When it comes to the acceptance at the top universities, especially for subjects like MS Computer Science in USA, it’s a long bucket list that determines the outcome of an application. Of course, GPA, GRE score, internships, projects, and awards matter a lot. But, the top schools like MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell et al. expect a lot more than that. So, what do the top universities look for in the international applicants? Read the admission journey of MS Computer Science admit at Cornell and Georgia Tech of an Indian applicant after multiple rejections.
MS Computer Science Admits at Cornell and Georgia Tech after Multiple Rejections
It was a Sunday afternoon in the late January this year when Sumit Verma (name changed) reached out to me for assistance with his MS applications. Actually, it was his Mother who had called me up. I assumed he is targeting the admissions for the next year (Fall 2019), like all the other good applicants who start preparing early.
I misunderstood. He was targeting the Fall 2018 intake. Moreover, he was specifically keen on applying to Georgia Tech, whose deadline was just 4 days away (Feb 1). Additionally, he was undergoing his final year internship and he was used to be at work from 10/11 am to 8/9 pm. So, that left very little time to work on the application.
I was very reluctant to get involved in this as I was not sure if I could add any value to his application at the last stage. Sumit had already applied to a few universities in November & December. Unfortunately, he got rejections from all the top schools.
We had an hour-long discussion about his profile, goals etc. In the end, I agreed to work on his application. One of the reasons was obviously Sumit’s Mom was very keen to get me involved after reading my blog posts on Stoodnt.
Before we proceed to his application story, here is a brief snapshot of his profile:
Final Year B.Tech.in Computer Science Engineering from one of the top private universities in India
Internships: One-month internship in the US, a 6-month project with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and a 6-month on-going internship with an MNC (in India).
A long list of Awards & Honours (Grade 10 onwards).
Rejections from Top Universities Despite Having a Very Strong Profile
After going through his profile, it’s really hard to understand why he got rejections with such an impressive profile from all the top universities.
However, after hearing his application approach and going through his CV and SoP (the ones that he used for the previous applications), I was not too surprised, to be honest.
Ajay (who also works on the MS applications, though his main focus in UG & MBA admissions) and I have seen many such stories where applicants with very strong profiles get dinged by the top schools. More importantly, we see this pattern more with the Indian applicants (yes, we do work with international applicants as well).
In 2017, we also had a similar profile:
Work Experience: 1.5 years at the time of application (R&D)
Internship and Project: Three national and one international
This candidate got rejections from all the top (in fact fiercely competitive) schools – MIT, Stanford, Michigan Ann Arbor, Purdue, Wisconsin Madison, Carnegie Mellon, and Georgia Tech.
So, this is just to give you an idea that a high GPA, strong GRE score and having few internships under the belt do not guarantee acceptance to the MS programs at the top universities.
Key Takeaways from the Mistakes that Sumit Committed with his Previous Applications:
The CV and SoP were pretty much repetition of one another.
Sumit was not at all interested in research and thesis-based programs. He was also not keen on any specialization; still, he applied to the programs with thesis and specific specializations.
The research and shortlisting of the programs were solely based on the university/subject rankings.
He hardly ticked the box of demonstrated interest. He did not reach out to any faculty members, neither to any current students.
Finally, he was not clear about his objectives and career goals.
You have to remember that the top universities receive a lot of applications, especially from India. So, your application needs to be super-strong in all the components including GPA and test scores.
Read the following two articles to understand the reasons for details:
Sumit did get the admit from Georgia Tech. Later he also received admits from Rice and Cornell. Eventually, Sumit decided to go with the MEng program at Cornell.
The Turnaround after Multiple Rejections
It might look that we changed Sumit’s application radically. But, to be honest, what really worked for Sumit was that he was able to understand what went wrong with his previous applications.
It was all Sumit’s work. Our job was primarily to share counter perspectives and make him aware of the shortcomings of his approach and strategy.
The CV and SoP review/edit parts were not that tricky. However, making him realize and clear about his goals during those 3 – 4 days was the hardest part. Introspection, self-reflection, and reiteration do take time.
The Family Support & Guidance
I would also like to mention the conversations with Sumit’s Mother in this case. Due to hectic schedule and time constraints, there were instances when Sumit used to get a bit blank with the introspection process.
As the case with any Mother-Child relationship, Sumit’s Mom provided several insights about his preferences, interests, extracurricular activities & hobbies, social/community initiatives, and career goals.
Sumit was initially considering Artificial Intelligence and Software Engineering as desired specializations. It was his Mom who told me that he is not sure about a specific track within the vast field of computer science. Those little inputs proved to be immensely helpful with the entire process. If Ajay and I were acting as Sumit’s admission consultant, his Mom acted as her Mentor. That made the case easier for us. Hence, it’s only fair to acknowledge her efforts as well.
What We Really Did as Admission Consultants
Sumit and I spent most of the discussing his core strengths, program objectives, and as his long-term career aspirations. It was important for him to understand and showcase the things that truly differentiated him from his peers.
He was very patient and prompt with reverting back with the updated drafts (CV & SoP) despite being dead tired after spending ~10 – 12 hours at the workplace (his internship role). I had also asked him to connect with a few more universities (whose deadlines were in March/April) as backup options; which he did quite diligently.
Although it did work for Sumit in such a short period, don’t get encouraged by this. Admission consultants don’t possess any magic wand.
Applying to the competitive universities at the last moment can reduce the admission chances
It’s always wise to start the process well in advance irrespective whether you work on the applications on your own, or with an admission consultant.
Feedback from Sumit on the MS Admission Consulting Process of Stoodnt
Sumit has already started his MS program. However, he has been kind to provide a quick feedback about our process. Below is the excerpt:
How did our Guidance on SoP/Essays help you?
It helped me realize that I had what was needed for the SOP, but I wasn’t portraying it correctly during my earlier applications.
You had a few rejections before while working on your own? Where do you think my assistance helped you the most?
In understanding what I really should apply for.
Did you find our admission consulting fee worth given all the services and support you received?
Initially, it seemed relatively expensive which might be a reason why people are hesitant to consult. However, they’ll realize through the process that the fee is worth it.
According to you, what’s the advantage of working with independent admission consultants?
More personalized feedback is a clear standout in working with professional admission consultants.
The help from Team Stoodnt (Tanmoy & Ajay) in making me understand how to modify my SoP and playing to my strengths brought a lot of clarity in the process.
Any advice that you would like to share with the future applicants.
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