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Eligibility Criteria

Do you need 16 years of education in India before you go for a Masters degree in the US?

As mentioned earlier, literally anybody can do higher education (by higher education I mean Masters and the Ph.D) or what is known as "the graduate studies" in the US.  Most universities say that they need 16 years of education to become eligible for graduate studies.  So, anyone with 10+2+ a four year degree or a three year degree + diploma or a post graduation are eligible to go to the US.

However, as I mentioned, The US universities are known for their flexibility.

So, if you can convince the academic panel that you have it in you what it takes for someone to do the Masters or a Ph.D, they will be only glad to accept you.  I personally know over 25 students who went to US after 15 years of education.  While 16 years is straight forward, you need to put in a bit more work to go after 15 years (i.e. 10+2+ a three year degree).

Let us now look at the entire process from a height to identify the most important components involved.

You have to convince the universities that you are interested in studying with them.

What should you do for this?  first thing is that you cannot convince every university that you will study with them.  It will become a lot more easier if and only if you try to convince the universities that match perfectly with your background.  So, one of the crucial steps in going to the US is identifying universities that match your background perfectly.

Choose the Right University

So, your first step towards higher education is in choosing the right university.

Once you know who you have to convince...

...you just need to tell them truthfully and honestly, how interested you are about studying with them.

You can do this very elegantly with building an application package that speaks for you.  

Now, another crucial step is involved in getting an admission with aid.  That is convincing them that you are capable of studying in their university.

You do this with getting good scores in the entrance exams, providing good recommendations and with the percentage and marks that you obtained in your previous courses.

That's it!

If you do these three things correctly, you are on your way to getting a very good admission and assistantship in the US.  As they are so important, let us summarize them again:

  • Identify the universities that match perfectly with your background

  • Build an application package that convinces that you will study with them

  • Provide scores, recommendations that convince them that you are capable of being a very good student in the university

Now that you got an over all picture, let us analyze each one of the aspects in a how-to fashion.

Before that, I want to tell you everything about another interesting aspect of higher education in US...

...THE ASSISTANTSHIPS

The types of assistantships you can get from a US University

If you want to pursue higher education in a US university (M.S., Ph.D), you should aim at getting some financial assistantship.  When you get financial assistantship, the University pays for your education either partly or fully.

It is not as difficult as it sounds to get some kind of assistantship. In this article, I will discuss a few aspects of assistantships. There are 5 different kinds of assistantships that you can aspire to while applying for higher education:

  • Scholarships from external agencies

  • Fellowships

  • Research Assistantships

  • Teaching Assistantships

  • Tuition Fee-Waiver

Scholarships are generally offered by third parties to bright students. They can cover either your education or some expense related to education. Placementor.com itself has a scholarship scheme to encourage students. There are many resources available where a serious student can recoupe most of the money spent for the application procedure.

Fellowships are generally given to students whom the Universities feel will be assets to their departments. These are paid the money (tuition fee + stipend), without any strings attached. This is of course the best possible form of assistantship you can get.

However, the competition is going to be stiff.

In a Research Assistantship (RA), you assist a specific professor in doing research, writing papers etc. Here, you are expected  to put in 10 - 20 hrs every week, other than your own studies, to get paid. The RA may partially or totally cover  your tuition fee and then give you a stipend.

A Teaching Assistantship (TA) demands that you help a professor with his/her teaching responsibilities (conducting tutorials, correcting homework etc.). Again you have to spend 10 - 20 hrs per week towards this.

Generally, professors look for English speaking proficiency for this assistantship and a good score in TSE (Test of Spoken English) can be a strong point in your favor.

Finally, sometimes you may get a full or partial tuition fee waiver if you are a bright student, but the department does not have much funding to support you. In such a case, you are expected to find a job on campus to support yourself. As there is a lot of dignity of labor, you need not hesitate to work in the canteen, library, computer lab or any other place in any job. But even here you are required to put in a given number of hours in addition to your studies.

Now that you learned all about assistantships, let us see how you use the three pillar approach (choosing the right university, providing good academic record and building a convincing application packet) to get the assistantship that you deserve most.

Do Some Digging

How do you identify the universities that match perfectly with your background?

Various agencies in the US (US News being the most prominent) ranks universities based on various criteria.  The most reputed universities are ranked high.  This provides a very valuable method to see which are the best and which are the lower ranked universities in your discipline.

Obviously, the competition for admission and aid is very high in the highly ranked universities.

So, most students tend to apply to the lower ranked universities to be on the safe side.  However, my personal example provides a very valuable lesson in this case.

I had applied to three top universities using the methods that I am going to discuss later.  However, I just wanted to play it safe and applied to four bottom ranked universities.  Guess what?

I had straight fellowships from the top three (for a direct Ph.D) and

Flat rejects from the bottom four (I mean even for the Masters)

Funny, it may look but it makes a lot of sense and the logic is very simple.

Just like how you are very anxious about getting admission, the university is also equally anxious about getting the student to accept their admission. 

So, if they feel that a student has a bright chance of getting admission in a university better ranked than them, they will not take the risk of offering the admission to that student as most probably he/she will reject it.

But in most student's case this ends up being a disaster as we do not apply to good universities even though we have a bright chance. The bottom universities do not give us an admission thinking that we must have applied to good universities and will get admission there.

So it is very important to apply to a university that fits your background perfectly.

It is not as straight forward as it looks as unlike most Indian universities, US universities consider many factors for admissions.  Let me list them all here:

  • The GRE, TOEFL, AGRE, TSE, TWE scores

  • Class performance

  • Reputation of the college where you studied before

  • Number of projects you did

  • Quality of the projects

  • Number of recommendations

  • Quality of the people giving recommendations 

  • Your work experience 

  • Extra-curricular activities

  • Whether any professor is interested in you in that department

Obviously it is a difficult and tricky process and students need to do a lot of thinking in this area as this can really make or break your prospects.

Objectively analyze your entire background.  If your class performance is real good, it does not matter even if the test scores are just average.  If you have done an outstanding project, the professor you are applying to may not really care about anything else.  Evaluate your background carefully.

Is your overall background exemplary? then choose many top ranked universities and a few above average universities.  Is it bad? then choose most from the bottom universities and a few from the average group.  The idea is to spread your risk as much as possible.

Do not depend heavily on the ranking of universities.  It is a temporary thing.  Overall reputation is equally or more important.  So, a university may be ranked lower than the other university but have a much more stringent admission policy than the later.  In such a case, you are much better applying to the higher ranked university.

One great way of learning more about various universities is to study their web sites carefully.  You have to study the overall site, the student community and the department's pages. 

E-mail them about any specific conditions they have for giving admissions and assistantships.

I developed a very interesting procedure for attacking this problem.  Actually, I could not test it on myself but used it successfully for many of the students who came to me for advise. 

I had analyzed the strengths of various universities in my field (I used the rank list, the number of Indian students etc.).  Using these, I classified the universities in to 4 categories: Excellent, Good, Average and Poor.

Now, I had used some weightage for each of the above criteria.  Using these, I cam up with a cumulative score for their background.

Based on the score, I gave them a spread.  i.e. if their cumulative score is 53%, the spread says that they should pick x% from excellent universities, y% from good universities, z% from average universities and the rest from the poor universities.

This procedure minimizes the risk of applying to either the top universities or the bottom universities.  It also has the advantage that the student is able to exercise his/her choice as each category had enough number of universities that he/she could choose from.

It became so successful that I finally developed a software (RightUniv) and added it as a service to all Placementor.com-GRE customers.

You can also develop this method yourself and use it successfully.  You just need to be very careful in assigning the weights and classifying the universities.

Whatever procedure you may adapt, this is one place where you need to put in a lot of thought.  Far too many students either do not get an admission or do not end up going to the universities they deserve because they do not apply to the right universities.

 


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