How To Shortlist & Apply to the Best Universities for MS? Image
Masters abroad: preps and steps

How To Shortlist & Apply to the Best Universities for MS?

Yocket Editorial Team
12 mins read

I've got good entrance scores, I've double buttered the recommenders and my SOP is in place. So, I definitely deserve to go to the top university in the USA. But, I don't know how to go about university selection- What are the probable criteria before I shortlist them, how many should I apply to, and application schedule, forms and deadlines, etc. Shortlisting a university is a critical stage in your journey from GRE to VISA and you can't (rather, you shouldn't) take it lightly. 

So, here's your detailed, yet easy-to-understand guide to shortlisting universities for MS in the USA

Along with this we’ll also answer questions like -

  • How many universities to shortlist and apply?

  • When to apply to universities for Fall and Spring?

  • How to apply for MS in the US?

  • How to prepare application packets?

  • How University shortlisting for MS & Application Process is affected by a Student's Profile?

Counsellors at Yocket Premium can guide you and work personally with you to find your perfect match! 

How to Shortlist Universities for MS in USA?

Planning to pursue higher studies in the USA or anywhere abroad often gets complicated as one does not know on what basis he/she should select a university. Here's your guide on how to shortlist universities for MS. 

Shortlisting of a foreign university depends on the following factors:

  1. Course/ Stream of your choice and interest

  2. On-Campus Placements and career opportunities

  3. Tuition Fee and Living Expenses

  4. Financial aid for international students

  5. Location (advantage in getting Off-Campus Job)

  6. Ranking of the University

  7. Acceptance rate of International students

  8. Course Duration

  9. Difficulty level of the courses

  10. Weather

  11. Friends / Classmates

  12. Relatives

Of these, the most important factor is Course/Stream. Your future is decided most importantly by the course you opt for. Ask your seniors who have been there in the previous Fall and tell them about your interested course to get some feedback. You can also read about MS Courses on Yocket to know in-depth about each course, its specialisations and job prospects. 

Once you have finalised one or a maximum of two courses, start looking for the ideal universities. 

There are so many universities in the US that it's practically impossible for someone to remember all the names. So we've designed a simple tool for you to get started with a few university suggestions based on your profile and interest. You can try the Grad School Finder tool here

You can then discuss the results of the Grad School Finder with seniors or other peers on Yocket discussions or read reviews of universities on Yocket

Alternative: Another foolproof but major time-consuming method is to browse through the websites of Universities and learn about them.

How Many Universities to Shortlist and Apply?

Shortlisting universities for MS in the US can bring forth another pertinent question - how many universities to apply to? Well, you can apply to as many universities as you wish. The only one factor restricting you is MONEY! Yes, the application cost can be pretty heavy on your pocket. On average, one application costs you around $100.

The cost split of application to a foreign university is as follows:

  1. Online application form: $60 approx. (varies from $50 to $100 depending upon the university)

  2. Reporting your GRE score through ETS: $23 (official scores are compulsory)

  3. Reporting your TOEFL score through ETS: $17 (official scores are compulsory)

Here’s how you should apply to universities abroad and balance out the risk?

There is no rule book as to how many universities an applicant should consider and whether it's easy or difficult to get in. However, generally, students apply to 8-10 universities with 4 ambitious, 3 moderate and 2 safes (Huh?!? What’s this??)

  1. Ambitious: An ambitious university means the acceptance rate is low and the best profile gets in.

  2. Moderate: A moderate university means the acceptance rate is medium and the chances of making it to these universities are above average or somewhat realistic for your profile.

  3. Safe: For a safe university,  the acceptance rate is pretty high and the chances of getting through are very high (though it is never 100%)

CAUTION : Don’t apply to all safe universities so that you get more admits. There’s no point in getting an admit from all the safe ones. Getting at least one admit from an ambitious university should be the target. One admit from an ambitious one wins over many admits from the safes.

What is the Ideal time to Apply for MS - Fall or Spring?

This is by far the most common question you would hear from a student applying for MS. Ideally, the application process should begin by November first week for students planning for the Fall intake, whereas, for Spring intake it should be around September. Generally, engineers apply during this time, as after a month they have to go through the university exams which is stressful. So,  all the documents required for the application should be ready by the start of November (Fall) or September (Spring).

After shortlisting your universities, start filling the online application forms. For most universities, the deadlines for Fall intake are around mid-December. However, it is best to check with the university as some may have deadlines in January or March, while some may have a rolling admission process. Spring deadlines vary between September to November. 

In short, if you are applying for Fall 2022, then you should start applying anytime post October 2021. Similarly, if you're applying for Spring 2022, you should start applying post-August 2021.

Note: Many universities have two deadlines - General and Financial aid. You get financial aid only if you apply to a respective university before its ‘financial aid deadline’. Also, you are eligible for an F-aid if your scores, academic marks and achievements are marvellous.

Is applying early to a university an advantage? 

Well, not always. Many good universities review the applications after the deadline. However, that doesn’t mean you should delay your admission process. Few of the good universities start evaluating the applications as and when they receive them. This is known as ‘Rolling Admission’. Example: University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). The advantages of an early application are that if you satisfy the criteria of the university you will get an admit at the earliest, irrespective of other applicants.

How to Apply for MS in the US?

Once you are done shortlisting universities for MS in USA, next comes the application process. Here are a few pointers that will prove to be immensely useful. 

  1. First and foremost, get a Forex Card. Credit cards are expensive for transactions in foreign currency. You are going to pay a hefty amount (around USD 1000) for applying to around 8-10 universities; and each transaction will save you up to 5% if you use a Forex card instead of a credit card. 

  2. Go to the particular university’s website and see the tab for prospective students or apply now. See to it that you select the 'Graduate Programs' section as there will be a lot of data on the website which will be common for both undergrad and grad students.

  3. The forms are generally quite long extending up to 7-8 pages and you are bound to get bored and restless. But, make sure you are careful while filling the form and use the autosave facility available in all application forms.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Start filling the form even if your SOP isn’t ready (usually it’s not ready). Enter your recommender’s email address as early as possible. The university will send an email to them and they will complete the rest of the procedure. Recommenders are EXTREMELY SLOW. You have to keep reminding them frequently.

How to Prepare and Send Application Packets for MS in the US?

Packet (in application terms) is a set of documents enclosed in an envelope that is to be mailed physically to a university.

A university application packet generally consists of the following:

  1. Cover letter: It’s a letter that states the list of documents you’re sending inside the packet to the university. It consists of your application ID No. along with the address of the college. The letter is directed to the admissions committee or the Graduate Admission office.

  2. Official transcripts: This is the most important document inside the packet. It’s the official copy of your marks issued by your undergrad college and junior college (if required).

  3. Resume: Usually the resume is uploaded when you fill the application form but if there is no provision for it, then get a resume print out and send it along.

  4. Attested Marksheets: You have to get attested photocopies of your mark sheets of all attended semesters. The universities prefer that you get it attested by the Principal or the Registrar of the college.

  5. Attested photocopy of the passport

  6. Attested GRE and TOEFL scorecards

  7. Bank statement*

  8. Affidavit*

*Interested in ‘What After GRE’ - READ HERE

Letters of Recommendation  and Statement of Purpose are to be uploaded directly within the Application Form. Over the last few years, many universities have made a provision of uploading all the documents in their application forms including official transcripts. So, we suggest you check with the concerned university before sending any packet. 

If your university requires physical documents, you can send your packet via Yocket's trusted partners at a very competitive price.

How University Shortlisting for MS & Application Process is affected by a Student's Profile?

A student’s profile can impact the shortlisting and application process for a US university. Some of the factors that would play an important role.

Academic Record

Several universities in the US give substantial weightage to the academic record, GPA or percentage marks of applicants. Therefore a student with a good overall academic record sure has an advantage in the selection of a university. 

Standardised Test Scores

This is the primary factor that impacts  a student’s selection of universities. Higher your test scores, the better universities you can target. 

For undergraduate courses, ACT/ SAT and GRE/TOEFL would be considered. Whereas for graduate programs exam scores of GRE/ GMAT LSAT/ and  TOEFL/ IELTS scores would be taken into consideration

Almost all major universities publish their selection criteria and required scores on their websites and students can narrow down their target universities based on their scores. 

Work Experience/ Internships/ Research Papers / Projects 

Relevant experience in the field can also be an important factor in the selection of  schools and universities. For example a student applying for MS in Computer Science having work experience or internship in the field of AI, will have strong chances of getting into a top school (provided the minimum admission criteria is met). 

Similarly, for those applying for research courses quality  research papers & projects can open doors for applying into top-notch institutes.

Strong LOR &  SOP

Strong letters of recommendation and statement of purpose can impact your application and selection of universities. If you have good test scores backed by strong LORs and SOP you can definitely target top -rated universities in the US.

Extra Curricular Activities

Some of the best universities in the US are not interested in your academics alone, they are looking for individuals who excel in diverse fields. Therefore, having proof of your participation in extracurricular activities can help you go after good institutions.

The process of shortlisting universities for MS in the US and applying to them can come across as tedious. However, this will determine the quality of your education and future . Although a lot depends on your performance and preference, make sure you understand every aspect completely.

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