Applications for undergraduate and graduate programs in USA is much different than what we are used to in India. Let’s take a look at what the process is like.
Following are the components of the application process–
- GRE, TOEFL
- Shortlisting schools for your aspirations
- Preparing required documents for the application
- Apply by the deadline
Note: Ideally, shortlisting schools should be done before giving GRE but students prefer to get the tests out of the way and be comfortable with the score before focusing all energies into shortlisting schools and actually applying to them. A candidate is able to typically apply to around 10 universities for MS and MIS programs.
1. GRE, TOEFL – In this post, we elaborate on GRE and TOEFL tests
Graduate Record Examination General Test is a standardized computer based test conducted by Educational Testing Service (ETS). You can find details here but we will summarize the important points for you-
Taking a GRE General Test costs $185 and sending your scores can cost $25 for each school as of 21 Feb 2013. You need to create or have a My GRE Account to register online for the computer based GRE General Test, check more details here.
GRE General Test consists of six sections. The first section is always the analytical writing section involving separately timed issue and argument tasks. The next five sections consist of two verbal reasoning sections, two quantitative reasoning sections, and either an experimental or research section. These five sections may occur in any order. The experimental section does not count towards the final score but is not distinguished from the scored sections. You can skip back and forth within sections. The entire test lasts about 3 hours 45 minutes.
GRE scores remain valid for five years, so it makes sense to give it early and have enough time to focus on applications. Tip: Do not leave GRE to be taken in last 2 months of the application deadline. One, it increases stress and might affect your ability to score higher. Two, in case you are not happy with your score, you will have to take GRE again but you can only take GRE once a month. Therefore, we recommend that you take GRE at least THREE months before your application submission timelines. For e.g. for Fall applications, try to give GRE by July of preceding year.
Latest GRE tests are being scored out of 340. Anything above 320 is considered a good score. Remember that just taking the GRE does not mean that your scores are available everywhere. When you actually apply to specific schools later, you will explicitly need to send your score report to that school. Bad news is that it costs $25 (INR 1400) to send your score to each school. Great news is that you can send upto 4 reports free on the day you take the GRE test. Tip: So, it makes sense to know at least 4 schools you are most likely to apply and send your scores to those when you take the test. (That is a saving of $100 right away!)
TOEFL – The TOEFL iBT test measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level and is required for Indian students to apply to US or European schools. The test costs $165 in India. You can register online. The scores are out of 120 and anything above 105 is considered good. If you sincerely prepare for GRE verbal section and have been going to a English primary school, you should not need to worry too much about TOEFL. Again, its more of a formality and its score, unless too low, will never impact your application results.
What really matters?
We have seen students fretting for months on GRE. It is one thing to prepare well and it is another thing to stress about a test. Particularly, we Indians, tend to take tests too seriously. But remember that GRE is not your regular entrance exam!
“You do not pass or fail GRE or GMAT, you just show that your aptitude is above a certain level”
These tests are only a small part of the overall application process – so acing one doesn’t mean you’ll get into Harvard and bombing it doesn’t mean that you won’t get into a good school either. You simply want to score more than a baseline that is used as a filter by schools to weed out low aptitude students. Want to know a secret? – even if your score is low but overall profile is awesome, you can explain why you did poorly on the exam and if reason is sound enough (for eg. You had some personal family problem, illness etc), a school will most likely not reject you on basis of low score alone.
- What is GRE subject test? – The GRE Subject Test is a special requirement mostly for Ph.D or for students who want to change their Undergraduate stream. It is usually optional if you are applying for MS in your field. Some say that taking it still helps improve your profile but I recommend spending the time you would on a subject test on the application contents instead.
- Can I give GRE again if my score is low? – Yes, so give the exam without being stressed. Taking it multiple times does not put you at a disadvantage.
- What is the best time to give GRE? – Please give it at least five months before you plan on submitting your applications.
- Where can I give GRE in India? – Ahmedabad, Allahabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Chennai, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi and Trivandrum.
The best available software to practice for GRE is POWERPREP® II software and the best part is that it is FREE. It consists of two full-length, simulated practice tests for the computer-based GRE revised General Test. The strategy we recommend is to take the first test when you are beginning to prepare for GRE to understand where you stand. Use your scores to understand where you need to put more efforts, for e.g. do you need more work on verbal (if so, which section) or quantitative. Next step is to prepare thoroughly, take other available tests from Barron’s, Kaplan, Princeton etc. When you have taken all other tests and have taken a test date, you take the PowerPrep second test again. Note that this is the closest simulation to actual tests, so the scores that you get on PowerPrep are the best estimation of how much you are likely to score in real test. Also, even after taking the two tests, keep giving it multiple times as you get some new questions each time. More information available here.
Ok, if you had to just remember 5 things from this post, remember this-
- You need to take GRE General Test to apply for MS.
- You should take it THREE months before you intend to submit the applications. For Fall applications, give GRE by July.
- User PowerPrep software wisely to prepare for GRE. We recommend taking it once at beginning of your preparation and once just before appearing for the real test.
- Do sufficient research to shortlist 4 schools that you intend to apply before appearing for GRE so that you can send 4 FREE score reports.
- Don’t obsess over GRE scores, as long as its not too low, it doesn’t matter. The only factor to consider here is the cost factor. It is expensive to take these tests, so give after ample preparation.