Wednesday, 1 November 2017

My experience with University Applications

Lately, after joining the Delft University of Technology, I was overwhelmed with requests from friends and relatives for admission tips, guidelines and help with writing statement of purpose. The admission process (to universities) can be very tricky and is usually stretched over a length of time. All you need is a good plan and patience.

Early days

I was a 3rd year of my study in University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES) in Dehradun when I first considered the thought, "what after this?". The thought was there all the way from the very first year but never so serious. All my friends had started enrolling into coaching institutes and have already started working overtime with their preparation of GATE/CAT/GRE exams. My dad wanted me to pursue GATE. I remember him telling me in my very first year that I must study hard all these 4 years and I can still make it into IITs as a Master Student. Don't get me wrong, it was I who wanted to study further and it was due o my disappointment of not getting into an IIT, that my dad told me about this. As I recall now, that was the very first instance that someone told me about GATE exam (Yepp, I did not know about it).

Funny enough, I started with GATE as a motivation but it never really turns out how you plan it to be, does it?

So, here I was a third year student. If you're an engineering student in India, you would perhaps be able to relate to my following statement, "Third year is the hardest of the four years of engineering study." I had far too many courses to study and on top of it I had been working on 3 major projects + 1 academic minor project along the way.
Needless to say, I didn't enroll into a coaching institute (thinking, I'll do that in the fourth year.) I was so much busy in work that I did not bother to plan anything for fourth year. To put it formally here, I had no intention to pursue a higher education abroad at this point of time.

My third year came to spectacular close. I would say so, because all the projects that I had been working on were phenomenal success, my course work didn't suffer as badly as I had suspected (it could've gone a lot worse, but timely assignment submissions and last minute exam study saved me big time). I would've have started my preparation for GATE in summer vacations of 2016 had I not got an internship at BARC. People who prepare for GATE exam usually take very light internships that help them save time to study their course. But BARC demanded a lot a time. I would spend day 10am to 5pm there, 5 days a week.

Start GRE!

My friend Akshit told me about his plan to pursue higher studies abroad in US back in 3rd year. That was the first time I was made aware of this idea. The second instance was when Shirish (Sir) got selected at Oxford Brooks University! He told me about the initial steps of what these foreign university application is about. I came to know 2 things clearly from him: 1) They are really expensive (unless you crack a scholarship), and 2) You need a good research background to get into a good university.

Until now I had no idea why I was doing so many projects (yes, that's true!). I thought it would help me in securing a good job later. But when these projects got successful, I felt strongly that I perhaps am eligible to apply to good colleges abroad that also look into your aptitude for research and also provide strong infrastructure to develop it further. Back in the summer of 2016, in Mumbai I met with Shirish Sir and told him that I wanted to apply to ETH Zurich and TU Delft. These places where my first choices because they nullified one of the two things I knew about foreign university application i.e. they weren't expensive (for me atleast). Shirish sir was very encouraging and so after coming back from his place. I lied on my mattress in Mumbai, and downloaded some ebooks on GRE from the internet. I found the Barron's GRE book. Honestly, along with internship, I wasn't able to practice much. But it was a start.

Getting Infomation

While preparing for GRE, you need to collect a lot of information about various things. Some of these things are:
1. What are the documents required for foreign university applications?
2. What should you write in SOP?
3. How much do the LORs matter?
4. What can I do if I have a low GPA? (In my case, perhaps I needed to know this)
5. Timeline of applications.
and many such questions...
I found an online website, GREedge.com that provided these free webinars that answer all these questions in different sessions. I think I attended around 15-20 of these one hour seminars. This helped me to learn about all there was to know about the exam, the application process and even some of the post admission procedures.

When I came back to university in the fourth year, I again got busy with new projects and yet did not find any time to enroll in a GRE coaching institute. I went to TIME institute to inquire about it but I simply couldn't find time to devote there. So, I went back to GREedge.com and trusting some of the online testimonials from previous students. I enrolled there for a 4 month program at a cost of Rs.6,000/- (which was a discounted price). Amazingly, the content of GREedge was great. Ultimately, GRE exam is about practice and from the previous students whom I have heard from the webinars of GREedge, I devoted more time to practice. I took nearly 5 months to prepare for GRE (towards the end, there was a time when I worked on the problems for nearly 8-10 hours a day).

Facing Reality

Funny thing to note here, I hadn't told my dad and mummy about this plan. I went back home (something I rarely did in Bachelors) during one of the breaks and I thought it was the right time to tell them all about this. I sat with papa, mummy and dadaji (grandpa) and told them everything about the exam, the preparation and how it worked. But there were a few problems. To mention a few, no one in my family line has ever considered this thought to go abroad and study; second, problem was money. I told them from the US perspective (i.e. 40L-50L in 2 years, minimum); also, not to forget they were all scared of sending me away alone. (as said, no one in my family line would be there if I fall into some trouble). Papa is very supportive to me but even he had his doubts about this plan. But still, he never said no to this. But I know when there is a willing yes; and when someone does not say no. I couldn't do it if they didn't willingly said yes.

Clearly, I did not prepare for GATE all these four years. So, when I came back to Dehradun, I changed my plans. Just to solve the problem of money, I dropped the plan of applying into any university in US. I dropped the plan to appear for GRE but I had studied for GRE and TOEFL. So, I decided a new course of action. I would appear only for TOEFL exam (GRE+ TOEFL = Rs25,000 whereas, TOEFL only, Rs10,000) and apply to the universities that are affordable and only need TOEFL. Also, there was this strong inner guts that told me - its either going to be a top university or none at all. The backup plan was also pretty good. I had got a job at IBM India. So, I would work at IBM and prepare for GATE exam simultaneously for next year.

So with some stubborn decisions I applied to only 3 universities, 1) University of British Columbia, 2) TU Delft and 3) EPFL. I was really sad that I couldn't apply to ETH as they asked for GRE; but applying to EPFL was equally good. So, I was happy.

That was how I got to know about foreign university applications, my journey of how I learnt the procedure, how I planned and finally applied.

Also for your reference, I have uploaded my Statement of Purpose for TU Delft, here.
Feel free to have a look. :)