It's been a while since I have been on here and a big shout out to LM10, gparam, silent_killer, Wololo, T_O, archrival, opeth et all for welcoming me back into the fold.
I have been here in the US for about four years and have garnered a fair amount of perspective on the end-to-end perspective of the entire process , right from "Where should I apply" to being 3 years into your job after MS.
Current and past seniors may/may not agree with me , so I will mention all this under the bracket of "It's my opinion" but I do trust that most of what I will say applies to most people who use this forum. This post contains generic view points that all MS aspirants will do well to keep in mind.
Should I apply here? Will my backlogs affect me? Is my university selection good?
Remember, your application is yours! While your final list of applications is significantly affected my multiple factors and whom you speak with, it is important to remember that at the end of the day, it's YOUR APPLICATION. IT'S YOUR MONEY. IT'S YOUR FUTURE. IT'S YOUR DECISION.
Seniors and profile evaluators will give their frank opinion based on statistics you provide to them and mine data and knowledge to give you suggestions. This does not mean that any of us can vouch for you and your capabilities. What I'm trying to say is that, if there is a set of universities that you wish to apply to, even if it's stanford and you had 3 backlogs, DO IT ! Your MS application process is a once-in-a-lifetime process. When I joined this forum, I wanted to apply to NCSU. Every senior told me, I did not stand a chance. And guess what, they were right! I did get rejected. But , I went to hopkins knowing that I gave a shot at every university i wanted to be at and this was the best place for me. I know of some, who waited back a couple of years longer just to attempt to crack the schools they wanted to be at. That is an option as well and that decision is for YOU to make.
Understand your sphere of influence
By the time you start your applications, many of you will be hit with the realization that you are some way off the mark of where you would have wanted to be to crack the university of your dreams. This is perfectly natural and has happened to EACH AND EVERY SINGLE PERSON. Understand that, at this point , the following is out of your control
1. Your academics - your transcripts will be what they are
2. Your backlogs
3. Your extracurricular activities (technical)
4. The nature of your work experience
5. How the university will evaluate your profile
Everyone's life takes a certain trajectory and you are where you are and be happy for it.
What is in your control is to not let the above factors distract you from delivering a solid application. My opinion on this is simply : APPLY !! Make the best of the situation , write a good SOP , get LORs and apply. Choose your safe schools, your mod schools , your ambi schools and pray and hope for the best. You will get the best deal for yourself. Believe in that. It's hard, but avoid comparing yourself with anyone else. That does more harm to you than a backlog ever will. You are your own person and practicing this thought will help you lead a happy and satisfying life here.
Having a good hold of your finances is vital to your health here. Financial worries will affect your grades, your standard of living, your health and everything associated with life here. It's great to be positive, but in finances, make sure that you consider the most negative of outcomes there can possibly be.
What if the $ skyrockets to Rs60? What if you don't land a full time job? What if tuition fee increases? What if rents and utility prices are beyond your calculation? PLAN FOR THE WORST PEOPLE. You NEED that safety bed to know that you are not bleeding your family of resources and going grey with worry here because you did not consider certain things.
As we speak of sphere of influence and you are realizing NOW what you should have done THEN , I want to illustrate a few points that people take for granted. By the time you reach the end of your MS, you will be hit with another set of realizations of what you could have done and my intention is to illustrate these common realizations. The time to work on these is NOW. Trust me, you NEED to do these
(Drastically) Improve your communication skills
No matter what field you are in, your communication skills are the most important as you WILL HAVE TO talk to other people. In an interview, in a team meeting, to a recruiter on campus, in class during a presentation, you have to TALK. If you do not talk, you will not be noticed. If you talk gibberish, you will be noticed for the wrong reasons.
Please please please, learn to speak good english. You do not need to have an accent, but avoid the HINGLISH , learn to be clear and concise, learn to WRITE and construct correct sentences. I cannot tell you what a bad precedent it sets when you start with "Myself rahul from Mumbai". Learn the differences in the english language in the US as compared to what we speak back home. FYI, "Do the needful" does not make ANY sense out here.
The inability to communicate and write will be your biggest drawback in landing a job or doing well on your job, if you do not start on it RIGHT NOW. Language is not a subject that you can master overnight.
1. Go to public speaking classes if you have to.
2. Write, write , write, write. Write blogs, write notes on facebook if you have to , to improve the way you write.
3. For your own sake, start communicating in English. Leave your slang writing for informal chats and forums.
Be an affable human being
The corporate world, unfortunately, is no place to be yourself. You have to compose yourself with dignity and take a measured and careful approach when you speak with people. Do not get argumentative, do not come out too strong, learn the art of finding a common ground to keep up active conversation. Most importantly, DO NOT BE SHADY. Do not do or say anything that would have your integrity and ethics called into question. No "jugaads" please. No copying. Learn to do things by yourself. Be pro-active in seeking opportunities. Get onto educhat and start talking to people if that's what it takes, but get started. You have your circle of friends where you can be yourself.
Most people who are working here, will have received feedback from their interviewers after they joined and the most common feedback is "Everybody liked you". It wasn't just the technical prowess or your ace coding skills. Be accommodating, be adjusting. Be humble and down-to-earth.
There are things going on OUTSIDE the university...
...And that is where the people you want to potentially work with really are. Network , network, network. Many people get cosy on their asses and believe a 3.8 GPA will fetch them a dream job. Not always. The best opportunities are most of the times NOT ADVERTISED. In a university setting, you will have your entire batch scrambling for the same set of opportunities. You either can get caught in that and hope for the best or you can take control of your situation. Go out to conferences relevant to your field, join clubs and local chapters (if they exist). Spend the $$ required to transport you and any other associated fees. Even if you end up spending 1500$ extra, remember, the probability of landing an opportunity this way means that amount will be (conservatively) 50% of your first month's paycheck !
Networking in the real world is not an Edulix forum
Have any of you noticed, that if you have built a relationship with your seniors, they are more willing to help you out, often breaking protocol and not asking you to "please post in forums". Those who actually do this will vouch for this as true. Most of your first post is "Seniors , please evaluate my profile". That's fine here on edulix, but not in the real world.
Don't approach a person with the intention of getting a job from him. If you genuinely build a relationship, trust me, out here, the job offer will come to you. You will probably meet such a person in a setting that already allows you to share your common interests. Leverage that to talk about the field , the progress, the latest news, etc. For that , you have to be on top of your game in staying current. Staying current makes you learn more. It's a win-win all the way.
LEarn how to network. Most universities will organize a networking how-to event. Make sure you are there. It may actually be more relevant to you than the database class you might have to skip.
Build a linkedin profile. Key words, tags all help you make you more visible. Linkedin is also now one of the best ways to network with people.And your linkedin profile often requires as much work as your resume and your SOP. Don't throw things in there as if it were a curry you are attempting to make for the first time. Go through iterations and see how well you do on results.
That being said, tie down access to your facebook and twitter profiles. Employers DO look you up on these sites. Nearly every single one of them will attempt to learn more about you through them. Spend some time deleting things you do not want others to see.
Not entirely relevant but still worth a mention:
Not bathing , brushing and not going through your daily bodily ablutions is a great option when you are at home. We get insanely busy and it's hard to keep up with everything you have to do. But when you step out, guys, please, as a rule, SHOWER ! I remember an incident when an email was sent out to all grad students asking them to bathe. Avoid embarrassing situations. Make time for yourself. You do not want to go speak to a professor (or worse, a recruiter) when you are reeking.
Take care and good luck people. Stay positive.