While many of us end up pursuing engineering due to unwarranted reasons, as we go through the curriculum, some of us begin to appreciate the beauty in our subject of study and find ourselves fascinated by the tids and bits of the scientific world, so much so that we feel interested to plunge into the depths of research and bask in the intricacies of existing theorems and new discoveries. A Masters degree, unquestionably, is the best way to vent this spirit of scientific inquiry.
The process of Graduate Admissions for universities in the United States – or for that matter in Canada, Europe, the UK, Australia, and others – can be a very confusing and uncertain one, given the subjective nature of evaluating student applications, and the sheer number of choices available in terms of the program offered, variations of a single program in one school or across different schools, and the myriad of college and/or grad school rankings. However, there are certain pointers one can bear in mind while selecting courses and universities, which can greatly help in reducing the confusion and uncertainty. We present to you a catalog of tips for taking up the masters route abroad.
First, and the most important of all, be certain of your career goals. Is it something super-specific, a mix of different disciplines, something completely unrelated to technology and science, or simply the opportunity to work and settle in a different country? Once you have the answer to where you want to be in life, start asking if further education is the way to go and look at different Graduate programs from the perspective of how they can help you achieve your goal. For example, the traditional Master of Science programs in the US, which cover the breadth of research, would not be suitable for a candidate whose only goal is to get a job after their program.
Once you know what program floats your boat, the next step is shortlisting of universities. For this step, one should keep certain factors in mind, such as the course outline, faculty in the department, relevant research in your area of choice (for traditional MS and Ph.D. programs), return on investment (grad programs can be very expensive in the US), and other secondary factors such as location can be considered in case of breaking ties.
Rankings: True Enough?
While college and grad school rankings can be useful for getting an initial list of Universities, using those to shortlist any further can be risky business. For instance, Cornell is ranked better than the University of Michigan by US News for Computer Science Grad Schools, but if your area of interest is Computer Architecture, the rankings can be misleading. It then makes more sense to shortlist your schools based on the number of faculty at a school, and their research outputs in a sub-field.
More experienced faculty members ensures that courses offered in their domain would be good. It is also crucial to look at the course outline of a grad program while shortlisting. Universities in the US allow a lot of flexibility in picking courses for a program. If certain degree requirements are met, one is free to pick courses not just from their department, but from anywhere in the University. While making your mind up on selecting universities, be very diligent in going through the course pages of each university under consideration, to determine if their program structure and roster of courses is to your liking and suits your overall goal well.
Value for money
Another major factor that can significantly help in selecting better is the return on investment of the program. Although universities in the US and elsewhere do not have placement and recruitment processes like those in India, most schools publish job and salary data of their students and alumni. Data such as this can be useful while evaluating if a course offering from a university is worth the hefty tuition.
It is also possible to get financial assistance in the form of research assistantships, teaching assistantships, departmental fellowships, and external scholarships, though the latter two are very hard to come by, some schools do support even their Master’s students with the help of Research and Teaching assistantships. For instance, Computer Science departments at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Maryland, University of Wisconsin are amongst some in the US, along with a whole bunch of CS schools in Canada, partially or fully sponsor all their MS students during their course of study.
Hit and Trial
Given how uncertain admission decisions can be, a student should apply to a good mix of schools that are very probable to admit, reasonably probable to admit, and some that have low chances to admit. To shortlist schools for each category, find out a school’s acceptance rate for your program, not the overall acceptance rate, and the kind of candidate profile that gets an admit for the program. Although your profile might be very similar to candidate profiles who have historically been admitted to a certain program, low acceptance rates can still swing your decision either way.
Get the feel
Also as part of the preparations for admission to a university abroad, it is very important to familiarise oneself with the changes that one will have to deal with. It is pivotal that you get into the research mindset, for you will have to develop the skill of carrying out high-quality research, entailing a lot of in-depth literature review, planning, improvising, and presenting. You also need to stand strongly by work ethics. There is zero tolerance towards plagiarism. Some courses do not have a final exam, instead, you have to submit a term paper, where you have to properly cite all the references, otherwise, you might be penalized.
Management of time is also a skill that will come in handy, as you will not only have to deal with your academics but take care of household chores as well. It is a good idea to begin prioritizing tasks. With the new government, it is suggested to take the state into consideration too. While the Eastern States like Massachusetts and New York are very relaxed, certain Central States may not be as lenient.
Exploration is the key to survival
A Master’s degree helps you develop a variety of skills, all due to its student-friendly make-up. The class sizes are small which facilitates communication and collaboration with peers. The professors do a fantastic job at stimulating curiosity through classroom discussions. For instance, in a course on Material Challenges in Additive Manufacturing, the last 30 minutes of every class was dedicated to presenting your analysis on a journal article assigned to you on a related topic. The emphasis is on fundamental concepts and coming to class prepared so that you are not clueless.
It is also going to be a great opportunity for you to explore different cultures and make friends from all over. The Chinese tend to be workaholics and be within their circle- you may find your way in through board games. Americans tend to be very formal and politically correct- they are fun to talk to and catch a beer with. The Brazilians and Turks are easy-going and impressive soccer players.
In summary, grad admissions can be really tricky, but carefully going over program and school details, prioritizing programs, and schools by the parameters that are of importance can make the process tolerable and produce the results you want to see. Happy hunting!