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Preparing your Application Packet

While this section is very university and individual specific, one thing topmost on every student's mind is: What do universities look for in an application packet ? I'm no expert on the subject, but through personal experience and speaking with prospective students, USEFI counselors, and university admission committee members, I have pieced together the following info:

Admission Committees (AC) receive thousands of applications every year. A typical AC consists of 3 to 5 people, usually all from the department of which admission is being sought (this is for graduate admission only). Therefore each person in the AC ends up reading hundreds of applications over the entire admission period. In other words, each person has only a few minutes to determine your fate. Use those crucial minutes to influence this AC member positively and make his decision (to admit you) as painless as possible.

Usually, the AC members read all the applications and then place them in 3 bundles: a "Yes" bundle, a "No" bundle and a "Maybe" bundle. Later, all the "No" are sent reject letters, the "Yes" are sent an offer letter, and the "Maybe" are relooked at. Sometimes they are waitlisted. The size of the "Maybe" bundle is usually the largest.

The minutiae that ACs look for in an application fall under the following categories:

Academics: This includes the college / university you passed out from, the number of years of study, the degree(s), diplomas and certificates of special courses you possess, your specialization and, of course, your academic performance. The acad performance is judged as a whole throughout your school and college(s). So, a single year or so of poor performance may not have a significant effect as such on your evaluation. They are looking for enduring trends. You have to establish that you have been a good (or excellent !) student in the long term. Try to explain any minor aberrations separately, say in the SOP or a covering letter. For a sample Academic Covering letter, click here.

Test Scores: This includes scores obtained on all standardized tests required (or desired) by the university, like GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, Subject GRE etc.

Statement Of Purpose (SOP): This is the single most important document that you are sending to the univ that can determine your fate. And it is also the only one that is completely in your hands. ACs have been known to change the verdict of a student from a "Maybe" to a "Yes" (or from a "No" to a "Maybe") based solely upon his/her SOP. For more information on writing your SOP, click here.

Recommendations: The recos are also a very crucial part of your application packet. They tell the univ what previous faculty and employers think of you. A positive feedback from an authoritative source is very useful. The committee looks at who the reco is from, how well he knows you, what he is saying about you, and how he says it.

Relevance of Course: The committee tries to determine how well you are suited to the course and vice versa. It does this by evaluating (a) the linkage between your previous study and the desired field of study (b) your interest in the field, as outlined in your Statement Of Purpose (c) a connection between your stated professional objective and the course objective (d) a match between your research interest and the infrastructural capabilities of the univ, faculty research in the same area and university interest in the same area (this is especially true for PhD students and for research assistance applicants).

A shortfall in one of these categories can be met in the others. For instance, a poor academic performance in college can be countered by good GRE scores, an excellent SOP, good recos and relevance of the course to you. However, if you fail to meet 3 out of 5 criteria, then you need to be careful.


Last Updated July 1, 1999

Note: These points have all been collated from books available at the USEFI, and are intended solely to clear certain doubts about the application packet for US universities, and not as an authoritative discourse. I am not responsible for any loss or damage caused as a result of action taken based upon any fact given here.