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The Dummy's Guide to the GRE

Author: sybarite, Posted on Monday, February 06 @ 00:16:20 IST by RxPG  

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Here is a structured framework for all those desirous of pursuing graduate studies abroad. The views expressed here are entirely my own, and please follow my advice at your own risk.

1. Decide what branch you wanna apply for.. the fields is vast and the potential immense.. but the more common career options are public health , Microbiology and immunology, genetics , cellular and molecular biology, Pathology , Biochemistry and bioinformatics . Others include nutrition , dietetics , psychology , health management, Physiology and Pharmacology . I must add here that there is a reason why public health is so popular.. it is a lot easier to get into. Though there is more funding in micro, the course requirements for micro are very specific and unless you have done some specific projects, acceptance rates are not all that great.

2. Start surfing for universities which offer your desired stream. A very wise thing to do at this time is join the USEFI in your city. Their library has a huge database with Princeton review guides that are classified stream wise and give detailed info on what degree (MS or Phd ) are offered , at what tuition rates, etc.The various factors to be taken into consideration while shortlisting are:
a. ranking
b. type of program
c. tuition , fees and expenses
d. financial aid options for international students
e. desi community , which denotes international student acceptance rates
f. association with a medical center
g. funds available for research
h. location and climate

3. Obviously this shortlisting is a time consuming task and a lot of brainstorming goes into it. Around eight colleges is a satisfactory number, but even if you are very confident of getting through , apply to at least five places.In the mean time you should start doing the paperwork. There are 3 main things required.

LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATIONS (3): most unis demand 3 , some 2. For tips on how to prepare LoRs, try googling on LOR as a keyword. Choose your recommenders wisely. A strong LoR from someone not very famous abroad is better than an average LoR from an eminent personality. Another thing you should remember is that universities may have their own format for recommendations , on forms downloadable from the website. Print them out and request your teachers to sign and fill out the tables, if any . You can always attach your complete LoRs to those forms, at the same time making sure all objective information is filled out completely.

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE (SOP): it is the whole and soul of every application. There are innumerable sites that tell you what goes into a good SOP. . You should talk about your purpose of graduate study and tailor your past experiences to your goals. Mention how this degree would be consistent with what you plan to do and what are your career goals. Will you be able to achieve what you want with a masters , or would a doctorate be the next step? Be modest, but not to the extent of sounding servile. You need to come across as a confident student, very clear in your objectives… the trick lies in creating that impression thru your statement. Remember, if they just wanted to know your achievements, they would have seen your resume. Do not be unduly long and full of platitude. A good SOP is interesting , insightful, revealing and non generic.

TRANSCRIPTS: Well, better begin work on this as soon as you can. Official work like this can take ages to get done. And chances of financial aid are better if your application reaches early. Most universities demand one , but some need two copies. For all these documents, take the signature and seal of the concerned official across the flaps of the envelopes after sealing them.
Some Universities expect you to deal only with one administrative unit, that is the graduate school, where all your documents need to be sent. But there are places that ask you to send scores and transcripts to the graduate school office and the LOR and SOP with application for assistantships to the concerned departments. Make sure you mail the documents to the right place.

4. The moment you have your finals shortlist ready, fax ETS your request for sending your GRE and TOEFL scores at the cost of 15$ per university. The form and the number at which you should fax them are available at the concerned websites. Make doubly sure you get the institute and deptt. Codes right. It may take up to a month for ETS to forward your scores, so make sure you meet all deadlines. If you are dangerously close to your deadline, ETS also has a provision for urgent score reporting by calling up a number available at the website. It takes only 5 days for the scores to be reported by the latter route, and also leaves your pockets considerably lighter.

5. Prepare a resume and include it in the application packet.

6. Applying online is welcomed by most universities and in some cases is also cheaper. For those places which don’t have online applications for international students, you have to go through the task of downloading the paper application and getting your bank to make an international demand draft. College application fees ranges anywhere between 35$ - 75$.

Always keep a record of what all you are sending to a particular place. Even if you upload your SOP on an online application, chances are the graduate advisor may ask you for another copy subsequently.

Financing your education
From the university
1. Research assistantships
2. Teaching assistantships
3. University fellowships and departmental scholarships . At most places you are automatically considered for all the funding options available to you.
External funding : includes bank loans and scholarship loans from educational trusts.

While applying for assistantships, you may come across certain colleges that recommend or necessarily demand a TSE score( test of spoken English) for teaching assistantships . As per advice from an international graduate advisor of a reputed institute, I would say a wiser bet is to wait until you know your admission status. Firstly , not all institutions demand this score, so why incur extra expenditure. Again , if you are offered a research assistantship , you won’t need the TSE. If offered a teaching assistantship , you can go and take the SPEAK test that is offered on campus at most institutions.

It is essential that you choose a college whose program suits your profile. Your resume and SOP build up your image, and you should paint a picture which fits into the student profile the college is looking for. If the college committee feels you are overqualified by the standards of their average student , you might just be wasting your money on that application. Be wise in your final choice of universities. A simple rule of thumb is to choose 3 safe universities you can bank on , 3 universities who might or might not take you and 2 dream universities , where your chances might not seem all that great , but you should still take your chance.

Here is a list of some websites that offer related advice:

1. www.graduateschool.com
2. www.usnews.com
3. www.princetonreview.com
4. www.GRE .org
5. www.ets.org/TOEFL /
6. www.asph.org

Good Luck!

Note: Thanks sybarite for sharing this excellent article with RxPG Community. The discussion thread is at http://www.rxpgonline.com/postt41705.html

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