4 Common Mistakes to Avoid While Applying to US and Canada for MS Programs
Over the last few years, we have observed a few common mistakes final-year students or young professionals often make while applying for MS admissions at the US and Canadian universities. Here are the 4 Common Mistakes to Avoid While Applying for MS in US and Canada.
1) Wrong College List and Program Major –
U.S. and Canada have at least a few hundred colleges to apply to for a good MS program. Most, if not all, of these universities, have a good, strong academic program, research opportunities, and faculty.
For example, every state in the U.S. has two good STEM public colleges, and a few of them like California, Texas have many more. Most of the students, especially international students, tend to apply to the global known university names like Purdue, UCLA, Michigan, Georgia Tech etc., irrespective if they have the GPA or GRE scores to even qualify in the competitive pool.
To prepare the university list, students should target applying to around 6 – 10 universities, with 40% of them being aspirational, 40% being in the target list and 20% of the colleges as back up. It is better to get an admission than go without admission and re-apply the following year. Secondly, students should also apply to universities in Canada or other countries to have options.
Lastly, students get carried away by the hot programs such as AI, ML, and Robotics etc. and end up applying for some of these programs when they do not have the basic pre-requisite for admission or a weak background. For example, if a student had majored in Electrical Engineering or Power Systems, their chance of getting admitted into a CS program is slim. However, they still can join an EE graduate program and take some CS courses or other courses of interest.
To prepare the college list, students should look at their overall GPA (especially in the final years), GRE scores, the reputation of their own college and make the decision on the college list based on above factors. There is no point applying to the top 10 colleges if you are not in the top 10% of your graduating class, top 2-3% in the GRE score and are graduating from a reputed college that U.S. or Canadian universities are aware of.
2) SOP or Essays Not answering the key question –
Many students think SOP is a re-hash of their CV and they should focus on detailing out all the good work they have done in a technical field, their experience, internships, and courses.
There is a reason why colleges call this “Statement of Purpose” and not a detailed resume. As part of SOP, admission teams are more interested in learning about the student’s purpose for pursuing the program, college, his or her interests, what they want to do later with the degree and education.
This is an important aspect of the application and many students fail to use this opportunity to provide a differentiated view and story to the admission teams on why they should admit them.
3) Generic Letter of Recommendation –
Most of the students I have guided and helped over the last few years usually do not pay much attention to their Letters of Recommendation (LOR). These LORs are usually generic and they are not sure how to get one that may be able to help their application.
LORs should be focused on highlighting 2- 3 areas for students that are their strengths and with clear examples to back it up. Without supporting examples, the LOR just becomes a letter with a few lines and a lot of positive buzzwords. It is tough for admission teams or professors to see a student’s strength, its applicability to the program and how he or she may be able to add value to the department.
Always get LOR from Professors or bosses who know you well and can write very specific examples to support their recommendations. Also, give them some context and background before you request the LOR. The more information you provide them, better they can write it and support your application.
4) Not Contacting and Engaging with Universities
Be practical and face it – if you are applying to a top tier university, you are not the only brilliant student applying to that university. With increasing competition and available resources (test prep, admission consultants, online samples, free insights etc.), things are extremely competitive these days.
It’s very normal that the applicant pool will have very high grades and high GRE scores. Of course, you can stand out by showing off research projects; internships at top MNCs, graduating from a top brand (say IIT, NIT, BIT or IISER).
So, you really need to put serious effort into standing out from the crowd. Besides, you also need to gather information to find out the right universities. So, it’s only wise to reach out to the universities and engage.
In today’s digital age, you do not need to visit the universities in-person. Well, the universities will definitely like that; but, it’s not possible for everyone.
Reach out to the admissions counselor or international recruitment officer (or manager) of the university. Send polite emails to the Professors. There is a certain rationale for the existence of the international office or admissions office within a university.
Get in touch with the alumni and/or current students. The universities need to know if you are genuinely interested in their university, or just submitting application randomly. They need to be sure if you are taking an informed decision or not.
Even following your targeted universities on social media can prove to be helpful. You can’t ignore online presence and engagement these days. Yes, social media presence is not a gimmick anymore. Since 2010, universities do take social media seriously.
So, every student applying to graduate program to the top U.S. and Canadian universities should pay attention to the above points and spend a good amount of time identifying, shortlisting their college list, the program they want to apply to, what to write in their SOP and who to request the LOR from.
Need more tips on how to get into top universities for MS? Watch the following video:
Author: Ajay Singh
Ajay is the co-founder of Stoodnt and spent 20+ years in senior leadership roles with companies such as American Express, Cendant and Intel prior to starting Stoodnt. He has a M.B.A. from Harvard, M.S. in Computer Engineering from U.T. Austin and B.Tech from I.I.T Roorkee (India).
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