Sunday, August 22, 2010

Things to do / keep in mind during undergrad

Q. I have just finished my schooling and have got admission in college X (or I am currently doing my bachelors at college X). I want pursue an MS in Computer Science (or some other branch) right after finishing my bachelors. Give me a general outline of the things I should keep in mind during my undergraduate (UG) studies.

First of all, timeline-wise, you would be applying in the beginning of your fourth year (7th semester). It is important to get requirements like GRE and TOEFL out of the way by around this time. E.g., if you are beginning your UG studies in 2010, you are looking to start a Masters program in the Fall (autumn) of 2014. For that, you need to get your applications in by Dec 2013/Jan 2014. Also, your admission decision will be made based on your profile at the time of application - that would reflect your UG performance in the first three years. The first 3 years are hence crucial.

If you are certain about doing higher studies in a technical field (i.e. MS as opposed to MBA), then the biggest thing that you should concentrate on is undergraduate academics and projects. Every field has some core subjects (e.g. for Computer Science it would be courses like Algorithms, Operating Systems, etc.), and you should try your best to excel in them. Additionally, you should always strive for projects (even if it is a simple class project) which have something novel or researchy about them rather than copying/reimplementing a project that someone has already done before. Consider each project as an opportunity to add something exciting to your profile. Of course, the amount of time you get while doing class projects is restricted, so you might not be able to achieve this all the time, but it's still a good idea to be on the look out for such opportunities. However, definitely try to enforce this in your pre-final year mini project (if your college has such a thing) and your final year projects, where you can devote a lot more time.

Try to build a good rapport with your professors and lecturers (by exceling in their classes, engaging in discussions, doing projects under their supervision) since you will need recommendations from at least three of them while applying. In the summers after your second and third years, be on the search for internships or summer projects. They could be in academia (institutions like the IITs, NTU or NUS Singapore), research labs (Microsoft Research, ISRO, BARC, DRDO, etc.) or the industry (Microsoft, Google, etc.). It would be good to have at least one of your internships in the first two categories. Projects outside outside usual college academics such as these show that you have are enthusiastic about your field of study and have strived to do much more than your normal curriculum during the course of your UG studies. Also, internships are a good opportunity to get a recommendation from a prestigious institution like IIT or Microsoft Research, which can be very useful in case your own college is not among the really famous ones.

Prepare well for GRE in your third year - though there's an option of giving it multiple times, try to finish it off in just one shot and give your best attempt at it. Depending on your current comfort level with the English language, you may need to start working on your English vocabulary much earlier than just the third year, for others, the preparation might just be a couple of months' time commitment. Also, in your third year, start researching different universities in the US that you would like to apply to. Evaluate your choices based on both (i) how good the university is, especially for the areas of research you are interested in and (ii) how realistic a chance you have of getting into that university, given your profile. Use the help of peers, seniors and online forums for helping you make your choices and finally apply well in time before the application deadline.
And it's as easy as that... :).


  1. Hi,

    I really liked your blog and just wanted to ask a tiny question. Is there any disadvantage in applying for a Masters after an year or two of work experience?


  2. @Yousef

    Not really (apart from the possibility that you might lose your enthusiasm to continue for higher studies once you start working).

    As far as admission chances go, the worst that can happen is that your work-ex won't make any difference to your overall profile if your experience is in a completely different field from the one you are applying to. The only thing to keep in mind is to maintain good relations with lecturers/professors from undergrad during that period so that they still remember you and give strong recommendations for you when you approach them later during application time.

  3. Hi,
    I am currently going into third year of mechanical engineering ( Mumbai university) now. My cgpa is 7.85 and has been constantly on the rise as compared to the first semester. I have completed 2 class projects in my SE. Is my cgpa low? When should I begin GRE preparations?

    1. @CaptainAchiever

      The answer to your CGPA question depends on what are the universities you are targeting. For the top 10 or 20 universities, I would say yes, unfortunately, the GPA is quite low. Unless you have some really ground breaking research or project that can offset your low GPA, it would be pretty tough to get into those universities. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't enough great reputed universities where you can get in.

      I know friends who've gotten into good universities and I've also counseled a few students in the past who've gotten into good places with GPAs in the 7-8 region. And they're all doing well now. Maybe online admission forums like will give you a more clearer picture about what range of universities to target for your profile. Try to get the GPA as close to the 8 mark as possible. And then focus on good projects, and getting strong reco letters and writing a good SOP.

      Of course, getting a very good GRE score will also help. Talking about which, it's never too early to start preparing for it. At least the verbal section, you can start preparing now itself to build up your vocabulary and get a feel for the kind of words you may encounter in the GRE exam. Start with a diagnostic test (a mock GRE exam which you give under strict timing conditions) and see how you score in the various sections. That will help you assess your strengths and weaknesses.

      Good luck!

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  6. Hi,

    Thanks for the information you are sharing on your blog. It’s really helpful. I had a question though. I am currently in my first year and I would be applying for MS in US. Since the US Universities have very little funding options for International Students wanting to do an MS there, they only have few options of funding, namely-Educational Loans, TAs/RAs or Self-Supported. As for me, I am thinking of working a couple of years after graduation and building finances so that I can self-support myself for MS. But I had some concerns regarding this. Does the work experience I gain after graduation, in any ways, affect my application for MS? Also, what about the recommendations? If I get the recommendations during my undergraduate years, can I use them (i.e would they still be considered valid) after I have done my 2-3 work experience? Do recommendations have any time-limit after which they become invalid/expire? Lastly, can the recommendations for MS include recommendations from Industry/Professional recommenders? Like- Managers/Supervisors etc? Or do recommendations for MS only have to be from academic sources like Professors, Teachers, Assistants etc?

    Reply soon

    1. I'm glad that you found the blog useful. Hope you got a chance to read the accompany paper at as well. If you find it useful, please do hit the recommend link there and share it anyone who might find it useful.

      Coming to your question of work experience, if the experience is in line with the field you are going to apply to, then it will help. If not, it won't make a lot of difference, provided it's just a 2 year break or so. If you take a long break from academia (say > 4 years) doing completely unrelated things to what you're applying to in MS, then you may have a slightly worse chance than applying right out of college (but can be made up using strong recommendations and compelling SOP). Also see section 3.7.3 of the DAGAP document.

      Recommendations from your university professors would still be valid after 2-3 years of work experience. However they have to be "dated" recently. You cannot submit a letter dated 2014 to an application you submit in 2017. So you may want to let your future recommenders from college know right away that in a year or two, you'll be coming back to them to get a letter. And if possible, you can ask them to draft a letter right away, when their memory of you is fresh. :)

      Finally, yes, recommendations can be from industry professionals as well. You just need to ensure that they know how to write a good recommendation letter for grad school admission. Do include at least one letter from a college professor though.