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Do MOOCs (online courses) help in MS applications?

MOOCs for Applications

Many students wonder if doing online courses (MOOCs) will help in their MS or college applications.

What are MOOCs

MOOCs are (Massive Open Online Courses) targeting open access for student participation via Internet. In a world where everything is just one click away, why should education be left behind? Why do we need to be in a physical classroom for gathering knowledge? This is why MIT and Harvard created edX in 2012 that hosts online university level courses. Soon, sites like Coursera, Udemy, Udacity and Khan Academy started offering a large variety of courses for academic, professional and interest based learning. 

Most of the engineering colleges in developing countries are struggling to find qualified faculty. While the courses are being taught for the sake of it, students are passing not by proving their knowledge but by last minute rote learning, copying assignments and solving previous year question papers. They say a true engineer never studies until the last two days before the exam!

But this jugaad engineering falls flat at the first contact with professional world. After all, you need to know and do things when you show up at work. Similarly, when a student applies to universities abroad, they expect you to be not only conversant in the basic subjects but also exhibit mastery over some of them. And getting into these top notch universities is not about cracking an entrance exam, but impressing with your overall profile – projects, grades, experience, scores etc. Poor Indian student realizes that his jugaad is not going to work here.

How to use MOOCs to enhance your applications

You can improve skills that are helpful in your college or graduate program by taking MOOCs. That is one way to improve your candidature for BS or MS in USA.

  • MOOCs can compensate for your low grades in a similar class you took in college. Or, they can fill in for lack of a formal education in the area you are applying to. For example, if you are expressing an interest in Computer Security and your college did not offer enough relevant electives, you can take such courses on a MOOC.
  • Developing good projects in these courses can be a great way to show you are a pro-active learner. These projects can go into your resume and add more talking points in your next interview. Few skills that can be advantageous during your hunt for on-campus jobs and assistantships are web development, perl scripting, excel modeling etc.

Case Studies of applicants using MOOCs to their advantage

Yasho Vardhan, an MIS applicant was feeling that his average GPA was putting him at a disadvantage in his applications. To further enhance his profile, he decided to take Introduction to ‘Python for Data Science’ on edX and ‘R Programming’ on Coursera. Since he was interested in Analytics which is growing more popular and competitive, he felt that he needed something more than his academics and work experience to differentiate himself. Further, such courses were highly recommended by his seniors at University of Maryland, the place where he headed to. 

For more info, read: What MOOCs are popular among MS applicants?

Where to find good MOOCs?

Here are top sites to access high quality free courses that you can look at:

While MOOCs are good for skill development, having a MOOC certificate alone may not help that much. There’s always a trust problem – who knows if you only took the MOOC certification exam or your friend? Therefore, let not the certificate be your primary motivation, try to genuinely learn something and reflect that in your story.

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I really liked the personalized experience. Besides the excellent guidance during applications, I think scholar strategy has an edge as it focuses on developing a community which is helpful in quickly resolving queries even after admissions.
Yashovardhan, CMU BIC, KTH ML