Now that you have decided to go abroad, there are two major questions to be answered. Which course and in which country? Invariably, issues like cost, visa, the nature of job opportunities are the deciding factors. The cover package that follows would help you decide on each of these issues. But once you decide on the course and the country, it is the application process that determines whether you will get an admission in the preferred college of yours.
What constitutes an application package? Most applications packages involve an application form, an aptitude test score (like GRE, GMAT, SAT) a language proficiency score (TOEFL, IELTS), a Statement of Purpose, a few recommendation letters and in some cases, a writing sample.
Each department/school to which you apply will have a link to its online application. Most schools now prefer this mode, though some schools still accept paper applications. But normally paper applications will have higher processing fee. Fill out each of the sections in the online form and pay the fees online through a credit card when your application is complete. In case you do not have access to a credit card, you can download the application form, fill it out on paper and pay through different modes. In this case, be sure to mail the application at least 2 weeks before the deadline and keep a photocopy of the final application for your own records. Make sure your application and its various components reach the department by the stated deadline, so mail/courier them well in time. You should receive an e-mail confirming the receipt of your online application and later, an e-mail confirming that your application is complete.
Make sure to track whether all your applications are complete so that you can re-send those components of your application that may get lost in transit. While your application can be submitted online, the rest of the documents such as statement of purpose (SOP) transcripts, letters of recommendation are to be sent only through courier.
Test scores are not the end all
The GRE/GMAT scores are only one component of your application. It is important to keep in mind that these scores are not the ultimate determinant of the success of your application. As important, if not more, are other components of your application: the SOP, writing sample, curriculum vitae (CV), transcripts of your marks and recommendations from teachers or other relevant people.
Essays can be a make-or-break part of your application. They are a reflection of your personality, your intentions and future goals. So talk about why you have chosen the programme and the university. Explain a low score or a break in your academic or professional life. Don’t repeat information already mentioned in other documents. And please, no grammatical errors or bad prose. And just don’t lie. Start working on this latest by October. Stay within the word limit specified by the department to which you are applying. SOP must be brief and clearlwhat you want to work on, why you want to work on it, how you will do it. Do not make bombastic goals and objectives that are impossible to achieve.
Again, start work on this by late October. Applications for an MA-PhD in Social Sciences require one (or sometimes two) sample of your academic writing. This essay may be something you have already written in the course of your MA or may be something that you write afresh for the application. Be sure that it is what you consider the best example of your academic abilities. If the sample has nothing to do with the topic on which you are proposing to work, that is alright. In this case as well, do not exceed the specified page limit.
Letters of recommendation
Letters of Recommendation are independent opinions of your potential and also your personality. So seek references from people already familiar with your work like your teachers or former/current employers. Do not take letters of recommendation from a relative or a friend. And as a rule, never approach a referee just because he or she is a big name. The standing counts. But what counts more is the write up about you. Make sure that you inform your referees at least six to eight weeks prior to your application deadline. While choosing your referees, choose those teachers or employers or academics who know you well as a student and who will be able to reflect upon your abilities as a writer, thinker, speaker and person. You should offer a brief overview of your proposed research to your referees so that they are familiar with what you want to study and can incorporate it in their letters. Most universities require three letters.
Most universities do not ask for a separate CV/Biodata. Only a few do. In any case, this must be very brief. It must contain basic information such as your date of birth, your marks (class XII, BA, MA etc), educational institutions attended, degrees earned, scholarships/ fellowships/grants, prizes/awards, work experience, research experience, publications, extra-curricular interests and achievements – whichever of these you may have.
Transcripts of your marks containing a detailed break-up of the marks you earned in each paper in the course of your degrees and the exact title of each course you took are required. Usually two copies of each transcript are required for each university. Make sure the transcripts are signed, stamped and sealed in envelopes before you send them with your application. Start this process by mid- October since it can often be tied up in red-tape and bureaucratic paperwork.
A note of caution
Transcripts are sealed academic records issued by your college or university bearing the signature of the registrar. Either the admission branch sends the transcripts directly to the universities of your choice or candidates can send them in sealed envelopes. Attested copies or notarized documents of transcripts are not acceptable.
Submit your application
Sending your application early shows you are eager, organized and disciplined. So send by October/November. Make note, if you are keen on financial aid, apply by April. It isn’t advisable to send your application by ordinary post, use a reliable courier and send the application at least a week before the deadline.Keep the receipt; you can even track your application online. Interviews are usually for Business school applicants, and an interview call is a positive sign. Interviews assess communication and comprehension skills. Questions could be about your profession, your interests, even the weather.
Interviews may be conducted by an admission officer, student or alumni. Often interviews are conducted over telephone. So if you can appear for the interview in person, go for it. So, between the months of September and December, you can easily accomplish the various tasks that make up an application. Break it down into each of the steps described above and then tackle each step at the appropriate time.With this organized and systematic approach, you will find yourself in control of the situation and not the other way around.
The visa office
The Letter of Acceptance is in your hands and now is the time to prepare for the visa application. You could either visit the embassy or download the visa form from the website concerned. Arrange all visa-supporting documents, and in some cases like the United States, appear for a visa interview. If you have got your visa, it is time to pack your bags and say goodbye to your dear ones. But remember, there are rules on how much you can carry, so check with the consulate or look up its website.
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