How to apply for GRE

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					10th July 2003: A Brief note to where I go this from. In my 3rd year at IIT, one of my educated seniors
sent this email to all the 3rd year students- So all credit to Sujay Rajendra Sanghavi, one year senior to
me, EE department, IIT Mumbai. Over the last few years, I have got mails from numerous students,
about the "Art of Apping", some completely ignorant of this skill and some with a basic know how.
Attached below is as-it-was version of the mail we got. ______________________

From Wed Jul 9 18:28:58 2003

Date: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 22:21:38 +0530 (IST)

From: Sujay Rajendra Sanghavi <>


Subject: apping

dear app nabdus,

here is an article i wrote for on apping. since u may not want

to go there and see (and ur beloved app coordi is putting pain), am

forwarding it to u.



The Art of Apping

In this article I present all I know about the fine art of Apping -

applying for graduate education (MS, and PhD) in US universities. It is a
long, meticulous and often painful process, but is definitely worth it if

you want a good graduate education in the engineering sciences. I will

now detail the steps to be followed, in chronological order.

1. Academics:

Fact of life - universities award scholarships based on academic

performance as measured by the GRADES obtained in your undergraduate

education (so if you think you are one of those people who have low grades

but high fundaes wake up). So for IIT it is your CPI, and for other

universities it is your aggregate percentage or whatever. People with

lower grades getting schols in better universities are the exception, not

the norm. Note that it is only the CPI of the first 3 years that is

usually taken into account, since the application forms for the univs have

to be sent by the second/third week of December, by which time the results

of the fourth year/seventh semester will not have come out (or can be

conveniently neglected). Universities know this and do not expect you to

let them know your final year performance - they base their decisions on

the first 3 years. So basically if you want a good graduate education at

a well-known university, start mugging.

This said, universities do see other things besides grades while awarding

scholarships - it is just that they do not give them as much importance.

Notable among these "other things" are:
1. Participation and/or winning of science/math competitions like the

International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), Indian National Mathematics

Olympiad (INMO), Regional Mathematics Olympiad (RMO), Indian Physics

Teachers Olympiad etc. If you have participated/won prizes in any of the

above-mentioned or similar competitions, make sure you let the

universities know when the time comes. It would even help if you mentioned

your IIT-JEE rank if it is relatively good (ie say you are in the top 6-7

in your department in terms of JEE rank or if you are in the top 100


2. Projects you have done - this includes your main final-year project,

your seminar (in IIT) as well as any vacation project or summer internship

(including, in IIT, your PT) you may have done. In fact, it is a good idea

to have a few good projects under your belt anyway - they serve the dual

purpose of giving you some fundaes in the field you are doing the project

in and giving you something that will look good on your resume. Be careful

in choosing the kind of project you are doing and where you are doing it

- it should be an enjoyable experience and not just something you are

doing for resume or recommendation. Places I now that give interesting

research-based projects are:

a. IIT itself

b. IISc - the Indian Institute of Science, Banglore

c. CAIR - Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Banglore
d TIFR - Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, Pune and Banglore

e. BARC - Bhabha Atomic Research Center, Mumbai

f. JNCASR - Jawahrlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research, Banglore

g. ISI - Indian Statistical Institute, Banglore

h. Many of the MNC tech companies - e.g. (in the field of CS and EE) Texas

Instruments, Sun Microsystems, IBM.

I recommend doing projects outside IIT/your present institution

(especially if you plan to do so in the summer after your first or second

years) as it will give you a different perspective on research from what

IIT manages to give you. Many of the above-m entioned places have summer

student scholarships, which will defer any expenses you may have while

doing your projects. These projects are also usually sources for

recommendation letters ("recos") on which I will elaborate later.

3. In the course of your projects/BTP you may be doing something that you

think is novel and not looked into before. In this case you may want to

consider publishing a technical paper on your work. There are many places

where your paper can be published, and not all of them are worthy of

mention - there are many shady publications in the scientific arena as

well. A publication in reputed international journals (eg the IEEE for

electrical engineering or ASME for mechanical) is the best you can get,

and if you do make sure you let the univ you are applying to now of it -

send official reprints if necessary. Usually you will have to make do with
publishing in a conference - it is easier, and some of the conferences are

pretty good too. This is a topic you will have to discuss with your


So much for the run-up to apping - my guess is that by the time you read

this all the above advice will have come too late. So let us get down to

the relevant information - the process itself.

2. Standardized Exams - GRE and TOEFL

To apply for engineering education in the US you need to give two exams -

the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and TOEFL (Test Of English as a

Foreign Language). Both of these are conducted by the Educational Testing

Service (ETS).

The GRE has three sections - Analytical, Verbal and Quantitative. The

verbal section is the only one that requires real preparation - it tests

your English language skills and is usually found to be rather tough among

desi public. The other two sections are just practice. A score above 2200

is usually considered good - above 2300 is a bonus. Univs do not attach

much importance to GRE scores, but a bad score (say below 2100) may

seriously affect your chances.
The TOEFL is a very easy exam, and requires almost no preparation.

More information for both these exams will surely be available to you from

other sources. Just make sure you give them in time - it will avoid pain


4. Choosing Field of Interest:

Hopefully by the time the apping process starts you will have decided

which sub-field of your department interests you enough for you to pursue

your graduate education in it. It need not be too narrow, but there should

be some choice made. Second fact of life - people working in some fields

get scholarships easier than people in others. But it should not be the

only factor in deciding which field you are going to work/apply in -

otherwise you may end up doing an MS in something you do not like.

Applying in the field in which you did your final-year project will

improve your chances, but that does not mean that your MS should be

constrained by what you did in your BTP/Final year project.

5. Pre-apping

This is basically asking the univs to send you their forms. Applying
online is a good idea, but you may prefer sending the whole packet in one

piece in paper form. If you apply online you may usually not need a form

from the univ (or you may be able to download the relevant pages), but see

their website properly and see that you have everything they require.

Requesting forms is also done through the website. Again, keep your mind

open or you may not pre-app properly and not be sent a form. Ask for the

forms of all univs you think you hve even a remote possibility of applying

to - make sure you are not constrained by the availability of forms. Many

univs have GPA (grade) cutoffs, and if yours is below that they may refuse

to send you the form at all. Dont panic or give up - they usually dont

stick to their own cutoffs. Just preapply with some fictitious name and

GPA and GRE score and whatever else.

6. Sucking

This is what we affectionately call contacting faculty in the US univs for

admission and financial aid. It is a long and painful process and will eat

up your time and concentration, but it is known to yeild often spectacular

results. So here is a step-by-step guide

1. TIMING: Start around the beginning of september at the earliest.

Earlier is no point - the profs usually dont reply till around 2nd week of

october. But in case you are dying of nabad, you can go to the homepages

of all the faculty in all the univs you are likely to apply to and see who
are suitable for you - as in who do the kind of stuff you want to pursue

your MS in. Save their contact addresses, in fact their entire homepages

for later reference - you will definitely need it later, and going to the

univ page every time will be painful. Having a well organised app

directory may make you less "cool" but it will save you a lot of bother.

2. RESUME: After you have decided on a tentative list of universities and

profs in those univs you have to make your resume. Make sure you include

all the studgiri you have done/think you are going to do. In IIT people

include their seminars, btps, any course/lab projects worth mentioning,

their summer training projects, their GRE and TOEFL scores, their

department rank ... Ask some suitable senior to give you his resume for

guidance and after you have made a draft show it to seniors for pointers

and stuff. Make sure your resume does not sound bombastic - do not claim

to have done more than you actually have - IITians apparently do enough

work at the undergraduate level anyway. Also, limit it to at max 3-4 pages

- no one wants to go through an encyclopedia detailing your greatness.

Make sure you mention the professors (in IIT) you are working with - US

profs you send your resume to may know them and effective matchmaking may

take place. Also, it may be possible that you are apping in slightly

differing fields in different univs - in this case reorder your resume and

emphasise-deemphasise appropriately. If you have a good department rank

flsh it prominently. And DO NOT make your resume in MS Word or other such

editors - plain text is the way. It may restrict its looks, but the prof
there may not even bother to open an MS word document. Avoid long

paragraphs - use points. I could go on and on, so I won’t - just keep your

mind open when writing your resume and make sure you get it propetly

reviewed by kindly souls willing to undergo the torture.

3. SUCKING - So time has come to start sucking - what do you do? Make a

"Suck Letter" - a covering letter of sorts that briefly details the field

you are interested in, and why you would like to work with the particular

prof you are sending the mail to. Include things like your rank (if good)

and GRE and TOEFL scores, but dont make it a second resume. Limit it to

one screenful AT MAX - profis there get pained by hajaar mails from all

over the world and do not REALLY care about you. Send to one prof from

each univ and wait for a few days - say 4-5. Avoid sending around weekends

- they pile up in the prof’s inbox and chances are he will just delete it

in the rush to clear his inbox. Profs who do reply usually do so in 2-3

days max. In the event of no reply or unfavourable reply, suck someone

else. Sending 20 mails a week and not even getting one reply is often the

case - keep at it.

7. Sending the packet

1. RECOS - This is probably the most important part about filling out

forms - each university requires 3 "Letters of Recommendation" from
"people who have known your work". So basically you have to get three

letters of praise from profs who have seen you work (say your BTP guide,

seminar guide, summer training guide, etc etc). Profs here will all know

about this - if you think a prof is happy with you, just go and ask him

(or her) to give you a reco. Each univ has a Recommendation Form (usually

downloadable) which the profs have to fill. Take your recos well in time -

profs often do it at their own leisure and you do not want to miss univ

deadlines. Some people send more than three recos - dont know if that

helps, but if all are reasonably good it will definitely not do any harm.

2. STATEMENT OF PURPOSE - For some strange reason univs want you to tell

them why you are interested in pursuing a graduate education, what you

hope to achieve from the same, your career plans and your qualifications

(in brief - this is NOT another resume). Sample SoPs can be found at the

website of the Electrical Engineering Students Association (EESA) at the

EE department of IIT Bombay. Ask seniors for their SoPs. And again get

SoPs reviewed by seniors. Apping legend has it that a bad SoP is a BAD

idea and a good SoP is often the deciding criterion between otherwise

similar candidates. Again make it pointwise as far as possible, and avoid

writing vague generalities and unsubstantiated statements.

3. Filling the Forms - Fill them, of course.

4. Include any certificates, reprints of publications or any other such
studgiri you have referred to in your resume. Make sure you send your

resume too.

5. SENDING THE FORMS - Courier them - dont be penny wise and pound foolish

and send them by post or something. Put your email ID on the cover.

Two/three people sending to the same univ often send their packets

together - do this if you want, no harm. Also, univs ask for things to be

sent seperately to the Graduate Office and the Department. Send them both

in seperate envelopes in the same packet if required, with a covering

letter stating clearly what is what and whose.

8. Relax

For sometime at least.

9. Post-app Sucking

After you have sent your app packets, send emails to profs who replied

positively to you before apping informing them that you have sent your app

packet and that they should see it. Also send mails to profs who have NOT

replied to you earlier, telling them that you have applied and that could

they please look at your application? Make sure to include your resume in

such new contacts, and mention important things like department rank and
stuff in the main mail itself. Be careful to not suck more than one prof

at a time in the same univ - wait for 4-5 days for each fellow to reply.

This process can start in say late Jan. It can be prety painful - just go

about it bravely.

10. Wait

There is nothing more to do. Just wait for the schols, admits etc to pour

in, hopefully. If you get admit to a particular univ but the financial aid

decisions are not yet made, dont lie back to smell the roses - start

sucking profs there ASAP - profis often prefer admitted candidates.

This is the end

My gentle friend

The end.


After putting all this info for you, you might want to thank me also, but "what the heck!", after all is all
about giving and taking... so enjoy your life while it lasts...

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