Selecting and applying to universities - University Application Process | Yocket - Study abroad guide for masters

Yocket Editorial Team
on 30 January, 2011

Selecting and applying to universities





I've got good entrance scores, I've double buttered the recommenders and my SoP is in place. So, I definitely deserve to go to the top university in USA. But, I don't know how to go about with university selection and making a list of universities to apply to. What are the probable criteria before I shortlist them, how many should I apply to, and application schedule, forms and deadline, etc.

This is certainly the crucial stage in your journey from GRE to the VISA and you can't (rather, you shouldn't) take it lightly. 
So, here's a detailed yet easy-to-understand step-by-step questions that everyone of you must consider -

  1. How do I select Universities?
  2. How many universities should I Apply?
  3. What is the Ideal time to Apply?
  4. How to Apply?
  5. Preparation of Packets? 

How do I select Universities?

Planning to pursue higher studies in USA often gets complicated as one doesn’t know on what basis he/she should select a university for his/her masters degree. Selection of a university depends on the following factors:

  1. Course/Stream
  2. On-Campus Placements
  3. Tuition Fee and Living Expenses
  4. Location (advantage in getting Off Campus Job)
  5. Acceptance rate of International students
  6. Weather
  7. Friends/Classmates
  8. Relatives

Of these the most important factor is Course/Stream. Your future is decided by the course you opt for. Ask your seniors who have been there in the previous Fall and tell them about your course or you can check the List of MS Courses.

Result: You will get an ideal list of universities as they themselves must have surveyed a lot.

Alternative: Another fool proof but major time consuming method is to browse through the websites of Universities and learn about them.

How many universities should I apply?

You can apply to as many universities as you wish, with only one factor restricting you, MONEY! Yes, the cost is pretty heavy on your pocket. On an average one application costs you around $100. Sure you want to know what costs so much. The split is as follows:

  1. Online application form: $60 approx. (varies from $50 to $100 depending upon the university)
  2. Reporting your GRE score through ETS: $23 (official scores are compulsory)
  3. Reporting your TOEFL score through ETS: $17 (official scores are compulsory)

Now, there is no rule book to how many universities an applicant should consider and whether it's easy or difficult to get in but generally, students apply to 8-10 universities with 4 ambitious, 3 moderate and 2 safes (Huh?!? What’s this??)

  1. Ambitious: An ambitious university means the acceptance rate is low and the best profile gets in.
  2. Moderate: A moderate university means the acceptance rate is medium and the chances of making to these universities are above average or somewhat realistic for your profile.
  3. Safe: By now you would have understood what does safe mean. Yes, it means the acceptance rate is pretty high and the chances of getting through are very high (though it is never 100%)

Caution: Don’t apply to all safe universities so that you get more admits. There’s no point of getting an accept from all the safe ones. Getting at least one admit from an ambitious university should be the target. One admit from an ambitious wins over many admits from safes.

What is the ideal time to apply?

This is by far the most common question you would hear from a student applying for MS. Ideally, the application process should begin by November first week. Generally, engineers apply during this time as after a month they have to go through the university exams which is stressful. In other words, all the documents required for the application should be ready by the start of November.

As soon as you have shortlisted your universities, start filling the online application forms. Generally, the deadlines are around mid December for most universities, though some have in January, a couple of them have it in March and some have a rolling admission process. Earlier you apply better it is, as many universities have two deadlines - General and Financial aid which falls between second week of November and first week of December.

In short, if you are applying for Fall 2013, then you should start applying anytime post October 2012.

Note: You get a financial aid only if you apply to a respective university before its ‘financial aid deadline’. Secondly, you are eligible for an F-aid if your scores, academic marks and achievements are marvellous.

Is applying early to a university an advantage? Answer is mostly No. Good universities review the applications after the deadline. That doesn’t mean you should delay your admission process. Few of the good universities start evaluating the applications as and when they receive it. This is known as ‘Rolling Admission’. Example: University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). The advantages of an early application are that if you satisfy the criteria of the university you will get a admit at the earliest irrespective of other applicants.

How to apply?

  1. First and foremost, you need a credit card. You are going to pay a hefty amount (around 60,000/- INR) for applying to around 8-10 universities; so you can’t keep knocking on your relatives or friends doors for a credit card.
  2. Go to the particular university’s website and see the tab for prospective students or apply now. See to it that you select the 'Graduate Programs' section as there will be a lot of data on the website which will be general for both undergrad and grad students.
  3. The forms are generally quite long extending upto 7-8 pages and you are bound to get bored and restless. But, make sure you are careful while filling the form and use the autosave facility available in all application forms.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Start filling the form even if your SOP isn’t ready (usually it’s not ready). Enter your recommender’s email address as early as possible. The university will send an email to them and they will complete the rest of the procedure. Recommender’s are EXTREMELY SLOW. You have to keep reminding them frequently.

Preparation of Packets?

Packet (in application terms) is a set of documents enclosed in an envelope which is to be mailed physically to a university. A packet generally consists of the following:

  • Cover letter: It’s a letter which states the list of documents you’re sending inside the packet to the university. It consists of your application ID No. along with address of the college. The letter is directed to the admissions committee or the Graduate Admission office.
  • Official transcripts: This is the most important document inside the packet. It’s the official copy of your marks issued by your undergrad college and junior college (if required).
  • Resume: Usually the resume is uploaded when you fill the application form but if there is no provision for it, then get a resume print out and send it along.
  • Attested Marksheets: You have to get attested photocopies of your mark sheets of all attended semesters. The universities prefer that you get it attested by the Principal or the Registrar of the college.
  • Attested photocopy of the passport
  • Attested GRE and TOEFL scorecards
  • Bank statement*
  • Affidavit*

*Refer 'What after GRE' article to know about the last two points.

Letters of Recommendation and Statement of Purpose are to be uploaded directly within the Application Form. Over the last few years, universities have made a provision of uploading all the documents in their application form including official transcripts. So, we suggest you check with the concerned university before sending any packet.


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Yocket Editorial Team

Yocket is the largest regional online community for students with a desire to pursue higher education abroad.


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