Journey to the Foreign Land
“The struggle to leave the cocoon is what strengthens the butterfly’s wings so she can fly. I am about to become something beautiful.” — Tricia Stirling
I would like to share my journey to Masters , so that others can analyse and either follow or avoid any mistakes I may have made in my path. This is not a ‘I know all’ or ‘ Steps to’ blog but more like what I have experienced starting from day one.
Before starting my journey, I feel it’s important to highlight that MS journey is all about Patience, Money , Networking and Work Arounds.
I completed my BE and then due to lack of the above , went to secure job. But the constant nagging to learn what I am passionate about and maybe create a more secure future , ended me on this path once again. So here I was having having job that provided me with monthly salary, enough to atleast give me wings to dream of applying to International Universities. Money does play an important factor. If you have strong financial backing or sponsor , things would definitely be easy for you. So let me start listing all those places where you will cash out money -Application Forms ($ 50 — $70 per form), Sending your GRE($27 per Univ) and TOFEL($20 per Univ)scores via ETS, Courier of Transcripts/LOR/Degree Certificate, i20 amount(depends on the Univ), Visa fee(Rs. 12610), Sevis fee($ 350), Flight tickets( above Rs 70,000), House Rent( above $400 depending on the location), Groceries and Misc.
When I was thinking of MS, I was only aware that I need to take loan depending on my i20 amount, so all these pre shelling out money list would have also helped. Hence I have tried to mention it in brief over here. When I was sure I was going to pursue MS, I tried to prep for GRE and Tofel. Multiple resources are available https://www.bestcolleges.com/blog/best-gre-prep-books/ , Youtube videos by Notefull, etc (Google them 😁). Try giving free ETS practice test as it would give you idea on what score you may achieve and improve. Once I got my scores, I then segregate Universities based on scores, location, living expenses, courses provided as per your area of interest , professors. I would like to inform that I had enrolled in consultancy so they had helped me in all this. Now that means extra money again! So, one way to do so for free, is to check it on Yocket , https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/compare, https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2015 and if you have any contacts try getting advice from them too.
My consultant had provided me a list and as I said earlier I segregated it based on above parameters. Before applying to University, I had to get my Transcripts, Statement of Purpose(SOP) and Letters of Recommendation (LOR), Resume, Degree Certificate ready. As, you have to upload them in your application. I got my transcipts stamped from College Admission Office. They are mostly aware of transcript format and provide it to you. Once I got my sample Transcript doc. , I changed it according to my subject scores in every semester and got the prints officially stamped by college. You can also ask for one more copy and again get it stamped and sealed in envelop which is also stamped. I got my LOR from professor and Office Mentor. You may either give them drafted version and they can change as they deem fit or they can write it from scratch(Ideally this should be the case). Letter should be on the college letter head/ office letter head and signed by Recommender. My consultant had helped me draft SOP based on my college/office projects and skills acquired. Also my SOP stated how my aforementioned knowledge and expertise would be enhanced if I get offer to join their university. There are samples available on Google but I feel knowing how to draft them( based on some one who has already done it - say your seniors ) would definitely help you, instead of doing it alone. You need to get it reviewed by some one also. So here contacts do play an important role! Same went for my Resume.
Once I had all these prepared, I went to apply for my set of Universities. Generally every application included personal information, citizenship information, mailing address, emergency contact information, passport information, academic background, gre and tofel score, document upload. For LOR, I had to provide email address of my recommender and he was provided a link to upload LOR by the University. So I had checked what was the last date to apply and accordingly submitted my applications.
Now comes the most boring part — The Wait. It feels like Eons and Eons of waiting. Having applied around December , and waiting till April to get decisions from university is really frustrating. Mostly as March , April arrives most social media pages are flooded with post regarding acceptance, rejection and it unconsciously did contribute to my already not ending misery.
I had applied during Covid period so there was an extra pinch of pressure too. Generally you can defer your application to a later period( covid or non covid).When I had applied a lot of people had been a part of covid deferral and the new bunch of incoming grads. So once I received my university decision and accepted them , I then finalized the one. I had received University create account link and mail regarding new joiner next steps. Generally it includes links for you to upload your financial documents to request for i20. There would be a rough estimated of how much funds to show in those pages and accordingly you can manage your finances that you want to show. For i20 funds you may show Savings, PPF, FD, Loan Sanction Letter , etc. Once i20 is issued, it would either be available for download / you can request shipment. I had received online and was accepted due to covid, however, I would like you to note that even if your shipment request is raised, university time to process your package can cause delay. So ensure that you track your package and follow up on it.
Once I received my i20, I filled Ds-160(https://ceac.state.gov). Ensure that you note down your application id and other details related to login. I had again help of my councillor on how to fill the form, but you can definitely take help of your contacts, telegram groups, Facebook groups, youtube videos to clear your doubt on form fields. You may choose to submit your application before or after booking Visa appointment. I had not submitted my application but used the application id to book my visa appointment dates. For Visa(https://cgifederal.secure.force.com/) I filled whatever necessary information was needed once I created my account and booked appointment for OFC and interview. Here, you can easily again take help of sources mentioned for DS -160. For noobs like me , who was not aware of telegram, it turned out to be a bitter sweet experience. I installed telegram on my mobile, a friend of mine forwarded me some group links( you can also search keywords like Visa Slots, F1 student Visa, etc and join groups accordingly) and it did help a lot. There are lot of people actively answering doubts and helping you but one needs to be aware about fake information too. I always verified any information I had through multiple sources just to be sure. Also telegram groups do buzzzzzz a lot due to this and can be really frustrating when you are already engaged in multiple parallel stuff related to your MS.
Due to covid I had receieved my Visa date in august , just 10 days before my course start. Also there was lockdown and embassies had shut down. Overall there was a lot of mess and ambiguity on possible Visa Dates. Had to constantly keep an eye on any opening slots. Generally there would be a few opened for 5 mins at late night(10–12ish). Also since I was working, for me another hurdle was my notice period. Luckily my VP was understanding of my situation and was ready to help me in whatever way possible. Thus I was at least relaxed at that end. Many of my friends however had to resign even when they did not even have any visa dates available in hand.
There was one more thing going on in parallel. My univeristy had organized webinar for new joiners and had shared some whatsapp group links. Most of the universities have Indian associations or other groups where a lot of seniors volunteer to help incoming grads. Again search for it , expand your network and you will be able to join those. Once thing that had helped me was definitely networking. I remember pinging other grad students to connect on Facebook, Seniors on Linkedin to know more about University course, professors and if there are any groups on whatsapp that I can join. If you are a bit of introvert like me , it does feel like a herculean task to do as some reply some don’t. But whatever information I gathered definitely helped me!
I feel University Whatsapp Groups are the best, as it expands your network even more once you join them. My university group had New joiner guide in the description itself which had answers to almost all questions. Also during course registration it helped me in getting reviews and also helped in finding roomates, housing. Its like a chain reaction, you join one group and suddenly you are linked to 5 more and so on. Another thing that was brought to my notice was Immunization Forms. We are supposed to get immunisation- Hepatitis, TB, Measles ,etc (depends on your university requirement) and submit your report before registering for your classes/ arrival to US. All the details will be under health department. If you are connected to others, you will find all these easily. So once again — NETWORKING!
For me there were holds related to immunization. We could only register after holds were removed by health department once they processed our immuniztion forms. It would take more than 3 weeks also. This was daunting as I could see people saying that courses were already getting full. There was one way which was to remove holds temporarily for a week by contacting Health department. So yeah there are Work Arounds. I feel that since instead of figuring all this out on your own , asking other reduce your time and efforts. You may even get some related information. For example — use Skype to call your University, first 5 minutes are free 😁 , Hangouts, Rebtel or else humara apna sabka Jio.
Due to covid, I had booked housing and tickets (earlier than my August Visa date )due to price drop but with the “Break Lease / Refundable” Addendum. But by some miracle, I was able to secure interview for July. Now I would like to stress that this miracle included 10 mins visa slot opening by embassy, multiple refresh from incognito window, each coupled with the fear of getting locked out for 72 hours! and crashing of the website multiple times due to Student traffic. Luckily even after this I got a Date! Would like to stress that mine was desperate attempt but Beware Of Locking Out from the portal or try the 18th minute hack — So telegram guide says every 18th minute a slot is available(no citation😁)
Now pre interview prep was daunting. I was thankful for mocks that my consultancy offered. OFC is very simple, get your documents — Sevis, Ds-160 i20 verified and photo clicked. The “D day” or “Interview” is another game all together. You need to reach embassy almost an hour before. They would be calling out Time Slots and you would queue accordingly. Then you would pass through security check. Just carry your file/harmonium folder and avoid electronic items. Then again comes the WAIT. You would be waiting may be for an hour or less or more in the waiting room while you would be watching people enter and leave the main Interview Room. So getting glimpse of those people can add to your nervousness. I was waiting in open space — so watching building architecture and trees rather than people felt like a good idea. Once you enter the main room, you would be asked to move to interview counter. Picturization would be a multiple ticket counters, Visa Officers sitting behind a glass counter and speaking via mic. You on the other side standing and passing asked document via gap in the window. So it is very easy to not clearly hear what the VO is asking. You need to be very focused and confident. Every person's interview is different so I can just say that gather every answer and question asked but have self confidence.
Once my Visa got approved!- came the packing and other prep. Multiple to carry list would be circulated over WhatsApp or watch (Things To Bring/Pack For USA! USA Packing List When …www.youtube.com › watch). Lots of Material. The other prep that I had to do apart from shopping included Travel Sims, Converting my bank accounts to Joint account with my family member, Loan Disbursement, Forex Card, Currency Exchange( could be done via bank or agent, ensure that receipt is given), Travel and health insurance for couple of days, arranging stay as my housing handover date was late than arrival. These all would take time but it would be comparatively easy to handle as you would be having so many students doing the same with you. So getting information on all of this is easier.
Well, once all this is done and you have bid adieu to your family, I guess you are ready to FLY!!
If you feel people are hesitant of sharing their MS plans and details, do not pressurize them for details as once their process is complete they would definitely help you out. It's just that they themselves have too much insecurity , risk and pressure that they want to smoothen out the whole process as much as possible. This blog is super lengthy and may be not well structured but I sincerely hope someone will benefit from this not so perfect writing.Till then Bidding Adieu!