for 5 years)
- Take TOEFL or IELTS in September 2021 (Score valid for 2 years)
- Get ready with SOP, LOR, Resume, etc by November 2021 (It takes a month’s time)
- Apply in November-December 2021. A very few universities have their deadlines as 1 December 2021. Most of them have 31 Dec as their deadline.
- Decisions start coming from March till May 2022. Choose the right university and confirm your seat before their deadline.
- Get your i20 and apply for your visa. In normal conditions, get your appointment in June 2022.
How to get application fee waivers? What’s the catch?… Coming soon.
About me: I’m an incoming Fall 2021 (hopefully :P) MS CS student at the University of Florida. Check out my LinkedIn profile :)