Building your brand is the key to getting into the Ivy League and the top schools, especially for competitive fields, like Computer Science.
Top #10 universities for Master’s/MS in Computer Science in the US*
|#1||Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|#2||Carnegie Mellon University|
|#4||University of California, Berkeley|
|#5||University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign|
|#7||Georgia Institute of Technology|
|#8||University of Washington|
|#10||University of Texas, Austin|
Building your Profile: One Step at a Time
Am I on the right track to meet my academic goals? Students often wait till they are in the third year of Engineering to finalize their study abroad goals. It is highly advisable to undertake profile-building activities right from high school or at least the freshman year of undergraduate study.
Building your brand is the key to getting into the Ivy League and the top schools, especially for competitive fields, like Computer Science. The Top 10 schools in the US have an acceptance rate ranging from 3% to 6%, in the upper limits. The competition you will have faced for your undergraduate admission will pale in comparison. The broad characteristics of a Computer Science potentiate would be
- Affinity for numbers
- Enjoys computational challenges
- Seeks to create ability through the application of numerical ability and engineering proficiency
- Proven proficiency in Engineering Mathematics, Calculus, Statistics, Discrete Mathematics
- Knowledge of programming languages like C++, JAVA
- Problem-solving skill and the ability to work across teams
- Leadership ability
- Exposure to diverse cultural experiences, able to work across borders
If this sounds like you, read further to gain exclusive insights on preparing for a positive outcome to your application for admission to any of the Top 10 Computer Science programs in the US.
Self-Study vs. Test Prep
The best way to tackle the preparation for standardized tests is to do it the time-tested way. Learn a concept, solve a problem, look up the solution and also brainstorm for better ways to approach problem-solving. However, if you choose to study by yourself, you will have to adhere to a strict routine, with at least two hours of daily practice, for at least one year before you give the first exam. There are those who adopt the Test Prep method, choosing self-paced, online tutorials or live classes, whichever works best for you. Choosing your method of study entirely depends on your style of learning, the pace, and also your personal affinities for time management, discipline, scheduling etc. Self-awareness is critical in making this decision and it is recommended to invite the counsel of a parent, a favorite teacher, who can brainstorm with you, while you decide the right path.
One of the first things one must remember is the adage, “Practice makes perfect.” This is especially true when it comes to standardized tests like the GRE. Eight out of ten students report higher test scores after having completed more than ten full length practice tests, than those students who have done fewer than five full length practice tests. For best results, one must undertake and complete at least 15 full length practice tests. The test score you get, after these practice tests, will be closest to your actual test score, give or take a few points. A GRE score upwards of 325 will be a great starting point, showcasing your ability to be your top pick for graduate school.
The Perfect GPA or Not, Balance the Academic Seesaw
Often, the greatest concern for a student applying to a top graduate program, particularly for a competitive discipline like Computer Science, is the question, “Is my GPA good enough?” or “I have a less than perfect GPA.” Unless you have a straight 4 pointer or a 10 pointer, per the UGC grading system, I would imagine a near-perfect GPA will make the benchmark. The idea of ‘perfect’ is both qualitative and relative, which may seem confusing to you, yet. In terms of qualitative, you have to decide if your GPA is wholly reflective of your academic prowess or not. If you have built a repertoire of solid academic projects and research work, which is engrossing, you may be able to swing the balance in your favor.
Again, you will also have to place your GPA in perspective to the other classmates in your batch, such as the highest score achieved by your classmates who stood in the top five and then, establish your own place in the rankings list. Yet another aspect would be if you were a slow starter, with backlogs in the first year, and then you caught up on the coursework. Showing sustained academic progress and a determined ability to stay ahead of the curve, despite initial setbacks demonstrate tenacity and perseverance, both excellent emotional markers for a competitive graduate aspirant.
Search for the Research
Most undergraduate degrees manage to lay the foundation for robust research aptitude, with faculty guides showing the path to getting published and securing patents. The research might of an institution becomes its calling card, particularly when the government and the industry giants grant generous endowments to support research that will turn into a viable product. And the best way to start networking with industry mavens is to contribute, support and follow research initiatives, by the professors, on campus. A student’s profile becomes significantly enhanced with the publication of at least three or more white papers, presentations at symposiums or even, actual mention in a journal publication.
Community Service – An important Component
Most of us are already part of a larger community, engaged in the common good, whether civic issues, good governance, green initiatives or any others. As we live and exist in society, at the macro level, we also are members of geographical, cultural, interest based communities, like housing societies, community halls etc. Whether it is a blood donation drive, clothes, food or essentials donation, or any deed designed to cater to a wider audience, falls within the ambit of community service.
The importance of community service is to demonstrate one’s sensitivity and ability to observe, respond and also, empathize with other individuals, beyond oneself and one’s family unit. Virtues like charity, philanthropy, generosity and compassion are key drivers demonstrated through such activities. Universities value such individuals especially as these institutions are an aggregation of individual humans. Service-oriented individuals, who are admitted as students, often enhance the campus experience. As students, they are oriented to giving back as much as they like to receive and are more likely to conform to the sterling tenets of diversity, equality and inclusion.
Choose your Recommender Wisely
The recommendation given by your favorite teacher, professor, and community service supervisor will be a valuable tool for the university to know you, from an objective perspective. And this is exactly the reason, you will need to exercise judicious caution in choosing your recommenders, remember the concept of building your brand! Use the common denominator principle to narrow your search, by identifying common ground, in line with your chosen discipline or traits you would like to highlight in your profile.
You will want to get a recommendation from a professor, who taught and gave you a positive assessment for a subject, core to your chosen graduate discipline. Similarly, if you have undertaken project work, research publications that are pertinent to your chosen discipline, be sure to have a recommendation from this resource as well.
However, if you have not had any experience that is in line with your chosen discipline, you can adopt the highlight profile approach. If you are a Mechanical Engineering student, you will likely have little or no experience in programming or even Computation. Also, you are applying to a Master’s in Computer Science. However, you will have done well in subjects like Engineering Mathematics or even, taking some classes through Coursera or Udemy on Programming and Data Science. Your approach would be to highlight your stellar grades in subjects that are of common overlap between the two interdisciplinary branches.
So as you see, the goal of a recommendation is to highlight and endorse your brand, which will best align with your dream university. This is one of the many steps to gain a positive outcome for your admission process.
Tackling the Essays/SOP: Best Foot Forward vs. Being Caught on the Backfoot
Writing an essay or an SOP can be both daunting and worrisome too, especially when one is unsure on the best way to approach this important aspect of the college application process. Your essays and SOP must address personal motivation, goals, academic achievements, challenges and such aspects of your profile to give a wholesome view of your profile, with the correct perspective. The operative word being perspective, in this case!
One of two choices would be, you can leave an aspect, open for the university committee to interpret, such as a backlog, a year lost, a poor grade, lack of project work or such blindspots, in your profile. Or, you can provide perspective on the background or the extenuating circumstances that led to being a challenge, academically, professionally or personally, affecting your trajectory.
Also, the essays and the SOP must be engaging, persuasive and rate high on readability to have a measurable impact on the application process. This includes the right mix of ordering of ideas, active voice, affect vs. effect as well as grammar, tone, inflection, syntax, all of which contribute to the making of a winning SOP and essays.
The Application: Keep it Simple
Most universities have a simple application process, which mandates the submission of documents like the academic resume, academic transcripts, a Statement of Purpose, as well as details to be filled in that are categorized as personal, academic, financial, disclosures etc. These details have to be filled out accurately and factually. Please remember there is no scope for change, once you have submitted the form. If you are applying to multiple varsities, it is highly recommended that each application is handled and processed, one at a time.
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