Dreams Decoded: The Checklist for Graduate School Applications by Debasmita Padhi


At the outset, I must tell you that this article is not a how-to guide on getting through Oxford or LSE or about bagging a scholarship. I have tried to clarify a few issues that I felt were pertinent to the question of studying abroad and how to go about it. I have been receiving a lot of calls/texts/mails with queries about the GRE/ statement of purpose etcetera and I am happy to help each one of you. However, I must add that there is no set path to success and each one of you must strive individually to reach the goals you have set for yourself.

Finances : You should be sure about the ability of your parents’ to fund your education. To give you a rough estimate, the cost for one year would be around ₹ 40-45 lakhs in the UK (living and tuition fee included). Scholarships are rare and I don’t think it will be a wise decision to base your entire decision on the hope of receiving some sort of funding. If you do not have the finances and still want to go abroad (like me!), go ahead but have a Plan B! Most of the colleges have a pretty simple process for applying for scholarships. Along with the online application, there are a few additional forms that you need to fill. Apart from that, there are a number of scholarships that you can apply for separately. To name a few: Rhodes Scholarship (yes, it’s doable!), Scholarship from the Oxbridge Society, Commonwealth Scholarships, Inlaks Scholarship, Ratan Tata Scholarship. Look out for the deadlines and conditions to be fulfilled for each of these and apply to as many possible to maximize your chances.

GRE : It is one of the simplest parts of the entire application process, trust me. If you want to take coaching, it will give you all that you need to study on a platform but you can also try some online material and books if you do not prefer coaching classes. Magoosh is one of the best learning tools available online. I went to Princeton Review and found it pretty useful though it’s not something I highly recommend. Jamboree is good too. In the end, all that will matter is your hard work. In the GRE, Quant is easy and Verbal is a bit tough. But, if you read a standard newspaper, you will be well versed with the vocabulary and you can sail through the verbal section easily. What the GRE tests is your basic knowledge of English and Math. The essay writing depends on your individual ability and even if you are not a great writer, it’s easy to score a 4/6 which is accepted by most colleges. It takes 2 or 3 months to prepare for the GRE. Plan your examination dates accordingly.

IELTS/TOEFL : It is NOT necessary to take the IELTS before applying (at least for LSE and Oxford, you can find out about other colleges). Save your 13K and wait for the offer letter before you appear for the same. Many a times, the college waives the English language proficiency requirement and so, you may not have to take it after all!

The Statement of Purpose: : It is one of the most important part of your application. I finished my SOP one day before the deadline and so I have just one piece of advice: Do NOT put it off till the last minute. Do NOT take help from the coaching institutes. I have friends who did and regretted it later. Be clear about why you want to study that particular course in that particular college. Talk about your interests in the subject and mention all your extracurricular activities to substantiate whatever you are writing.

Letter of Recommendations : We have some great teachers and they would be willing to give you LORs provided they know you well enough to talk highly of you. So, be sincere in your college work.

Academics : There is NO cut off percentage for universities abroad. The best of students from all over India apply and you will be compared with them during the selection process. Ensure that you make the cut. You don’t necessarily have to be the topper but your marks reflect how much efforts you have put in (to a great extent). The best thing about foreign universities is that they will not judge you only on the basis of your marks but if your scores are too low, I would say-Buck up quick!! 80+ is great. But, with the marks inflating by a few percentage points every year, you should give your best.

The day I got an offer letter from LSE, I was happy. The day I got through Oxford, I was elated. The day I got the scholarship, I cried. If you have ever had a dream and nurtured it, felt that it would remain a dream forever and then seen it transform into reality, you would know what I mean.
I have realised that getting through Oxford/LSE is not the best part. After every success, one realises that it was only a step taken in a long journey. And no matter what path each one of us takes, I hope that in the end, we should be able to give back something to our society.
I wish you all a very successful future. Remember, SKY IS THE LIMIT.

I think that’s enough to give you fair idea about how to start preparing. In case you have any further doubts, feel free to write to me.

My scores:

GRE Score: 330 (165-165)
Aggregate Percentage (till semester 5): 84.7%
Offers: LSE (MSc in Economics), University of Oxford (MSc in Economics for Development)
(You guys can do way better than this!)

Debasmita (Class of 2015) was the Chief Editor, Economics Editorial Board and Head, Vishleshan 2014-15. She plans to join Oxford for MSc Economics for Development this year. She can be reached at padhi.debasmita20@gmail.com. 

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