Can a student who completed his schooling from a Marathi medium school that too in a village, be able to go for a MS in the US? Is it possible that you stay away from the city among a crowd of students who are not fluent in English and yet get a great GRE score, go abroad and do a Masters?
The answer is a Yes. And it is not the story of just me, it is the story of the network that has been created because a few people took initiative to do so. I am Prashant Patil from Solapur and I am going to tell you how my cousins, friends and colleagues defeated the odds of vernacular education and fulfilled our MS dreams.
The day when I had first thought of pursuing MS, this question arose in my mind - will I be able to manage it? Forget managing, will I be able to get in? I was very confused and disturbed. I thought about this for next 5-6 days and I decided to discuss this with a close friend (currently pursuing MS at NEU, Boston) who was preparing for GRE back then. Upon discussing, he told me something that still remains the single most important aspect that each and every MS aspirant should keep in mind - though you haven't completed your schooling from an English medium school, your aptitude is strong and so is your core domain knowledge (Civil engineering, in my case).
Why I say that this is the single most important factor is because lets accept it - you can improvise on your English, work really hard and get good GRE scores if you try; but if you do not know your engineering, how can you do a MS in the subject? We fail to realize that an MS is a technical degree and not a liberal arts course which requires excellent command over English from the word go. You will be able to learn English, in fact, good English in 2 years even as you complete your masters. But you cannot learn your engineering from scratch in 2 years.
His words boosted my confidence but I still wasn't sure about this. I was still in a dilemma and perhaps still under confident. I then spoke to my cousin (currently pursuing Ph.D. at UT. Austin) and he cleared my all doubts. After talking with these two people I decided that I should give this a genuine shot.
Then the next issue was preparation. To get started, I met Dr. S. S. Metan, my professor in college. We prepared a plan, according to which I was supposed to concentrate on my academics to get good marks so that my transcripts will be impressive and after completing my BE, I'll take a gap of one year in which I'll appear for GRE & TOEFL, apply to universities, appear for VISA interview etc. I followed the plan religiously that paid off - I stood first in my university. Undergraduate performance is often neglected and I knew that if I had to cover up for everything else, my academic scores need to be perfect. Students ignore professors throughout their 4 years of engineering, but honestly, when they need a good LoR, when they need good internal scores - who helps? The very same professors. These are small things everybody keeps ignoring and these are also things that cannot be undone. I always maintained a good rapport with my Professors and even today, it is my professors who had extended unending support to me in my pursuits. I owe them my success.
Next up was GRE. I knew that I would not be able to join coaching classes in my city – it would just not be up to the mark. I formed a group along with five of my friends (all are currently pursuing MS at esteemed universities abroad) to work out on the plan. We decided that we won't put our money on consultancies, we'll help each other in every stage of this process. One thing I noticed at that time was that the aptitude (quantitative) part depends upon your intelligence, way of handling clues and your logical thinking ability so though you are from vernacular school you can get good marks. But the same cannot be said about the verbal section. The amount of time I used to take while preparing for vocabulary and other questions in verbal section was always much more than that taken by my friends. I decided to concentrate more on aptitude part and get at least 160+ marks. I secured 163 in aptitude and as expected 143 in verbal. I am not saying that you ignore a certain section - I am just saying that you can prioritize.
Next came TOEFL which was much more scary than GRE. I prepared hard and put in extra efforts to get a good score but got 78 in my first attempt. I was not eligible to apply to many good schools with this score so I booked a slot for TOEFL and again started preparing for it. From my first attempt, I came to know that I can write, read and speak English properly but when it comes to listening informal conversations I get confused about the tone of speaker, accent and pronunciation. I dug deeper and tried watching English shows - this really helped me to clear TOEFL in second attempt. This is unconventional and inexpensive but helped me tremendously.
The next hurdle was writing a Statement Of Purpose. Many people told me about the importance of SOP, it can either make or break your chances of getting an admit. I started writing my SOP but it wasn't up to the mark. I wrote it many times but wasn't satisfactory. After several trials it got finalized. I did not accept a draft which I was unsure of. I took each and every opportunity to draft it again and again till I liked it. Then I got it proof read by my seniors and friends. I spent around 18-20 days on that along with my work as I was working as a Teaching Assistant at NKOCET, Solapur.
The application part was also tedious but more exciting. I applied to 8 universities in US and got admits from 4 universities. Out of them, I am joining Texas A&M University at College station.
The main thing I want to convey from this article is that if you are confident about yourself then you can achieve anything. Being from vernacular school shouldn't be a reason to avoid trying for MS. You could belong to a Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali or Punjabi medium school but none of that should deter you from dreaming of doing your MS from the US. As me and many other students from such schools have got an admit from best US universities, you may be the next one! So don't be afraid and go for it! I'll explain my post-admit journey in my next article. I wish you all best :)