Fall 2018: How to Research & Shortlist Universities For Your Profile

If you have recently received your GRE Scores, we bet that you are busy navigating through the tonnes of information available on various universities to apply for your graduate studies. This is indeed a critical decision, so the confusion and anxiety surrounding it is understandable.

You will be facing this decision 3 times in the course of your applications abroad:

  • While selecting universities to which you will be reporting your GRE Scores
  • After your GRE scores have arrived
  • When you have to choose among received admits.

Of these three stages, the second one is the most difficult. Shortlisting Universities is an important process that needs to be approached with much planning and research. This is because this decision will determine the chances of your admits and through that the course of your life in the years to come. Since you will be spending a good amount of money applying to each university, your options maybe limited. Naturally, you would like to opt for the universities where chances of a positive outcome are high.

If you are perplexed by the task at hand, don’t worry, here’s a plan of action that will help streamline your search for universities.

To begin with, let us understand the basic principles for shortlisting universities:

  1. The most critical aspect is to understand your profile
  2. The choices that you make among the limited options, should maximize our chances of admissions
  3. Depending on your budget and other factors, you need to decide the maximum number of universities that you will be applying to
  4. Shortlist universities based on your profile, not on the basis of the university’s reputation and/or acceptance rate
  5. Do not take all the information you get at face value. Be skeptical, verify the data you find online

First of all, you need to be aware of your GRE Score, CGPA, Research experience, Practical exposure and TOEFL/IELTS Score. This is to understand your strengths and identify challenges if any such as- low GRE, backlogs, mediocre CGPA, lack of research experience.

To simplify the process of selecting universities, we will use the GRE Score as a criterion to determine our approach. We can have 3 unique cases in this regard:

  1. GRE Score below 300
  2. GRE Score between 300- 320
  3. GRE Score above 320

Let‘s chart out the course of action for each of these instances.

GRE Score below 300

Applicants with a GRE Score below 300 have several questions running through their mind.

The first one is “whether I should go ahead with this score or not”.

[Read]: Should you retake GRE if you have a score of 300 or less?

This is because the general understanding is that most universities have a GRE Requirement of 300 and more.

Firstly, you need to know that the universities have individual criteria for your Quant, Verbal and AWA Score. Secondly, there are always ways to plan out your options if you’re ready to accept the limitations while choosing. For instance, with this score, it might not be possible to get an Ivy League University. But this can’t be said in a general sense. Let us dig deeper to understand whether you can apply or not.

Secondly, there are always ways to plan out your options if you’re ready to accept the limitations while choosing. For instance, with this score, it might not be possible to get an Ivy League University. But this can’t be said in a general sense. Let us dig deeper to understand whether you can apply or not.

But this can’t be said in a general sense. Let us dig deeper to understand whether you can apply or not.

If your GRE Score is above 290, CGPA of 7+ and TOEFL Score is above 90 (or 6.5 and above in IELTS), you surely have a chance of getting good admits. If you are a working professional with 2 or more years of experience in a relevant domain, then your chances of an admission is even higher. It doesn’t mean a score below 290 has no scope, but the options are limited and the risk of applying will be slightly higher.

Further, there are courses that don’t bank on your GRE score alone, instead consider your research and practical experience.

However, if you are applying to one of the core courses; for example Computer Science or Electrical Engineering; it’s wise to select universities which accept profiles with GRE Scores below 300.

In this day and age, our instincts drive us to Google anything. This is not a bad habit, in fact, it is a good starting point. Several universities will pop up if you enter your GRE Score and course on the web. The challenge lies in verifying what you read after all everything is user generated.

Once you have a primary list of options from Google, it is highly recommended that you join the various groups on social networking sites like Facebook to interact with like-minded people. This will help you verify what you have collected and understood from the various sources available online. You will be able to connect with alumni of various universities, peers facing a similar dilemma and experts who have guided students overcome challenges.

The third level of check is looking for the minimum requirements of the universities on their department website. In case the data is not available, you must write to International Graduate Admissions Office and clarify your eligibility in terms of your score.

Now, to answer a trickier question: How many universities should one apply to and how to reduce the risk while trying to gain the best possible admits.

Ideally, a student should apply to a minimum of 6 to 8 universities.

For a score below 300, it is wise to opt for 3 universities where you have a clear idea on the eligibility, this we can mark as a safe option for you, i.e you have about 80% chances of getting an admit. 2-3 universities that you choose should be such that chances of admits are high, but you’re not fully sure. These options can be marked as achievable ones, i.e you have about 50% chances of getting admissions. You can also apply to 1 or 2 universities that are your dream options, where chances of admissions are very low but it would be great if it comes through. In this way, you will be maximizing your chances and reducing the risk of rejections. Having said

In this way, you will be maximizing your chances and reducing the risk of rejections. Having said that meeting minimum requirement alone, won’t suffice in determining the outcome of your application. You need to factor in the competition you may face, the quality of your documents and the university’s policies for admissions this year. Much of this data can be found online with a bit of social media platforms.

However, you may want to consider taking up some counseling to be equipped enough in making more informed decisions.

GRE Score between 300- 320

This is a convenient category to fall in, as a lot of options are open for a score in this range.

With a good CGPA of 7 or 8 points and a TOEFL Score above 95, you will have several universities where you’re eligible to apply.

Unlike applicants who score below 300, your challenge is not in deciding whether to apply or not, but to narrow down the best options among the available ones.

The good news is, you have a good chance of getting a positive result if you take calculated risks. This means you can plan your options to target your dream universities. If you fall short of your target university, you will still have good admits to choose from.

The question is, how does one opt for universities that take care of your ambitions as well as the risk involved.

If you plan to apply for 8 universities, on the whole, it is ideal to go for 2 safe options (80% chances of admit), 4 achievable ones (50% chances of admit) and 2 among your dream universities (less than 30% chances of admit). It will be helpful if you speak to alumni from various universities, your seniors who have applied and also connect with fellow applicants on social networking sites. But you may find a lot of conflicting information online, cross verify and be absolutely sure before applying to a university.

Be careful to not play it too safe, because you do have the potential to get into some well-reputed institutions. At the same time you need to be smart enough to choose the most feasible options among the top-notch institutes, reducing the risks and increasing your higher possibility of paying off.

GRE Score above 320

If your GRE Score is higher than 320, then you can target some of the top colleges regarding your specialization.

It is wise to focus on the opportunities provided by the universities, related to your specialization.

With a TOEFL Score 100+ to compliment your GRE Score, you can really stand out among other applicants if you go to universities that are actively researching in your area of expertise and interest.

For example, if you have worked with a company for 2 or more years in the domain of cyber security. You can apply for the above credentials to the most reputed universities for a related course. If the professors are actively engaged in the projects related to your specialization, you have a good chance of getting a positive response.

There is also some potential to get Research Assistantships once you are in the university.

Students with scores in this category should plan to apply early in the intake. This is because building a good rapport with Professors at the universities before and as you apply will be a good way to proceeding with the admissions.

If your long-term objectives are not related to research, then you can opt to go for some non-thesis courses too where you will be completing additional coursework or engaged in a project instead of a research-intensive endeavor. Such courses might not require a lot of networking with Professors beforehand.

In such cases, students must study the course offered in-depth by the universities before making your final choice of options. This is because even within core degrees such as MS in CS, the specializations offered are not uniform among the universities. You may have some universities that offer specializations related to data science, while others offer importance to coding and program development.

To gain an admission you should choose a specialization that best reflects your past profile as well as your interest. To ensure you do not get into a high-risk situation. It is advisable to opt for 1 or 2 safe universities, 3 achievable ones and 3 dream universities. You must pay close attention while selecting your dream universities, these may be competitive options but there will be among such options surely those that are suitable for you.

Tip: you must focus on conveying your profile, learning, and thoughts cogently through your documentation and addressing any drawback in your profile.

[Read]: Top 10 mistakes to avoid while writing your SOP

It can not be emphasized enough that a sense of clarity regarding your long term and short term career objectives, lay a firm foundation for all decisions related to your admission process. It is equally important that you also consider the various aspects of your profile and spend some time learning about the various opportunities available abroad, to make well-informed practical decisions.

I hope you are clear with the categories and have a working idea as to how you can go about selecting and shortlisting universities for your Masters abroad. Are you aiming for Fall 17 and want to know how to get started?

Download this checklist to kickstart your admission process

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