Applying to American Graduate Schools in Engineering and Fine Arts

A Handbook for Indian Students

Diwaker Gupta

c 2008 Diwaker Gupta. All rights reserved. Powered by


Preface Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Feedback . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Introduction 1.1 1.2 2 Note to Fine Arts Applicants . . . . . . . . . . . Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

v vi vi 1 2 3 5 5 6 7 12 15 18 21 22 23 23 24

Before 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Do you really want to go to grad school? . . . . When to start applying? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . What universities want? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Where to apply? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MS or PhD? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Note to Fine Arts Applicants . . . . . . . . . . . Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


During 3.1 3.2 Online Presence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Résumé . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iii

3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 4

Statement of Purpose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Recommendation letters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Approaching faculty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sending the application material . . . . . . . . . Note to Fine Arts Applicants . . . . . . . . . . . Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

25 28 29 31 33 34 35 35 37 39 40 40 41 43

After 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Visa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Housing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Travel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Note to Fine Arts Applicants . . . . . . . . . . . Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



A Packing B English words for common items Index

51 57



First, a word of warning: this book is an experiment. I always wanted to write a book, but it was one of those things that I kept postponing for a much later time in my life, when, through age and experience, I would have become wiser and acquired expertise in the subject matter. Writing a book is a big commitment too, so I never had the time or the inclination to take the plunge. Not to mention that I never felt that writing was my true calling, though I do enjoy writing and sharing information that might be useful to others. Having said that, I have tried my best to make this book concise and informative. The material for this book originally appeared on my website as an article titled “Apping for Dummies”, and for a while it was the most popular content on my website. Besides a few minor updates, that article remained largely unchanged for several years, until recently when I was approached by some good friends (see below) with the suggestion that I turn it into a book. At first I thought they were joking! In my mind, that article was hardly worthy of formal publication, let alone as a book. But after giving it some thought, I figured if I was ever going to write a book, now was as good a time as any, and I would give the same advice to all of you secretly-wishingto-be-authors out there. It was also a good opportunity to make the much needed updates to the article. In the process I have also tried to get inputs from people in areas other than engineering so that the material can be more accessible and v

applicable for people in all disciplies. Thus, this book was born.

I would like to thank Asim Shankar, Abhay Agarwal, Manav Ratan Mittal, Sravanthi and Shantanu Sharma for their comments, suggestions and contributions. I’m also indebted to Arindam Chakravorty, Akhil Gupta, Ambuj Tewari and Mahim Mishra for their valuable inputs. A special shout out to Abhaya and Jaya for pushing (well, nudging really) me to write this book! A special thanks to my advisor, Amin Vahdat for his valuable insights from the other side of the fence. And last but not the least by a long shot, I’m indebted to my fiancée Surabhi for her support, encouragement, feedback (specially on aesthetics and formatting), and for designing the cover.

Much of this book would be impossible without feedback from you, the readers. I would love to hear your comments, compliments, complaints and criticisms. Heck, I’d love to just hear from you! I can be reached at

D G San Diego, CA August, 2008


Chapter 1


So you’ve somehow dragged yourself through 4 (or 3, as the case may be) years of undergraduate studies, and you find yourself at the crossroads (yet) again — what next? There are options aplenty: the job market in India is fantastic these days, you could always opt for an increasingly lucrative Masters in Business Administration (better known as MBA), you might want to join the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), or if you really like Newton’s laws of motion, you might be perfectly happy continuing what you were doing: study further. Perhaps you are really interested in learning more; or you just don’t want to do an MBA or go for IAS, which leaves further studies as the only option; or you haven’t given much thought to the matter, and having got decent grades, are taking the common course of action. Whatever the reason for going to graduate school 1 , most likely you will have a lot of doubts about many things and a lot of questions will come up throughout the application process. This book is my attempt to answer some of those questions, borne primarily out of the frustration and confusion I went through when I was applying for grad school. But be warned that this is based on my experiences and passed down word-of-mouth knowledge and is by no means an exhaustive treatise.
1 for

brevity, I will say grad school when I mean graduate school


The key to a successful application process is planning. Applying to grad school is both expensive and time consuming, so make sure you plan well ahead and meticulously. Another very important point is to be realistic, but I’ll come to that later. Applying to grad school can be a frustrating experience at times. Applicants often feel helpless — to the point of paranoia sometimes — at the perceived lack of control on the whole application process. The key is to make well informed decisions, give it your best shot and hope for the best. This book is divided into three broad sections: • Before you start the application process: the essential questions that you need to answer and the key things to think about. • During the application process itself: all about résumés and other documents required for the application. • After you get admitted: how to plan for your first visit to the US? Although this guide started out for applicants in Computer Science, it has ended up being quite general and I hope that people from all fields can find it of some use. As always, I would love to hear your comments and suggestions to improve the book further.


Note to Fine Arts Applicants

Engineering and Fine Arts might seem like an unlikely combination for a book covering the graduation application process. For the engineering related material I obviously draw upon my own first hand experience as an applicant, as well as inputs from numerous others. But you might be wondering about my authority on the Fine Arts graduate application process. I have a pseudo first hand experience by way of my fiancée, who is currently doing her Masters in Fine Arts in the US. Despite my previous experience with grad school 2

applications, going through the application process with her was still just as confusing and frustrating, primarily because of the lack of information on the process for fine arts. At the same time, there were several common elements (such as taking TOEFL and getting recommendation letters). With this book, my hope is to bridge some of this gap. To this end, each chapter in the book includes a section dedicated to fine arts, which outlines any differences, peculiarities and idiosyncracies in the process for fine arts in the context of that chapter.



Needless to say, there is a wealth of information on the grad school application process. I conclude each chapter with some online resources that complement the material covered in this book. • an assortment of grad school related articles on • lots of useful advice to students and researchers compiled by Michael Ernst from MIT. • Art Advice by Sylvia White.


Chapter 2


I’ll mention this point again and again throughout this book — planning is critical in the application process. So even before you begin the application process, you need to put in some time and thought to it. Questions like when to start applying, where to apply, do you really want to go to grad school etc are handled in this section. But most importantly, the question that haunts many a prospective grad students — whether to do a MS or PhD — is also discussed in this chapter.


Do you really want to go to grad school?

Actually, I’m not a proponent of the reasoning behind this question, but for the sake of completeness I will touch upon it briefly. Most people would tell you that you should apply only if you are really interested in the subject, if you think about problems and issues beyond the classroom and if you actually want to learn. While there is nothing wrong with this line of thought, it certainly isn’t always practical. I for one know many people who had no clue as to what to do after their bachelors, and decided that studying a bit more may give them some more time to figure things out. Student life can also become addictive — it is a nice sheltered environment where we feel safe and cozy in our comfort zones. Besides, good jobs may not be forthcoming right after an undergraduate degree, and 5

who wouldn’t like a good stipend just for studying! At the end of the day it is your call — after all, it is your life. Of course, it is not to say that the matter should be taken lightly. In fact, since your decision will affect (at the very least) a couple of years of your life, don’t be hasty or impulsive. If you have thought through all other options and think that you want to study more for whatever reasons and have the required patience and commitment, go ahead with it.


When to start applying?

You should start thinking about applying around a year and a half before the intended date of joining. For instance, if you plan to join in September 2010, you should start planning and booking test dates around January 2009. Try to take all your tests so that your scores are available (in hard copy) by the time you start filling out applications. This way, you are less likely to have problems in getting your scores reported to the universities as well. I would recommend getting over with GRE and TOEFL by October at most, if you’re applying for the next fall. In the meantime, start working on your application material, specially the résumé and the statement of purpose. And most importantly, talk to your mentors or professors for the letters of recommendation. Make sure you have all the letters ready by December. Give enough notice and time to your letter writers, and be patient but persistent. Most letter writers will typically have busy schedules and might want to put off writing your letter to the last minute. A timely notice and gentle reminders will ensure that you get your letters on time and that they are not written hastily. You should finish filling out the online application forms by December at most, since some universities have deadlines in early December. Most universities also explicitly mention


two sets of deadlines: a preferred, early deadline and a regular, hard deadline. I strongly recommend filling out your applications as early as you can — the sooner your application lands in the hands of the admission committee, the better chance you have for consideration.



For applying to grad school, you will be required to take a few tests. Pretty much all of these tests are designed and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). At the very least you will have to take TOEFL. If you an engineering graduate, you will also have to take the GRE General Test and perhaps, the GRE Subject Test (known earlier as the AGRE) as well. Here we look at each of these in detail.

GRE General Test
General Information GRE is the Graduate Record Examination and is required by most US universities for admission. These days, GRE is only administered as a CBT (Computer Based Test). Though you might hear often that GRE is a piece of cake, don’t take it lightly. Besides the fact that you are spending US$ 170 on it, its very easy to mess up your scores if you are not careful. It is best to take the GRE as early as possible. Try to take it before your final (senior) year begins — gobbling up the word list will be much easier at that time. It might be difficult to get yourself into that mindset so early on, but trust me, it will pay off tremendously! It is best to get over with the hassle of GRE as soon as possible, more so since over the last few years the number of GRE takers has shot up dramatically and you will have to rush to get a date of your choice. The GRE bulletin can be downloaded for free from the ETS website (


GRE is scored out of (800 + 800 = 1600) + 6 points. Verbal: 30 minutes, 30 questions, scored on a 200–800 scale. Quantitative: 45 minutes, 28 questions, scored on a 200–800 scale. Analytical Writing: 30 + 45 minutes, 2 questions, scored on a 6 point scale. Total testing time is up to three hours. The Analytical Writing question usually appears first, so prepare accordingly. The Verbal and Quantitative sections may appear in any order. Some times the CBT will also include unidentified, unscored sections for statistical analysis. As fas as you are concerned, however, all sections are equally important, so treat them that way! Adaptive Test The GRE CBT is an adaptive test - which is to say that it adapts the questions according to your performance. So if you are doing well, you are likely to get harder questions than you would have had you not been doing so well. Important: never ever try to estimate your performance or second guess the difficulty of the upcoming questions based on the hardness of the questions that you have already answered. Quantitative The quantitative section is clearly the easiest with mostly 8th grade math. You should try to get full marks on this section — go slow and easy, since there will be plenty of time. Pay special attention to the graphs and plots in Data Interpretation Questions — its easy to make mistake on those! Besides that, this section should be smooth sailing. 8

Verbal The Verbal section is probably the most intimidating to most students, presumably because you have heard that one needs to have committed thousands of obscure words to memory to ace this section. This is of course an exaggeration, but going through some word lists will certainly help. Barron’s How to prepare for the GRE is one of the most popular books on the market. However, I think that any decent word list should serve just as well. It is not easy to mug up all of the 3500 words — but you should certainly go over the complete word lists a few times and keep refreshing the words from time to time. Analytical Writing The Analytical Writing (AW) section involves two tasks, each requiring you to write a short essay-like answer. The Issue task you will be presented with two topics. You have to choose any one of the topics and present your perspective on it. Remember that there are no right or wrong answers in this section. While you will be evaluated on the content of your answer, the main focus is to evaluate your writing skills. So long as you present your thoughts in a clear and concise manner, are able to articulate your argument and display a general proficiency in writing, you should be just fine. You will have 45 minutes to complete this section. There is a common misconception that incorporating elements from American history in your answer has a better chance with the evaluators. This is simply not correct. Play to your strengths, and use the context you are most familiar with. In particular, Indian history will work just as well. The Argument task involves a logical argument that you have to find faults with. These faults will be purely logical, so don’t worry if you don’t know much about Middle Eastern politics! For instance, there might be some hidden assumptions in the argument, or decisions reached on the basis of 9

insufficient data and so on. Again, the emphasis is on organization, structuring, a healthy vocabulary, demonstration of a clear thought process and the ability to communicate your ideas well. Going through the categories of faults that generally appear in the sample GRE essays should give you a good idea.

TOEFL is the Test Of English as a Foreign Language. It is designed to test your basic skills in English — including reading, writing, listening and speaking — hence no special preparation is really required. If you are comfortable with using English on a daily basis, you can just walk in and take TOEFL any day you feel like it. Among other things, it might involve the following: • an audio clip will be played and then some questions will be asked based on the clip. The main challenge here is to stay focused and listen carefully to the clip. Since the actors in the clip often have a strong American accent and they speak reasonably quickly, if you lose focus, you might have no idea what the clip was about! • some really simple grammar questions, like sentence completion • reading comprehensions, often involving locating words with a given meaning Like the GRE, TOEFL is also normally Internet based (iBT). The iBT TOEFL is scored out of 120 points, comprising of four sections worth 30 points each. While no special preparation is required, I highly recommend going through a couple of sample iBTs before taking the actual test. Most universities are happy with a score of 100+. Since the number of people taking TOEFL is much higher than the number of people taking GRE (because TOEFL is required by almost every professional going to the US), you 10

better get your dates as early as possible. Besides, since no special preparation is required for TOEFL, I would suggest you take it even before your final year starts. In any case you should take it no later than October. The TOEFL bulletin may be downloaded for free from the ETS website (http: //

GRE Subject Test
The Advanced GRE (AGRE) or the Subject GRE is usually not required, but recommended by most US universities, and required by some. Among other streams, usually pure science streams like math, physics and chemistry require the AGRE. Prepare for the Subject GRE as if you were preparing for the entrance examination of a Master’s degree program in India (for example, GATE). To give you a flavor of the level of depth required, here is a brief overview of the topics you should cover in preparation for the Computer Science Subject GRE: 1. Be very sure of your theory: automata, complexity, computability: I think these topics form at least 30-35% of the test. 2. Algorithms: worst and average case performance of the common algorithms and how they work. 3. Basics of programming language theory, including lambda calculus. 4. Computer organization and architecture, computer networking basics. 5. Operating systems material: scheduling, mutual exclusion, virtual memory etc. There are also several questions that can at best be described as vague. For instance, on the Computer Science AGRE, you might be asked to describe what type of network is the Internet. The test preparation booklet from ETS is very useful. Go through it in good detail to get an idea of the kind of questions asked and the emphasis on each area/topic. 11

The rest
TSE is the Test of Spoken English. Many applicants are confused as to whether they are required to take the TSE or not. In most cases, it is not required to take the TSE. However, it is best to confirm with the university that you are applying to. In some cases you might be required to take the TSE after you have been admitted, to qualify for a Teaching Assistantship for example. In any case it is a much simpler test than GRE or TOEFL, so even if you do find that you need to take it, it shouldn’t be a problem.


What universities want?

Universities take into account a lot of factors while considering prospective applicants — you need to think from the universities’ perspective to get a better feel. It also helps to talk to people at the places you are applying to. Try to get in touch with seniors, friends and acquaintances and ask them about the school, the working environment, the faculty and so on. But please, be considerate when you approach people — never spam or pester any one for information — it will do you more harm than good. The admission criteria are never public. Admission is usually handled by a committee of faculty and some times other grad students, few others have much visibility into the admission process. The criteria also vary vastly from school to school, and more so from field to field. So the admission criteria in fine arts will not surprisingly be quite different from those in engineering schools. However, there are still some commonalities, trends and just common sense. In my opinion, the priority for science and engineering schools goes something like this: 1. Letters of recommendation 2. Grades 12

3. Performance in entrance examinations (if applicable) 4. Work experience 5. Statement of purpose 6. Publications (if applicable) 7. Test scores As you can see, test scores count the least — they’re just like coarse filters to make a cut-off among the applicants. While bad test scores are likely to hurt your chances, having great test scores is not going to significantly boost your chances for the final admission. So shoot for a decent score in the tests, but there are plenty of other things that you should focus on as well. Now, publications are usually not as much under your control as, say, your GRE score. Of course if you’ve been guided properly, you might already have a few papers by the time you apply, in which case you are among the minority. Which is precisely the reason why publications can be very important. Note that publications at random/mediocre workshops and conferences don’t count much. If you have top tier publications , however, they can easily compensate for other factors such as grades. And good publications will often be accompanied by good recommendation letters, so that helps too. If you don’t have publications , play to your strengths. The next most important document is your statement of purpose. I can’t emphasize more on its importance — it can really make or break your selection. I spent a lot of time on my statement and then came up with a totally ordinary looking piece. The reason? I had already looked at some other “sample” statements. Moral of the story — be original! More on the SoP in Section 3.3. Having good grades always helps, but their importance might depend on your field. In arts, for instance, grades really don’t matter too much. Even in science and engineering, it 13

helps to be at the top of the pack, but it doesn’t guarantee admission. Bottom line: if you have wonderful grades, good for you but don’t become complacent; and if not, don’t lose heart since you might still be able to make up for it elsewhere. Résumé’s are mostly factual, so while they are important, they really don’t offer that much scope for innovation. A statement of purpose (SoP), on the other hand, is where you can really shine. I cover SoPs in detail later in section 3.3, but for now just suffice to say that it is one of the most important documents in your application. Note that recommendation letters are by far the most powerful documents in your arsenal — far more powerful than a good statement of purpose, simply because there are very few “exceptional” statements. Getting a personal and strong letter from a faculty at your undergraduate institution is much harder, and consequently much more important. Performance in entrance examinations, in particular the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE, the qualifying exam for the IITs) can matter a lot as well. This might come as a surprise to some of you, it sure did to me! It seems counter intuitive that some exam that you took before your undergraduate should still matter. But the fact of the matter is that often times the applications of Indian students are so similar that the admission committee has little recourse but to look at grades and JEE ranks as metrics for evaluation. In fact, if your grades are not spectacular but you had a really outstanding rank in the entrance examinations, it might be a good idea to highlight this fact. The basic idea is that even if your final grades aren’t that great but you were one of the top rank holders, it gives some confidence to the committee that you have the capacity to do well in a competitive setting, which is one of the qualities they look for in good grad students. Of course, try to be a little smart and strategic about how you mention your rank. Here are a few style depending upon your rank:


• 20th rank among 120,000 • Among the top 0.05% examinees • 99.999% percentile A solid work experience has a strong positive impact on your application, especially if your employers are well reknowned in their areas. In science and engineering, having real life industry experience at research labs or companies counts a lot. If your employer is well known in your particular application domain — for example, Microsoft Research in Computer Science — or if you have done some really good projects in your company, it adds more weight to your application. The same holds for business schools. In fine arts, the more professional experience you have with exhibitions and performances, the better it is. Work experience could also take the shape of internships at other academic institutions (even international) or some other form of non-academic employment relevant to your applications, perhaps demonstrating your leadership or team building skills.


Where to apply?

This is perhaps the most crucial step in the application process. While deciding which universities you want to apply to, you will want to take into account a number of factors: • Reputation of the university in your areas of interest (PhD students should focus on the research groups or the individual faculty members, and not university rankings) • Responses received from faculty (if any) Please refer to section 3.5 for more details • Your own credentials • Other factors like financial aid, geography, type of program and so on 15

First off, do not blindly follow rankings, whether from US News or any other source. Rankings inevitably trail realities and are usually biased towards to strenghts in one or two “popular” areas. Of course, you should probably always turn down an offer from the “top 3” schools for any other “top 10” school. Talk to your faculty about which universities are doing good work in your areas of interest and then pick the ones you want to apply to from among these. Another approach is to think about what you want to do after grad school, then look at what recently graduated students in different schools are doing. It is not unusual to have a situation where the top students from different colleges in India all apply to the same top 6–8 universities. While this is to some degree inevitable, it is not necessarily in the best interest of everyone. In particular, try to talk to other applicants within your school and ask which schools they are applying for. If everyone with a better application than you is applying to the top 10 schools, you might have a better chance at one of the top 20 schools instead. Besides, blindly applying to the top 10 schools will not help even if you are at the top of the pack at your college, because it is highly unlikely that any top school will make offers to multiple students from the same college. So selecting schools simply to ensure “coverage” is not likely to increase your chances, and in fact might hurt your fellow applicants. Be smart and apply to the places you really want to go, not just the “top ranked” schools. If you want to approach this a little more formally, here are some guidelines to organize the application process with your fellow applicants. Note that this is probably most applicable to science and engineering: 1. List out all applicants along with areas of interest and perhaps also their respective letter writers. 2. Check out the last few years’ trend at your college — if students have been receiving admissions from the same 16

set of schools, then your chances might be better at those schools. 3. Make sure that at most two or three applications are sent to any one university from each department. Of course, this should be done bearing in mind the areas of interest, and consent of everyone involved. I must point out, however, that universities have enough experience with Indian applicants that their admission processes have been appropriately adjusted. For instance, if four people with a 9.8/10 grade point average from the same school apply, it doesn’t necessarily diminish the chances of a student with a 9.5/10 GPA from the same school. In other words, the universities realize the absolute value of a high GPA. If they end up taking many students from the same school a particular year, it simply means that they will adjust the intake from that school in the next few years. The departments know where they stand relative to the applicants and other departments. Another common question is how many universities should one apply to? There is no right answer, but the typical number is between 6–10 schools. Keep in mind that applications usually come with a fee, and shipping your application material might incur additional expenses. Don’t spread yourself too thin and apply to too many schools — preparing applications takes time and effort and you don’t want to compromise on the quality of your application. When choosing universities, also make sure to pick out at least two universities that you consider as “safe” — that is, where the likelihood of you getting admission is relatively high. It might not be your favorite place to go, but it is always good to have a backup option that has a good chance of working out. Last, but not the least, your choice of program should also be considered while choosing universities. Whether you want to go for an MS or PhD can have significant impact on your choice — read on the following section to find out more. 17


MS or PhD?

For many people this is really a no-brainer. If you already know what you want to do, you are all set. This section is for those of you who are unsure of what they would like to do, not quite sure if they will enjoy the research life of a PhD curriculum and don’t want to make the commitment to a PhD program up front. Lets get the basics straight first. If you want to get into teaching, academia or any kind of research position, you most likely want to do a PhD. If you just want to further your education and then find a nice job, or perhaps do an MBA later on, you want to do an MS. Also, funding for an MS is extremely rare. You might get funded after you join, but there are no guarantees. So if you are financially constrained, really want to study further but are not able to generate the funds by loans etc, getting into a PhD program might the only alternative. Of course, PhD programs are a lot harder to get into than MS programs, so there is a trade off. The reason most PhD students will get funded and MS student will not is because to the university, a PhD student is like an investment. The university expects that you will do good research which will benefit the department directly or indirectly. A lot of students want the best of both worlds — a funded MS. It is rare, but it does happen, so you should definitely try to find funding for MS programs as well. However, since there are usually no “officially” funded MS programs, people came up with a round-about method — take admission into the PhD program, and quit after an MS. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well the bad part is that in many cases, you won’t be able to pull it off without spilling some bad blood. Of course there are short term consequences, like parting ways with your advisor on bad terms. But there are long term repercussions as well. For instance, it might build a negative impression about your undergraduate college or even about Indian stu18

dents in general. This might impact future admissions and funding for prospective applicants to your university. Clearly, I strongly recommend against this approach. Note that people leave PhD programs all the time, but with good reason. There might be personal constraints, or you might feel that it is just not working out for you, or you want to switch fields or advisors. So a PhD program is not like a jail or a contractual agreement that you are bound to honor. As long as you have a genuine reason, you will always find a reasonable way to resolve the situation. The final decision is of course yours. If you can handle the expenses and are not sure of your commitment, go for an MS. If you know you’re made for research, PhD is for you. If you are hanging somewhere in the middle, perhaps the best option is to go for a PhD and who knows, maybe you’ll indeed finish it.

There are usually three types of funding (or financial aid) given by universities. These are: Fellowship (FS) This the best type of aid. Basically, you’re getting paid for doing nothing. Well not quite, you will still be working, but it is certainly the least pressure funding source. Research Assistantship (RA) This comes next. As the name suggests, you will assist a faculty member with his or her research work. If you are a PhD student, this usually means that you are getting paid to do you research, which is not a bad deal at all. One can make productive use of an RA — getting papers published, learning new things, bonding with the faculty and so on. Teaching Assistantship (TA) As a TA your job will be to assist a faculty member with a class that he or she is teaching. Your responsibilities might include grad19

ing, preparing exams, proctoring exams, holding office hours and taking tutorials, among other things. While this type of funding is the least productive in terms of the time you get for your own research, it is nonetheless a valuable learning experience. And if you are shooting for a faculty position — whether at a teaching school or a research school — having been a TA is not just recommended, it is required. Very often, most online applications will ask if you are interested in getting university aid (and who wouldn’t!) and if so, your preferred funding source. Make sure you check all the relevant options, which in most cases will means checking all three — FS, RA and TA — in that order, if you are allowed to specify ordering. Typical stipend amounts will be in the range of $1500 to $1900 per month, which is usually more than enough to cover all your living expenses. If you are in states like Texas or Kansas, you can live royally in $1500. But if you land in California, then $1500 will just about cover your expenses. This stipend is excluding your tuition fee, which will usually be waived in any kind of funding scheme. Typical tuition fee would be anywhere between $30,000 and $50,000 per annum, depending on the university. As I’ve said before, if you are going for a PhD program, you can be almost 100% sure that you will get funded. The type of aid you get will depend on a number of factors — like the funding amount available with the department, number of admitted applicants and your standing among those admitted. If you are applying to an MS program, ask the admissions office in each university for funding options. Unfortunately Indian students are not eligible for the majority of scholarships and fellowships. Another alternative is to try contacting some faculty in the department (see Section 3.5). If you can interest a faculty enough, they might consider supporting you. Most commonly though, students often come 20

without funding but generally manage to find some funding source within the first year — usually as a TA or RA, or some other on campus job. But if you are indeed going without funding, make sure you know what you are getting into. If your parents can afford it, then nothing like it. Otherwise, be prepared for taking an educational loan. These days, there are excellent schemes for study-abroad loans from several government and private banks. Getting the loan is usually quite straightforward, provided you can supply the bank with the requisite security/collateral. If you do take a loan, make sure you have all the supporting documents when you go for your visa interview (see Section 4.1). As far as living expenses are concerned, they vary highly from place to place. So it’s difficult to give a general estimate which would be applicable everywhere. However, one can safely say that your living expenses would be a direct function of your housing expenses since that is the dominant expenditure. Typical housing expenses would range from $300 to $600 per month. Monthly expenditures for food and utilities should be in the $200–300 and $50–100 range respectively.


Note to Fine Arts Applicants

Unless you are doing an interdisciplinary course that involves engineering, you should not have to take the GRE. Some fine arts programs do require that in addition to TOEFL, you to also be measured by the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The IELTS is similar to TOEFL in structure and spirit, but there are key differences in the methodology and the scoring. For instance, the speaking module in IELTS requires a face-to-face interview with an examiner. Just as good publications can compensate for non-superstar grades for engineering applicants, high quality art work can


more than compensate for non-superstar degrees for fine arts applicants. One of the primary challenges for fine arts in India, especially for grad school applicants, is the lack of good undergraduate curriculums. Very few art schools in India are well known and acknowledged in the international art circles. As a result, if you don’t have the stamp of a great school on your résumé, you need some other way to make yourself stand out. And there is no better way than to let your work do the talking for you. If you have held solo exhibitions, or done collaborative projects with other promiment artists, or participated in group shows or performances, make sure to highlight them in your application. Except art history, most graduate programs in fine arts do not offer a PhD. The implication is that there is a high probability that you will have to fund yourself — at least for the first semester or so. Check for merit based and need based scholarships with your school. Also explore options for part time on campus employment in each school. A final aside: from my understanding, the grades don’t matter as much in fine arts as it does in engineering. Work experience helps in both, but perhaps more so in fine arts. The more shows/performances you have, the better it will be.


• — fun and easy way to build your vocabulary using mnemonics, word tests, games and more! • — several tools, references and tests for learing English as a second language. • — to help you improve the performance in the verbal sections of various tests. • — Free English tests for GRE, TOEFL and other tests. 22

Chapter 3


Once you have made up your mind about applying to grad school, you need to actually start the application process. Besides filling out applications, this is a good time to take care of other important things as well. This chapter will cover several topics such as writing a good résumé and statement of purpose, prepping up your online presence and advice on recommendation letters. While you’re filling out the forms (most of them online), you should have your résumé and the statement of purpose ready and you should get to work on those recommendations. If you have a credit card of your own, thats great. If you don’t, make sure you make some temporary arrangements, because the ability to make payments online makes the application process much simpler and faster and allows you to focus more on other important things than just filling out application forms. One possible alternative is to ask your seniors who are already in the US (or anyone else in the US you feel comfortable asking this favor) and have them make the payments for you. You can send them the money later at your convenience.


Online Presence

To start off, make a simple website, simple being the operative word here. Avoid Java appplets like the plague, and 23

stay away from flashy Javascript, DHTML and Flash content as well. I also strongly recommend against putting personal details such as horoscopes, photographs and your various favorite lists on that website. Put all your professional information on this website — résumé, details of projects and internships, courses taken, perhaps even grades. Now you can simply include the URL to this website in your emails and other documents rather than attaching files. The Internet is a very powerful tool, and you can leverage it to work in your favor. However, the flip side is that it is equally accessible and available to everyone else as well. It is not uncommon at all for the members of the admissions committee or even other faculty members to look you up on various search engines. Make sure you search for yourself on all major search engines and are satisfied with the search results. Of course, if you have a very common name, this is usually not something you can do much about. Be particularly wary of your presence on various social networking websites such as Orkut, Facebook, and MySpace. These days it is quite common to find faculty members on these social networks as well, and so you can rest assured that someone somewhere is bound to look at your social networking profiles as well. Before you send out your applications, make sure you go through all your social networks and “clean out” your profiles — remove any material (comments, pictures) that might come back and bite you from behind later on.



Your résumé is mostly factual, so in that sense there is not much creative wiggle room. Make sure it is short and sweet — no nonsense, and full of information. List out your achievements (academic and otherwise), skills, research interests, publications (if any) and hobbies (optional). Don’t gloat, just state facts. Try to itemize or enumerate as much as possi24

ble – no paragraphs! Keep in mind that the person scanning your résumé probably has several hundred résumé’s to go through, and so he or she will not be able to devote more than a minute for a first scan of your résumé. Whenever you’re sending out your resume in email, send it in plain text format, or attach as a PDF. Never send a Microsoft Word or OpenOffice document, or an HTML page. Make the résumé available on your website as well, perhaps in different formats — plain text, PDF and HTML. Make sure the résumé looks professional — unlike the statement, it is OK to use standard templates to format your résumé. Always keep your resume up-to-date. When mentioning awards and achievements, do not go back earlier than high school (so skip everything under 10th grade).


Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose (SoP) is probably one of the most important documents that you will author for your application. So be very careful in preparing your statement. Remember, the SoP should not resemble your résumé put in paragraph form. It should convey information which is not available through your résumé. A résumé is just a placeholder for factual information about yourself, while the SoP is a platform where you get a chance to present yourself beyond the facts. For instance, a résumé may show that someone did particularly bad in one semester, and the SoP gives one the opportunity to explain the situation. Perhaps it was due to bad health, or a lack of interest in the subject, or a bad teacher, or simply some other priorities. Whatever the reason may be, it can not be brought out in a résumé, so the SoP is a perfect place to discuss it. The SoP also lets you talk about your ideals, philosophy and your dreams. Think of it as a window into your own personality, that you are opening up for others to look inside. Since you control the window and what appears on the other side of it, you should make the 25

most of this opportunity. A SoP typically consists of the following sections: Objectives and motivation This section should focus on why you want to pursue higher education, the factors that shaped your decision, and perhaps your future plans. Background and research interest Here you can give some details about your education (like how you got interested in your area), your family background (education, economic status, values etc) and your research interests. You can talk about what you found exciting in your courses, projects and about your internships and publications. Other relevant information Here you can talk about your activities and interests outside of academics: sports, fine arts, hobby projects, social work etc are some examples. Why you wish to join the program Try to give a specific and to the point answer. As a general rule, stay away from boilerplate answers. People who read your application and SoP have seen every possible kind of response, so they will know in an instant if it is a generic “template” based answer or you really had something genuine to say. Make sure you’ve done your homework and researched the department well — mentioning specific projects and faculty may prove helpful. Just as with the résumé, skip everything before high school. Only mention incidents/experiences that had actual impact on your thinking — don’t just make up stories that sound dramatic and impressive! Avoid trivia like school day stints, they will not impress your readers. Focus instead on your research work or course projects you really enjoyed. The most important thing is to be original. Focus on the content, what you would like to bring out in your statement, and not how others have written theirs. An original statement will go much further than a really polished statement 26

that lacks originality. Of course, you should have other people proof read your statement for formatting, errors and inconsistencies — it is always a good idea to get feedback from as many people as you can. Never ever copy anyone’s SoP, whether in style or content. A statement is meant to be a personal document, and is expected to be unique to every individual. It might help to look at other peoples’ statements to get ideas, but I recommend against doing even that. Once you have looked at a statement, it is hard to pretend as if you never saw it, and directly or indirectly it will taint your statement. A good strategy might be to start from scratch and once you have a first draft of your statement, then you can take a look at some other statements to refine your own. Also avoid going over factual information unless absolutely necessary — that is precisely what the résumé is for. Don’t be verbose either. A typical SoP will be no longer than 2 pages. Write clearly and concisely: your goal is to communicate, not impress the committee with your command of the English language. It might be a good idea to prepare two versions of your statement — a short one-page version, and a longer two-page version. Depending on university requirements, you may chose to use whichever is more appropriate. Keep in mind that writing is an iterative process — once you have a first draft of your SoP, read it over and over again. On each reading, you will find something that can be improved. Remember the PQP rule for writing: praise, question and then polish. That is, identify what you like, critique what can be improved, and then use this feedback to refine your writing. Rinse and repeat till you are satisfied with the outcome.



Recommendation letters

A strong and personal letter is by far the most powerful addition to your application — even more important than a strong résumé or SoP. The reason a great letter is so valuable is the same reason that it is rare: establishing a strong personal relationship with a faculty or mentor during your undergraduate education is not an easy thing to do. It takes time, commitment, maturity etc — all qualities that are mark of a great graduate student as well. A strong recommendation letter can give a significant boost to your application, even compensating for other factors, especially if the letter writer is well known and respected in his or her field. Give your letter writers enough warning, so ask for letters well in advance. Some students are shy in approaching faculty for letters. Don’t be. If you have worked with the faculty and feel that they would be willing to write, just go and ask them. Remember that as mentors and faculty, most people already expect that students will come to them for letters — it is a part of their job. And in the worst case, they might say no, in which case at least you know who not to approach for a letter in the future! I should note at this point that there are rare cases where a recommendation letter might have a negative impact. These are typically called negative recommendation letters. Ethical letter writers will generally tell you if they will not be able to write a strong or positive letter, in which it is better to politely back away. Why would some one ever write a negative recommendation? Reasons are usually highly context specific, so it is impossible to generalize. A letter writer might not have had the best experience with a student and may feel their professional responsibility to let potential employers know about their experience. Getting good letters also requires some long term planning from your side. If you just blend in the crowd, no one will be able to write a very strong letter for you. Remember 28

that just as boilerplate resumes are not popular, boilerplate and generic recommendation letters are not very helpful either. For a letter writer to be able to write something specific about you, they need to know you better. Classroom interaction can only go so far. Try to build a professional relationship with potential letter writers. Get involved with projects and activities outside the classroom. Share ideas with them and ask them for advice.


Approaching faculty

One of the ways of increasing your chances of admission and/or funding is to approach some faculty in the university you are applying to. Having a faculty be interested enough in you is an indicator to the department that he or she might be willing to fund you should you be given admission1 . This can work in your favor. Basically the goal is to identify faculty members that you would like to work with, based on the research they are doing, the projects that are going on in their group, other students in their group and so on. The idea then is to approach such faculty members and try to get them interested in you. The responses you get from faculty members might also give you hints about your prospects at a particular school. You might also want to take into account age when deciding who you want to work with. Younger professors — especially those that have yet to receive tenure — are typically more energetic and driven. But they are also likely to be more demanding from their students. So if it is a fast paced, high energy, high effort environment that you seek, you might prefer younger faculty. Senior faculty might be more laid back with their students, but then they might be less “adventurous” with their research interests. There are other trade offs as well: younger faculty might be hard pressed for funds, se1 Though I keep saying funding from the department, usually the money to pay for grad student stipends comes from grants given to faculty members


nior faculty might be busy with administrative duties and so might have less time for their students, younger faculty might be more aggressive in driving their own research agenda thereby leaving less freedom for the students to chose a research topic of their liking and so on. As with all sweeping generalizations, there are always exceptions. The bottom line is that you might want to keep the seniority of faculty in mind when choosing a potential advisor. But approaching faculty is delicate matter and should be dealt with as such. Most faculty members have a strong bias against unsolicited emails from foreign students seeking their attention. You can rest assured that they have received hundreds of such emails in the past, and depending on their experiences in the past, they might not even open your email. So you want to make your approach as gentle as possible. As with most other things that I have talked about, the best approach is to be honest and genuine. If you really like their work and have something intelligent to say about their research or any particular project or paper, just sending an email giving your comments is a good start. At the other extreme, if you have actually used his/her research for your own work, sharing your results and contributions with them will leave a very strong impression. Once you have opened a line of communication, you can mention at some point that you are considering applying for grad school in that university. Boilerplate and template based emails are a sure shot invitation to the spam folder and might even strike your chances down. Faculty members are often sensitive — and ruthless — about spam. Whatever you do, never send mass emails trying to blanket cover all faculty members in all areas in all the schools that you are applying to. Faculty members do talk to one another, even across departments and schools, so any such mass mailing behavior will get noticed, and it will never work in your favor.


It is always a good idea to go through a faculty member’s web page before sending them an email. You will often find a list of their current students, which is a good way to find out how many of the students are graduating. Faculty members with recently graduated students or with students who are about to graduate are more likely to be looking for new students. Sometimes contacting a faculty member’s graduate students first might actually be more useful than directly contacting the faculty member. When writing to faculty members, never “request” them to consider your résumé or profile. Don’t attach your résumé or publication list or anything else unless explicitly asked to do so. A good rule of thumb is that the size of your email is inversely proportional to the chances of it actually being read. You may instead point them to your webpage (or just put the URL in your signature). If you send an email and don’t get a response, it is probably best to just leave it at that. If you still feel strongly about it, send a gentle reminder after a couple of weeks. And then if you still don’t hear back from them, just let it go. Note that at least in engineering schools, faculty members can only influence admissions in the PhD program. So if you are applying to the MS program, it is probably not worth the effort. MS admissions are typically controlled completely by the admissions committee and faculty have very little say since they are not responsible for funding admitted students.


Sending the application material

Back in the day, applications had to be filled out on paper and individual mailed to all the universities. This was not only expensive, it was time consuming, error prone and wasteful as well. Thankfully, these days the majority of the applications can be filled online. In fact, most schools will simply email your letter writers and have them submit your letters of recommendations electronically as well. 31

Your test scores will also be reported to the universities electronically. Typically, when you register for a test (say GRE or TOEFL), you will have the choice of reporting the test scores to four schools of your choice — this is included in the test fee. However, for additional schools that you want the scores reported to, you will have to pay an additional fee per school. Unfortunately, this electronic reporting is not always perfect. There have been cases where the universities never received the electronic scores or didn’t get the scores in time. So to be safe, it is a good idea to make copies of the hard copy of your test scores and ship the copies to the universities. Most schools are fine with processing your application just with the photocopies — they only require the originals for the final admissions paperwork. Some of the application material will always have to be shipped, such as your official, sealed transcripts. Some schools still require the letters of recommendations to be sealed and shipped as well. If you are shipping some documents anyways, it is a good idea to include your résumé and statement of purpose as well. International shipping is quite expensive, especially with the rising oil prices these days. You probably want to use a reliable service that provides you with a tracking number, so that you can monitor the progress of your shipment online. It will be quite expensive and inefficient if you were to ship separate packages to each university individually. Instead, find a reliable friend or family member in the US and ship all the material for all the schools in one big shipment. Make sure to still make separate packets for each school, clearly marked with the school name and address. Then your contact in the US can simply ship each packet to the respective school domestically. Most courier services in India (like DHL) have up to 50% student discount on packages destined to universities, so make sure you check with your courier service for any applicable discounts.



Note to Fine Arts Applicants

Fine arts applicants are also required to submit a statement of purpose, but the content and structure of the statement differs significantly from that for engineering students. The goal still is to go above and beyond what your résumé can cover, but the focus is on describing your art practice, your inspirations, the philosophy behind your art and where you see your art going in the future, among other things. Often, schools might have specific requirements on what they are looking for in a statement of purpose. Please check with your respective universities for any such requirements. But perhaps the most important difference from the engineering application process is the Portfolio. Your portfolio is a show case of your work, so that a potential employer can quickly assess the quality and scope of your work. It is critical that you prepare your portfolio professionally — any sloppiness will cost you significantly. Also keep in mind that because of the sheer diversity of the different kinds of media that people work in, it is difficult to prepare the portfolio in a canonical, standard manner. As a result, different schools, and very often different departments, have widely disparate guidelines for preparing portfolios. Pay very close attention to all the rules and specifications, and adhere to them to the best of your abilities. It is good practice to prepare the portfolio for each school independently — don’t blindly make copies of the same DVD, for instance. It also helps to have a professional website to along with the portfolio. For non-digital media (such as sculpture or even photography), pay special attention to the required formats. Similarly, take special care with digital media on issues like image formats, audio/video codecs used, naming conventions for files, CD/DVD format and so need careful attention to detail. As I mentioned before, since most fine arts programs don’t offer a PhD, it means that most faculty have little or no influ33

ence on the admission procedure or the funding of students. Which in turn means that if you do approach faculty at all, don’t let funding or admission be your motivation. Establishing a rapport with faculty members prior to admission is still helpful professionally, and if you do get admitted, these same faculty may become valuable source of advice and mentorship.


• Job+Hunt/Cleaning+Up+Your+Online+Profile — Cleaning up your online profile.

• html — Requesting a letter of recommendation. • — Preparing Your Portfolio for College Admissions.


Chapter 4


You should start hearing back from universities sometime around March/April. Some universities send out international student notifications only after they have notified and heard back from domestic applicants, in which case you might hear back from them much later. If all goes well, you hopefully will have a few universities to choose from. Besides deciding which university you actually want to go to, there are several other things to be taken care of at this stage, which are the subject of this chapter.



The first and foremost requirement is of course the visa. If you’re funded, then you needn’t worry much — getting the visa should be a breeze. If you’re not funded however, then you might considering consulting a Visa professional who could help organize your interview and plan your documents. While it is rare for students to be denied Visas, it does happen. Your best bet is to do everything you can to cover all your bases. The fewer holes your documents have, the fewer opportunities you leave for error, the better your chances will be. You will be applying for an F-1 visa. It is a non-immigrant visa for international students in the US. Since the procedure for getting the F-1 is a bit involved and often changes from 35

time to time, I am not going to describe it in any great detail. Please, do not treat the material here as authoritative as far as the visa application procedure is concerned. You will be much better served getting the information directly from the US consulate(s) in India. Here is a high level overview of the application process (please visit the VFS website at for more information): Step 1 Pay the application fee at a designated HDFC bank. Save your receipt, it will needed later. Step 2 Schedule an appointment online through the VFS website. This will require filling out an online application. Step 3 Show up for your interview at the scheduled time. You will need to carry all supporting documents, a valid passport, photographs, receipt for the fees etc. Again, check the VFS website for details. Note that before you even begin your visa application, you must have received your I-20 from the university that you have finally decided to join. Once you’ve scheduled your appointment, start preparing the documents. Its best to put everything in a big folder with separators. If you’re on university funding, you will need the following documents: • I-20 and offer letter • Proof of property or some other fixed asset to show binding ties • Your undergraduate degree and grade sheet • GRE/TOEFL and other test scores • Responses from other universities, especially rejects • Print out of your online visa application forms Visa forms • Photographs 36

Actually the only critical item is the I-20. But you don’t want to take any chances, so carry all possible documents — leave nothing to chance. It is also a good idea to take some bank statements or other sources of funding to show some extra financial support. If you’re not getting funded, then you need many more supporting documents — mostly to establish financial ability. If you have an educational loan, get documents from the bank for proof. Also get bank statements for your checking and savings accounts, mutual funds and investments (if any). The more money you can show, the safer you will be. A statement prepared by a certified Chartered Accountant (CA) detailing all your funds and assets should also suffice. The US Immigration Services has laid out very specific requirements for the photograph. You will find the details on the printed receipt that you get. There are precise requirements for the background, the position of the head within the frame, the maximum dimensions of the head within the frame and so on. Check your local photo studios — it is highly likely that you’ll find some that are already aware of the rules and are well equipped to take a professional picture meeting all the requirements.



Housing issues and requirements vary greatly from university to university. In places like Texas, on campus housing is more expensive than off-campus, and people prefer to live off campus. On the other hand, in states like California, on campus housing is much cheaper, but people are forced to live off campus since the wait list for on campus housing runs into years at times! The first thing you should do is find out other Indian students who are going to your university that year. Try to get in touch with them and get into a group of 2/3/4 so that you can share an apartment when you get there. Next, get in 37

touch with seniors or other acquaintances in your university and talk to them about housing. See if they can make some temporary arrangement for you so where you can stay while you look for a more permanent accommodation; or if they can do some permanent arrangement directly. Often universities already have procedures in place to manage housing for incoming students. For instance, there might be an Indian student association responsible for taking care of incoming grad students. Most landlords will ask you to sign a contract/lease before you take the apartment. Typically, you will have to deposit some security money and also pay 1-2 months’ rent in advance. Note that most non-trivial economic transactions in the US, including housing leases, are subject to what is known as your credit history or your credit score. Your credit score is basically an indicator of your credit rating — that is, given your economic history, how likely you are able to fulfil your debts. Of course, since you don’t have any economic history in the US at this point, you basically don’t have a credit score either. Similarly, the Social Security Number or SSN is also another vital piece of information typically required to sign up a housing lease. You will not get your SSN for atleast a few months after you reach the US. The upshot of all this is that it is unlikely that you will be able to sign a lease entirely on your own. If you are eligible for on-campus housing, it is not likely to be an issue since the universities already know that you don’t have a SSN or credit history. For off-campus housing, you might want to consult with other students and specially your seniors for advice. Often times senior students will be happy to put their name on the lease. Once you get your SSN, you can transfer the lease in your name. Of course, even off-campus leasing companies realize that you can not possibly provide them with a SSN or a credit score, so most apartment complexes agree to work around this requirement, provided you pay a much higher deposit and/or 1–2 months’ rent in advance. 38



Since July — September is a rush season, make sure you book your tickets in advance. Most airlines will allow you to block tickets much earlier and you can purchase them at a later date when your plans have been finalized. A few years back the only way to get a good deal on tickets was to get the booking done through “travel agents”. While this is still certainly a feasible route, particular for Air India, you should be able to find equally competent deals online yourself. I personally recommend but there are several other good ones such as and If booking through an agent or directly through an airlines, do check for student discounts. A form from your undergraduate college may help. You may also try using the International Student Travel Card ( Pack your baggage carefully. Most airlines will allow 2 pieces of roughly 24-lbs (roughly 11-kgs) each. There are also usually dimensional restrictions — check with your airlines for details. Try and stick to the rules to avoid any unwanted hassle. If you are changing flights (as you most probably will), make sure you book your luggage straight to the final destination. Don’t carry any knives, scissors or liquids in your hand luggage. If you have any doubts whatsoever, talk to your agent or someone experienced. Depending on whether you are going to the east coast or the west coast or somewhere in between, the prices of the tickets may vary from route to route. For people on the east coast, generally flying via Frankfurt or London will be cheaper. While for those on the west coast, flying via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong might be cheaper. There is a trade off between flying time and ticket prices — if you don’t mind a few hours extra layover, you might be able to find cheaper tickets. There are a lot of very good options to fly these days. 39

Several airlines such as Continental, Jet Airways, American Airlines and Air India fly direct non-stop flights from India to select destinations in the US (usually on the east coast). When booking your tickets, make sure you specify meal preferences (if you have any) — this is especially important for vegetarians. Always reconfirm your tickets two days prior to the day of travel. I personally prefer aisle seats for longer flights — it is easier to move about the cabin and go to the rest room — but if it is your first time on a plane, you might want to take the window seat!


Note to Fine Arts Applicants

Post admission there is not much difference between engineering or fine arts applications — it is pretty much the same for all students essentially. Some things to keep in mind while travelling though. If you plan to transport bulky items (such as large paintings or canvases, or sculptures etc), make sure to call your airlines in advance and enquire about their policies. Another minor (but unfortunate) practical consideration is that the number of Indian students in fine arts is far fewer than in engineering. As a result, it might take a little more effort to arrange for housing or even pickup when you first land. But as I mentioned earlier, most schools have dedicated resources to help international students with precisely these kinds of things.


• — US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guide for travelers. • — more information, straight from the horse’s mouth. • — more info on student visas. 40

Chapter 5


The reasons for getting a graduate degree are as varied as the numerous degree programs out there. Regardless of the motivation, all applicants aspire to get admitted to the best graduate schools out there. The grad school application process spans several months, non-trivial planning, significant expenses, and most of all, it requires patience and optimism. But the sheer amount of information out there can be overwhelming for many students. Compounded with the number of doubts and confusions one might have, the application process can become quite challenging without proper guidance and support. This book does not aim to be the bible of the graduate school application process. My goal was to to present information relevant to Indian students applying in engineering and fine arts in a clear, concise and accessible fashion and I hope that this book delivers on its promise. I would still strongly recommend that in order to make the best informed decisions, you should talk to as many knowledgeable people as you can — information is the best form of preparation. In the appendix you will find two “lists” that I wish I had known about when I was applying: • things you might want to pack for your first trip, and • a handy English ⇔ Hindi dictionary of non-obvious items 41

Appendix A


While I recommend traveling light in general, your first trip to the US might be an exception. It is not that you won’t be able to find something in the US — most of the things listed below are readily available — but it might take a few days to a few months before you are able to comfortably move around on your own. Your goal when packing should be to carry essential things to sustain yourself for the first month or so. Depending on where you are going in the US, Indian food and spices may or may not be easy to come by, in which case you might want to pack in some more of those. I have tried to exhaustively enumerate the things that you might want to pack for your first trip. As always, one size doesn’t fit all, so use your own judgement and discretion. Though I have tried my best to include everything, the list is by no means complete. Please feel free to suggest any additions. Also note that this list was original made with guys in mind. I have since tried to make it gender neutral, but if you see any anomalies, rest assured it is only my ignorance in editing and not due to any sexist bias. And finally, don’t take this list too seriously! Think of it as a list of things you should keep in mind while packing, and not necessarily things to pack.


S.No 1 2

Item Passport with stamped Visa All relevant correspondence with the University I-20 Grade sheets Test scores Photocopies of all the above Qty Comments

letter of financial aid etc

3 4 5 6

1-2 2-3 3 sets Leave 1 at home and carry 2 with you

Table A.1: Documents

S.No 1

Item Travelers’ Checks Qty Comments make sure you don’t sign them! and have different denominations don’t carry too much have the customer care number handy in case of losses

2 3

Cash Credit card(s) 1

Table A.2: Financial


S.No 1 2 3

Item Formals Casuals Linen Bedsheets Pillow covers Light blanket Footwear Formals Sports Casuals Bathroom slippers Socks Miscellaneous Traditional Indian outfit Handkerchiefs Towels Qty 2–3 sets 4–6 sets 4 4 1 1 1 1 1 1 dozen 1-2 1 dozen 2 big, 3 small for festive occasions if you are like me Comments

Double bed size


(ladies exempt!)



Winter clothing

might be better off buying this from US

Sweaters Scarf/Muffler
continued on next page


continued from previous page


Item Woolen cap



Table A.3: Apparels

S.No 1 2 3 4 5

Item Scissors Regular/Packing Tape Permanent markers Writing instruments Course notes and related books Books for casual reading Handbook for Indian students Qty 2 2 2 6 As much as you can gather 2-3 1 Obtained USEFI from Comments

6 7

Table A.4: Stationary

S.No 1 2 3

Medicine and First Aid
Item Antiseptic Bandaid Common medicines Qty 1 bottle 1 pack Comments

With prescriptions (if required)
continued on next page


continued from previous page



Item Cough and Cold Diarrhea Constipation Fever Mouth ulcer Cosmetics Deodorant Moisturizer Hair oil Shampoo After shave Shaving cream and spare blades



enough to last a quarter

Table A.5: Medicine and First Aid

S.No 1

Item Utensils Pressure cooker Extra gaskets and safety valves Vegetable peeler Kitchen knives Spoon, Fork, Plate Qty 1 Comments

1 2 6
continued on next page


continued from previous page




Item Non stick pan, tava Utensil holder (sansi) Tea strainer Strainer spoon Kadhai Wooden spatulas Cooking material Pickles Spices Specialized masalas Pulses Recipe book

Qty 2-3 1


1 1-2 1-2

for deep frying


Table A.6: Kitchen

S.No 1

Utility items
Item Toiletries Toothbrush and toothpaste Toilet soap and soap case Shaving kit Soap and soap case Screw Driver Qty Comments

1 2 Small toolkit
continued on next page



continued from previous page

S.No 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Item Shoe brush and polish Mugs Detergent powder/bars Sewing kit



get some extra buttons

Umbrella Torch/Flashlight Lock and key 2 sets Plastic bags Indian postage Nail cutter Safety pins Combs 2 Backpack Handbags Big bags Passport size photographs Telephone diary

soft bags

Table A.7: Utility items


Appendix B

English words for common items

One of the challenges students face in a new country, specially if the language is unfamiliar, is to identify familiar things by their local names. Here I have tried to compile English names (as used in the US) for common items in India. Of course, I have left out obvious things such as potato and tomato, with the exception of items whose common English names as used in India are different in the US. For instance, bhindi is not called “lady fingers” in the US.


English name Colocassia Egg plant White goose-foot Okra Corn Bengal gram leaves Amaranth Beet root
continued on next page

Hindi name Arbi Baingan Bathua Bhindi Bhutta/Makka Chaney ki bhaji Chauli/Chavleri Chukandar


continued from previous page

Hindi name Chukka bhaji Dhania Dhoodhi Flas beans Goochi Gowaar phali Gulsuchal Halim Hari Phool Gobhi Jaitoon Kakdi Kamal kakdi Karela Kasmi saag Khatti bhaji Kunthroo/Goli/Tondli Lauki Lobia Makhanphal Masoor bhaji Moonga / Seeng Muranka bhaji Musli / Shatwar / Sootmooli / Halyan Paniphal/Tikora Petha Shakarkand Shalgam Simla mirch Simla aloo Singhara Suvabhaji

English name Red sorrel Cilantro Bottle gourd/Opo squash French beans Mushrooms Cluster beans Salad leavs Gardencress Broccoli Olives Cucumber Lotus stem Bitter gourd Lettuce Indian sorrel Gherkins Bottle gourd Cowpea Avocado/Butter fruit Khesari leaves Drumstick Drumstick leaves Asparagus Arrowroot Ash gourd Sweet potato Turnip Bell pepper Tapioca Water chestnuts Dillweed
continued on next page


continued from previous page

Hindi name Tinda Toraii

English name Gentleman’s toes Ridge gourd/Zucchini Table B.1: Vegetables


English name Peach Plum Guava Pineapple Pomegranate Fig Indian gooseberry Bael/Stone apple/Bengal quince Zizyphus Sapota Blueberries Jambul fruit/Java plum Jackfruit Banana Mashmelon/ Muskmelon/ Cantaloupe Apricot Chin fruit Sweet lime Pear Chakothra Mulberry
continued on next page

Hindi name Aadoo Aloobukhara Amrood Ananas Anar Anjeer Anwla Bel/Siriphal Ber Chiku Falsev Jamun Kat-hal Kela Kharbooja Khoobani Lichee Mosammi Nashpati Pomelo Sheh-toot


continued from previous page

Hindi name Sitaphal Tarbooj/Kalinda

English name Custard apple Watermelon Table B.2: Fruits


Lentils/Legumes/Whole grains
English name (Bengal) Gram flour Bengal gram / Yellow split peas Chick peas / Garbanzo beans Oat Oat bran Jwar flour Black eye beans Green lentil (skinned) Green lentil (whole) Red kidney beans Toor daal (?) Black gram (whole) Black gram (split)

Hindi name Besan Chanal daal Chhole Jwar Jwar bhusi Jwar aata Lobia Moong daal (dhuli) Moong daal (khadi) Rajmah Toor/Arhar daal Urad daal (sabut) Urad daal (chhilke waali)

Table B.3: Lentils/Legumes/Whole grains


English name Parsley Carom seeds / Thyme Mango powder Cinnamon
continued on next page

Hindi name Ajmoda Ajwaiin Amchur Dalchini


continued from previous page

Hindi name Elaichi Haldi Heeng Imli Jaiphar Javitri Jeera Kalaunji Kardi/Kusumbha Kari patta Khas khas Laung Methi dana Rai Saunf Tej patta Til Tulsi

English name Cardamom Turmeric Asafoetida Tamarind Nutmeg Mace Cumin Onion seeds/Nigella Safflower Curry leaves Poppy seeds Cloves Fenugreek seeds Mustard seeds Aniseed/Fennel Bay leaf Sesame Basil Table B.4: Spices


English name Walnut Almond Cashews Dates Pistachio Table B.5: Nuts

Hindi name Akhrot Badaam Kaaju Khajur Pista



Dairy Items
English name Curd/Yogurt Clairified milk Cream Butter milk Cottage cheese Table B.6: Dairy Items

Hindi name Dahi Ghee Malai Mattha, Chhachh Paneer


Miscellaneous Items
English name Jaggery Psyllium Husk (?) Saffron Yeast Refined/Bleached flour Puffed rice Citric acid Castor sugar Alum Flaked rice Rock salt Vermicelli Vinegar Semolina Vegetable Oil

Hindi name Gud Isabgol Kesar Khameer Maida Murmure/Laee Nimbu ka sat Phiti Shakkar Phitkari Poha/Chewda Saindha Namak Sevaiyan Sirka Sooji Vanaspati etc

Table B.7: Miscellaneous Items


analytical, 8, 9 CBT, 7, 8 Computer Based Test, see CBT Computer Science, 2 deadline, 7 Educational Testing Services, see ETS ETS, 7, 11 Graduate Record Examination, see GRE GRE, 6–8, 10–13, 21, 22, 32, 36 I-20, 36, 37 IELTS, 21 letter of recommendation, see recommendation letter MS, 5 negative recommendation, see also recommendation letter 57 PhD, 5, 18–20, 31 planning, 2, 5, 28 portfolio, 33 publications, 13 quantitative, 8 résumé, 2, 6, 14, 22–28, 31– 33 recommendation letter, 28 SoP, 6, 13, 14, 25–27 Statement of Purpose, see SoP TA, 12, 19–21 TOEFL, 3, 6, 7, 10–12, 21, 22, 32, 36 verbal, 8, 9, 22 visa, 21, 35

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