Archive

Education

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

“My teachers don’t ever bother to examine and accurately assess the output of my work”. “My students don’t ever bother to put in a respectable amount of effort and input for their work”. “My teachers don’t bother to give it their all when teaching a lecture/seminar series”. “My students don’t bother to pay attention during a single lecture/seminar series”. These include few of the several rationales, or should we call them ‘minor’ complaints, held by the students and teachers of Mumbai University. And all this excludes any such ‘minor’ complaints of or against the prestigious (bear in mind with very little real competition except from the IITs)  institution of Mumbai University. Approaching the end of my tenure (I imagine all my friends breathing sighs of relief as I write this) under Mumbai University’s ‘prestigious’ four year undergraduate engineering program has given me some insight to analyze the viewpoint held by many that , in plain and simple words, what we gained in the four years were simply not worth it.

Freshmen year saw most of us enter with desire, determination and a willingness to work and learn (yes, imagining that I had ever felt that way seems absurd now). If I were to be completely honest, I’d say it took all of one year for ‘the system’ (‘prestigious’ system) to sap me of my perseverance. However, I have known many who last two years. No one generally makes it beyond the third year (shocker eh?!). When I entered college, the system was already tainted (in fact, I don think there was ever a time when it wasn’t). However, it would be fatuous on my part to not hold myself at least partially culpable for becoming a part of the system. But, friends, MUites and countrymen, the intent of this post is not to criticize or enumerate a long list of flaws against Mumbai University, it’s colleges or even it’s teachers.The main aim, in fact, is to focus on what Mumbai university has really taught me. I can imagine that many readers(if i did manage to get any) have already shut this post’s browser tab but for those of you who have made it thus far, I hope i can provide a fair perspective to what i think we have gained.

Let’s be honest. Mumbai University hasn’t taught me much academically. After all, how much can mugging a book front cover to back cover teach? Regardless, we have gained much. Much of these are several implicit aspects which many of us tend to ignore.

On the ides of May (gratefully not March, Mumbai University tends to make one superstitious), final year examinations start. and here I am sitting and writing this blog around five days prior to their commencement. I can positively assert that most of my colleagues too are spending their time in ways other than exam preparations (Facebook much?). Mumbai University has truly made us Bachelor’s of Working Under Pressure (Should. Be. A. Degree.). Four days are more than enough to start and complete a syllabus, regardless of the subject (try that commerce students). Without a doubt, those are four days of intense work under pressure and sleepless nights. But it is this very system which has made us pros at handling that sort of pressure and has given us the ability to get an output of Distinction with First Class with minimal effort. Ability achieved : minimum effort and maximum output. The smash and grab efforts we put in for our projects (my apologies to those who put in a year of effort) is an entirely similar example. It is this same street smart way of doing bookish things which is most likely to get us through each day professionally, regardless of whether one has been placed in Amazon or Accenture. After all, Mumbai University has taught me that Efficiency= Work Accomplished/Time Taken. There are an innumerable number of blogs from several Forbes 500 professionals which advocate the minimum effort and maximum output philosophy.

The worst feeling in the world is waking up for the 8 a.m. lecture and not being allowed inside class for being 10 minutes late. I am sure every student of Mumbai University has experienced this kind of torture from at least one professor in their faculty and made sure that in all future weeks they have been on time for the 8 a.m. lecture of that particular professor. After all, what is worse than waking up early for a lecture and not being allowed to sit for it (well, ummm attending the lecture i guess but hey we need the 75% attendance. Beggers cant be chosers). Regardless of whether an 8 am viva is to start at 8 a.m. (yeah right!!) or 3 p.m. we are always there at 8am. It says something about what we have gained. Punctuality is the key to getting into the good books of your boss (or at least avoiding the bad books). Turn up at 9 a.m. sharp to check in (if only the office was a hotel). Stay till 5 p.m. to check out. Turn up at 10 50 a.m. for the project meeting to be held at 11. Studies show that an increasing number of employees are being fired for lack of punctuality (and it’s legal to do that). The same punctuality will go a very long way in preventing your *ss from being fired.

Yes, attending lectures is the biggest pain in the *ss. Alas, the 75% requirement (60 if you are lucky and if you are in Father Agnell College/Jail, well i guess 110%). It takes each and every ounce of perseverance and sustenance to get through the Monday to Friday 8 30 a.m. to 5 30 p.m. week of college. Well, the work scene is no different. And let’s be honest, when you are working, you are going to be working much more than your stipulated 40 hours a week (truly shocking ahem ahem not). Besides, you can bunk a lecture but you CANNOT do the same at work. If one has the perseverance to sit through a professor blabbering on erroneously for an hour or maybe two about how he feels that Fortan and Cobol are the future of programming languages (yes, i know the names of languages other than C++ and Java) or HCl is his preferred acid then you pretty much have the gut to get through even a sh*tty day of work. Gracias (No, Spanish isn’t a programming language professor xyz) Mumbai University.

Our spheres in high school and junior college were one’s of comfort. We knew the peoplethat  we interacted with since most of us were in our mother’s wombs or even before that. However, entering degree colleges introduced us to diverse and fascinating (or weird) groups of people. Certain amount of adapting was required. A similar situation will be present for most of those taking up jobs at the Amazons and Accentures. Sucking up to teachers has been a common trend in each branch of each college. Ironically enough, that is the same environment that we are to face professionally. Quoting a friend currently working for Deloitte who wished to be anonymous – “The professional world is a cruel and bitter place. Just yesterday my colleagues and I received positive news about a deal with one of our clients. My colleague passed on the success of the deal to my boss, taking all the credit for himself even though he was only occasionally involved in the agreement talks and the deal itself”. Its a man eat man world. We all know that. During our submissions or vivas, each person wants to accomplish his tasks and finish his job with as little work as possible but demanding all the credit and the marks. All of us have faced such situations. (FOR THE MOST PART, I personally consider myself blessed to have been around people who have offered me willing and helping hands *taps wood*). However, much of this has given us a foreword, if not completely familiraized us with the “cruel, bitter” and selfish world out there.

Jack of all trades is master of none. There is some truth to the saying. However, in the world that we live in today, living up to this age old saying is not always possible. It does not necessarily mean that we are half-*ssing things that we shouldn’t be. But, how many times has each of us found ourselves writing an assignment while talking on the phone, watching T.V., eating dinner and studying our syllabus at the same time. Multi-taksing is very important in today’s business and professional environment. And my experience has got me to believe that while Mumbai University may not have made us masters (or even jacks) of our trade it has made us Masters of  Multi-tasking (should be a degree too).

Last but not the least, Mumbai University has given us the opportunity to network and interact with people from diverse backgrounds and departments. Along the way, we have gained some true friends and valuable contacts. Networking with so many people is one of the best intellectually stimulating and professional opportunities ever. Such contacts and friends will help us along the way professionally and some of these associates may provide us with helping hands when we need them. But, just remember to help them in return (Good karma will go a long way).

For those of you who feel that your four years under Mumbai University have been a waste, reflect on the above circumstances. For the graduating many : understand the scenarios and implement them in your professional life when the time comes. Albeit academically much of the learning has been done ourselves but our life length under Mumbai University has given as a glimpse (yes a minor glimpse but a small lesson nonetheless) into a world that we are all to be a part of (if not already a part of).

A parting thought which I believe will be essential to our success : we have spent the last four years trying to fit in, trying to be a part of the ‘cool’ group, trying to be accepted by everyone, trying to be a part of something and be among the many. But, for the rest of our professional lives (and maybe beyond) we must learn to stand out and get noticed. As BroTips once said : There’s no point trying to fit in when you are born to stand out. Probably the best advice to #GettingAheadInLife (also refer minimum effort and maximum output philosophy).