One factor to boost an international applicant’s profile for top graduate programs

Every year, from July onwards, such posts by prospective master’s applicants flood social media groups:


GRE: 330 (Q: 168, V: 162, AWA: 4.5)

IELTS: 7.5 (R:8, S:7.5, W:7.5, L:8)

CGPA (VIT University, Vellore Campus): 8.85, Computer Science

1.5 years of work experience at Amazon India

2 internships at major IT companies in India

3 publications in international journals/conferences with college (VIT) faculty

Is my profile strong enough for MS in CS programs at US universities in the top 30 with financial aid?

Seems like a strong profile, right?

Ummm, not exactly. Such a “macro” profile (assuming well-written statements and excellent recommendations) would unlikely be strong enough for this applicant’s target programs, especially in the post-COVID era.

There are hundreds of Indian applicants with brilliant “profiles,” similar to the one above. However, it truly breaks my heart to see such hard-working applicants receive a pile of rejections. Even if they manage to receive offers of admission from a couple of great programs, there’s no financial aid, and hence, the tuition fees alone can amount to over INR 50 lakhs for the entire program.

Since the time I applied (back in 2015), consultancies would suggest prospective master’s applicants focus more on improving their GPA, studying hard for a 330+ GRE, or even getting a couple of publications out. While these are relatively good pieces of advice, cracking the most selective programs simply needs more.

Let’s consider another applicant’s “macro” profile:

GRE: 324 (Q: 167, V: 157, AWA: 4.5) – A far more achievable score

IELTS: 7.5 (R: 7.5, S: 8, W: 8, L: 7.5) – Comparable to the previous applicant

CGPA (Delhi Technological University): 8.9 till the 6th semester, Computer Science – Comparable to the previous applicant

No full-time work experience – Big difference

1 publication in an international journal, 1 in a conference proceedings

4-month internship with a research group based at the University of Florida, USA (first publication) – Big difference 

6-month remote internship with a professor at the University of Hong Kong (conference) – Big difference

This applicant is far more likely to receive offers of admission from at least a few computer science master’s programs considered within the top 30, and even more likely to receive some financial aid upfront. Why? If it wasn’t obvious yet, the key difference between the two profiles is the set of international experiences, which is the “x-factor” that made the second applicant stand out or have an edge over most other applicants. 

Having been a higher education consultant for the past 5 years, I’ve found that applicants with such first-hand international experience tend to receive admission from their top preference universities, typically considered “ambitious” or “dream” universities. From chemical engineering to computer science and even literature, the data certainly indicates that highly selective universities (depending on the field, but typically including big name universities such as the Ivy League universities, public universities such as the University of California campuses, the University of Michigan, Georgia Tech, the University of Texas at Austin, Purdue University, etc.) value such exposure. Although this article largely describes the advantages of international exposure broadly as research, even semester exchanges or full-time work experience has proven to benefit such applicants I have had the privilege of working with.

There are 5 key reasons why I believe such applicants tend to see more success in graduate program applications:

1. Garnering experiences closer to “home”, i.e., the destination country:

By working with professors and students at big-name universities, such applicants gain first-hand experience that is typically more advanced and rigorous than most universities in India. This is irrefutable proof of skills, a familiarity with the culture, and higher quality research outcomes, which admissions and faculty consider important. 

In fact, I once worked with an applicant who mentioned that one of their professors of interest (in a major Canadian university) was seeking students who could operate specific instruments (besides other desirable qualities of a strong student). The applicant had extensive experience with those instruments through a summer internship at a major university in Canada, which helped them receive admission and a spot in the professor’s research group.

2. The potential of gaining powerful recommendation letters:

Going abroad for a brief internship, working diligently, and impressing your supervisor will quite likely help you secure a strong recommendation letter. Such recommendations are vital in highly competitive fields, and can potentially tip the decision in your favour!

Further, in my experience, people abroad are generally less likely to compromise on ethical factors (backing out at the last minute, copying portions from another recommendation, etc.) when providing recommendations. This further bolsters the impact of their recommendation.

3. Evidence of drive, commitment, and ability:

The offer to work with a professor and their research group, or an organization based abroad comes after much effort. For advertised or structured programs, there’s always fierce competition. Getting through demonstrates several positive and desirable qualities.

For positions that are not advertised, a candidate who approaches faculty and manages to receive an offer to work also demonstrates drive and commitment to developing as a researcher and in their field. Why would the professor choose an international candidate over someone from their university? There must be something appealing about the candidate!

4. Networking and collaborations:

International research or internship programs provide opportunities to meet and collaborate with experts in one’s field. This can include international researchers, industry professionals, and other graduate students from around the world. These connections can be valuable for future career development, which can then enhance the applicant’s profile.

5. Communication:

Ever heard of that student returning with an accent after a 2-month internship? Jokes aside, it certainly is proof of better communication. When I was a graduate student, I came across professors who would urge certain students with thick regional accents to work on their accents. It’s not racism; you can’t expect the professor to try and understand your accent without you putting in some effort to change it.

Besides, communication is also about non-verbal cues, cultural factors, written deliverables, and more. There’s no doubt that some experience abroad helps with improving your overall communication.

In conclusion, if you plan to apply to highly competitive programs, gaining international professional or academic exposure can be an incredibly strong factor. However, a relevant and solid background, top-notch academic and professional performance, demonstrating a clear fit with the program, and clarity in terms of how the graduate degree will dovetail with your career goals remain paramount in your application.

Disclaimer: The profiles included in this post are made-up examples, but they reflect very similar profiles of real applicants the author has worked with. Although the example profiles are for students with a background in computer science, the post is generally applicable to several competitive STEM fields.


Networking tips for international graduate students in 2023

Finding a job in 2023 for international graduate students will be tough, probably tougher than you expect.

Networking is your best bet at getting ahead of the competition.

Here are 7 tips on building an enduring network and becoming unforgettable, collated from successful past students:

1. Go out of your way to meet people:
If you solely rely on career and job fairs, which practically everyone else attends, you’re not going to make much headway. Show up at events repeatedly, even at other departments, or other universities in your city.

2. Be active in student and professional organizations:
Such communities will open the door to a broader diversity of people, and lead to more nodes to potential connections.

3. Build a digital professional profile:
Make it easier for people (prospective connections and employers) to find you and know more about your strengths through platforms such as LinkedIn, YouTube, GitHub, etc.

4. Prepare a 30-second elevator pitch:
Practice a few versions of a 30-second elevator pitch to introduce yourself. You never know when the opportunity might arise!

5. Don’t jump to what you want, first listen to what they want: Many make the mistake of jumping right away to “Hey I’m looking for jobs. Please help me.” Let the person talk, and offer to contribute however possible.

6. Learn about and use cultural specifics to your advantage: Cultural or regional elements can be a massive area to connect at a deeper level with people. For instance, connecting through a popular sport, regional traditional festivals or even outdoor activities.

7. Send a follow-up email:
The contact you met with must’ve met 20 people that week. Remind them about your interaction, and thank them for giving you time! It’s the least you can do, and also a powerful way to be memorable. Here’s a follow-up email example:

Dear Mr. Hartford,

Thank you for taking the time to meet me yesterday. I appreciate you speaking about your career experiences, and your interest in learning about my career goals and background.

I gained a few key insights about the steps I need to take over the next year or so to progress in my own career. I really found the bouncing of ideas with you helpful.

I also wanted to thank you for connecting me with Jane, and we’re scheduled to meet on Tuesday. I would love to keep in touch with you as my plans take shape.

Once again, I appreciate your time.

Rubin Sagar

If you found this helpful, please consider supporting me by buying me a coffee 🙂 Thank you!


ATS friendly resume – Build yours now!

An ATS friendly resume is a must in 2022. If you apply for a job or upload your resume through an online portal, your application will most likely pass through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). There are several ATSs that are becoming increasingly popular, even in smaller companies.

What exactly is an ATS? It is a system that recruiters and HR use to track applicants, as the name suggests. Here’s a great post written by a recruiter about how they use an ATS.

I read 50 articles (which I have linked at the end of this post, including the top 5) and online posts to better understand how you – as a job applicant or job seeker – may overcome the hurdle of being screened by an ATS.

However, remember that it isn’t all robots and computers. People always review applications and your resume. Even with the so-called ‘knockout questions’, your application cannot be hidden from the person using the ATS – which is a legal requirement. A person makes the decision to invite an applicant for an interview.

ATS friendly resume

The best practices you must follow to build an ATS friendly resume

Here are some of the suggestions that came up repeatedly in the 50 articles that will certainly result in an ATS friendly resume.


Use keywords from the job posting you wish to apply for in your resume. Some of the keywords that recruits look for (or feed the ATS) are degrees, names of majors, names of universities, and usually testable hard skills such as tools, software or technical abilities the job needs.

However, keywords in context are crucial. Include these in the description of your experience, within the bullet points. You may also add a ‘Skills’ section with relevant hard skills. Definitely do not include skills that you have not implemented or used in a long time.

Keywords help your resume rank higher (in ATS where rankings are possible) and may place you ahead of applicants with better qualifications. Similarly, highly competent applicants who do not include keywords may miss out on a fantastic opportunity!

Do not try and fool the ATS by copy-pasting the entire job description or keywords in white. This won’t work, and you may even be blacklisted.

Do not stuff your resume with keywords or repeat keywords too many times.


‘Boring’ is the best! Stick to a simple format without any attempts to design or ‘beautify’ your resume. Forget purchasing resume templates. Here’s a great free downloadable template for pretty much any field/profession to get you started.

Include your full name, contact information and complete LinkedIn URL (or other relevant URL) at the beginning of your resume. Do not use a header or footer.

An ATS friendly resume should not have images, logos, tables, colourful text and must have a standard font (Calibri, Helvetica, Arial and Verdana are some excellent font styles. Apparently, one recruiter did not recommend using Times New Roman). Use font sizes 10-12.

Enter information in chronological order – begin from the most recent.

Use simple and commonly used section headings – Education, Work Experience/Professional Experience, Research Experience, Skills, Achievements, Extracurricular Activities, Interests, etc.

Never add ratings to your skills (such as dots, stars or even).

You may also include a ‘References’ section at the end, if needed.

Do not be too creative. When in doubt, ask a consultant.


Typos (especially in keywords) and grammatical errors will not get picked up by the ATS and look terrible.

Use your word processor’s spell check, or Grammarly.

Always spell out commonly used acronyms for words and names, and add the acronym where relevant. For example, Master of Science in Computer Science (instead of MS in CS), Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), search engine optimisation (SEO), etc.


Name your file appropriately; such as Fullname_resume_job_year (Rubin_Sagar_Resume_Consultant_2022.docx).

Save your file as .docx or .pdf.


Do not apply to hundreds of jobs with the same resume. Apply to jobs that you are most likely to be suitable for, and modify your resume according to each job opening.

Do not apply to too many jobs in the same organisation.

Align your LinkedIn profile with your resume. Recruiters look through your LinkedIn profile!


Here are a few resources that you can use to check your resume.

Good luck!


These are the top 5 links that I found to be useful.


The other 45 links.


Inversion Theory

Improve your Statement of Purpose from the get-go by applying the inversion theory.

Applying the Inversion Theory is a great way to start your thought process when writing a statement of purpose or personal statement for graduate programs. The simplest way of understanding this is that if you avoid the negatives, you will automatically implement at least some of the positives.

For instance, as a citizen of a nation, if you just avoid breaking laws, you will inadvertently be a good citizen. Similarly, if you avoid bad practices when writing a statement, you are directing it towards being a good statement. Here are some of the most common bad practices I have seen that an applicant must avoid (in no particular order, just avoid all of them), with a brief explanation for each.

1. Do not repeat the information in your resume/CV:

Applicants are often lost when writing and, unfortunately, rely on their CV for content. Such statements inevitably become an elaborated version of the CV, sometimes with exactly the same information. That introduces a lot of redundancy, and will not help your application at all.

2. Do not begin with a random childhood story:

“When I was four years old, I visited the Burj Khalifa and that is when I thought of becoming a civil engineer to build the next tallest building.” Or “Even since my childhood days, I have been fascinated by…”. If this sounds familiar, it is because such points are by far one of the most common, as well as a terrible mistake.

Faculty absolutely abhor reading statements that begin with such sentences, and even if the rest of the statement is good, the first impression was not, which matters. Such lines are often a major red flag that the applicant lacks creativity and strong writing skills.

3. Do not write an autobiography:

Similar to the first point, even if you are not repeating their CV, and if your statement is structured as if you were narrating your life up to the present, your statement will leave a poor impression. Again, that is not the information that reviewers seek. You may present certain relevant past experiences, but only in the context of your overall motivation.

4. Do not deviate from the prompt given in the application:

Some applications provide a prompt or a brief set of guidelines about what they want to see in the statement. Although prompts across programs largely ask for similar information, there may be certain nuances that you may have not come across earlier. Cover each point in the prompt in your statement, without fail.

5. Do not overly praise the programme/university:

When writing about the programme or university, do not go on and on about how it is highly ranked, globally reputed, has the best faculty, etc. Stick to the facts, and how the programme and you are a good fit for each other.

6. Do not use the same statement by just changing names:

Always make substantive modifications to your statement, especially when describing aspects of the program that attract you. You must align each statement with the requirements of the application to maximize the potential fit between you and the program. It is quite unlikely that you will get away with making minor changes to their statement.

One-on-one session on writing the SOP


I have edited and written over a hundred SOPs over the past five years. Applicants who chose me have received offers of admission from some of the best universities in the world across programs, from engineering to biology to fashion design. In this interactive one-on-one, 1-hour session, I will converge my experiences and knowledge from several sources and explain how you can improve your SOP. Straightforward, concise and effective!

Registration at ₹499 only!

7. Do not write vague general statements:

The statement has to be all about you. Avoid using valuable words on general content.

8. Do not discuss intricate details of your work in detail:

What you did matters in terms of goals and results achieved, but how you achieved your goals matters less. I come across statements going into excessive detail about certain projects or their concepts which is quite likely to bore the reader, if not annoy them, and it is safe to assume the faculty will know concepts (it is quite literally their livelihood).

9. Do not begin or end with a famous quote:

This is also an immensely common way of beginning statements. You are not achieving even the slightest by writing a quote, as opposed to the prevalent thought that you are beginning smartly. Only in extremely rare circumstances will a quote make sense. If you seem to have an irresistible urge to add a quote, write your own original quote.

10. Do not skip a description of your career goals:

Admissions committees want to know how their program will help your career, and will often encourage applicants to write about their career intentions. A good description will involve specific objectives in the short term and a potential direction for your career in the long term.

11. Do not be disrespectful at any point:

This may seem obvious, but I have come across statements in which the applicant ‘blamed’ their undergraduate department or faculty, in a demeaning tone for their poor academic performance. While that may be true, such information must be presented very differently. You should never talk about your institution or any individual disrespectfully. This leaves a poor impression of your character.

12. Do not add new information in the conclusion:

The conclusion should wrap key points of the SOP into a positive, short and reassuring (to the reader) paragraph. Adding new information will disrupt the purpose of the conclusion.

Now that you know what to avoid, learn what a high-quality statement should look like!


Getting Into a Good University With a Low GPA

Let’s face it, you have a low undergraduate GPA, and can’t change it. You may have questions such as, is that all that matters? Is it true that my prospects of getting into a graduate programme in the United States or Canada are slim? Do I have to settle for a program/university with a low reputation? Applying to graduate school with a low GPA can feel like getting lost in a forest.

The bad news is that your options will be limited, but hear me out. 

The good news is that a low GPA is not the end of your ambitions. It just comes with some conditions.

Let me begin with an example. A client of mine had a pretty low GPA, about 6.5/10 (which is about 2/4, possibly even lower, when converted). They also had a poor GRE score (below the global and Indian average) and submitted it. This person got into the University of Texas, Dallas and a couple of other pretty decent schools as well, and one program offered them a 30% scholarship!

I’ve been a consultant for a couple of years now, and have had clients receive admission from some of the world’s best universities globally. So I’m well aware that UT Dallas isn’t exactly a great university, relatively speaking. But it still has a lot going for it.

To shed some more light on the said applicant, they had also done an MBA with a pretty decent GPA. Some full-time work experience in a related field also helped. Of course, they also had excellent recommendations and a top-notch SOP (which I helped improve).

What can help offset a low GPA?

In this segment, I’ll break down what you can do, going over important parts of your application, if you have a poor GPA.

Before going ahead, you must understand your GPA and what really matters. Your overall GPA is important, but your GPA over the latter two years of your degree, or the combined GPA of core subjects (relevant to the graduate programme), is sometimes scrutinised more closely. If you did well in certain key courses but your GPA was dragged down by unrelated subjects or electives, or if you did poorly in your first year or early semesters, you can expect the admissions committee to cut you some slack. If, on the other hand, your academic performance was bad throughout your undergraduate degree, or you did particularly poorly in core/related areas, you will have to rely on other parts of your application.

It’s also possible that your undergraduate degree was in a different field and you intend to change fields/careers; you can mention this in your SOP.

1. The Statement of Purpose (SOP)

I have a detailed post on how to write a high-quality SOP. This part of your application becomes even more important if your GPA is poor – why? You can use the SOP to give an explanation about what it is that led to a poor GPA, or the decision to change fields, for example. Even if the above do not apply, a strong, well-written statement can really uplift your application.

If the application asks for a Personal Statement, the above information about explanations and changing fields should be included in it.

One-on-one session on writing the SOP


I have edited and written over a hundred SOPs over the past five years. Applicants who chose me have received offers of admission from some of the best universities in the world across programs, from engineering to biology to fashion design. In this interactive one-on-one, 1-hour session, I will converge my experiences and knowledge from several sources and explain how you can improve your SOP. Straightforward, concise and effective!

Registration at ₹2499 only!

2. Recommendation Letters (LORs)

Now, getting a recommendation can be tricky. Obviously, you would not want to ask the professor in a course that you failed or did poorly in to provide a recommendation. Try to convince a professor in the course(s) that you performed best, to provide a recommendation.

You could also rely on project/thesis advisors, or if you have some work experience, you could ask your boss or manager to provide a recommendation. Either way, ensure that the recommendation is from a person who knows you well, and can discuss your positives (with examples).

Of course, it is quite likely that your referee may ask you to provide a draft to them, in that case, I am happy to help you draft a recommendation that will certainly uplift your candidacy for any graduate program.

3. Full-time professional experience

Professional experience is not given the importance it deserves, among applicants. There is so much that one can gain by working – industry relevant technical skills, soft skills, project management, organization, money management, working with strict timelines, troubleshooting, etc. For an applicant with an average or poor GPA, relevant full-time work experience can really get you some massive brownie points! I have had clients with an average GPA but 2 years+ of professional experience get incredible offers of admission.

A job/role that is relevant to what you want to study in the future, at a reputed organization has the most value. Working at a lesser-known company or a startup also has tremendous value, but you must present your role well, particularly in the resume and in the SOP (if it is being included in the SOP). Consider the following examples:

  • Pradeep says that he is the key person in leading testing and introduction of new products for a client, and has been working at a huge IT company for over three years. He has experience with using Python, SQL, AWS, and has extensive experience in testing.
  • Ramona says that she independently handled scripting tasks for automation and development to test functions and triggers for a platform that has over a hundred thousand users, while improving efficiency by 18%. She also has experience with Python, Java, SQL, AWS and Docker. However, this was during a 2-month internship with a startup.

The work experience in both of the examples has value, but which one do you think leaves a more enduring impact? I reckon Ramona does, because she provides quantitative impacts (efficiency, number of users), while Pradeep severely underplayed his experience, despite having much more. This brings me to the next component of every applicant’s application package (and this goes far beyond graduate school) – the resume.

4. Research Experience

Many master’s programs, especially Master of Science (MS) programs prefer applicants with some research background and experience. Either an undergraduate thesis or research work at any point culminating in publications or conference presentations can significantly improve your profile.

The research will be the most impactful when a) your contribution is significant, that is, if you are one of the main authors, b) the ideas and questions you answer are currently relevant in your field of study, c) it is published in a reputed journal, d) it is accompanied by conference presentations, e) you can demonstrate a passion for the work in your application.

Further, master’s students with a research focus are preferred for graduate research assistantships and other financial aid.

5. International Exposure

In my experience as a consultant, applicants with international exposure, whether it is through summer internships, competitions, a semester abroad, etc., have an advantage. If you have a low or below-average GPA, but some international exposure, definitely highlight that in your application.

6. Resume

Your resume will always be one of the most important parts of future career-related applications. I have a detailed post on writing a standard high-quality resume and a free downloadable MS Word file too. Despite being a key component of your applications, reviewers will spend under a minute skimming through your resume. This explains why Ramona’s experience will leave an excellent impression – numbers. And yes, they will notice your GPA. Never make the horrendous mistake of not mentioning your GPA!

7. GRE/GMAT score

Lastly, a good GRE/GMAT score, and by good I mean an excellent score, may just be your saving grace. Although the GRE/GMAT score may not be given much weightage in some programs (varies depending on the program), a really strong GRE score, where it matters, might still keep you in the race.

Is your low GPA really all that matters?

In conclusion, a lower-than-average GPA is not the end of your graduate school dreams! It is just one part of your application, and admissions committees always view the application holistically when selecting applicants. Now, that being said, if your transcripts are ridden with backlogs and consistently low grades, you should reconsider going abroad, enrol in a post-graduate program in your home country (as the person in the above example did), and work for a while and do well in that! These are just a couple of many strategies.

Identify your strengths. If you have good GRE/GMAT scores, or extensive/focused work experience at a well-known company, if you have research experience and publications, or something else, highlight those at every opportunity. Play according to your strengths, and you may increase your chances multi-fold.

One factor to boost an international applicant’s profile for top graduate programs
Every year, from July onwards, such posts by prospective master’s applicants flood …
Networking tips for international graduate students in 2023
Finding a job in 2023 for international graduate students will be tough, …
ATS friendly resume – Build yours now!
An ATS friendly resume is a must in 2022. If you apply …
Inversion Theory
Improve your Statement of Purpose from the get-go by applying the inversion …

If you found this helpful, please consider supporting me by buying me a coffee 🙂 Thank you!

Need help applying for the next Spring or Fall intake?

Begin your graduate school journey with RBN Education Consulting.


Best Affordable Cities for Tech Jobs in the US

Tech city USA

For a long time, the United States has been regarded as one of the best countries for tech jobs. Businesses and professionals from all over the world flocked to enter the tech industry, which arguably exploded in the 1990s. With the total market capitalisation of the MMAANG businesses (Meta, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) reaching over $8 trillion USD (over 3 times India’s GDP in 2020), technology is more appealing than ever. Hundreds of unicorn (1 billion+ value) tech start-ups exist just in the United States.

Thousands of students and early-career professionals from all over the world, particularly India and China, seek to study and work in tech in the United States. As a higher education consultant, well over half of the requests I receive are related to computer science. An increasingly common question that I get is – does location matter (when selecting CS programs/universities)? The answer is an emphatical yes.

In this article, I look at ten of the best affordable cities outside California (in no particular order), with universities in or nearby, for a fantastic career in technology. Yet, bear in mind that your talents, network, and outreach have a considerably higher impact on where you get offers and how many you get. It’s possible to think of location as an external element that can play in your favour.

Since the Bay Area (California) is the hub for technology-oriented companies, I have drawn comparisons in terms of income (equivalent to $200,000 in San Francisco) and costs of living, using a tool offered by CNN.

10. Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore ranks 17th on CompTIA’s list, and the city neighbours Washington, D.C. (11th on CompTIA’s list). The city’s biggest advantage is lower prices – both for companies looking to expand, as well as for residents. It also offers the advantage of being close to several US government headquarters.

Equivalent Income: $113,000

Top universities in and around Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University (In the top 50 CS programs in North America) University of Maryland, College Park (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)

9. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh’s tech jobs scene has gloriously evolved over the past 2 decades. The big five and others such as Uber and Zoom are marking their presence in Pittsburgh. Start-ups such as Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based autonomous driving technology giant are contributing to the evolving tech scene in the city.

Equivalent Income: $106,000

Top universities in and around Pittsburgh:
Carnegie Mellon University (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)
The University of Pittsburgh (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)

8. Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill

Although two separate metropolitan areas, the “RDC” region is largely considered as one by North Carolinians. Raleigh ranks 3rd and Durham-Chapel Hill ranks 13th in CompTIA’s list of top 20 cities for IT jobs in the US. Companies such as IBM, Cisco, RedHat and numerous others have been hiring since 2019 in the RDC region.

Equivalent Income: $99,000

Top universities in and around RDC:
Duke University (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)
North Carolina State University, Raleigh

7. Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis is also major city in the Midwest, with a booming tech and startup scene. Massive companies such as Angie’s List and SalesForce have offices in Indianapolis, along with several upcoming startups.

Equivalent income: $94,000

Top universities in and around Indianapolis:
Purdue University, West Lafayette (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)
University of Indiana, Bloomington

6. Detroit, Michigan

Once the hub for auto in the world, Detroit has had a tough time. However, the city is making a comeback. Detroit is the second-largest city in the Midwest (behind Chicago), and the tech scene is shaping up well. The availability of tech jobs in Michigan has almost doubled since last year, which is very promising for Detroit.

Equivalent income: $105,000

Top universities in and around Detroit:
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Go Blue!) (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)
Michigan State University

5. Pheonix, Arizona

Similar to the Texan cities, Phoenix offers several advantages such as reduced regulations, low cost of living and improving talent while retaining all the advantages of a major US city. Further, according to EMSI, tech jobs have increased by 48% in Arizona, and are poised to go up. Zoom, one of the most popular online communication companies, plans to open an office here, as well as in the city at No. 9 in this list.

Equivalent income: $104,000

Top universities in and around Pheonix:
Arizona State University
University of Arizona

4. Austin, Texas

The fourth most populated city in Texas and one of the fastest growing major metros, Austin took the top spot in CompTIA’s list for tech professionals and businesses. Known as the “Silicon Hills”, Austin is attracting a lot of techies from the Bay Area, as well as giants such as Apple setting up new campuses, the city is certainly heading towards becoming as attractive as the Bay Area soon.

Equivalent Income: $104,000

Top universities in and around Austin:
University of Texas, Austin (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)
Texas A&M University, College Station (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)

3. Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Texas

Being one of the largest cities in Texas, DFW should definitely be on this list. Further, it rose to the No. 2 spot in the Computing Technology Industry Association’s (CompTIA) list for tech professionals and businesses.

Equivalent income:  $96,0000 (Fort Worth) – $111,0000 (Dallas)

Top universities in and around DFW:
University of Texas, Dallas
University of Texas, Arlington

2. Houston, Texas

Known as the “Silicon Bayou”, Houston is one of the most underrated cities for tech in the US, and is attracting a lot of growth. In fact, the city was rated second in the US for corporate growth and relocation. Giants such as Amazon are considering adding Houston to their hubs, which will create a lot of tech jobs.

Equivalent income: $98,000

Top universities in and around Houston:
Rice University (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)
Texas A&M University, College Station (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)

1. Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta is one of the country’s largest cities, and is often deemed the tech hub of the South-eastern US. MailChimp and Urjanet are a couple of massive tech companies which were born in Atlanta.

Equivalent income: $104,000

Top universities in and around Atlanta:
Georgia Institute of Technology (In the top 50 CS programs in North America)
University of Georgia

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Study Abroad Scholarships


If you are a woman, this post may be more useful for you, than for a man.

So you want to pursue higher education abroad. At this point, you must have an idea of the kind of tuition fees that universities charge. For example, an MS in Computer Science from the US (2-year program) would cost you $30,000 – $50,000. This will help you with more information about Computer Science programs in North America (the USA and Canada).

The scholarships/fellowships that I have covered here are mostly for studying in North America and provide at least $10,000. There are several other scholarships of $1,000 – $10,000 which you can find in some of the links at the end of this post.

For any assistance with writing the application materials for a scholarship, or your master’s application, please do contact me.

Scholarships for Women

American Association of University Women (AAUW):

With about 260 fellows and grantees in 2021-2022, AAUW offered $5 million in awards. By far, one of the most consistent in awarding students. Their international fellowship provides $18,000 – $30,000 (about ₹13 lakhs to ₹22 lakhs) as scholarships/fellowships to postgraduate students or post-doctoral candidates in the US.

Margaret McNamara Education Grants (MMEG):

Keeping the legacy of Margaret Craig McNamara, the MMEG awards up to $15,000 to self-identifying women (above 25 years of age) studying full-time in the US or Canada, from an eligible country.

Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O. International):

Awards up to $12,500 to women (except US citizens and permanent residents) working towards a graduate degree in the US or Canada.

Zonta International – Amelia Earhart Fellowship:

Awards up to $10,000 to women of any nationality in a PhD or doctoral program working in aerospace engineering or space sciences.

Adobe Women in Technology Scholarship:

Awards up to $10,000 to women (both undergraduate and masters) majoring in computer science, computer engineering or a related field. Also includes a one-year creative cloud subscription and an opportunity to intern at Adobe.

Society of Women Engineers (SWE)

Has numerous awards up to $10,000 for women (both undergraduate and masters) majoring in engineering, engineering technology and computer science. Awarded nearly $1,000,000 in 2020!

A Few General Scholarships/Fellowships

Fulbright Program:

Needs no introduction. Offers a range of fellowships for Indians to pursue education or research in the US.

Inlaks Shivdasani Scholarship:

The Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation offers scholarships and awards to bright young Indians in certain fields of study for graduate programs globally. The scholarship covers full tuition (and living expenses) upto $100,000, health insurance and a one-way travel allowance!

Google Lime Scholarship:

An initiative by Google and Lime Connect, the scholarship offers $10,000 or CAD 5,000 to students with a disability(ies) to pursue undergraduate or graduate study in n computer science, computer engineering or a degree in a closely related technical field.

Asian Cultural Council:

The Asian Cultural Council supports individual artists, scholars and art professionals in Asia through cultural exchanges between Asian countries and the US.

Some other (hopefully) useful links:

Thanks for reading! If you found this content useful and would like to support me in any way, you could use the following links to make regular Amazon purchases. Thank you!

Affiliate Links:

**Disclaimer: This page contains Amazon affiliate marketing links. If you are looking to buy any products on Amazon, please click on any of the links that have been provided at the end of this page (you can search for any product once redirected to Amazon). As this content is freely downloadable, I would really appreciate your support tremendously. Thank you!**

The following are certain products/services that students will definitely need for getting through graduate school!

(You can search for and buy any other product once the link redirects you to the Amazon India website)

Grammarly – The most advanced AI-based writing assistant to improve all your writing, as it checks and suggests improvements to your words, sentences, tone, and of course, grammar!

To excel in graduate school, you will need to upgrade your writing skills. I suggest reading any of the following books:
Write Tight (William Brohaugh)

Zen in the Art of Wriring (Ray Bradbury)

The Elements of Style (William Strunk Jr.)

On Writing Well (William Zinser)


Need any clarifications?

I am always ready to help.


University List

Everyone aspires to study in a good university in the USA or Canada, but very few actually know how to create a university list. What is good for you, may not be for a hundred others, and vice versa.

My process for creating a university list

The best way to create a list is by doing your own research. Thorough research. My way of shortlisting programs for clients takes deeper view of the longer term, rather than just receiving admission. My process usually includes the following steps:

1. The best way to begin creating a broad list is through rankings. If you have gone through my post or attended the GPA 101 workshop (which will be offered again from June 2022), you will know that university rankings can help you judge whether your scores are good enough or not. Do not rely too much on rankings, as they can be deceptive at times. Use it only to begin your broader search.

2. Judge universities based on the minimum and recommended/average undergraduate marks/GPA they mention, GRE/GMAT requirements (or average GRE score if mentioned), and acceptance rate. Avoid selecting a university if you do not meet their minimum requirements.

3. Your expectations must match what the program offers. For instance, if you are interested in a research-oriented career and want to build your research abilities, select a program accordingly. However, if you are interested in only upskilling yourself and transitioning to a better job, you would be more likely to receive admission to a professional program/degree.

4. Check the curriculum and courses offered, the flexibility to choose electives, dual degrees, etc.

5. For those interested in working in a corporate job after their masters, look for industry associations between the department companies. Go through services offered by the department’s or university’s career centre (or equivalent). Look for networking opportunities, events within and outside the campus that could get you closer to discovering and building associations with companies.

6. Attend an information session! A lot of programs have information sessions for prospective applicants, which are free. Some may even offer application fee waivers. This is your opportunity to understand how the program fits your objectives and much more.

7. Think about your experience during the masters. What kind of projects do you want to get involved with? Who do you want to work with? Go through research/work-while-study opportunities and make a list of groups and faculty that you like.

8. Consider tuition and living expenses. Every university provides an estimate of costs (without any financial aid), and these may vary considerably depending on the type of university, program, and location.

9. Consider financial aid opportunities such as assistantships. These are not offered by all programs and universities.

10. Get in touch with alumni and current students. You will be surprised at the insights you can gain by just chatting with a few other people. LinkedIn is a great way to reach out to others.

11. Consider the location in terms of your future career goals. Look for universities with easy access to cities and other hubs. And be smart about this. For example, read this post about emerging cities in the US for tech-related opportunities.

MS in Computer Science Programs (Spreadsheet)

Here’s a list of 150 top MS in Computer Science programs in North America with 12 crucial criteria such as GPA, GRE, TOEFL/IELTS, tuition fee, and much more. Get access to it now!

If you find this post useful, please do leave a like and share it! For any comments or clarifications, you can reach my WhatsApp at the end of this post.

The most important step in nailing your university list, that MOST applicants miss

Once you like a program, make sure to check faculty profiles. Do not shy away from writing to professors, alumni, and the admissions committee! Bear in mind though, that this approach is not for all fields of study, and the requirements/expectations from applicants vary by professor, degree (MS, Professional Degrees, MBA, PhD, etc.) and programme requirements. Carefully go through faculties’ websites and understand what is expected from applicants. Do not bombard a dozen professors with the same email asking for funding or an RA/TA position. If I have to explain why that is terrible, you really need to work on your soft skills. Having that said, even if you do not contact faculty before or during applications, you may be more likely to get a response after you have received an offer of admission. They are often sources of key information not mentioned anywhere else.

Writing to faculty is the single best way to nail your university list.

To help you learn about how to contact professors, I will draft an entire email FOR FREE, and provide several tips on writing emails to faculty.

Several of my clients have been able to secure a non-mandatory teaching assistantship or research assistantship, which not only covers their tuition but also pays a decent stipend!

What else to look for

Many universities have joint programs such as MS/MBA or MS/MPH, for example. Look for those too – two degrees for not too much more, or at the same tuition fee of one degree.

Again, look for the courses that are offered, explore the program website, familiarise yourself with the curriculum, and degree requirements. Ask yourself if those excite you. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good match between your goals and what the program offers. Don’t simply choose a university or program because it is something that is “trending” or you think it might lead to a good job. Follow your taste and passion.

Keep in mind a few don’ts

DO NOT choose certain universities that give i20s easily, have very low admission requirements, do not need an English Proficiency Test, etc. Avoid it even if there is a single red flag. If you are unsure about a university, look it up here.

Avoid the “ambitious, moderate, safe” method.

Avoid the “ambitious, moderate, safe” method. That method is inferior at the graduate level, in my opinion, and largely relies on the universities’ ranks. Using the ranks should just be your starting point and not the sole criteria. And even if followed, it should be the absolute last step, just to avoid under or overachieving.

Avoid choosing a professional program, just because it will work out to be cheaper. Many universities offer 1-year programs (mostly professional/executive programs, such as this at the University of Washington). Although they are cheaper overall, generally, their value is not as much as a 2-year program, especially if you have less or no prior work experience.

There is no website or “AI-based search engine” (yet, that I know of) that can match a few days of thorough research (as discussed above) to create a university shortlist. Avoid asking on Facebook or paying for any such tools.

The final selection

Make a list of 5-6 universities that you think are a good fit for you, after collating all the above information. By all means, apply to a couple of programs if you love them, but maybe a little out of your reach, but don’t be overambitious, or play it too safe!

Thanks for reading! If you found this content useful and would like to support me in any way, you could use the following links to buy stuff on Amazon or Grammarly. Thank you!

Affiliate Links:

The following are certain products/services that students will definitely need for getting through graduate school!

Grammarly – The most advanced AI-based writing assistant to improve all your writing, as it checks and suggests improvements to your words, sentences, tone, and of course, grammar!

One factor to boost an international applicant’s profile for top graduate programs
Every year, from July onwards, such posts by prospective master’s applicants flood …
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ATS friendly resume – Build yours now!
An ATS friendly resume is a must in 2022. If you apply …
Inversion Theory
Improve your Statement of Purpose from the get-go by applying the inversion …

Need any clarifications?

I am always ready to help.


Profile Evaluation

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.

You have to be among the top 30% of international applicants to have a good chance of receiveing 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:

CategoryOverall Verbal QuantitativeAnalytical Writing
Average GRE scores for 2018-2019 reported by ETS

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.

UniversityRank (USA)Rank (World)OverallVerbalQuantitativeAWAUG GPA
Stanford University233301621684.53.87
Duke University1352322158164N/A3.6
University of Virginia402263161561603.53.3+
North Carolina State University*673003171541633.53.3+
University of North Texas**111-1201001-12003071511564.53.5
An example of some average or recommended scores provided by the universities listed. These are just a few instances, and accepted scores vary by department. *Scores are representative of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department. **Scores are representative of the Computer Science and Engineering Department.

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.

A GRE score between 310-320 can get you admission from top programs.

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.

Undergraduate GPA

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:

  1. Work experience at large and well-known companies has a huge impact
  2. Experience at relatively lesser-known companies or start-ups also has tremendous value, but one must explain their role(s) and responsibilities well.

33% of GRE takers in 2019 had less than a year of full-time professional experience.

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.

Profile Examples

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)

GRE: 316

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?

Need any clarifications?

I am always ready to help.