Admission Process for Masters at an engineering university in USA
In 2005, when I was beginning third year of my undergraduate in Telecommunication Engineering at FAST-NU, I had decided to pursue a Masters degree in engineering in USA. I was not sure precisely what the Masters would be in, but I left that to my still developing interests in various areas in University and hoped that with time that will be decided.
My first step was to go to University rankings and individual university websites to get an idea of what the program offerings were. Most of the engineering programs that I was looking at offered a MEng (Master of Engineering program) or an M.S. (Master of Science) program. MEng program is usually a terminal, course-work oriented program, while M.S. tends to be a mix of coursework and research projects and can lead to a Ph.D if pursued. I came up with a list of schools that I was interested this list was very short to begin with, some 2-3 schools only.
The second step was to prepare for and appear in GRE and TOEFL examinations. Both of these exams are almost compulsory if one needs to seek admission in US. Students who wish to go for Masters at the end of their Bachelors should start preparing for both of these no later than middle of third year, and earlier in some cases. I started preparing for GRE at the end of third year, during the summer vacations by taking a course at The Princeton Review’s Clifton/DHA, Karachi campus here. I have known people who do not take any classes and do well on GRE, but in my particular case, I felt that a structured course that deals with solving problems at a faster pace would be helpful for me.
The third major step was to write my admission essays and seek recommendations from teachers at University. My admissions essays went through couple of drafts and some 4-5 reviewers (mostly my friends and one teacher) provided feedback on everything: ideas, grammar, organization, cohesion. The referees requested a few points that I wanted them to emphasize and I was happy to provide that, however one referee made it clear that he would not use a customized recommendations, but instead go with his template.
During my final year, I became more interested in Wireless Communication as a possible area of further studies because of projects at University and decided to pursue a M.S. in Electrical Engineering with emphasis on Wireless Communication. When the time for Fall 2007 applications came, however, I only applied to one M.S. program at UC Berkeley. This was a major mistake on my part, because I went against the advice of applying to at least 3-4 schools and Berkeley was a high-ranked low-selection school. I ended up wasting an entire year and was rejected. After much prodding the people in the admissions at EECS, they revealed that my GRE score was deemed inadequate for admission at highly-selective Berkeley. Another factor, which was not communicated explicitly could have been was that a public research school like Berkeley typically looks for people having had strong research experience (in the form of publications) and students who wish to continue towards a Ph.D. Both of these were gaping holes in my profile and application essays respectively.
After further editing on the essays and requested another referee for writing a recommendation, I applied for Fulbright MS Scholarship administered by USEFP in Pakistan. The deadline for Fall 2008 application was in April 2007. During the summer, I heard from them that I was short-listed for an interview and by mid-September, I was selected and was invited to submit a list of universities where I was interested in applying. USEFP takes care of applications on your behalf, but they decided against any and all of my choices and instead applied to four universities that I had not requested at all. One of them was University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, which was of course a good match and I wished that I get in there. And it happened, I was admitted there.
My visa arrival took more than three months due to “administrative processing” and I arrived to attend the University after the classes had begun in Fall 2008, after two weeks. I completed the program in May 2010 and returned to Pakistan to fulfil the home-residency requirement of Fulbright program to spend two years back home.
If you any specific queries regarding my experience or are looking for specific advice, feel free to ask in the comments below or email me at gopchandani – at – gmail – dot – com