I have been writing out my applications for policy programs at graduate schools. While on a superficial level it seems like an easy enough exercise, the entire admissions process makes one realize the complexity involved.
An international education doesn’t happen easily and it is important to find the right school and course. The qualitative questions on my application really made me think hard about why I wanted to study at a particular school. More often than not, it was about whether I fit into the school’s DNA. For example, a school of diplomacy & law may be steeped in quantitative coursework, or it may have a liberal arts approach to learning. Consequently, applicants have to immerse themselves in the short-listing process while choosing a graduate school, to make sure it is in line with their personal expectations.
Photo by Rishabh Kumar
To put things into perspective, my experience has helped me understand that a sound academic record and a relevant professional background are valuable enablers, which, coupled with a competitive standardized test score, help lay the foundation to a strong claim to a graduate program admit. However, it is the essays which seem to matter the most. The universities are most interested in knowing the longer-term goals of an applicant and how they would help facilitate that endeavor. It is, therefore, very important to be clear about one’s objectives & motivation and convey that crisply in the essay sections. It is one area where an applicant can build a credible story and talk about what has been the prime driver behind his decision to apply – the trick is in making it read like a continuum where even a discordant academic blip becomes an invaluable part of the overall account.
The other important lesson for me has been realizing the importance of remaining cognizant of the cost of education. Studying abroad is as much about financial planning as about being suitably prepared on an academic and professional front. Most reputed international institutions charge a hefty tuition. Boarding and lodging round up the total cost which may be as high as USD 60,000-80,000 for one academic year. Fortunately, starting early and landing an early admission decision can help immensely in planning funding a lot better. An early start usually affords an applicant enough time to apply for financial aid, scholarships, bursaries, etc. In light of the prevailing macroeconomic climate, this is imperative to help mitigate the hefty debt that usually accrues by the end of the program. As they say, money in the bank is money in the bank!
The prospect of studying at a reputed school and experiencing a different culture is an exciting one. For me, a refreshing pedagogical approach and an interdisciplinary learning experience are additional attractions. The application-process has been nothing short of a soul-searching experience for me, as it has pushed me to delve deeper within myself and correctly articulate my motivation and ambition - it is, most certainly, not a walk in the park but it has been an enjoyable exercise throughout. I would say it’s a grueling process for all the right reasons! So, no matter what happens after this, I will feel satisfied in the knowledge that I now know myself better as an individual.
Bhanu Prabhakar is a development communications professional working at Gutenberg Communications. He received his BA degree from Hindu College, University of Delhi and is currently applying to graduate schools for Fall 2013 admission.