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The United States of America – a land full of opportunity, dream and hope. Harvard, Stanford, M.I.T., Purdue, Columbia , N.Y.U. and many other of the finest universities  in the world lying within its borders. Even the schools which do not have top rankings will put Mumbai University, Delhi University, Pune University and many more to shame. Every year, the number of students traveling to the USA for post-baccalaureate studies is rising steeply. Every year, the consulting fees charged per student increases accordingly. The base counseling fee at some places is a staggering Rs. 20,000 and at most of the counselors it is much, much more. Thus arose the inspiration to write this piece – a guide to the journey of applying for a master’s program in the United States. On reading, you will realize that this article can be used as a Bible or Holy Grail for your entire procedure from home to the university you choose.

Now, to save your time, this article mainly focuses on students/professionals (pharmacy and engineering mainly) who are applying for a master’s program in the USA. It will be of limited use to those applying for baccalaureate programs and MBA’s. It will be absolutely useless to individuals applying for medicine and similar courses. Accordingly, one should make the decision of continuing to peruse further or not.

This article has been written from personal experience as well as the experience of my peers and individuals who I had consulted during the course of my application journey. Some of the individuals are 1, 2, 3 and in a few cases even 5 to 10 years senior to me. I have broken down the journey into a number of steps which can be done in exactly the order as explained below.

  • What do you want to do after you complete your undergraduate education?

This is the key aspect to consider when you think of applying to a university in the USA for a master’s program. Generally, upon graduation, there are three options available- study for an MBA entrance exam in India, get a job or apply for a masters (unless of course you have a family business to take care of immediately in which case you need not worry).  With the MBA entrance exams getting increasingly competitive, even a 99% does not guarantee admission in any university, forget a top university. Additionally, taking a job may be a viable option but chances of growth and progression are dim without higher education. Option three is applying for a master’s program. And while a year or two of work experience tends to help you by a small margin in getting admission, most of the Indian students who apply have 0 years of full time work experience. So don’t worry. Now, you may ask why USA? Well it’s really simple. Aside from having the top universities in the world (as stated earlier), all the universities have an excellent education system and faculty who are dedicated to their work of teaching and bringing the best out of students.  Additionally, job prospects all around the world are boosted with the presence of a master’s degree from the USA on your resume as compared to most universities around the world (especially universities in UK). Thirdly, the global exposure obtained from an education at an American university (which provides a more practical and hands on approaches to content taught) and the amenities and facilities provided by them are state of the art. My advice – apply to the USA.

  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

Well, now that you have made your decision to apply to the USA, the next major step comes in – the Graduate Record Exam (MBA aspirants will have to give the GMAT although more and more USA business schools are accepting GRE scores now).  The cost for registering for the GRE exam is 190$ (it can vary). Many consider it to be the most difficult hurdle in the journey, but trust me it’s not (I will come to the most difficult one later). All you need to do is follow the right form of preparation. The optimum time to take the GRE is around 2 months or so after a set of semester exams (either March or August for engineering students).  The GRE generally requires about 2-3 months of sincere and diligent effort and preparation. Joining tuitions for the GRE would be a bonus, but it is not a requisite. More important is quality hours of dedicated practice that you put in, not the quantity hours you spend at classes. You may hate me for this, but yes, remembering the words is required. If you do not know the meanings of at least 2000 words of the 3500+ on the Barron’s word list, then the chances of scoring well in the verbal section of your GRE greatly decrease. Then again, you will be questioned about plenty of words which are beyond the 3500 words in the Barron’s, but the words in the Barron’s are a must. Some good books for preparation of quant and verbal in GRE are Barron’s, Kaplan, Princeton, Gruber’s and The Big Book. There are several online websites with quality practice material available such as www.majortests.com, http://www.greguide.com and many more. Attempting the PowerPrep test series (attempt it more than once. available at www.ets.org) is a must. Do not spend more than a few days on practicing for the essay writing section of your GRE. And remember, practice is the key. Focus more on practice and implementing what you have learned rather than just mugging up some theory (after all his isn’t a Mumbai University exam). Importantly, repetition will help greatly. Many will refute that solving the same questions again is a fool’s task. I would agree; if students got all the questions right in the first go. However, majority tend to get most wrong in the first go. Don’t forget to make your GRE account on www.gre.org and here is where you will get more information about the GRE test. Lastly, even if you do not score to your satisfaction and do not want to reattempt the GRE, it is not the end of the road. Read on for more information.

IMPORTANT TIPS:

  1. Taking classes is not required, but try and obtain the material available from different sources.
  2. Keep at least 2 months preparation time.
  3. Focus on quality effort and not quantity effort.
  4. Make your online account on www.gre.org
  5. Keep your GRE appointment letter and scorecard (when you receive it) in a safe place.
  6. Repetition will help.
  7. It is humanly impossible to solve all the practice material available in the market for GRE. Try and solve as much as you can.
  8. Be calm, cool, composed and confident on test day. And carry some snacks with you. It’s a 4 hour exam. You will get hungry in your break.
  • What program should I apply for?

The only advice I can give here is to consider the following factors in exactly the order that they are listed below:

  1. Interest
  2. Aptitude
  3. Money returns upon graduation

Many tend to go in the reverse order and end up unhappy with what they are doing. Remember, the decision you take here will affect the rest of your life. So, make this decision wisely. Many have been stuck with jobs that they simply hate because they went chasing the moolah and guaranteed job security. Wisest words ever – do what you love so that you can love what you do. Money will follow at some stage or the other. Now, there is a vast array of programs available to apply for. Gaming technology, healthcare, finance, computers, electronics, management, biomedical sciences and an infinite number of options are available. The list is endless. Some steps that you could follow in shortlisting a course are:

  1. Visit a popular website such as http://www.gradschools.com and study the master’s programs and their courses at some top universities (even if you feel the university is an unrealistic option you can just study the program structure at a top university and then find the same or similar programs in more realistic options).
  2. Consult seniors, faculty members and other sources (Education Times, US Weekly etc.) for more information about the program, course structure, fees, job prospects, duration and other factors.
  3. Make a shortlist on the basis of interest, aptitude and money. Narrow it down on the basis of these three criteria. Ultimately, you may land up with some confusion between multiple courses. In such a case, simply apply for two programs. That way, you buy yourself 6-9 months more to make a decision (and trust me, you will be much clearer in your head about what you want to do once you finish the whole application procedure – been there done that). Right, so now you have your course(s) that you want to apply for.
  • Test Of English As A Foreign Language (TOEFL)

This is by far the easiest step in your whole journey. TOEFL stands for test of English as a foreign language. Well, in my opinion it should stand for test of endurance and a foreign language. This 4-5 hour long test which evaluates our English speaking, writing, reading and listening skills (surely, just because were not classified as a first world country means we have no grasp of the English language). While the time required to prepare for GRE is about 2-3 months, the time required to prepare for TOEFL is 2-3 hours. However, people generally devote 2-3 days. A practice test or two from the Barron’s is more than enough to get a 110/120 in your TOEFL (although most universities just require that you cross a base score of 90 or so after which the TOEFL scores do not come into play in evaluating your application). However, the examination will definitely test your endurance ability to sit in front of a computer and answer inane and stupid questions about the basics of the English language for 4 hours or so. The cost for registering for the TOEFL exam is 170$ (it can vary). My advice for the TOEFL would be – Don’t waste your time stressing about it and definitely don’t waste your time studying for it.  Don’t forget to make your account at the TOEFL website and read more information about the TOEFL at http://www.toefl.org.

  • Picking your university list

This is the trickiest part of the entire application procedure. It requires an extensive study of many factors before you can finalize your university. Once you have finalized your program, study the course structure at the various universities which offer the program and make a list of the one’s where it appeals to you. Now, many universities will offer the same program, so you will have a quite large list and will need to perform more steps to make it more compact (note that the program name might vary from university to university). Talk to seniors who are currently studying the program at the university you have chosen or have graduated from the program you are interested in at that university. Ask them for their honest opinions – explicitly about the good and bad parts of their master’s education.  Make sure that the sources which you communicate with are reliable and unbiased (as many students tend to show favoritism to the university which they chose. Then again, it’s only natural). Finally, selecting your university depends also (but not entirely) on the score you obtain in the GRE. The program, school and university rankings can and must be checked at a reliable website like http://www.gradschools.com, http://www.usnews.com etc. Join Edulix as well as Facebook groups which exist for different programs. Here, students can share and pool in their information and resources to help each other make their final decisions. In general, people tend to apply to about 8-10 universities (if applying for a single program). Out of these, 3 could be dream/unrealistic options, 4 could be gettable ones and the remaining three would be guaranteed admits (of course,  there is never a 100% guarantee but talking to seniors and checking current student profiles could give you an idea about the guarantee factor). Now, if you’re applying to 2 programs, apply to about 6 universities for each program and adjust the three categories accordingly. Once you have finalized your university list, don’t forget to make your online application accounts at each of the university websites’ (everything in your application procedure will be done online). And store the username and password of each in a safe and reliable place because you will need it several times in the future. Once again, I repeat, make sure you store this information as many universities automatically generate usernames and have different requirements of passwords.

After this, just briefly read the application procedure and most importantly the application round deadlines as given on each university program’s website and note them down some place you’ll look very often. This final step is a must as the requirements and deadlines of different universities tend to change and differ here and there.

  • Transcripts

The only way to describe the transcript procedure in India – it’s a bitch. Begin this procedure as soon as you have all your required mark sheets. If you are currently in your final year, you need to wait for your sixth semester mark sheet. It is a long and tedious procedure. Follow the steps as given below:

  1. First, you have to make your transcripts, as per requirements, on a rough copy and have it checked by the corresponding department at your university.
  2. Apply for and buy letterheads (A4 and full scape size) as well as envelopes (small and big).
  3. Then, once you recheck the approved rough transcript yourself (do not forget to recheck it yourself for any mistakes in subject names, marks or percentage) you have to get it printed on the official full scape letter heads of the college.
  4. Get these signed, stamped and attested by the department again.
  5. Place the transcripts in an official envelope (large sized envelope).
  6. Get this envelope signed and stamped by your college registrar or similar authority.

Please note – some universities require that individual photocopied and attested copies of each of your semester mark sheets should also be placed in the envelope.

Painful enough, isn’t it? Well, to make the procedure simple, check the sample transcripts of D. J. Sanghvi College of Engineering at http://www.djscoe.org/Exam/Transcripts/transcripts.html. Transcripts are made using MS Word (for page 1) and MS Excel (for page 2).

  • Statement Of Purpose (SOP)

Read the words again – Statement. Of. Purpose. It’s a brief (about two pages in MS Word using Times Roman 12 or Arial 11) statement which SHOULD include all of the following:

  1. How you got interested in or came to learn about the particular program?
  2. Why you are a suitable fit for the program and the university?
  3. Your short and long term goals.
  4. Why you chose the particular university?

Remember the part where I spoke about not having a satisfactory GRE score not being the end of the world. Well, this is one of the few redeeming opportunities you get, so make sure you grasp it. After all, this part of the procedure is entirely in your hands and you will have abundant time to work on it. Set aside at least a month to formulate your own SOP. Begin with a rough draft and keep making changes to it as you proceed. People generally go through 10 drafts before having a finalized SOP which they are happy with. Take the opinion of people you trust. Read sample SOPs for basic ideas about how to write one. This could be done at http://www.statementofpurporse.com or by asking seniors for their SOP’s (remember, people always won’t be willing to share their intellectual property). Make sure you proof read the SOP and have at least 2 people who you trust proof read it for you. Lastly, be sure to include a university specific paragraph. It helps the particular university know why you are specifically applying to them.  Additionally, keep in mind that some universities require you to write individual essays on particular topics and not an SOP. However these essay topics will more or lesser be similar to the SOP. Make sure you find out exactly what you need to write from each universities application page/account.

IMPORTANT TIPS

  1. Include all the points listed above in your SOP briefly at least.
  2. Proof read it. Spelling mistakes in your SOP are a recipe for disaster.
  3. Set aside ample time for formulating your SOP.
  4. Do not put in redundant information (the same information at multiple locations) in your SOP.
  5. Do not put in extraneous information either (social work or college events and festivals should be excluded unless you are absolutely sure they bear relevance to your program).
  6. Make sure that everything you right has relevance to the program you are applying for.
  7. Typically, an SOP should not be more than 2 MS Word pages. But, in some cases the university specifies a word limit. So, be sure to check the same for each university.

Lastly and most importantly, in addition to being a statement of purpose, I consider the SOP to also be a Statement of Personality. Try and showcase your personality and its uniqueness and creativity while you are writing your SOP material. It will add some appeal to your material and will give the readers more of a reason to hand you accepts.

  • Resume

Along with the SOP, your resume is an important component of the application procedure. First and foremost, many of you will not know the contents and requirements of a formal and professional curriculum vitae. Your resume should include most of the following fields:

  1. Education (include only your undergraduate institution and cumulative average GPA/percentage).
  2. Relevant work experience (full time, part time or internships).
  3. Academic Projects (at least the one’s relevant to the program you are applying for if not all).
  4. Extracurricular activities (do not put in community service or similar activities. Put in activities which will be relevant to your program).
  5. Computer skills (this is a very important part which must be included no matter what you are applying for. Note that MS Word and Excel are also counted as computer skills so be sure to include them)

Your resume should be precise, in point format and concise (a one page resume should be appropriate for your application). Also, make sure that your SOP is not simply an essay of your resume or your resume is not simply a point format document of your SOP. Use your imagination in creating your SOP and resume. For sample CV’s, you can check http://jobsearch.about.com/od/teenstudentgrad/a/studentresume.htm which has sample resumes and templates for undergraduate students. However, do not simply copy the format. Make changes and personalize it in your own way.

  • Letter Of Recommendation (LOR)

Every university requires about 2-3 LORs from professors at your university or seniors at your workplace. It’s more important to approach people who will surely give you a positive recommendation and have known you for a longer time or on a more personal level rather than approaching higher ranking individuals who will give u a mediocre recommendation. Also, make sure that you take your LORs from individuals who are willing to devote the time and effort for the LOR procedure. Most of the LOR procedures are done online and will simply require you to enter the email address of the person in question (please note – enter official university or company email addresses with the appropriate designation, do not simply enter a gmail.com, hotmail.com or similar address). Remember, to waive your right to read the LOR. It is a sign of confidence in your own performance and personality. If the LOR procedure is not online, then you will have to download the LOR form of each university and have your recommendation provider fill in the form. Additionally, they can attach a personally written recommendation on an official company or university A4 size letter head. These should be signed, stamped and then folded and placed in a small sized envelope. This envelope should again be signed and stamped across the seal. Yes, I know, the entire procedure is painful and never-ending. For more information about the letter of recommendation, go to http://www.letterofrecommendation.com.

IMPORTANT TIPS

  1. Pick a recommendation provider who can vouch for your performance and charisma.
  2. Make sure the recommendation comes in before the application deadline.
  3. Waive your right to access or read the LOR.
  4. Provide ample time to the recommendation provider to complete the LOR procedure.
  • Online Applications

Well, now that you’ve done so much, you must be thinking that you’re almost there. Haha! Trust me, you’re nowhere near the finish line. But, don’t be discouraged. The fruits of education are worth the effort. The online application is another important aspect. You have to fill in your details on each individual application account. Go ahead with one application at a time. Set aside 3 or 4 days for each application. Read the instructions for each application before you actually commence work on the application. Make sure you finish each online application ample time before the deadline. Fill in the details carefully. Keep checking for typos. There will be places to upload your CV, SOP and transcripts. Make sure that you upload the right document at the right place. Do not upload your SOP for Harvard University in the application for CMU (don’t laugh. people have made such foolish mistakes and it could happen to you if you’re not careful). Once you are done filling in your personal details, test scores, undergraduate information and other relevant details, save a copy of the entire application on your desktop or print it out (there will be links for these actions before you submit the application). Once you click on submit, you will be guided to the electronic application fee payment system. The application fee varies from 50$ to even 250$ in a few cases (in very few cases is the application fee not required or waived). If you are doing a paper application, my advice to you is –Don’t. Every university has an online application system. In addition to be being a greener method, the online application system will not have the mess of papers and documents which you have to manually write and fill. All your information will be conveniently located in a single place – one folder on your desktop.

IMPORTANT TIPS

  1. Set aside 3-4 days minimum for each online application.
  2. Complete each application well before the application round deadline.
  3. Check the individual application requirements of each university that you are applying to.
  4. Cross-check every field and every page of your application for typos and other errors at least thrice.
  5. If you are unsure about a particular field (or what to enter in that field) ask a friend or the admissions coordinator at that university.
  • Sending your GRE and TOEFL scores

You will be required to send your GRE and TOEFL scores electronically to each university via ETS. This will be done from your online application account at http://www.gre.org and http://www.toefl.org respectively. Sending your GRE scores to each university costs 24$ (per university) and TOEFL scores costs 16$ (per university) (yes my friend, they are minting money). In order to send your scores, you need to determine the university code and department code (note that the university and department codes are separate and unique for GRE and TOEFL) from your university application requirements page. This can be a tedious process as the codes are often buried deep in the website. In such a case, simply email the admissions coordinator at each university for the exact codes. It normally takes up to 2 working weeks for the scores to reach each university. So be patient and don’t fret. Your online application page will display whether the university has received your scores or not so keep checking the status there. However, if the status doesn’t change, do not fret. Each university receives hundreds and even thousands of application per semester so processing can sometimes take a month. Again, if you’re too worried, just email the admissions coordinator. They are really helpful regarding any queries you may have regarding the application procedure.

  • Sending your Transcripts (and mark sheets if required)

You will need to DHL/FedEx your transcripts and maybe even mark sheets to each university. However, all universities do not require this. Some universities accept scanned and uploaded copies of your official attested transcripts and mark sheets. However, for the ones which do require you to mail them, buy a jumbo envelope in which u can place the envelope which contains your transcripts. Place any LORs if required. Make sure there is a covering letter which indicates the contents of the jumbo envelope. On your main envelope, stick a printout of the exact address and contact number to which you have to send the documents (can be obtained from university program/department requirement page or website) and also a smaller printout of your personal address and contact details. This envelope must reach the university no later than 15 days after the application deadline date of each university. So, the earlier you send it the better. Also, stick a printout of the program name and the semester which you are applying for on the main envelope. Again, the reception of the transcripts will be updated in your online account but don’t fret if it doesn’t update immediately. Also note – some universities may require you to send some financial documents along with the transcripts (very few do). In such a case please include an affidavit of financial support and a back statement in your packet. Make sure you track your packet online. You can do so by logging on to the respective agency’s site and using the tracking number they provide you. Delivery of the packet normally takes about 5 working days. It would cost roughly Rs. 600 per packet. At least, Rs. 600 would be a reasonable bargain. It may be more expensive.

  • Interview

Some universities (very few) may ask you to schedule an interview (on phone or Skype). This is another redeeming opportunity that you have. If you are asked to schedule an interview, it means that you are an interesting candidate but there are many other similar candidates and they want to communicate and interact with you so as to give you a chance to sweep them off their feet. Dress formally for the interview and make sure your internet connection is strong and your room is locked and noise free. Have a friend or someone you trust take a mock interview. Sample interview questions can be obtained from Edulix or Facebook groups. Be friendly in your approach and confident in your replies. Try to show them how you are charismatic and unique. Try to make the interview an informal conversation rather than giving it a serious note. And keep a few sample questions ready for asking. At the end of the interview, your interviewer will always ask you if you have any questions for them. The questions could be about anything – course work, faculty or even student –life and what’s fun to do on weekends at the university.

  • Accepts and Rejects

Well once you’ve finished with your entire application procedure, the waiting game begins. While many universities notify you regarding the exact date on which you will receive your decision, many do not. Also, often a university delivers its decisions later or earlier than the stipulated date. I preferred not knowing the exact date on which I was to get my replies. Knowing the exact date just guaranteed sleep nights of endless waiting. Do not be discouraged if you hear negative replies from universities. Many tend to get negative replies from some universities and positive replies from higher ranked universities. It’s all variable. Just be patient and believe.

  • Deciding your destination university

Now, I trust all of you have received many accepts and I pray very few or 0 rejects. This is a serious time to evaluate your options. Weigh out each accept that you have got on the basis of the following factors and many more that you can think of:

  1. Interest in program structure.
  2. Faculty.
  3. Job prospects upon graduation from each university.
  4. Cost of program at each university.
  5. Location of the university (tends to be a factor for many).
  6. Unbiased feedback and reviews from alumni of the program and students currently in the program.

Talking to students currently in or who have graduated from the program will greatly help you evaluate your options. When you talk to alumni members, don’t forget to ask them where they are working now and how their education is directly helping them in their professional and personal lives. Almost all alumni members tend to be very helpful and cooperative in their feedback. One last advice- do not let peer pressure affect your decision of picking a university (or even a program). Remember, it’s a question of the rest of your life and how it is going to shape will be affected by the decisions you make now. So make them wisely. Also, be gracious and send polite emails to the universities which you are rejecting indicating your gratefulness in being accepted and your regret in not taking up that university.

  • i20

Once u have received admits and rejects and finalized your destination university, you will need to send financial documents (affidavit of financial support and a bank statement) to the university.  Even if you had sent your documents earlier, you may need to send fresh and recent documents again so that you can receive one of the most important documents you will possess – the i20 (no, Steve Jobs dint create the i20). The i20 is a formal document that you will need for the visa procedure. On the i20, the name and duration of your program as well as other particulars of the university are mentioned. DO NOT lose your i20 as it is a document you will need to carry with you every single time that you travel into, out of and within the United States of America. Send your financial documents as soon as possible. The i20 generally comes within a few weeks of sending your financial documents. Make sure you get it well in advance. Without it, you will not be able to commence your visa procedure.

  • Everything that you need to know about the visa procedure

Once you receive your i20, immediately start with the rest of your visa procedure. It’s a long and tedious procedure which has many steps involved. I’ve broken them down for you:

  1. Pay your HDFC fee at any outlet of the HDFC bank (generally around Rs. 8000-9000, however, it may change from time to time). Keep your HDFC fee receipt safe. You will need it in the future.
  2. Pay the SEVIS fee online (roughly 200$, but it may change from time to time) at https://www.fmjfee.com/i901fee/index.jsp. Make sure you print and save the confirmation of SEVIS fee payment page. You will need it in the future.
  3. Fill the DS-160 online at https://ceac.state.gov/GENNIV/default.aspx or you can simply access it from https://www.vfs-usa.co.in. Be very careful while filling the DS-160. It is an important form in your visa procedure. Additionally, when you are filling the form, you will be asked to upload a soft copy of a personal photograph of certain specifications (US visa photo). Directions and requirements of the photo can be found at http://travel.state.gov/visa/visaphotoreq/visaphotoreq_5334.html#nonimmigrant. Again, print the confirmation page of the DS-160. It has a bar code which will be required during the further stages of the procedure.
  4. Now, it’s time to book your visa appointment. Book your appointment well in advance. You can book it online at https://www.vfs-usa.co.in/ApplnForms/RegularUser.aspx. Print several copies of the appointment confirmation as you will need them in the future. Generally, the appointment time allotted to you will be 7 45 a.m. in the morning (yes, life sucks).
  5. Now, for candidates who stay in Chennai, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Kolkatta and Mumbai, you will need to submit a set of pre-appointment documents at the VFS center in your respective city. For Mumbai residents the documents to be submitted as well as documents you will need to carry for the interview can be found at https://www.vfs-usa.co.in/USIndia/student_mumbai.html. For residents of the other cities, you can check https://www.vfs-usa.co.in/USIndia/student_NCHK.html.

Now that you’re done with pre-visa procedure, it’s time to consider handling the visa appointment. First and foremost, make sure you carry all the required documents along with you for the appointment. Prepare your financial documents very carefully. Makes sure the figures in your Asset Statement are accurate and precise. Carry all original documents, including those which offer proof of your finances. This will include bank passbook, L.I.C. policies and property documents among other papers. Make sure you have someone who has gone through the visa procedure before take a mock appointment, asking you all the relevant questions in the process. On the day of the appointment, reach the American consulate at least forty-five minutes prior to your appointment. Employees at the consulate will guide you through the entire procedure. Do not hesitate to ask them any queries you may have. The staff at the consulate is very friendly and helpful. You will first perform the fingerprint scan and then be given a token number. Once your token number is displayed on the screen, it’s time. It all comes down to the 5 minutes (sometimes even 1 minute) of the appointment which will seal your fate. Be sure to greet the visa officer with a “Good morning, how are you”. It’s only common etiquette to do so. Be calm, friendly and confident in your replies. Make the appointment a conversation instead of making it seem like you are spilling out replies that you have rote learned (again, it’s not a Mumbai University exam!!). And finally congratulations on hearing the sweet, sweet words –“Your visa has been approved.”

For those of you who have received a pink slip (visa refusal – section 214(b)) you can attempt reappearing for the appointment a considerable duration of time after your first appointment. Of course, you will have to go through every step of the visa procedure again. But, do not be disheartened as several applicants have their visa approved on the second time of trying. Do not lose hope. A rejection is not the end of the road. For more info check http://mumbai.usconsulate.gov/214b-refusal.html.

For those who received a white or yellow slip (administrative processing – section 221(g)), do not worry. It is a simple administrative issue and you will most likely have your visa approved in a month’s duration. Keep checking your caste status online at http://mumbai.usconsulate.gov/case-status.html and submit your documents to VFS office in your city when your bar code number appears online. For more info, check http://mumbai.usconsulate.gov/221g-administrative-processing.html.

For more information about the Student (F-1) visa, visit https://www.vfs-usa.co.in/USIndia/nonimmigrantvisas_student.html.

  • All the remaining formalities

Hearty congratulations to those who have finished their application procedure and obtained admission and a visa for their respective university. However, remember even though the important part is over, there’s yet work to be done. Some of the important work has been categorized below

  • Booking flight tickets

Book your tickets in advance so that you get a decent price. Club in and travel with a few friends so that you can avail group discounts. Booking tickets by the first fortnight of June would be appropriate. A bargain price for one way tickets would generally come for around Rs. 35,000-40,000 (Gulf Air is currently a cheap pick). Also, check the date of your first orientation before booking your ticket. You will need to be at your university at least a few days before your first orientation. And, settling down to a new home takes a few days too. So, book your tickets accordingly.

  • Immunization

Each university and state in the USA has their own immunization requirements. Now, eve n though we may have got majority of our vaccinations done in our childhood, it is better to check with the particular university about detailed immunization requirements. Additionally, apartment complexes may sometimes require that you get additional vaccinations (such as meningococcal) for safety purposes. Check the immunization requirement at the student affairs (not the affairs you are thinking about :p) section of your university. Make sure you are done with your immunizations by the first week of July.

  •  Apartments, roommates and meet-ups

Apartments and roommates are very important issues which must be carefully and meticulously considered. You are going to be spending around two years of your lives at the university you have chosen. During this period, your apartment will be your home and your roommates will be like your family. So, it is very important to be happy with both these factors. Apartments and roommates can be searched for on various sources such as Edulix, the student affairs section of your university, Craig’s List, Facebook groups, Google and many more sources. Consider the following factors while deciding the apartments and roommates: cost, privacy (no. of bedrooms and bathrooms), safety, the distance from the campus which you will be studying most of your courses at, comfort and many more which will vary from person to person. Makes sure you fix up apartment sand roommates by the first week of July latest.

Additionally, make sure you meet people going to your university who reside in your city. They do not need to be enrolled in the same program that you are going for. Organize city meets and get to know each other. You can lend helping hands to one another as each of you start your individual lives in a new place. And don’t forget to meet your existing family and friends (from school, college, building or wherever it may be). You will miss them a lot once you are there.

Other things which may or may not need to be done in advance could be international driver’s license (which can be used as ID proof for clubs/bars since carrying your passport everywhere is too risky), forex/debit/credit cards, buying plenty of material and clothing to carry such as Indian spices, food, warm clothing and essentials (however, all of this is now available all over the USA – a special thank you to the Patels for this).

Finally, your journey has come to an end. But, this is just the beginning of a new journey. It’s time to say goodbye and I wish all of you the very best in the endeavors that you have chosen. May each of you achieve success in the domain of that you have selected.

For any more information please join the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/djassmeblymsinus. This is a group started by US aspirants from D. J. Sanghvi College of Engineering. Here, a bunch of my friends and me will be more than happy to entertain your queries (no matter how many ever they are) and give you further insight on all of the steps above.

That’s all for your 6000+ word counseling session about the entire journey which will take you from home to the university you have chosen.

Cost of GRE counseling – Rs. 0 (everywhere else – Rs 20,000 or more)

Cost of university selection counseling – Rs. 0 (everywhere else – Rs. 20,000 or more)

Cost of visa procedure counseling – Rs. 0 (everywhere else – Rs. 5,000 or more)

The feeling you get when you realize you have not wasted Rs. 50,000 or more – priceless

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Probably one of the most underrated and over looked aspects of the game of football is the pass before the assist. Even a defender’s last ditch tackle or a goalkeepers fingertip save receives more recognition that one of the key aspects of the game – the killer pass which was made just before the assist which contributed to the goal.

What the pass before the assist essentially does is it opens the play up completely for the attacking team putting the defending team on the back foot immediately. This ultimately leads to a player passing the football to the goal scorer (the assist) who then slots the ball home into the opposition net.

Not to take any credit away from the assist or the goal itself (and the players responsible for each respectively), but the pass before the assist always tends to stay in the shadows even though it deserves credit. At the end of each season, the assists and goals stats are racked up and compared. But, no one bothers about the pass before the assist. A player making such a pass is contributing as much to the team as the goal scorer and the assister.

The pass before the assist is made by players who can play in any position on the pitch. Quite often it is made by the goalkeeper or a defender when a team is launching a counter attack. In such cases the pass before the assist is the most crucial pass in determining the success of the counter attack. Even in the case of team goals which involve heavy link up play between several players, the pass(es) before the assist contribute as much towards victory as the assist and the goal.

Just as I write this, the Greece national team gives proof of the importance of the pass before the assist. Greece are 1-0 down at the quarters of the Euro 2012 against a German team who are running them ragged. Theofanis Gekas manages to get possession in the middle of the park and sends a fabulous through ball (the glorious but much ignored pass before the assist) to Salpingidis who makes a simple pass to Samaras to slot it home into Neuer’s net. Of course, Samaras and Salpingidis will be the name on everyone’s lips, but the brave and valiant efforts of Gekas, which in fact created the entire attack, will never be remembered. The pass before the assist will always remain in the shadow. (P.S.- Khedira just equalized for Germany, so the goal may be irrelevant, but the pass before the assist will remain beautiful.)

However, I repeat, we have stats only for the number of assists and goals. As a result, many, in fact most, viewers of the beautiful game tend to ignore the pass before the assist. As a result, many quality players with raw talent have been touted as overrated or unworthy. Definite examples would include Luka Modric from Spurs, Michael Carrick and from Manchester United, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing from Liverpool FC, Matthew Etherington from Stoke City, Seb Larsson from Birmingham City and many more (these are just a few from the English Premier Division). Admittedly, some of these players like Steward Downing have underperformed over the last season (0 Premier League goals and assists says it all). But, many of these players are instrumental in contributing towards the goal by making the pass before the assist on several occasions thereby ensuring the success of the team in the league/cup.

True appreciators of the game will be able to fully understand the value of the pass before the assist and the fact that it remains as important and as beautiful (if not more) as the assist and the goal.

The transition from student to professional is definitely one of the largest, most important and most difficult jumps of an individual’s life. Nonetheless it is one which we all must make. Our education may train us to be good employees, but we will never be completely ready for what is out there, waiting for us, no matter how hard we prepare.  Harold Geneen, the late President of the ITT Corporation and a well-established American businessman said – “In the business world, everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience. Take the experience first; the cash will come later”.  However, in the fast and brutal professional world which exists today, survival of the fittest is a universal law. And there will be a plethora of fitter competition, which has an abundance of experience, at the workplace. This makes it especially difficult for new recruits entering the battlefield and planting their first steps in their respective work places’. I could think of many basic tips and cues to provide for fresh graduates as well as recruits who require some more seasoning and refining of their already established experience and know-how. Here are 5 of the best:

Sales and Marketing

This is especially essential for those who are yet hunting for a job or are new to the professional world.  After all, isn’t a job interview all about selling and marketing oneself (and the skillset the individual possesses) in such a way that the only words which can come to the interviewers lips are the sweetest of them all – “You’re hired”. Additionally, any workload, even technical, will require some analysis and thought process on the marketability and sales potential of the product/service in question. The marketing team will advertise the unique selling points and features of the same, but the technical team will be required to implement those unique selling points in the product/service. So even if you are from a technical background (yes engineers, I am talking to you), developing certain implicit sales and marketing skills is always a bonus. Whether we admit it or not, quite often a promotion or a raise is a result of selling and marketing our growth and performance in the company in the right way. Last point here – don’t just work hard, work hard and work smart.

Inter-Personal Skills & Diplomacy

A wise man once said – “Your words are you weapons, use them wisely”.  I cannot underscore the importance of developing one’s communication and interpersonal skills – no matter what your domain is. Even the brightest mind at the work place can often go to waste due to a lack of refined communication and collaboration skills and the ability to work well in teams. Establishing firm and fluent interpersonal skills is necessary, from the grass root levels of college projects to the higher rungs of multinational corporation projects. Earl Wilson said – “Science may never come up with a better office communication system than the coffee break”. Being a part of the grapevine also tends to be an essential step for new recruits to fit in and find their comfort. How often have we heard people talk about “the art of diplomacy”. Well diplomacy is most definitely an art and mastering diplomacy and tact is another important rung in climbing the corporate ladder. Diplomacy will not only help the company on a larger level but also will help you succeed, earn some points and make a few friends (well you can call them that) on your road to success on a personal level. So, always remember this – keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Judgment

Judgment is one of those things which will mainly come with experience. This will vary from judgment of a co-worker or even your boss and their true character to judgment of a particular decision which can affect the project you are working on or a client you are working with. Bill Gates famously said – “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”. So, there will also be times, regardless of the years of experience, where an individual’s judgment can and will go wrong. Well, in this case the only thing to do is pick oneself up from the ground, dust oneself clean and remember never to make the same mistake again. Personally, I think experience is defined as the art of learning from your mistakes. However, in the today’s times, we can qualify experience as learning from one’s own mistakes as well as the mistakes of the people around you. It would be criminal to commit the same foolish mistake that someone around you whose experience you could have learned from committed. So, learn from your own experiences as well as experiences of others. My wise words on the topic – To err is human, to err again in the same way is plain stupid.

Leadership

Every one admires a great leader. Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Dhoni for the Indian cricket team, Steven Gerrard as captain of Liverpool – all examples of great leaders and people who are looked up to. Yes, for a fresher it’s impossible to immediately be the great leader of the company. But, demonstrating leadership skills in willingness to take up work and responsibility can go a long way in earning you recognition points with your boss. Taking responsibility and owning up for the occasional mistake you make can also help your case. Additionally, it is important to learn to lead not only from the front, but also from the back, the middle, the side or wherever. Leadership is a skill you WILL need to demonstrate if you want to climb the rungs of the corporate ladder. And this WILL involve learning to stand out from the crowd. Each of us may have spent a large amount of time and effort in trying to fit it in and be a part of a group or circle in our easy student lives where the world was a much simpler place. But, being a leader is all about being unique and standing out of the crowd. Don’t shy away from or be afraid to get noticed for the right reasons.  Lastly, always remember, leadership skills are not only important to climb the corporate ladder, but also to STAY there.

Networking

A great analogy I heard about networking from scholars at Duke University – “It’s about farming, not hunting. Sow some great networking seeds. It’ll help you reap rich harvests in the future”. It happens so often that individuals meet the right people to network with. But a major drawback is the failure to see that they are in the company of the right people at that moment i.e. the failure to see and grasp the opportunity when it so readily presents itself. Networking is important, not only within the company but also outside it. Networking can include individuals you meet professionally and personally. But, don’t use networking as a simple “hand out your card and expect a favor” technique. It is very important to build and maintain a relationship before an individual can enjoy the benefits of the hours he may have put into his networking efforts. However the hours put in are worth the effort. Remember, even if you can reach your goal without a good network, smart networking will definitely help you get to your goal faster.

These are a few basic tips, which if followed will make your transition to the work place easier and will help you cement a place and a name for yourself. I will leave you with a few words, again from Harold Geneen – “It is an immutable law in the professional world that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises but only performance is reality”. So, keep performing and good luck.

The famous English football manager Bill Shankly once said – “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

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Football – It’s more than a game. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Officially, more than 250 million players play the game in almost all of the roughly 200 countries of the world. Not to mention those who play the game unofficially or simply spend their time watching the beautiful sport of football. The FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championships are in the list of top 5 sporting events of the world, as published by Forbes magazine. On a regular basis, many football players are on the list of most influential people in the world, as published by Time magazine. Such is the extent of the influence of football and the people as well as bodies involved with the sport. It has touched the lives of people of all demographics and influenced countries all over the world. It has become much more than a sport in the world today. It has become a global movement for change and improvement.

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Football has had a massive influence on individual nations all over the world. The instance in this case is the most significant and substantial contribution made by a single player/sport anywhere in the world. I am talking about none other than the Chelsea legend and the African King – Didier Drogba. Turmoil and civil war was large in the Ivory Coast. In October 2005, after leading his country to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Didier Drogba fell to his knees in front of the camera and begged the warring parties to lay down their arms. The result: within a week, his wish was granted and the leaders of the two sides were standing side by side proudly singing the national anthem. One football player managed to glue his country together. Such is the massive influence of the game and the people involved with it, all of whom are idolized to great extents. However, the remarkable contribution is that these same players, who are idolized, are all eager and willing to give back and contribute as individuals for the welfare of the world and society. We all are aware of Didier Drogba’s antics and shenanigans on the pitch. Many a times his integrity is called into question. On being asked why he did not defend his character with such examples of his contribution he replied: “Honestly, it doesn’t bother me what I get accused of. The people who mean most to me know what I am really about. I know what I stand for and that is all that matters”.  Even though I am a die-hard Manchester United fan and the rivalry culture makes me intuitively boo and jeer at the opposing team players I have only the following to say to you King Drogba – Respect, we bow down to you and your contribution!

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Racism is a global issue today and it is a shame to see how prevalent it is in the world. Football as a sport has been working diligently to eliminate racism and discrimination entirely, branding it as a social evil which must be ousted. Various movements have been initiated to oust the social evil of racism. And these movements have been clearly working. The demographically diverse players involved in the game and its anti-racism movements are a clear indication of the fight against racism. The organization kickitout.org has launched a movement whose banner says “let’s kick racism out of football”. This campaign has been supported and funded by various governing bodies such as the PFA, the Football Association and the Premier League as well as players who advertise for the campaign and the spread the social message to boot racism out. Similarly, UEFA as well as FIFA have launched their own anti-racism campaigns and FIFA has now declared anti-racism days to be held annually. We may have our issues with Sepp Blater, the president of FIFA, the governing body of football around the world, but kudos to him for fully supporting the movement and give it the push it required.

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Anyone heard of the Rio Ferdinand Foundation? The Craig Bellamy Foundation? The Didier Drogba Foundation? The Stiftung Foundation by Franz Beckenbauer (www.beckenbauer-stiftung.de)? The UK Football Foundation funded by the Premier League (www.footballfoundation.org.uk)? Jason Roberts, Stephen Ireland, Christoph Metzelder, Roque Santa Zruz and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst are just a few other football players with similar charity and social foundation for the welfare of the not so fortunate. These foundations aim to develop education, training and employment support programs for communities which lack resources and opportunities all over the world. The impact that these foundations are having on individual lives cannot be underscored using any words. The magnanimous nature of these football players fills us all with a sense of pride and restores our faith and belief in humanity. Pele once said – “Every kid around the world who plays soccer wants to be Pele. I have a great responsibility to show them not just how to be like a soccer player, but how to be like a man.” Today’s footballers are truly making the world a better place to live in. Even the much maligned Joey Barton visited a school on behalf of a charity and told pupils not to repeat his many mistakes. In addition to all this, FIFA also is responsible for global charity and social work with their Football For Hope and 20 Centers for 2010 movements which are both successes so far, all in partnership with the streetfootballworld organization. They have greatly helped disadvantaged communities all over the world, especially in Africa during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

In addition football has also brought about many positive influences such as international co-operation and sustainable development of the environment to name a few. Football has worked closely with many global organizations such as the United Nations as well as individual football governing bodies. For example, FIFA teamed up with the International Labor Organization to stop child labor and child abuse as well as with the UNICEF to promote human rights and education for children around the globe. Football is also helping raise awareness for the environment and ensuring that our world is a cleaner place to live in with each day. FIFA had launched its green goal and now has its governing body based in a building which has absolutely zero emissions of harmful gases. The football world has been engaging with several institutions to find sensible ways of addressing environmental issues and mitigate the negative environmental impacts linked to its activities.

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Football and the people involved with the sport have truly given back to the world much more than could be ever asked of them. I am sure the football Gods around the world are smiling down at the contribution of the game and the individuals associated with it. I will leave you with a few lines from Jurgen Griesbeck, the man behind streetfootballworld: “The beautiful game itself is part of the solution. And it has teamed up to further the cause of development – a huge opportunity and an immense responsibility!” I must say, so far, it has been fulfilling the responsibility.

Starting a start-up is considered by many to be one of the most difficult and fearful tasks that exists. The major hindrance is the steady paycheck (or lack of it) which comes with being the person behind the wheel rather than in the passenger seat. Here are a few simple tips and strategies to cook your broth for success, written out of inspiration from all the companies I have seen grow and flourish, which I hope come in handy to fellow start-up aspirants.

Recently, a friend commenced a project on his idea for a web start-up, which provides desktop and laptop repair services to clientele in the city. After a few initial months of success and a considerable profit margin which is paying back his initial investment, he now claims to be a successful entrepreneur.  A major point to here is to know or learn the difference between a business-owner and an entrepreneur. After all it is important to know what you want to prepare before you start working on your recipe. The importance of knowing what category of the two one falls into is a key point in ensuring success- for the company and for oneself. An entrepreneur would be mainly concerned with innovating and inventing new technologies as well as finding new ways to revolutionize and change the world. They enjoy risk and tend to juggle many balls at a time. A business-owner, on the other hand, is mainly concerned with profit margins, costs and revenue projections. They love security and tend to focus on a single ball to play with. They are more sentimentally attached to their start-up.

However, regardless of the category one falls into, developing and selling a product/service is an arduous task and requires gallons and gallons of effort and time. Two general approaches or ideologies are adopted for the development of any product/service. However, as Robert Kiyosaki said – a single approach doesn’t always fit it all. The “product-oriented’ folk focus on developing a product/service so brilliant that it will sell itself and people are going to want to buy/use it regardless of other factors. The “service-oriented” folk, on the other hand, focus primarily on the requirements of the customer and put in massive amount of their effort and time on ensuring that the client’s current needs and problems are satisfied. However, along with the advantages that accompany each of these approaches, certain drawbacks come into play too. A product-oriented approach can often deter the focus of attention to only the product. Ignoring the client is a recipe for disaster (much like forgetting to add salt to your recipe) where any start-up is concerned. Also, the vision and future of the product often tends to exceed the realms of what is feasible. Finally, one cannot expect each and every product/service to sell itself. On the other hand, a service-oriented approach tends to focus only on “Now” and not on “What’s Next”. Every business has its “Hot Phase” and “Expiration Phase”. In such a case, development for the future becomes a must. Focusing all the company’s resources only on the “Now” will often, ironically, lead to its collapse. A recipe for success would be to have a healthy fusion of the two approaches which requires clean and open collaboration and co-operation of the technical and business teams who are all striving to meet a common goal: Sweet, Sweet Success. From an educational point of view, MEM graduates (Master of Engineering Management) seem to be able to offer a good mix of these two viewpoints.

“I want to start a company of my own, but I just cannot seem to get a killer idea”. This is a sentence I hate hearing, and the concept of “a killer idea” is among the most overrated one’s out there. I often personally find it works as an excuse for professionals who are too lazy, too afraid of risk, too stuck in the rat race, too afraid of losing the steady paycheck which comes in every month or often just simply too ignorant. As the way things are, getting success as an entrepreneur or a business-owner doesn’t require the conception of a new, innovative or “killer” idea. Yes, an innovative or original idea would be brilliant. But, I can assure you that telephone service providers today are earning much more than Alex Bell earned in his entire lifetime (even if you incorporate the difference in value of currency and differences in population). The idea would be the center and innermost ingredient in your recipe for success (the bread of your cake or the dough of your pizza). Here’s a simple 4 step plan for any start-up. And it would be particularly useful for those who feel that they lack the creative skills of an artist which they consider are required for successful establishment of a start-up.

  • Perform a thorough survey of the market (supply, demand, what’s hot and all other factors possible) in a domain of your comfort or interest.
  • Analyze and review what the customers want
  • Find out how companies are currently providing such services to customers
  • Now is where the one step where a bit of creative thinking is required comes in. But, it’s really not that difficult. Put yourself in the client’s place. Think of what you would desire to make the service/product better in any terms (availability, reliability, user friendliness, promptness, cost effectiveness et. al.) or think of additional things which you can offer which the current market resources do not. This will enable you to better the product/service and can function as a unique selling and marketing point for your business.

Now, as you notice, there are aspects of the product as well as service-oriented approaches involved here. The product-oriented approach comes into play in the innovation or creative thinking step which I like to call “The Refiner”. The service-oriented approach comes into play in steps 1, 2 and 3 where the consumers and producers are being studied. Remember, the best way to learn and improve is by doing so from your competition. Learn from mistakes and losses endured by your competition instead having to go through these yourself.  Exhibit A for the same would be Google’s email system, Gmail. There were a variety of email application running before Gmail was deployed. However, currently Gmail is the most widely used email system throughout the world. Where Google succeeded was in increasing the user friendliness as well as the storage space provided in their email service. These points of improvement could be implicitly understood by a simple study of the emailing system of other providers such as Hotmail, Yahoo etc. where finding the links to manipulate emails as well as adjust settings is a task equivalent to going on an excavation for artifacts from the Indus Valley civilization. Again, Gmail is not offering anything new, exceptional or “killer” which other emailing tools in the past did not offer. Gmail simply honed an already existing idea and delivered it well (rather delivered it better). Check the feasibility of the product/service and determine if you as a customer would want to use it multiple times or not. The main focus should not be on a killer idea, but on a better one.

The next important step is choosing the right team. The chefs who cook your food are very important in ensuring that patrons continue to visit your restaurant. The most important tip here: it is very likely that you may not be the best at a particular skill associated with your product/service (you may not be good at cutting vegetables for your recipe) but it is very important to ensure that you hire the best (or at least the best available considering restrictions such as budget, time etc.) Strong technical and business teams which can collaborate well can be the key to success of your recipe. Remember, that your team should be of a suitable size. Too many cooks spoil the broth and too few cooks will not be able to serve the required number of patrons. Also, the team should agree on a common mutual goal. Working for a goal increases unity and reduces the chances of conflict of interest. Careful consideration should be given to selecting your team and most importantly, hire a team that you can trust.

There is no word to underscore the importance of the timing of your start-ups journey. Timing would be the key ingredient or spicy sauce which adds flavor to your recipe. Several years ago, when a friend’s father got into the distribution of computer media and peripherals, his timing was impeccable.  The computer and internet boom started and it enabled him to reap lucrative rewards. Any market has a bubble and there is a time when the bubble will diminish (if not burst completely, which is often the case). The key consideration is to study the market, supply, demand, future growth potential, risk factors etc. There are several examples such as the dot com bubble, real estate bubble and more which have put many start-ups millions and even billions in green because they decided that it was the right time to enter the market. However, it has also left many in red because of poor timing of market entry.  Along with knowledge and study of the market, experience (from a trustworthy source, if not personal) always comes in handy in terms of timing. Remember, there’s always to risk of making your sauce to bland or too spicy depending on whether too you’re early or too late in your timing. Certain risk calculation and accommodation MUST always be considered.

Once you decide and incrementally develop what you want to implement as a start-up, you’re just halfway there yet (sorry my product-oriented friends but the journey isn’t over yet). Whenever I have been interviewed (whether it has been for my college admissions or a job) I have found that besides my knowledge for the prescribed work, one set of skills comes into play: sales and marketing. After all, isn’t an interview mainly about selling and marketing oneself in a light which will make it impossible for the interviewer to turn you down. Similarly, the sales and marketing strategy of the product/service adopted by a company is a key to the companies’ success. Every cake requires layers of chocolate filling and coating in between the layers of bread. A brilliant laptop at the DELL store or smartphone at an Apple store isn’t going to sell itself unless the marketing team and the salesman highlight all the unique and desirable features of the product which will increase the likelihood of selling the item in consideration. There is a plethora of marketing tools available. Importantly, social media marketing comes into play. Here, the key is for the business-owner to understand the difference between social media marketing and marketing on social media. Marketing on social media would involve placing an ad on a social media tool. It is more of a unidirectional communication technique. Social media marketing on the other hand is two-way interaction on a social media platform which involves communication with the client in the form of answering his/her queries and addressing problems and concerns in addition to marketing the current and future products/services. A key ingredient in the recipe for success would be the inclusion of a good marketing strategy on several of the many marketing tools and platforms available now. Additional perks and incentives such as rewarding customer loyalty, encouraging new customers (for example, offers on first buys) and many others can always work as a bonus for companies’ which can afford or extend such luxuries.

“The client’s happiness must be guaranteed”. I imagine my service-oriented brothers are bowing down in respect as they read the previous sentence.  This, in my opinion, should always be among the top 3 issues of the company or business regardless of the current or future financial, economic or any other situations that may exist. This step would be the seasoning and dressing of your recipe or the icing on your cake which makes it pleasant to the eye of the eater and easy to digest for his stomach and wallet.  Many businesses and companies fail to solve the basic problems of their clientele and fail to keep them happy as a result of which they miserably fail. Once again, I cannot stress this enough: ANY PROBLEM FACED BY THE CUSTOMER SHOULD BE RECOGNIZED AND SOLVED PROMPTLY. Remember, the person who takes your order and brings you the food is as important as the person responsible for creating the recipe and adding the ingredients to make the perfect dish. How many of us can remember ourselves promising never to use a particular brand of any service/product because of miserable help (or even complete lack of help) provided by their call centers and customer care units. A simple process should be used to make sure that the clients’ problem is solved:

  • Form a substantially and feasibly large customer care team
  • Have the team check up on customer problems daily
  • The problems must be heard politely and with empathy
  • Tend to the problem immediately. I call it F.I.N. – Fix It Now
  • Provide some sort of compensation whenever possible

Remember, the client’s word of mouth is the best form of marketing available in the world (I call it WORM). These steps will go a long way in keeping your product/service consumer happy. The domino effect comes into play here. One unhappy customer can mean that you are potentially deterring hundreds of buyers. This is simply because WORM will spread one negative review to twenty other people and so on. The damage, in retrospect, could be critical. On the other hand, similarly, one positive review could be crucial in establishing a long and successful client base. An efficient method could be establishing a simple and user-friendly tool for customer feedback along with a suggestions section. After all, the opinion of the person consuming your recipe is the only one that really matters. Sorry to disappoint my service-oriented friends but some planning for the future and focus on the product/service is required. We want patrons for our business today as well as tomorrow. Planning and modifying for the future is important and must be done to ensure that the competition does not run us over. Again, the same should be done by ensuring that the clients’ current as well as future needs are satisfied. One cannot emphasize it enough: the clients’ happiness must be guaranteed.

Following these basic steps, a person who aspires to own a successful start-up can create a recipe for success. However, these are pure guidelines which can have certain modifications. After all, the appeal for a restaurant does increase by adding different flavors to your recipe, creating a comfortable patron-friendly ambiance and many other factors. A big advice to all those who aspire to create their own start-up: get off your lazy asses and start working. Success could be around the corner. Do not fear the occasional risk. Calculate and embrace it. And work with sincerity. It goes a long way. May the final marginal factor of luck be with you and help you in making successful the recipe that you have concocted.