A self-profile evaluation – Where do you stand?
One of the most common questions I get asked and see on forums is – please evaluate my profile, or need a profile evaluation, followed by scores and details. In this post, I shall try to give you a sense of how to evaluate yourself. Still, please remember, in the end, the only “profile evaluation” that matters is that of the graduate program admissions committee. In 2020, the U.S. received over 3,50,000 Master’s applications from international students (CGS Report). Indians and Chinese make up the majority of international applicants. Of the 819,426 graduate applications received in 2019, 43% were from China, and 25% were from India. Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Iran are some of the other major countries from where graduate applicants are from. There were over 1.2 million U.S. Citizen (domestic) applications in 2019, taking the total number of applications received to about 2.1 million. This data is from 561 U.S. Graduate Schools that participated in the 2019 CGS/GRE Survey of Graduate Enrollment.
I will largely exclude domestic applications in this post since an international applicant largely competes with other international applicants due to official and logistical restrictions such as visas, quotas, etc. Now, of the total international applications, universities gave only 31% an offer of admission. This essentially translates to the fact that you have to be among the top 30% of international applicants to have a good chance of receiving an offer of admission.
Of course, the competition is not spread equally. To further understand where you stand, it is important to consider your field of study. The top three fields were Mathematics and Computer Science (26%), Engineering (24%) and Business (13%). Hence your field of study is the first major consideration, and, the program’s acceptance rate.
The next crucial indicator is your GRE score. Although the GRE requirement varies by program, having a good score will always help. The question becomes, what score is good enough?
The following table highlights average GRE scores:
People largely consider a GRE score of 320 and higher to be very good, which is indeed the case after considering the scores presented in the table. However, anything between 310 -320 is good as well and can get you admission from top programs (see some real profiles at the end of the post). Graduate programs certainly use the applicant’s scores in the selection process. For instance, let’s look at the average or recommended GRE scores that some universities mention on their websites.
|University||Rank (USA)||Rank (World)||Overall||Verbal||Quantitative||AWA||UG GPA|
|University of Virginia||40||226||316||156||160||3.5||3.3+|
|North Carolina State University*||67||300||317||154||163||3.5||3.3+|
|University of North Texas**||111-120||1001-1200||307||151||156||4.5||3.5|
Very evidently, the average scores decrease with the university rank. Scores certainly vary by department, and one should check their department of interest for the most accurate scores. Applicants often do not emphasise the Analytical Writing Section, which is a part of the GRE test.
The above tables are just to give an idea of the spread of scores of applicants who have received admission. If your GRE score is lower than what the university recommends but is higher than the minimum requirements, you are certainly eligible to apply. There are many other factors that go into selecting your list of universities, which I will cover in my free workshop – Graduate Program Applications 101.
You might have noticed the undergraduate G.P.A. scores in the table, which brings me to the next part of your profile – academic performance, which is of utmost importance. The U.S. provides scores on a 4.0 scale; hence the numbers presented are in that range. Of course, the scoring methods in India are different, which is acknowledged by universities. There are ways to convert and check your Indian scores on a 4.0 scale, such as W.E.S. Admissions Committees place a lot of weight on your academic performance to get a sense of whether you can perform in the graduate program. The reputation of your undergraduate university has some weightage too. Students with backlogs and low G.P.A.s must make up through other aspects of their profile, such as professional experience, SOP and LORs.
Professional Experience and Letters of Recommendation
33% of GRE takers in 2019 (that responded to the question) had less than a year of full-time professional (work) experience. Most fields of study do not expect applicants to have extensive full-time work experience. However, those wanting to study an M.B.A. report 22% with less than a year, 20% with 1-2 years and 19% with 3-4 years. Those with work experience, including internships, should keep the following in mind:
- Work experience at large and well-known companies has a huge impact
- Experience at relatively lesser-known companies or start-ups also has tremendous value, but one must explain their role(s) and responsibilities well.
Professional experience matters for a profile evaluation, because one learns much more than what a master’s program offers – teamwork, management and organizational skills, industry-relevant technical skills, troubleshooting, interpersonal skills, new perspectives – just a few that add a lot of value to your profile. These are especially valuable when applicants are asked for an interview or when you discuss opportunities with professors. In summary, professional experience, even internships, matter and add direct and indirect value to your overall profile. One of the major indirect value additions of work experience comes from strong references – the Letter of Recommendations (LORs). Although LORs are extremely important, they can be quite subjective and will be part of a future post.
Statement of Purpose (SOP)
Next, I shall briefly go over the part of your application that ties several components of your profile – the Statement of Purpose (SOP). I have prepared a list of guidelines to write a high-quality SOP, which you must refer to. These guidelines have been compiled from several sources, including what top universities recommend. What exactly can your SOP do to improve your profile? A lot! It allows you to explain your story, motivations, obstacles, failures, vision, and how you can contribute to the program, university and the field. Think of it as the script of an interview.
A strong SOP can uplift your entire profile and may even make up for below-average academic performance. If you are switching fields, as I did, the SOP is your opportunity to elaborate on the reasons for the switch. How can you judge whether your SOP is good or not? Ask people, but don’t just limit it to a few friends or seniors who have received admission from some universities. Take the help of a professional, or a professor, as they know from years of experience, instead of your peers with maybe 1-2 years of experience. You could even use tools such as Grammarly to improve all your writing, as it checks and suggests improvements to your words, sentences, tone, and of course, grammar! Even in my short span of three years as a part-time consultant, I have read, written and edited over 60 unique SOPs. I am offering a paid (only ₹199) workshop in which I will dive deep into what a high-quality SOP requires, with examples and some group work. Do consider attending!
The resume/CV isn’t essentially a part of your profile, but is nonetheless a major part of your application. I have created a resource section on how a high-quality resume should be, with freely downloadable templates that even MIT recommends. The reviewer will take about a minute or two to look through your resume, so it should be sharp, concise and very well organized.
To summarise, I have gone over the key components for you to do a self profile evaluation – a broad assessment of the competition, field of study, GRE, GPA, professional experience, LORs and the SOP. The first five are quite objective, and you can easily judge where you stand in terms of numbers. The latter two are subjective, but there are several ways to make the LOR and SOP your strengths. A few examples (me and a few select previous clients) are provided below:
Rubin Sagar (2015)
GRE: 317 (164Q, 153V, 4.5 AWA)
UG Field: Mechanical Engineering
UG GPA: 8.96/10 (3.87/4.0 WES Conversion)
Professional Experience: 2 summer internships, one at Chennai Metro Rail, one at Mahindra & Mahindra
Admissions Received (Natural Resources and Management/Environmental Engineering):
- University of Michgian – Ann Arbor
- Duke University
- University of Pennsylvania
- Carnegie Mellon University
- University of California – Santa Barbara
- State University of New Yok – Buffalo (PhD)
Arundhati Tewari (2019)
UG Field: Environmental Engineering
UG GPA: 8.81/10 (3.6+/4.0 estimated)
Professional/Research Experience: 3 research internships in India (CPCB, CSE, IIT-B), 1 research internship at the University of British Columbia, research assistant at DTU.
Admissions Received (Civil and Environmental Engineering):
- University of Toronto (Full Scholarship)
- University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
- University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign
- Columbia University
- Cornell University
- ETH Zurich
Ujwal Zore (2020)
GRE: 315 (167Q, 148V, 3.0 AWA)
UG Field: Chemical Engineering
UG GPA: 8.24/10 (3.3+/4.0 estimated)
Professional/Research Experience: Undergraduate research experience at NIT Warangal, ICT Mumbai, Kagoshima University, Japan; 3 publications and 1 conference
Admissions Received (Chemical Engineering):
- University of Waterloo (Full Scholarship)
- University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Purdue University
- University of Texas – Austin
Partha Mukherjee (2021)
GRE: 315 (164Q, 153V, 4.5 AWA)
UG Field: Information Technology
UG GPA: 7.26/10 (3.0+/4.0 estimated)
Professional Experience: 4 years at well-known multinational companies
Admissions Received (Data Science/Business Analytics):
- Michigan State University
- University of Minnesota
- University of Cinncinnati
- Purdue University
- University of Wisconsin – Madison
Ananya Das (2021)
UG Field: Computer Science Engineering
UG GPA: 8.46/10 (3.3+/4.0 estimated)
Professional/Research Experience: 4 years at well-known multinational companies
Admissions Received (Computer Science):
- University of California – Santa Cruz
- University of Texas – Dallas
- Iowa State University
- New York University
- State University of New York – Buffalo
Key self-profile evaluation takeaways
- If your GRE and UG GPA scores are above average, or well above average, have a good chance of receiving admission from wisely chosen programs.
- Relevant professional experience will improve your overall profile.
- Your Resume, SOP and LORs are equally important, and high-quality documents will improve your profile. Poorly written statements and bland recommendations should be avoided.
- I have not included the English Proficiency Tests (TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo, etc.) as those are standard requirements and usually a scoare above the minimum mrequired is good enough. However, higher is always better.
- Do not take profile evluations by peers, seniors or random people on Facebook seriously. Go to a professional. If you are sick do you ask random people for cures or would you go to a doctor?