DoJMA caught up with Pranav Palande, a final year Computer Science student, who is on his way to GeorgiaTech to pursue his Masters in Computing Systems. Catch Pranav share his experience, tips on preparing and his work thus far.
- Why did you choose to pursue an MS over other options (other post-grad options/work)?
I was always inclined towards pursuing a long-term career in tech, so I never considered pursuing an MBA. Doing a masters degree and working were good options for me. However, I wanted to do more research and finish some projects before diving into the industry so I opted to study further. Pursuing an M. Tech in India was also a good option, but I really wanted to experience academic culture in the USA.
- When did you decide that this (doing an MS) was your calling?
My 3-1 semester was pivotal for me. I enjoyed my regular courses and was also able to make good progress in my projects. I thoroughly enjoyed this whole journey. This motivated me to go for masters after my undergrad.
- Which area of Computer Science would be the focal point of your studies?
My specialization at GeorgiaTech will be in Computing Systems. My previous work involved Distributed Systems and I want to pursue the same in the future.
- How did you receive the required guidance for GRE and TOEFL?
I prepared for GRE and TOEFL on my own.
- Which sources did you use for the preparation of these exams?
For GRE, I primarily used the Official ETS guides and glanced through the Manhattan Review book. I practised for GRE essays from the ETS list which can be found on the official website. I improved my vocabulary with the help of a Mobile App called WordsApp.
For TOEFL, I studied with the help of a YouTube video series called Notefull. It was quite useful and surprisingly comprehensive.
- From which academic year/semester did you start preparing for these?
I started preparing for GRE right after my 3-2. I started preparing for TOEFL 10 days before my exam.
- When did you sit for each of these exams? How do you think one must typically space them out?
I gave my GRE in the last week of June and TOEFL in the third week of July. It is better to appear for both these tests before July since you can repeat either of the tests if you are not happy with your score. It is advisable to keep a space of two weeks between these two tests.
- How did you get the necessary recommendations from the professors involved in your LORs?
My first LOR was given by my advisor during my thesis in 4-1. I had worked with him for six months at the time of applying. My second one was from a professor from BITS under whom I worked for three semesters, did an assistantship (TA) and two courses. My third one was from another BITS professor under whom I did an assistantship and a course.
Please tell us the criterion you had in mind while
- Shortlisting which universities to apply to.
I researched on various universities from the different ranking websites. I applied to only those universities which have a strong Distributed Systems group. I applied to a healthy mix of ambitious, moderate and safe colleges. Location was also an important factor I considered. I applied heavily to universities in California because of the myriad of industry opportunities available there. Also, I was unwilling to go to a place which was too cold.
- Selecting your university of choice.
I got admits from GeorgiaTech and the University of Southern California. The former was the better choice because of several factors like better ranking, a more aggressive course structure and availability of funding.
Groundwork & Profile Building
- How did you build your profile to suit the requirements of the university? What were the strong points of your SOP, in your opinion, and what was your CGPA before applying?
The key to building any profile is showing good grades and good research. In view of the same, I tried to maintain decent grades and continue research concurrently. In my opinion, my resume, my projects and my SOP were extremely coherent and complemented each other well. This helped me express a strong intent to pursue masters. My CGPA at the time of applying was 8.76.
- What were some of the projects you did (within and outside college)? How did they help you secure your admission?
I started working on a project under a BITS professor since my 2-2. This project was a canonical implementation of a blockchain framework. My partner and I also implemented a test bench which measured interesting properties of the framework. I was able to make good progress in the project and published my work at a notable conference. I continued this project for about three semesters. My next project was at my thesis in the domain of Distributed Graph Processing. My job was building an API which could implement and test distributed graph algorithms on the water network of Bangalore.
- Could you tell us (in detail) about the internships you’ve done before? How did they help boost your credentials?
My first internship was my PS1. Although the work allotted to me was good, I could not contribute significantly due to the time constraints. My next internship was my thesis at IISc, Bangalore. This opportunity helped me understand the intricacies of research. The professor I worked under was reputed in the US, so his recommendation was invaluable for my applications.
- How will you rank each of these, in increasing order of importance, for an admit to a coveted university: CGPA, GRE score, TOEFL score, LOR, SOP, Projects and research work, Extracurricular involvement such as a PORs, etc., Good fortune
CGPA > LOR=SOP > Projects/Research > Good Fortune > GRE > TOEFL > Extracurricular activities.
- Did you factor in funding while applying to universities?
To be honest, I did not factor in funding while shortlisting my universities.
- What are some scholarship schemes available for funding?
There are a few masters programs which guarantee funding. However, these are extremely rare and quite competitive. I am not aware of any good scholarship scheme for funding a Masters. For a PhD, you will receive funding more often than not.
- How did you arrange for accommodation near your university?
My senior at BITS was vacating his place at GeorgiaTech and needed someone to take over the place. It worked out surprisingly well for me.
- If you could have done something differently, what would it have been?
I could have done a lot of things differently. Firstly, I did not have a fall back for my LORs which left me in quite a pickle at one point of time. My SOP was complete in a haste only a few days before my deadline which should have been ready at least a month before. Also, I used ranking websites to classify universities as ambitious, moderate or safe which was a very bad idea. To put things into perspective, I got an admit from a university ranked 8th and a reject from one ranked 30th. A better approach would have been to talk to seniors admitted to these colleges and have your profile evaluated from them.
- Any message that you would like to pass on to the readers?
Your grades matter more than you think. Collaborate with different professors in your department and have fun in your projects. Apply for internships aggressively. The applications’ journey is long and tedious, but in the end, it is totally worth it!