Zamin Ali: MS Admit to University of California, Berkeley

Zamin Ali will be joining University of California, Berkeley this fall.

DoJMA: Why did you opt for pursuing an MS, in the face of the multitude of options available such as MBA, the GATE or any other choice? At what stage of your undergraduate study did you decide on doing an MS? 

ZA: I was amongst those shortlisted for the ISB YLP program and had the option of writing either GRE or GMAT. The primary reason for choosing to appear for GRE was that GRE works as an acceptable entrance test for both, MS as well as MBA and it is also cheaper as compared to GMAT. I was quite clear that I would do MBA after some work experience since I believed that MBA is like a trump card which one can leverage to go back to studying or change profession. As far as GATE is concerned, it is my personal opinion that doing Masters from IIT or even IISc doesn’t add significant value to the profile of those who graduated from BITS or the likes of it. Hence, I had to choose between taking up a job after BE, pursuing MBA or pursuing Masters.

DoJMA: Which branch will you be graduating in from this University?

ZA: I will be graduating in Masters in Chemical Engineering with specialization in Product Development from University of California, Berkeley. This course aims to fulfill a niche area between technical and management specialization.

DoJMA: Which universities did you apply to and from which universities did you receive admits?

ZA: Among the US universities, I had applied to MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, University of Michigan and Texas A&M. Outside the US, I had applied to NUS, Singapore. My top preferences were MIT, Berkeley and Stanford. Unfortunately, I didn’t get into MIT and Stanford is too expensive. So Berkley was the optimum choice. I also got a direct PhD at NUS, Singapore with full scholarship and monthly stipend and also an admit from Texas A&M.

DoJMA: What was the thought process while shortlisting universities for the purpose of sending your application?

ZA: I wanted to go to a University with a very good brand name, high QS ranking, and study a course that was somewhere between technical and managerial course. When it comes to applying for admission, I had decided to apply to six Universities in total and distributed them as 2 Safe Schools, 2 Medium and 2 ambitious schools.

DoJMA: Which factors did you consider while choosing University of California, Berkeley from the ones you were accepted in?

ZA: I chose Berkley because of three main reasons:
1). The program at Berkeley is exactly what I wanted to study (chemical engineering + finance)

2). Being a state University, Berkeley is relatively less expensive and it is easy to obtain a TAship (Teaching Assistantship) or RAship (Research Assistantship).

3). According to QS ranking, when it comes to Chemical Engineering, Berkeley was second only to MIT and since I didn’t get MIT, Berkeley was logically the next choice.

DoJMA: How did you build your profile to suit the requirements of the university?

ZA: I believe there are 5 important attributes for building a strong profile:

1). GradesNo matter how clichéd it sounds but “Grades Matter!” Grades have the power to cast a doubt on your application no matter how good you are in other things. I ensured that I had an A grade in all my Chemical and Finance CDCs and remained Department Topper till I took a Semester break for thesis in NUS Singapore.

2). PORs: Have at least 1 Position of Responsibility. It shows leadership skills and a willingness to work and help others, both of which are qualities that Universities desire in their students. Having a POR in your field of interest will definitely help in getting shortlisted. As far as my PORs are considered, I was the President of Chemical Department and the Economic Advisor of Wall Street Club.

3). Projects: Projects display your interest in the field and help you share a great story especially while writing your SOPs. In my 3-2 I worked on a project on “Characterization of Process Stream in Refinery Systems” Our project was funded by BPCL for 3 crores so that was boon for my application.

4). InternshipsGain some exposure in the field you want to work in. I interned at Century Rayon, Deloitte, World Quant and am currently interning at Nomura.

5). X-Factor: Almost all the students applying to top Universities will fulfill all the criterion mentioned above. It is what you do in addition to these that actually matters. I believe receiving a funded thesis at NUS Singapore, clearing World Quant, graduating early and working for an NGO helped me in standing out. 

DoJMA: What were the strong points of your SOP, in your opinion, and what was your CGPA before applying?

ZA: I think I had a good story to tell that highlighted my areas of strength and connected all my achievements well. My CGPA before applying was 9.35. 

DoJMA: How will you rank each of these, in increasing order of importance, for an admit to a coveted university: a) CGPA, b) GRE score, c) TOEFL score, d) LOR, e) SOP, f) projects and research work, g) extracurricular involvement such as a POR, h) good fortune

ZA: Good Fortune >> CGPA >> LOR >> Projects and Research Work >> GRE >> TOEFL>> POR

DoJMA: How did you receive the required guidance for GRE and TOEFL? When did you write each of these exams? Which sources did you use for the preparation of these exams?

ZA: I wrote my GRE and TOEFL in Singapore in my 4-1. For GRE I suggest going through Princeton Review followed by Official ETS Guide and then moving on to Manhattan 5lb. For TOEFL, as such, not much preparation is required. But Notefull videos can be of great help.

DoJMA: How did you get the necessary recommendations from the professors involved in your LORs?

ZA: I took two recommendations from Professors at BITS (Manjare Sir and Srinivass Sir) and one more from my guide Prof I.A. Karimi at NUS, Singapore.

DoJMA: Why did you choose to obtain an MS degree directly instead of obtaining some job experience beforehand?

ZA: That’s a really tough question… but I think going for Masters directly will help me since I am still in the ‘Student mode’ of studying and going to classes. Also, I feel that if I enter into the corporate world now, I would be too focused on building my career and will find it difficult to leave and go back to School.

DoJMA: Did you factor in funding while applying to universities?

ZA: Yes, I factored in potential difficulties in education loans particularly while applying to Safe Schools.

DoJMA: How did you arrange for accommodation near your university?

ZA: I will be sharing a 2 BHK flat with 4 other students from India who are going to Berkeley. I met them through a common WhatsApp Group and asked seniors for their help with accommodation. 

DoJMA: Any message that you would like to pass on to the readers?

ZA: Attend lectures, be honest and work hard towards your goal slowly and steadily and everything should fall in place. All the Best!