Walking Left to Walking Right – A Thousand Miles Away #4

The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been working for the last 80 years to find out what makes an individual happy, and how to lead a healthy life.

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I recently watched a TED Talk by Robert Waldinger on this topic, and it got me really interested. 80 odd years ago, the scientists at Harvard began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores during the Great Depression. Out of those, only 19 still survive and they are all in their mid-90s. This is one of THE longest research happening in the world right now. The topic that they are researching on is so important, that I feel everyone should know the result obtained so far.

Money. Power. Status. Job Role. No, none of these help you lead a happy and healthy life. Good relationships – those are what matter at the end of the day (or, at the end of your life). Those are what help you feel sane when everything around you seems to crumble. This is what the study has discovered. If you are interested, you should definitely watch this TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KkKuTCFvzI

Looking back at the last 30 days, I vividly remember doing the following:

  1. Doing something that you never should – Overthinking.
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This is (legit) an underground passage that leads to the Burke Theological library at Columbia.

I kept mulling over my past and future a lot. The concerns revolved about both professional and private life. Am I going behind job roles that I really want or just those I think would help me build my Resume? Did I say something wrong? Should I be the one to apologize first? Am I wasting too much time on things that don’t help me?

It’s good to be inquisitive and ask yourself these questions from time to time. But after a point, I found them extremely self-destructive. If your mind is a living room, start removing the clutters. The things and people that make you feel small. Take a paper and start listing out activities or people that truly make you happy, and focus on that. There’s just NO other solution.

During undergraduation, you know you have four years in your hand to build relationships and find ways to build your hard and soft skills. Graduate school is so short that I’m baffled to realize 1/3rd of my experience is over. There is so much going on all the time, you cannot be an all-rounder. No point of being one. In my opinion, here, the best lesson you can learn is how to streamline your time to only do the things you absolutely care about.

  1. More networking:

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If you had read my previous post, you would remember my craze for networking. As December arrives, the number of interviews drop down exponentially and a kind of subtle dormancy begins to settle in. When you see recruiters becoming unresponsive, you subconsciously begin to decrease your effort. I fell into this trap too initially. Thankfully, there was one good day when I went all out and reached out to all of my unresponsive contacts in my excel sheet.

In hindsight, I’m very lucky that I did. Many of the leads that I have now came from there. You might think getting an interview call is the hardest part, until you realize half of the work lies on the other side of it.

  1. Catching up to deadlines:

There was a week where I had to wrap up two projects, complete a major assignment, prepare for one of the most important presentations and still learn to breathe. Looking back, it’s such an exhilarating feeling to be productive (disclaimer: being productive is very subjective though).

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I realize now that the number of events that I attended went down significantly compared to the first month. You can only make sacrifices here, you just cannot make time. I remember having a conversation with this alumnus who concisely explained how grad life would be: “You have three pillars – Study, Sleep and Socialize. You can only be a master of two out of three.” The veracity of this statement is uncanny.

 

  1. A few beautiful memories

Snow. Oh, such beautiful snow.

This could be trivial to most people. But there’s something hauntingly beautiful about watching an aggregation of ice crystals sneakily falling upon everything around you.

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Do you wanna build a snowman?

The first day it started snowing, my roommate came rushing down screaming. We spent an hour going to the park and playing with it. I really hope I’m as excited about snow every single year from now.

The four seasons!

Look at the change that a tree undergoes in a span of one month – there’s something sad and unique about that.

Thanksgiving. Christmas. And the holiday period in general.

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On the list of things I love about this country, one of the top would be the conducive nature of people, especially around holiday times. Holiday lunches, dinners, stress-relief puppy parties, midnight free pancakes are commonplace events around this time. I vividly remember the night we went to a magnificently decorate church for pancakes and cookies. The environment that I witnessed in that room that day – watching people huddle around tables, laughing, writing sweet messages on Christmas cards – can seldom be replicated again.

 

In just 8 more days, the University will be declared officially close for the winter. And in 16 more days, another year gone by. If every year was a book, we are in the last few pages. We should make it worth it.

P.S. As always, a few funny (?) snaps.

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Walking Left to Walking Right – A Thousand Miles Away #3

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Have you ever felt that you were driving down the road, and you knew exactly where the destination was and where to go for the next few kilometres, but after that you have absolutely no clue what lays ahead?

There is a feeling of knowing exactly what you want to do on short-term (next few months) and long-term (7-8 years down the line) but connecting the two bubbles seems impossible. This past month, I felt this way more than a dozen times. Last year this time, it was a battle against choosing Chemical Engineering and X (the X being Management Science and Engineering). This year, the battle still persists, only the players have changed.

In this article, I wanted to talk about few things where most of my time was spent the last month.

  1. Midterms:
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My place of solace to study

Fortunately (or unfortunately), my subjects were spread over three weeks. Hence it was three weeks of continuous preparation, practice and patience. In hindsight, I can easily say I studied much more than what I did in undergrad. And I thoroughly enjoyed studying two out of the three subjects (third being Probability, which is NOT in my interest area).

For anyone considering the Management Science course at Columbia, your most challenging and demanding course would be Operations Consulting. You are put in a multi-cultural team and made to work with 3 clients from companies in New York for a year. As you start navigating the problem statements, developing team dynamics and having client meetings, slowly you’ll develop certain habits of a consultant.

What’s interesting about a midterm is the integrity that students uphold while giving the exam. Even when you get the question paper 10 minutes before the exam begins, you should stay true to your ethical values.

  1. Networking. And never stop Networking:

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I did not consider this to be top priority my first month. I kept thinking, ‘Let me focus on my academics and honing my skill-set this semester, internship search can wait’. Apparently not. Many companies have a deadline by the end of fall, hence it’s important to stay ahead of the game. Initially I thought of allocating a few hours every week to focus on this – but as the weeks went by the number of hours increased and it became a routine now.

What the hell is Networking though? People keep using this term ubiquitously. In my view, it is to do the following:

1. Constantly finding new people who add value to your previous cache of knowledge – you could find them via LinkedIn, at a professional event or even at a deli.

2. Following up with those who you have established a network with already. In the US, what never fails to surprise me is the benevolence of people when you reach out (hopefully if they see the message/email). As someone who constantly forgets to things on time, I definitely needed an organized way of keeping track. I created an excel sheet 3 months back, adding a few people who I knew in the US. Thankfully, I have been following up so far, constantly updating it every few days and always keeping it open on my laptop, so I get reminded every day. Google’s Keep and RemindMe apps have also been my best friend.

3. Researching on your own about the various roles at a-z companies. When you are trying to get into company X, it is important that you know more about the firm that what the first para in Wikipedia shows you. You need to know if they were in the news recently, what their latest product/projects are and what employees feel about working there.

I remember a day when I had 5 calls with people from all of these amazing companies, and I ended up feeling absolutely overwhelmed. The work does not get over with that call; it begins with it.

  1. Settling in and feeling like home:

When you move to a new city, especially one such as NYC, you might not feel at home right away. But now after spending almost 3 months here, I finally feel like I have begun to adapt.

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One of the less-interesting and more-responsible works during your grad studies would be paying bills – phone bill, WiFi bill, electricity and gas bill… so on. It is crazy how many mails you get every week. As you start spending money every day, you start keeping track of all accounts. And as you do that, you become more conscious of how much you spend (at least in my case). This subconsciously helps in shifting from being a student into an independent person working on his/her own.

  1. There’s nobody but yourself who can do it:
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I took this picture after a very steep climb while rushing to class, when I finally reached the top.

People outside USA keep hearing all the time, ‘Getting a job in the US is not going to be easy’. I did too, but I never took it seriously. Now having been here for some time, observing the trend and going through the process myself, I can say that it is mind-numbingly exhausting.

Most of the times here, I feel extremely positive about where I am, what I am doing and how much I’m learning. However, there are times when I wish it was a little easier. If someone tells you Graduate School is hard, believe them. It is. There is a funny saying that goes like,

“Getting a job is a job itself”

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And while doing this job, you are supposed to manage your academics, social life, part-time job, sleep and anything else that you take upon yourself. But if you stat loving every bit of it, this will be the best experience of your life. Whenever I feel down, I keep going back to the speech given by Steve Jobs. It never fails to inspire, even when I know the lines by heart. Hearing him say it gives it a whole new dimension.

Link to speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHWUCX6osgM

As always, the University tried its best to organize amazing events for us to relieve the much-accumulated stress.

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Sakura Park. Fun fact: 2500 cherry blossoms (Japanese meaning of Sakura) were donated by the Committee of Japanese Residents of New York to this park in 1912.

This has been an exhausting and amazing month so far – stronger bonds were made, and the harder side of being independent was experienced. And I hope I have something to write about every single month.

P.S. As always, here are some nice snaps below.

 

 

 

 

Walking Left to Walking Right – A Thousand Miles Away #2

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It is 4 AM right now in NYC (which has apparently become my sleep-time) and I feel overwhelmingly blessed to have the opportunity to be studying in a good school, where I get to learn something new every single day. The past month has been extremely productive – in terms of exploring new areas, forming bonds, networking with people from diverse backgrounds and just understanding how unaware and dumb I am (meeting too many smart people has that effect).

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Columbia at 4 AM

The first few weeks after grad school shoots you in the face with assignments, classes, projects and events. Some students buckle under pressure, but most tackle it with grit. Sadly, your neat and tidy to-do list becomes exhaustive and ugly very soon. Here are just a few learnings on my part over the past few weeks:

  1. You need good people around you:

    Within just a month of beginning grad school, I see people buckling under pressure and I feel I am barely holding on. After a long day of studying, thinking, writing assignments and attending classes, when I go home I want to be able to talk to my friends about my day and their day. I want to engage in absolute nonsensical talk because that’s what helps you shake off your daily stress.

I cannot stress this point enough. So, when you enter grad school, or if you’re already in one, make as many friends as you can. Value every single morsel of people in your life.

  1. You study a lot:

    That seems quite obvious, but it’s one of those sayings which is much easier said than done. When I say the above, I don’t just mean sitting down in one place for 3 hours to study. I mean sitting in library morning to night, going into the next morning to learn the new concepts and finish your assignment. The silver lining here is that you would never (hopefully) do it out of obligation – as long as you were wise in choosing your major, you would love doing it.

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Well..

By now, library has become my first home. One side note: In my undergrad days, I never understood the seriousness of girls not being able to use the facilities outside hostel after 9:00 because of curfew. But here, after going home at 3:00 and 4:00 AM in the morning, and being able to do that, I see how much girls are being deprived of in certain colleges in India.

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  1. Learn to adjust – Integrity in Diversity:

    The ability to adjust with people who starkly contrast you and maintain good relationship with them will take you a long way. And that is mainly because it’s one of the hardest soft-skills to accomplish. As much as you want to be amicable, arguments do spring up occasionally.

People here have strong convictions and will not agree with you always. It could be your roommates, project mates, class mates or just a bunch of people you met on a hiking trip. You need to understand that not everyone has the same exposure or values as you do, and try to adjust. Most importantly, the age gap here is huge. My department has people ranging from 21 to 30+ – think about the accumulation of experiences that every student has there. Thriving in such an environment, and learning to forget the age difference, is critical.

  1. Geniuses all around:

    I am constantly amazed at certain people I meet here, and how precocious they are. You feel dumb and question your educational value every day – but it makes you want to be smarter and work harder. I see people who already have start-ups, people who have 7+ years of work experience and people who can complete a task in 30 minutes when it takes you 4 hours.

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You just need to understand that the outcome has an equal proportion of talent and effort (probably more of the latter), and try to leverage on one of the two.

  1. The why matters more than the what:

    People value genuineness and personal effort a lot Hence, you should forget the concept of copying or ripping off of someone else’s work. Every single assignment or project is considered sacred. I still remember one of my first assignments in a subject took me 3 days to complete – with at least 3-4 hours invested each day.

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But it’s a great feeling knowing that whatever you did, is solely your own (with occasional help from peers).

  1. Professors match your excitement:

    This is very subjective to departments, but overall, I find the quality of teaching almost satisfactory. To be brutally honest, I wish some subjects could be better – but it might be too soon to say. Keeping that aside, one of the best classes I have sat through happened a week back. The class stretched for 5 hours (which is a routine), but I felt more energetic after than before.

The most wonderful moment is to see your professor match your excitement for a subject – or even better, lift up your enthusiasm.

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Tried my best to do justice

Almost all the people in my closest friends circle here are those who are extremely motivated and take their courses seriously. Sometimes I realize how lucky I am to have that, because when you have passionate people around you all having solid aims in life, it enhances your level of thinking and determination. And I hope everyone has such a circle in their grad school.

 

I encountered so many ‘first time’s the past month. The first time I went to a karaoke bar, first time I had the famous Insomnia cookies, first time I made pasta, first time I gave a presentation in front of one of the most intimidating professor, and so on. And I am sure I will encounter many more such.

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I still can’t believe this

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To those who are already pursuing their Master’s and PhD, I hope you take away as much as possible. To those whose dream is to go to grad school, do not waste the next few months. Spend as much time as possible learning about the zillion programs out there, make a list of universities you really wish to apply to and re-think it over and over. Spending a couple of hours every week to write your SOP and Resume will help you more than you can imagine later on. There is a fine line between getting selected and rejected – don’t let it be a couple of hours of research and hard-work.

P.S. Free advice: Learn to enjoy the most trivial of things.

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When you have friends who know you love cookies

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Walking Left to Walking Right – A Thousand Miles Away

Sometimes, years pass faster than days. And weeks pass faster than hours. I can describe exactly what I did in the past one hour, but when someone asks me to do the same for the past week, I am at a loss.

It’s been almost a month since I landed in New York City – the Big Apple, the City that never sleeps, the greatest city on earth where dreams come true. And I still miss India. When you leave your native country, you are not just leaving the geographical place, you are leaving behind the people that you have ever encountered there, every single place that you have visited that has your physical and vocal footprint and the sense of familiarity and belongingness. I wanted to shed some light on the major rite of passages that one would go through while entering a new land.

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When patriotism enters the kitchen

I want this to be the beginning of a series of articles to follow that describes the glamorous as well as not-so-glamorous parts of living the life of a graduate student.

Disclaimer: My views might be biased towards living in a big city and this particular article might not talk in depth about grad life (as classes began just yesterday).

  1. Socializing: You enter the event, grab a drink (read: non-alcoholic, for me), go stand next to strangers, wait for them to invite you in (which they will), introduce yourself and your department, and hope that the conversation continues for at least a minimum of 5 minutes.

Repeat this all over again.

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I remember having done this more than a dozen times now in at least 5 events that happened, in 2 weeks. For an introvert such as me, this is a very daunting exercise. Being in a room filled with people is a fear in itself, and approaching strangers adds the cherry on top. However, I have noticed this: The beginnings are hard, you never know whom to approach. But if you look at the situation 30 minutes into the beginning, the atmosphere would have changed. Almost everyone would be having a good time – they would have either found their own friends or found people who they could connect with.

Overall, I loved doing it. Even though the conversations are superficial, it teaches you something. Disclaimer: Ending it is always scary.

  1. Diversity: There is only so much I can say here: seeing it cannot be paramount to saying it. When I take a walk down the streets (and there is SO much of walking involved here), I see people at least from 5 different countries within a stretch of one street. After a point, you do get used to it, but the excitement of talking to them never goes away, at least not yet.

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One of my professor is Swedish, the other is Half-Morocco + Half-Greece, and one more is Indian-American. So, when they talk, you can sense the difference in accent and behaviour.

  1. Quality of teaching: I had a taste of the quality of teaching through the orientation classes. We have a Professional Development and Leadership course – simply mind-blowing. When you are in a classroom, you are supposed to feel alive. You are supposed to feel inspired. You should learn new things every minute. And these classes did exactly that. I hope I feel the same once the official courses begin.

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P.S. The profs here come for drinks with the students.

  1. Independence and Freedom: Coming from a conservative south-Indian family, and having lived in a city such as Trichy for 4 years, freedom comes with some disclaimers. Roll-calls. Curfew. Restrictions on where you can go, who you can go with. The list goes on.

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However, when you’re living thousands of miles away from home, all on your own, the freedom and independence is unparalleled. Often, people misinterpret freedom to mean ‘you-have-no-boundaries’. In my opinion, as you let someone become more independent, they become more responsible and less outrageous. I go for walks at 11 PM here along the riverside. Nothing can beat that feeling, ever.

  1. Schedule gone wrong: I already feel the pressure of time-management starting to burden me. When I landed on August 14th, I had a to-do list neatly written down on a tissue paper (couldn’t find normal paper on plane). And now, that tissue is stuck on my room wall, a memory of how it was when I had things go according to schedule.

The first week was a mess – I made plans every day, but something new sprung up and I had to make sacrifices. Time is a luxury here: You can only make sacrifices, you can’t make time. I feel now it has become better – but it’s only uphill from here.

  1. Learning on the go:
  • You will find restaurants of every cuisine on the world in this city: It is an established fact that if you eat at a new restaurant in New York City every day, you can eat without repetition for the next 65 years.

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  • Fitness freaks everywhere: America is considered to be a country rife with obesity (2/3rd of adult population are obese and more than 1/3rd of people aged 20 and older are considered obese). However, at least in New York, I see people taking fitness very seriously.

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  • You meet the most unexpected of people with the most interesting stories at times – it could be in the metro (subway), in a restaurant or at a clothes shop (I met at all three places). People here like to live life to the fullest. They are not bound by cultural norms or superstitious barriers. At least most.

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  • Entering a grocery store is like entering a maze – a maze filled with a dozen varieties of the same product. And of course, coming from India, you find everything to be outrageously priced, and do a quick optimization of cost vs calories.
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That section was just for yogurt.

  1. Culture shock: Finally, the big one. This is something that every single of you will face, even those who transition from a very open-minded niche in India.

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The biggest advantage that you can reap by studying in the US is to learn to mingle with people from other cultures. I still find it very hard, and am learning every day, piece by piece. My most favourite memory so far has been taking a walk with my friends late at night to the Hudson River, sitting on the rocks and listening to the water gently lull against the brightly lit landscape.

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Hudson River (not good at night photography)

 

So, You Want to Study Abroad?

Over the next 15 – 20 minutes, I want you to clear your mind and not think of anything else apart from your dream of studying abroad and how to achieve it. Forget about your intern work, don’t think about your deadlines right now and instead take a moment to imagine where you want to see yourself next year this time.

Do you have a picture? Amazing. I will take you through my journey of applying to graduate schools, what all areas to focus on while applying, what steps to take and how to categorize them, and finally how you can cope with downfalls. First and foremost, I will give you a brief glance at the colleges I applied to and got selected for.

First Preference (far-fetched dream): Yale Silver Scholars Program.

Second Preference (reachable dream): Columbia, Stanford, Cornell and Dartmouth – Masters in Engineering Management/Masters in Management Science and Engineering degree.

Third Preference (safe option): HEC Paris Masters in Management

Fourth Preference (back-up option): PhD-MBA in Chemical Engineering at MIT and NUS, Young India Fellowship (YIF).

I got selected at Columbia, Cornell and Dartmouth Universities and for YIF. I know you must be thinking I am crazy to keep MIT as my last back-up option, it was because I applied for a degree that I did not really want and did not have much hopes on. Generally, Universities don’t select undergraduates for a PhD-MBA program, however, the deadline was in November 2016 (pretty early) and I wanted to try anyway. If you look at it now, it is quite funny that I got my second preference and not third preference (HEC Paris), because the interview for HEC Paris went very well (according to my estimation). This just goes to tell you how unpredictable your results can be. Disclaimer about Yale Silver Scholars Program: They select only 10 students in a year around the world and barely one Indian makes the cut, who is generally from an IIT. I knew my chances were next to impossible, but you should always have a far-fetched dream degree such as this. You never know.

Now that you get an idea of the background, I have broken down the process into 10 steps.

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  1. Introspection: Although I understand that you have decided to go ahead with higher studies, step back and think about which course you want to pursue. As many of you may know, this was a major factor for me at the beginning of my fourth year. Until the end of third year, I was hell bent on pursuing an MS/PhD in Chemical Engineering (my undergraduate major). I cannot explain to you how my mindset changed, but after my summer intern at University of Wisconsin-Madison USA, I started feeling apprehensive about pursuing a career in Chemical Engineering. I kept second guessing myself, asking a lot of, ‘Where do you see yourself?’, ‘What do you really love doing?’, ‘What has been the highlight of your work?’. I spent close to 4 months mulling over this, constantly changing my University preferences, taking inputs from seniors and peers. It was one of the hardest decisions because, I knew if I had pursued Chemical Engineering I had a possible shot at the top 3 Universities in the world (going by their selection standards and previous records). Knowing this and knowing that my parents were not at all happy with me shifting branches, I still had to not apply for it trusting my gut instinct for which I’m very happy about right now. There was no one moment when the Eureka struck. It was an accumulation of hundreds of such moments that finally lead me to shortlist the above Universities (Disclaimer: I started the application for a lot more Universities, but never went through with it, after learning in detail the course structure and future prospects).

So, step back out of the bubble you are living in and take a close look at your past internships and projects. What was the highlight of them all? Which part of those experiences you vividly remember? Was there any instance which you wished never ended? What was the most boring part of the experience? Note this down, either in your mind or in a notepad, and look at it. The next few years of your life is going to define your thought process profoundly. It doesn’t hurt to spend a few hours right now. But, I want you to do this only after your internship ends and you go back to living your routine life. Since I went through this phase, I’d be happy to help someone else who is in a similar position.  

  1. Wake up. Eat. Research. Repeat: This step is a demanding one. If you are used to reading a lot continuously, this should be easy. If you are not, I suggest you take this as a bitter pill. Think about your priorities: University ranking (or) Degree ranking (or) Quality of research (or) Location (or) Placement statistics (or) Course structure (there are many more factors but I would say these are the most important). Write this down in the order of your preference (add more if you please) and start searching. University rankings, to be honest, tell very little about the degree. Every site shows a different ranking and the way it is calculated is based on: Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Faculty/Student Ratio, Citations per faculty, International Faculty Ratio and International Student Ratio. I can safely say that all the Universities ranked from 1 – 5 will have the same quality in terms of student experience, and are separate by nuances based on certain factors. Use the following sites to get an understanding of where your preferred universities stand:

https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings

http://cwur.org/2016.php

http://study361.com/2016/05/07/top-100-best-university-of-the-world-2016/

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2017/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats

Websites also list universities based on the degree, placement stats, research quality and so on. Categorize the universities into three zones: far-fetched dream, possible dream, safe and back-up. The number of Universities you apply to is based on your budget constraint, but 8 – 10 is a good number, with at least one University in each category above. Disclaimer: If you are yet to write your GRE and TOEFL, MAKE USE OF THE FREE chance they give you to send the scores carefully. To conclude, keep aside 70 – 80,000 INR for this entire process.

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  1. Excel is your bible: Open a clean new spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, either offline or online (preferred) and start making columns. Use the following for reference:

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These are must-have columns, add more as you please. The GRE/TOEFL Scores column is to update whether you sent the scores.

Note on preparation for GRE/TOEFL: This requires a separate article as it’s a wide topic. Based on my preparation for both, I’m trying to summarize certain pointers:

  • Take a diagnostic test before you start your GRE prep. Take two to be sure. If you obtain less than 300, you definitely need 3 months preparation. If it is 310-320, you can do well with a 2-month prep. For anyone else, I would recommend one month intensive preparation.
  • Make use of all the free practise tests online: Princeton, Kaplan, Manhattan, Magoosh, etc. All of them have.
  • Take AWA seriously. Every day pick one topic from the ETS’ pool and practise it with someone who has good general knowledge. Look at as many 6/6 answers as you can, they tell you a lot about tricks which you can use to make your essay look good.
  • I found the Manhattan 6 test series (30$) helpful as they had adaptive tests and my actual score was very close to what I got there.
  • Manhattan 5 lb book has the best math practice out there. If you can solve all the advanced math questions there, you can be sure of 170.
  • Don’t neglect the logical reasoning part of RC.
  • Remember, GRE has no negative marking and every question has the same weightage. It would be futile to spend more time on any one question.
  • TOEFL: It’s pretty easy compared to GRE. One week prep should be fine. Focus more on speaking than anything else, as you get very little time to prepare. Record yourself talking and make your friend listen to it. They can find mistakes which you can’t.
  • Finally, whatever score you get, it is circumstantial. It tells nothing. I wrote my GRE twice because I was extremely disappointed with my initial score. I found out where I went wrong after thorough analysis and my second-time score improved drastically.

As soon as you start researching, create this sheet. Updating here should be something you do by default, you should see this screen at least once in a day and always, always keep a reminder on your mobile or laptop at least 5 days before the deadline (It is very easy to lose track of deadlines, speaking from experience). I still remember when I sent an application 2 hours late because of internet problem and ended up becoming paranoid debating if it reached them (It did. Phew). But don’t take the chance.

 

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You probably will be after this.

 

Another good way to keep track of where you are in your application is to color code the cells. I followed the following code:

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That being said, this strategy worked very well for me and I hope you devise one such that works well for you because you will be doing this for over a period of 6 months.

4. Statement of Purpose:

 

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Just Kidding…?

 

This would be the most frequently heard/said words for you over the next couple of months. People burden this essay with so much pressure that you would always second-guess what you have written. You will hear statements like, ‘SOP is everything It has to be perfect’. Let me break it down: It is not everything. It is just one piece of the picture. However, it is the piece that will tell about you most to strangers who read your application. SOP is your chance to tell them your glorious story, to tell them your innermost secrets and convince them why you are indeed unique.

Note: I know a lot of you are worried whether your CGPA is enough or not. It’s not worth the struggle. Whatever it is, if you can show them that you have something else in your application (like SOP, LOR, test scores, achievements) which offsets your perceived low CGPA, it should be fine. However, be realistic while choosing your safe universities.

Do not take it as a burden to write your SOP. This will probably be the only time in your life when you will spend so much time thinking about all that you have done till now. It is a lot of fun, based on how you look at it. That being said, I will summarize in the following points:

  • Start writing your SOP right away. This is the perfect time to lay the foundation of the essay.
  • A typical SOP should be 1000 – 1200 words, anything more becomes verbose. It can be lesser, but I would suggest you utilize the words well. It’s also subjective to Universities.
  • I want you to write your first SOP without looking at any sample. Take this seriously.
  • To give you a head-start, follow this rough structure: Childhood inspiration to pursue research, your interests, experiences of internships, any other relevant experience, why that particular University and finally how you stand out. But again, I’d be happy if you forget the above and be creative. Simply tell your life story in a structured and cohesive manner involving facts, anecdotes and examples.
  • Once you are done writing the first draft, search online for all kinds of standard samples. I would suggest looking at samples of SOP of students who got into top Universities. Now your job is to start editing and re-writing.
  • I remember sending my SOP to over 10 – 15 seniors and peers whose opinion I highly respected. I suggest you do the same: make a list of PhD scholars you worked with, seniors who have guided you and peers who you look up to and start emailing them your SOP. But do not send the first draft to everyone. The first few drafts are just for you to edit, maybe take help from a friend. Only when you reach the fifth or sixth draft, send it to seniors and PhD scholars. They are busy people. To edit an SOP takes ample amount of time, so they wouldn’t want to waste it on a nascent version.
  • Finally, take a break. When you feel you reached the final draft, stop it. Don’t look at it for another week. And then go back again and read it from the perspective of a person who reads 500 other SOP’s along with yours. How do you feel? Do you want to change something more?
  1. Resume writing. It’s important people!

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Too often I see students spending so little time on their Resume writing. It is appalling. Your Resume is your marketing tool, guys! You are basically selling yourself through that one page. No offense to the NIT Training and Placement Resume format (for non-NITTians, it is a 3-page Resume with a very boring outline), but there are hundreds of better formats out there. You want to make full use of that one meagre page (Yes, Resumes are strictly one page) that you are allotted. Students generally tend to make 3 mistakes in Resume writing:

  • Use a standard format prescribed for everyone.
  • Create a good, yet incomplete Resume. Eg: Missing out on minor details like test scores, skills, etc.
  • Despite knowing that you lack somewhere in the Resume, you don’t try to offset it somewhere else. When someone is reading 500 other Resumes along with yours, it’s your job to capture their attention.

So, I hope you will avoid these mistakes.

Note: Some Universities tell you that you can either upload your Resume or CV. In this case, opt for a CV as it gives you the liberty to extend up to 2 pages (Check out the difference online).

LaTex is one of the better softwares out there for Resume making. For those who don’t know how to code well in it (like me), check out www.overleaf.com. The site has hundreds of templates which are pre-coded. All you have to do is spend 2 hours and edit the information. It will be worth it, trust me. What to include in your Resume: Education, Research Experience, Coursework, Skills (coding and otherwise), Positions of Responsibility and Achievements. What not to include: Parent’s details, GPA of every semester (CGPA is enough), Hobbies, Extra-curricular activities which are irrelevant.

  1. Letter of Recommendations a.k.a Professor Hunting:

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Sigh. So, this is the part where good relationships with your previous project guides and professors will go a long way. If you don’t have any, don’t fret. It’s not too late, yet.

Disclaimer: Every single professor out there knows that you need a recommendation. When you sign up for an internship, they know one of your motive is to get that letter from him/her. Some professors outright mention if they will not be giving any; if they don’t say anything about it, it means they will mostly provide it.

Every application will minimum require LORs from two people: one has to be a person you worked under in an academic setting, the other can either be your employer or again someone from an academic environment. I know you want an LOR badly from that amazing professor you worked under or who taught you. But, take a moment and think from their point of view. I have seen the mailbox of one of my professors, they receive at least 50 mails every week from students asking for LORs. They have their own research work to look after, this will never be their top priority. So, it is not good practise to outright send a mail and ask them for the LOR. First, send a mail giving them an update of what you are doing in life. A few weeks later, send another mail with the list of your shortlisted Universities. I hope they reply by now, so you can go ahead and politely ask if they will provide an LOR and if yes, how many will they provide.

Another Disclaimer: Some professors ask you to write the LOR and send it, don’t be shocked by this. An LOR obviously is a letter flaunting your skills and achievements; now think about how you can make this extra-special. Don’t keep saying, ‘He/She is a mature, intelligent, diligent student’. It adds no value. Instead, write about situations when you handled something from the Professor’s perspective. Don’t be shy to brag about yourself here, modesty won’t help. However, I strongly suggest you not to write it on your own as Universities abroad take this very seriously. Try to convince your prof as much as you can.

Note: Generally, Professors will provide LORs only for 5-6 Universities, in this case you might need to ask at least 4-5 just in case. So, allocate the best professor from your point of view to the dream university. Take some time to do this.

Make another excel sheet to keep track of this. Very, very important.

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I used the following colour code: Red – Yet to ask, Orange – Asked, but haven’t filled yet, Green – Asked, filled and submitted.

  1. It’s interview time.

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Let’s jump ahead a few weeks and assume you have applied to a few (or all) colleges you wanted to. Generally, the deadlines start late November and go up to February (or even later). Most colleges have an interview round and I feel they should. Each of you should go through this experience at least once. I’ll keep it short: if you get an interview call, do the following:

  • Contact seniors from that University right away, they will definitely recall their experience and give you some tips.
  • If you have a week’s time, don’t waste it.
  • If the degree is related to engineering: thoroughly read about all of your past internship projects, know exactly what you did and the outcome, learn about the research work in that University, have a clear career plan after the degree and please know world affairs.
  • If the degree is related to management (or a mix of management and engineering): Apart from doing the above, I would suggest you know the answer to some basic questions like: What is teamwork? Why I like this certain hobby of mine? What was one instance when my collaboration worked? Again, these are very subjective. If any of you get interview calls from the universities where I applied for the same degree, reach out to me then.
  • Login to Skype 30 minutes before the interview. For that last 30 minutes, don’t prepare. Just think about how much work you’ve put in the last few months, play a favorite song in your head and be confident. It’s just another interview.
  • Finally, after the interview ends, write down all the questions and answers in word document. This will not only help your juniors, but also yourself for the next interview.
  1. The see-saw ride begins:

I received 4 out of the 5 rejection e-mails in a span of 5 days. I’m not kidding. At that time, I had no acceptances, so you can imagine how I must have felt. To be honest, I was quite overconfident. I knew I had a good profile so I assumed I would get my safe college (HEC Paris), but I didn’t. I hope you don’t make this mistake. Needless to say, I went into a brief period of depression which I dealt with alone. There are two ways to deal with it: either you silently suffer alone or you share it by taking help from your friends. I did the former but I would recommend you do the latter. There were times when I wished I could go on a trip far, far away. But I had responsibilities to take care of at College, which kept me going. I knew it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a huge blow. A blow I did not expect. I’m sure you too will go through this phase, at least with one University. Remember this then: One or even ten rejections should not let you down. It doesn’t mean that you are not good enough, it only means you were not a good fit. For them.

I want to say you’ll be fine, but you won’t. Instead, you should feel horrible, you should feel like crying. But, just for a short span. You should not let this hold you back from your everyday works.

That being said, one day you will get a mail with a huge ‘Congratulations’. I still remember the day I got it, the first admit was from Cornell. I remember going out of my room, tears welling up in my eyes, saying to myself, ‘Remember this moment. This is what you were waiting for. Capture this moment’. Amazingly, my next two admits came within a week. An advice I wish you all take to heart: When you get an admit, it does not mean you are better than someone else who didn’t get. Don’t be arrogant, admits don’t tell anything about one’s perseverance and determination in life. It’s okay to feel happy and satisfied, but don’t make someone else feel bad by blowing the trumpet. More than anything, don’t keep asking people if they got an admit. If they did, and if they felt you were important enough to know, they would tell.

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  1. Kaasu, panam, dhuddu, money, money: (For those who don’t know Tamil, it all means money)

MS in US will rob you of your savings. Let’s assume you did not get a scholarship (which would be mostly the case), how will you sponsor? Apart from using personal savings and loans, everybody wants a scholarship. But the common stereotype is this: ‘Scholarships? It’s a myth man, I won’t get it anyway’. Disclaimer: It’s not a myth.

I am not saying this lightly. I am telling you after 100+ hours of searching online for scholarships. It’s out there. Let me tell it you mathematically. If you put in 100 hours of research, you will definitely be able to find 50+ scholarships which is for Indians, out of that you will be eligible to apply for around 10, out of which you might get shortlisted for 5 and finally obtain 2 or 3.

This happened with me. Out of x number for which I applied, I got shortlisted for 4 whose results will be out shortly. And, I am still applying for more. This should give you an idea of how many are there. I created a database in November 2016 and I’m still adding more and more scholarships to that list. If you have the discipline and diligence to sit and work, you can do it. As simple as that.

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Disclaimer: I will not give the database to anyone easily. If you want me to help you, I want you to first put in effort and do some work yourself. Once you do that, it would be my pleasure to share the knowledge.

  1. You did it. Take a break.

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That’s it. You reached the end of the line. After months of writing essays, LORs, Resumes and e-mails, this is where it ends. This is the end of another beginning, another phase in your life. Right now, your job is to tie up all the loose ends. If you got admits from more than one University (assume this is your first preference), politely tell the other Universities ‘no’. Send a long e-mail to all of your professors who gave your LORs. Send an e-mail to every single senior and friend who helped edit your essay. Give a nice party to your close ones. Talk to your parents on call as much as you can. Make a vow to do something to your undergraduate institution, which acted as a stepping stone. Always remember the rejections that kept you going. Try to write down the journey you went through in those few months.

Most importantly, this is when you need to start helping your juniors.

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I hope this article was helpful for you in some way and I’d love to hear your comments. I will be joining Columbia University, New York for my Masters in Management Science and Engineering this fall. I’m planning on writing a series on ‘Life as a Graduate Student’, so that I always remember the next 1.5 years of my life. If you’re interested, you can follow the blog.

P.S. As much as I’d love to answer all of your doubts, I’d also love to know when you get an admit.

P.P.S. For those looking to fast-track their career, you can check out the 2+2 MBA program by Harvard and Stanford. (I did apply, however did not get through the final round)

P.P.P.S (last one, I swear): Just to clear any confusion, my real name is Soundarya Balasubramani. Pooja is a pet name (as well as the Facebook name).

Image Source: Google