The most crucial step in the whole process of studying abroad, is the application process. Unless applications are filed properly, completely and correctly, admission is either delayed or denied. This leads to loss of time, money and possibly the zest for future!
It is essential to plan this important process step by step, carefully and with several aspects in mind. What could they be?
1) Am I applying to the right program? - When you are applying for a Master’s level program in universities abroad, the options for specialization are several. There will be multiple Specialisations, concentrations and majors to choose from. For example, under the broad field of ‘Computer Science’, one could choose ‘Artificial Intelligence’ or ‘Robotics’ etc. So is the case with several engineering specialties. If one is looking for an MBA program, the choice is literally huge, with typical specializations like ‘Non-profit’, ‘Industrial’, ‘Pharmaceutical Management’ Hospitality, Hospital and several other non-traditional choices. Hence, choosing the right specialization with a program is the first step in right direction.
2) Am I applying to the right university? - With several thousand universities in USA alone, it is practically difficult if not impossible to ‘choose the right university’ to apply and seek admission. Because of the flexibility in their education system, each university in the USA and other countries follow their own curriculum, design their courses and programs according to need and generally differ vastly from one to another. What may be a good program at one university, may be very bad at another, even with a similar curriculum - because of the priorities attached to the program. Hence, it is only natural to choose ‘right universities’ for the application process.
3) Am I applying at the right time? - Unlike in India, universities abroad provide admission each semester - roughly once in every four and half months and mostly twice a year. Their deadlines vary from one to another, and from one program to another, within the same university! Because of international applicants, deadlines are carefully determined. The ‘paper work’ involved with admission, SEVIS procedures and several other aspects take much longer than for a domestic applicant. While local students may apply as late as 60 days to one week before the start of a semester, all international students have to apply one year to 90 days before the start of semester. And if one is looking for financial aid, applications have to be filed much earlier.
4) Am I applying in the right way? - ‘Online’ or ‘Paper-based’ applications? This could be quite tricky if one is not comfortable and sure about the requirements of universities applying for. Some universities insist on only online applications, while some offer only paper-based ones. Some tempt you without any application fee if applying online and some give a discount for the same reason. Either way you apply, there will be several documents that have to be sent separately by post or courier - transcripts, recommendations, bank statements etc. Depending upon the time available to you, choose the right option to apply for. Online is cheaper and faster, but tedious. International Credit card is required for application fee payment. Whereas paper based applications are time-consuming, laborious and prone to mistakes and corrections - which makes them ugly!
5) Am I using the suitable parameters for selecting correct universities? - Some universities are quite large and some are quite small - just a two bed-room apartment set ups. Some have a lot of professors and others have very less number of students! Some have research as their paramount method of teaching. Whereas others focus on class-room based learning only. Similarly, there will be several other factors that have to be considered carefully for application. Depending upon your interests, aptitude, preferences and requirements, should you decide on a set of universities to finally apply for.
6) Do I have the required time and money? - Application process normally takes anywhere between six months to one year for Bachelors and Masters level and more than one year for Doctoral level. During this period, a lot of ground work has to be done in order to meet requirements and deadlines. Casual approach without regard to time frame will affect the whole process negatively. Likewise, applying to universities cost a bundle. If you plan to apply for 3-4 universities alone, the costs may be approximately Rs 25,000 - 30,000 including application fee, courier and documentation costs. Even this financial aspect need to be considered carefully before initiating the process.
7) Finally, Is this the right direction? - Why do you want to study abroad in the first place? What would you like to do later? What are your career goals? How would you like to reach those goals? These and several other factors like budget, correct choice of country etc., play a crucial role in determining your reasons for taking this first step. Unless you are sure about your first step, you cannot be certain of the unfaltering approach till the last step. Think carefully and objectively. Consult your parents, mentors and people who are in the know of things and then make a firm decision. Career Consultancy will be with you all the way, guiding you at every step, determining your priorities and providing you with the right direction. Career counselling is the core activity and focus for us, to help the students in all aspects.
Now that you have considered and determined your priorities, what is the next step?
Evaluate universities’ information from respective catalogs (latest) or websites.
Choose a set of universities that offer your field of study and that has specialization nearest to your choice and aptitude.
Since most universities prefer online applications, visit the websites and download the application instructions.
Go through each of the universities’ instructions with regard to transcripts, SOP, recommendations, application fee and any other specific requirements. Be aware that this information differs for each of the universities.
Start the online application process with all your academic and financial documents beside you, in addition to an internationally acceptable credit card (for application fee payment)
Complete the application at one go, or save it for submission later. Please note the time as given by universities for completing such applications.
After submitting the completed online applications, make sure that you send all the documents by courier to the department and Graduate/Undergraduate Admissions office, as the case may be. Non-receipt of documents will delay your application processing
Arrange to get your test scores reported by ETS directly. This is mandatory for most US universities
In case if recommendations are to be sent by your recommenders directly, please ensure that they fill up the required forms (or make their own recos.) and see that they are sent to the correct address.
Do not forget to include a Bank Statement and an Affidavit of Support along with your academic documents, since these are required before issue of I-20. By including these documents while applying itself, you would be saving time and money (in the form of courier charges) when universities remind you about them.
Once your application is complete in all respects, the universities will provide you a ‘code’ with which you may determine your application status. You may check with the university about the completeness of your application and documents about a week/10 days after your documents are received by them.
Follow-up with the universities about your admission status, from time to time.
Once you have a confirmation of admission in the form of an I-20, start interacting with your ‘advisor’ assigned to you by the university - Regarding information about the department, research, faculty, student associations etc. and any other useful information.
Now, it’s time to plan the all-important visa process!