The Path to MS

I had started this blog with the strong notion of maintaining posts that are very philosophically valuable (:D, for me) and not to dilute it with rather unnecessary mundane activities. Anyways I believe this post is highly valuable although not of a rather thought provoking nature(In the hope that some of my earlier ones were).
I have wanted to put down my experiences about the long and painful process of making it to an MS program, somewhere. These are information that I collected over a long period of time.  Let me be clear about one thing, for people who wants to know about experiences during an MS degree, you can stop reading. I probably might post something useful in this direction in the near future. In the meantime, this post will give you a great deal of knowledge or hopefully some knowledge about the process of getting to a US University from India.

Not long ago, I was an engineering student like many of you who are reading this. I was wandering without an aim in life until a friend convinced me into getting an MS. One of my main motivation was the fact that I wanted to learn a great deal more. I was thinking about some unrestricted learning where you do not need to worry about grades, assignments or stupid internal marks (Not all of this is true about MS, though). Another important factor was to do something that no one else was doing. Also I had received a lot of ridicule in my first year about my college too, not one that enjoyed a great status as you can imagine. I wanted to show all those miscreants that I can do a lot better if I had tried.
Anyways, the first process of a US education is the GRE.  And this is not an easy task either.
Barron's GRE was the book that I used as recommended again by my friend, Mithun.
GRE, I believe has undergone a version change in the last year  or so. But when I was doing it, it had an 800 marks Quant section, 800 marks Verbal section and a 4.0 score writing part. The verbal section focuses on a variety of English language tasks including analogies, antonyms etc, Quant section focused on a lot of Math involving trigonometry, algebra etc and the writing section was essay writing, although I dont' remember how many. Anyways manage to get something above 1200 and you are in a safe zone and above 1300 and your in a very good zone. Don't forget that GRE constitutes to a lot of effort, intellect, your luck on that day and above all God's grace like any other task.

Get your GRE done on the first try itself and you are on your way. The next task is TOEFL. TOEFL is rather very easy if you have a relatively good grasp of English. I am not boasting here but I did not even study for the test (:D again). I read through some parts of Princeton Review the previous night of the exam and I passed with a 112/120. But I believe this varies from person to person. But Mithun, my friend also got great marks by studying in almost the same off handed manner.
A note on the order of taking the two exams, some people finishes off with TOEFL first the easy exam and then goes on to GRE. But for me the other way around seemed way better. So I did the GRE first and then took a potshot at TOEFL.
Then comes the task of admissions. This requires a lot of research on your part. Unless you are from a rather really good research background with super awesome marks, dont even think about the top 10.It will be a lot better if you know what specialization you are going into. And choose a University that is very good in that specialization.  Edulix and College Confidential can help you to this end although do not go completely  by their word. Also you can approach a consultancy. I did use one, since I was completely at sea about the whole application process.
You basically need the following stuff for admission:
i) Statement of Purpose - write all the stuff that you can think about, your background(research, academics, leadership skills etc),  about your aspirations and plans during your MS and essentially that you are a hard worker and blah blah blah. Be honest here, as the people on the admission committee are highly trained folks.
 ii) Letter of Recommendations - Most Universities accept electronic recommendations these days if your professors are up to it that is. I had send hard copies though.
iii) Consolidated Mark lists - For MGU students don't even bother. It is a really painful process of procuring it from the University. I had made the mistake of doing that. Instead it is good enough if you could record all your marks in tabular form,  take printouts and get your Principal's signature and the college seal.
I cant at the moment think of anything else. Will update the list if required.

The next stage is the admission. This will take about 3-5 months after the application deadline. Once you receive the admission, there are a few routine faxes and emails to exchange with the University regarding your funding and other stuff.  At the end of this, they will mail you a form called the I-20.
With the I-20 you may apply for a visa appointment.
Visa appointments can be made online, there are detailed descriptions online. And the visa fee is paid in an HDFC bank. For me it was in Ernakulam near MG Road. You will also need photographs made specifically for the US visa process. Just make sure that you let the studio know this beforehand and they will do the rest.

Visa Interview will be in your corresponding consulate and for me it was in Chennai. Make sure you find the place sometime before the interview. If you have a good GRE score, some good grades with no backpapers, admission and if possible funding from a respectable University, affidavit of support and papers that corroborates your financial ability to manage the living expenses and the tuition, you have done 90% of the hard work already. Accumulating all these documents are also a tough ask.

For me the interview lasted only a few minutes. The lady asked me
i) why I chose US?
ii) the specialization that I wanted to do in Computer Science and
iii)where my dad worked?
 And she smiled and said that she will mail my passport stamped with the visa in a few days.

It is a long and arduous journey and it will not be easy even after getting to the US. You will be competing with some of the best. There will be a lot of focus on your GPA as it will be required to maintain your funding. There will be times when you miss your family and friends like hell.

But on the plus side you will be getting a world class education from some amazing Professors. Unless and until Science hasn't discovered it, you can uncover any answers here. Also, some very big monetary rewards as well. So before you embark down this path think for a minute, weigh your options and then do it.

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