Answer by Purvi Tantia: I would first like to ask the student if he knows his purpose to study abroad. It is important to bear in mind that the idea of studying abroad is overwhelming for most students, and often they forget to reason out the decision of studying abroad. I believe there are broadly three reasons for which students should go abroad to study.
Firstly, if the student is not much exposed to international arena or wants to enhance the international exposure further. In this case, studying abroad will broaden their horizon to have a better and wider global perspective in life.
Secondly, if the student has identified a program which is not available in India or the curriculum requires international exposure or the research facilities available for that subject are better outside. In your case, where the student is currently studying engineering at undergraduate level, I do feel that research funding and facilities outside India are better. So, if he wants to go abroad to study a particular engineering research area, then he should identify a program that interests him and then start preparing for admissions in that particular program of study.
Thirdly, a student should go abroad to study if it will clearly provide an accelerated path to grow in the student’s career. Often, students and parents have a preconceived notion that international education will accelerate the success in the career. It is half true. When a student with international degree goes for a job interview and competes with many other students without international degree, the student definitely have an advantage as compared to students who are less exposed to the international world, but the international degree holder might not have an advantage over a student from an Indian college who has is more passionate for the field in which he is applying for the job.
Now, when he has decided why he wants to go abroad to study. He should identify, which college and which course and which university he should be aiming at. In my 10 years of career as an international education counsellor, I have experienced if the student has a focus of one particular college and one particular course as early as in the second year of graduation, then he can prepare for that one admission in a much better manner and will have very high chances of getting that ‘most sought after degree admission’ for him. For example, if he wants to get admission into a masters in engineering management program at a particular college where the average GRE score is about 95% percentile, then the student can prepare well for GRE and in time to apply for the admissions. The applications for the admissions begin about 12 months in advance of the course start date. So if he wants to go in Aug/Sept 2020, his application process will begin in Aug/Sept 2019. And he should use Aug 2018 – Aug 2019 to prepare for his application.
Preparation here does not mean only GRE exam. Preparation means entrance exam (GRE in his case), proper understanding of what he expects to derive from the course and college that he has chosen for himself and a proper tool kit of how should he use his time well when he is studying abroad. The preparation works well if the student’s focus of the course and the university is clear. I advice, keep one university to focus. Yes, One University. Very often, parents and students will tell me that they should keep a few options to get the best chances of admissions. I partly agree with it. But my ideal choice is that you zero on One University and One Course in that University. This advice is synonymous with the famous story of Arjuna in Mahabharata where arjun saw only the eye of the bird which was his target, rather than seeing the tree on which the bird was sitting or the sky which was visible behind the bird.
Further preparation will include, preparation of Resume, Statement of Purpose, Personal Statement, Finding at least 2 referees who can vouch for your credibility and authenticity as a student and writing the reasons of why you want to go for that particular college or university that you have selected. In addition to these, I recommend that the student should work on building their LinkedIn Profiles and getting as many references as possible on LinkedIn, connecting with current students of the dream university on LinkedIn to know the inside stories from the university and classroom; and last but not the least, create a passion project – whereby you can show your passion.
Some of the passion projects I have seen students doing include – Making a car if you are a mechanical engineer. Yes the students in a group actually made a real car and secured funding for the automotive parts through sponsorships; Making a real home automation system if you intend to study computer engineering or Making an alternative of SIRI or Alexa if you are passionate about artificial intelligence.
Often students just tell their passion in their statement of purpose but showcase nothing on the passion. This is the biggest weakness in the application. So, if you are saying you want to study artificial intelligence at masters level – proof your passion and interest to them by including something really significant that you have done in that field. Then only the university will want you in their classroom as you will then be an asset to them. The next question which comes is this – how can we do such a big passion project while in college? Most colleges in india would have many good professors who are keen to work with students on their passion project. Find a professor who has a matching interest as yours and then start working on the same. Most students of mine start working on their engineering passion project by writing a research paper on the topic of interest. Almost every university professor in India can provide you help with writing a research paper in the topic of your interest.
Once the passion project is already in the work in progress, then start building on your CV, Statement of Purpose (SOP), Personal Statement (PS) and Finding the Referees who could write your letters of recommendations. Students often get confused between what should go in these four crucial documents of admissions – namely CV, SOP, PS and References. Here, I am trying to briefly convey the difference in these documents. The CV has all factual data about you – for example – Education, experience, interests and achievements. The Statement of Purpose is a document which outlines what is your purpose in life – both short term and long term. So you can outline the goals with detailed elaboration of Why have you selected these goals. Personal Statement is a document elaborating your personal life history and background. Finally, letter of recommendation is a letter given by someone who knows you, ideally in a professional capacity, wherein he/she writes your strengths and weaknesses.
The moment I say strengths and weaknesses – The students often say, why should they write weaknesses? Will it not diminish their chances of admissions? The answers is NO, it will not diminish your chances of success. Every single person on this earth has strengths as well as weaknesses. The universities also know that ‘perfection probably is a myth’. Moreover, you are aspiring to study further. That means, you need some learning opportunities to carve the better self of yourself. So, if you know your weaknesses or rather if the references provide a glimpse of your references, the university can better understand what is that you need from them to convert those weaknesses into your strengths.
Lastly, start working on self improvement. Read as many self help books as you can before you go abroad to study, so that when you go, you will use every single opportunity that comes on your way. Two books which I will recommend to begin with will include – “The 5 A.M. Revolution: Why High Achievers Wake Up Early and How You Can Do It, Too by Dan Luca” and The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t by Carmine Gallo”. Both these books are available on Amazon India.
Why am I recommending these 2 books to begin with? It is because the 5AM Revolution will help you in becoming more productive and The StoryTeller’s Secret will help you in creating the best stories out of your life experiences that you can then put on your Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement.