Study Abroad: Tips & Updates

University Application tips and strategies

shradha rao

(6 months of drama compressed into one post! )


Hi guys! Hope you will find my post useful! I will be leaving for the US in 2 weeks times, hence wanted to post my experience before leaving. I may not be available to post once my US studies begin.


  • You do not need coaching classes for GRE and TOEFL. There is no advantage of joining coaching classes. Most of the learning can be learn from GRE prep book and the rubbish “prep material” the classes give you are wordlists and questions lifted from GRE textbooks. If you do join up for coaching classes, make sure you join a place which has a good number of GRE prep books and material, so you do not need to spend anything on prep stuff.
  • You do not need to join a consultancy for the admission process. Many consultancy sweet-talk you and scare by saying “How difficult the application process is” and “How they will edit your SOP and help you with documentation ” and shit like that. Advice: if you cannot learn to deal with the stress of applying smartly and on your own, you are not prepared for the real world. MY STORY: no consultancies, applied to 11 places, got 7 admits. If I can do it, anyone can.



  • Give GRE -TOEFL (June 2014- October 2014)
  • Select Unis (start early, so that you do not miss deadlines, have your final list of Unis done by October end), get transcripts prepared, make SOP, LOR, CV.
  • Apply, Apply, Apply!!! (as per application opening dates, most deadlines range from November end to mid-March)
  • Finish all applications, now wait!! (December 2014-mid Feb 2015)
  • Receive admits (Feb 2015- April 2015)
  • Finalize University


Let's Begin!

1. Make a list of universities -

Spend 2-3 weeks making a master-list of Universities to apply to. This list can include 20-30 Universities. Check out each Universities and catagorize the them into –

  • AMBITIOUS: 2-3 Unis (chance of getting here are slim, These include places where the super-genuis nerds get into. IVY League and Unis from which some super-freak-relative of yours got his PhD. Too high-ranked for your profile But YOLO! So apply)
  • MODERATE: 4-5 Unis (I think I can get here. If xyz can get here, so can I!)
  • LOW RANK: 1-3 Unis(these are generally places which are below your awesome profile. But you can get a scholarship here)

You can read more about Safe, Moderate and Ambitious on How to decide which Universities are Safe, Moderate and Ambitious for me?


2. What to look for when applying to universities?

  • Courses Offered
  • Degree requirements (24months, 26months, no of credits required to graduate)
  • Degree options (thesis/non-thesis, co-op education option)
  • RESEARCH AND FUNDING (Very Important!)
  • Tuition (v. V .important! Some places are freakishly expensive!!)
  • Scholarships
  • Location of University. (Masschts, New Jersey, New York and California have a higher cost of living, as compared to other states)


3. What most universities do not tell you?

  • How many students are accepted per year.
  • Which professors will NOT be accepting students for MS thesis or PhD (dangerous, if you explicitly state stuff like “I want to work under Prof XYZ for my thesis). It is better to email the University professor, if you are interested in working with him/her. Chances are, if he is on the admission committee and remembers your email, he may view you application positively.


4. How to calculate tuition fees?

Each program requires you to complete a number of credits to graduate and you are billed as per these credits
Eg No of credits: 30 Tuition: $900/credit
TUTITION FEES= 900* 30 = $27,000 ( this is for the entire duration of the program, and not per year) You are billed as per the number of credits you register for, each semester.
This means that fees for courses is $27,000, excluding examination fees, living expenses, transport, mobile bills, shopping, etc. Annual living expenses ranges from $10,000 to $20,000 per year depending on where you live, whether you have roommates and lifestyle. Hence, cost of study is important while selecting a University.


5. University Ranking 

Do not take University ranking so seriously. Instead of University ranking, select rankings based on your program. For example, “Best University in US for Artificial Intelligence” , “Best Universities for Biotechnology” instead of “Best Universities in USA”. However, rather than ranking, you should see what the university offers. A lower ranked University may have a program and coursework and research more to your liking that a high-ranked one. These rankings are based on a number of factors, so please do not be biased in favour or against any Uni based on “rankings”. You do not need to go to a “Top 20” University to be successful in life.


6. Cost of University Application

This is the amount you may spend for EACH university:

GRE SCORES: $25 (using $1= Rs60, this comes to Rs. 1,500)

TOEFL scores: $ 18 (Rs. 1,080)

Couriering of transcripts: Rs 1,000 (if you take FedEx, DHL)

University application fees: $50 to $100 (Some Unis do not have application fees)

Approximate cost for each application: Rs 3,580 (without application fee) and Rs 6,000-Rs9,000 (with application fee).

i. Online Application -

Most application stuff is sent ONLINE. Each University will require you to make an online account where you will submit SOP, CV and register you professors/recommenders for sending LORs, answer some . Transcripts will need to be prepared and couriered. Some Universities do not follow the online process thoroughly and all the application material hasto be mailed- including LORs, SOPs, etc. Please write down your account username and password, and do not lose them!!. Also, some applications will need your SOP to be uploaded (as .doc or .pdf, pdf is better though) or to be typed (that is, copy+paste from your Word Document).

ii. Preparation of transcripts - 

To get your transcripts prepared, this is the general procedure followed.

  • Get attested copies on your semester marksheets and submit at office
  • Office will prepare 1 copy of original transcripts and submit it to you. (each college has a fees for preparing transcripts ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 1000)
  • Take photocopies of the prepared transcripts as per the no. Of Unis you are applying to.
  • Get each set of photocopied transcripts attested and signed with Institute seal and Registrars (or whoever is in charge) sign.
  • Place each signed and attested transcript set into separate envelops.
  • Get envelops signed and sealed by your college
  • Courier or mail to your University.

Please, please do not open these envelops after they have been sealed!!!! US University protocol demands that your transcripts be untampered with and be submitted in their original form.


7. University Deadlines

There are 3 types of universities. Please NOTE THAT THIS IS A GENERALIZED IDEA AND EACH UNIVERSITY HAS THEIR OWN ADMISSION STYLE. This generalization is made after observation and discussing with about 20 friends and seniors, also with one of my relatives on the graduate admission committee at Cornell University. I have compiled this list by inputs from all.

  • Universities with Rolling Admissions..... What is rolling admissions??? It means that universities review application as they are submitted and make their decisions as they review application. They do not wait for the deadline to pass before beginning the review process. By the deadline, the admission committee can have decided on 80% of their admits. Chances of late application means higher rejection rate.
  • Universities which wait till deadline PART 1- These universities wait until deadline to start reviewing. HOWEVER, they start reviewing in the order of submission. Example: Ram submits his application on November 25 and George submits on 3rd Feb. Deadline for applications is 15th Feb. Both applications are viewed after the deadline has passed. However, Rams application will be received before George’s and hence will be viewed before George’s. Do undestand that there may be hundreds of application between Ram and Geroge. IF the universities follow the first-come first-serve attitude, they are probably going to make decision early as well. Rulel of Thumb: Some universities have the idea that students who take the trouble and interest to apply early are students who really really want to join. I have also experienced this. At UMD, I submitted my application 1 month before the deadline and I missed, I submitted 1 day before the deadline. I noticed a stark contrast in the time I got my admission decision (Note : both had the exact same deadline, 15th March)
  • Universities which wait till deadline PART 2 (Universities with a “meh” attitude to deadlines). Some universities just organized the applications in alphabetical order and do not use the FCFS attitude. Decisions are generally made when all applications are reviewed

In short

  • Some Universities give decisions as they are reviewed. (higher majority)
  • Some Universities give decisions after they have seen each and every application.
  • Most Unis do not mention which method they adopt. However, Unis which have early-review procedure generally state as much in ambigious terms like “We receive hundreds of applications per year” and “An early application is encouraged”. Some Universities do mention that they have rolling admissions. Each Uni admission procedure is different from the next. My suggestion: apply as early as possible.



  • Most LORs are done online. While filling in your online application, you are asked to enter the names, affiliations and email addresses of 2/3 people who “are in a position to recommend your candidacy for their graduate program”. Once you enter the details, the concerned individuals are sent an email with a link to write an LOR on your behalf. Once they submit the LOR, it is stored on your application. NOTE : LORs should also be completed by your recommenders before the application deadline.
  • You generally need 2-3 people to recommend your application as a promising grad student.
  • Selecting 3 recommenders = 1 undegrad prof + project/internship prof + employer (if you are working). If you no not have internship/projects or jobs, selct 3 undergrad professors.
  • It is not necessary to have some HOD or CEO draft your LOR. Admission committees look at “letters from HOD” and “Letters from simple undergrad prof” with the same level of unbias, as long as the recommender is in a position to judge your [potential as a grad student.
  • DO NOT ASK visiting faculty/ relatives, seniors to be your recommnders.
  • You often have to draft your own LOR. Your employer/prof will proof read it, add/delete stuff and inform you that they will send your LOR. The will save the LOR as a pdf file to be uploaded or a Word Document (for copy+paste).
  • It is better (though not compulsory) that your recommender use their affiliate University/organization email address rather than a gmail/yahoo one. This is necessary to authenticate your LOR, since most profs in USA HAVE their affiliate University/Organization email id which their use for professional work. If your recommender does not have a professional id, don’t loose sleep over it. Many Indians do not have professional addresses and use their gmail/yahoo.
  • If your University needs LORs to be mailed, then draft LOR, send to prof, get in printed on college letterhead, place in envelop, stamp, seal, sign from professor, and mail along with transcripts (saves money, plus makes Unis life easier)



SOP tips, ONLINE APPLICATION TIPS, more aping tips, I20, VISA:)

Hope it was helpful.

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