Meet Shristi: MS in Computer Science, University of South California (USC), Fall 2019

Read Time: 4 Minutes


HISTORY

Shristi completed her Bachelor of Technology from the University of Mumbai, majoring in Computer Science. She had a stellar GPA of 9.45 and stood out in the top 5% of her class. After 2 months of strategic preparation, she took her GRE and scored a whopping 324. Shristi was determined to apply in certain universities of California, as in her own words ‘I believe, in a parallel world, I already live on the West Coast’.

When Shristi came to Gradsmiths, she had already written the first draft of her Statement of Purpose (SOP). This was a great starting point for us, as it set the tone of her SOP.

After we read her draft, we realized that she had a great academic profile. A cursory glance at her transcripts revealed that she had A grades in subjects such as System Programming and Compiler Construction, and Computer Organisation and Architecture.

In addition to that, she had a one-month internship stint with a Data Science startup in Mumbai, which familiarized her with Deep Learning and App development. At the time of application, she was working on her final year thesis in the domain of Predictive Analysis and its use in the healthcare industry.

Profile Evaluation

After one round of discussion, we figured out the following weaknesses in Shristi’s SOP:

  • Lack of proper structure in the SOP as everything was arranged chronologically
  • Lack of published research papers
  • Quants on the lower end for Universities like UCLA, UCSD, NCSU and Georgia Tech
  • No full-time work experience
  • Not from a premier institute like IIT or NIT

However, to counter that, we had her strengths:

  • GPA on the higher end
  • Strong community service background (NGO + NSS)
  • Active participation in student bodies in college demonstrating leadership skills.

Approach

We figured out after two rounds of discussion with Shristi that the FIRST step to improve her Statement Of Purpose would be to bump up her NGO work experience as the ‘introduction’ paragraph.

Why?

We saw that Shristi had done substantial volunteering work during her undergrad, where the job responsibility was not just limited to community work, but also developing automated tools that helped the NGO spread its network. Thus, putting this down as the introduction in her letter, we essentially achieved two things – First, we covered one of her technical projects through volunteer experience, and second, we got an interesting story to begin the SOP.

This tied the loose ends as far as ‘using tech for social good’ is concerned. The Adcoms are pretty big on that.

It also gave a unique story to begin her essay and a much-needed thematic consistency, which is always a good hook for the AdCom. 

We also discovered that Shristi is a muggle-born Potterhead, and we wanted that angle to be covered in the SOP, albeit in a creative manner. Finally, after several rounds of feedback and counter feedback, we cracked a way to connect that to one of her projects and tune in the ‘magic’ element.

Thereafter, it was four revisions until we achieved what we had set out to do – make an application which told her STORY rather than stating her achievements with pompous words. 

Application Strategy

Shristi applied to the following universities:

  • University of Southern California(USC)
  • University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA),
  • State University of New York, Stony Brook (Stony Brook),
  • Arizona State University (ASU),
  • Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)
  • University of California Irvine (UCI).

Her SOP took 4 rounds of revision to reach the final stage. You can find her final SOP in our E-book ‘Writing Impactful Grad School Essays’, which is FREE to download.

She had the following reasons to apply to them.

University of Southern California

Curriculum: Since it’s a private University it can easily incorporate new topics as opposed to a Public University and thus has an updated curriculum. Advanced courses such as ‘Deep Learning’ and ‘Data Science for social good’ are available, which is great! There’s absolutely no problem if you miss lectures since the lectures are recorded and posted on their online portal DEN@Viterbi, provided if it is a DEN course.

Research: Great research opportunities. Extremely notable professors who are willing to take you under their wing. However, fully funded RA and TA opportunities are available only to Ph.D. students. You can work under a professor to do research, work on some cool projects but as a Student Worker. Ranking: Viterbi School of Engineering ranks in the top 15 in the US

Brand Name: Everyone recognizes USC.  If you wear any USC merch, everyone who knows it in stores, beaches, will gesture to say FIGHT ON!

Strong Alumni Network: The Trojan network is very strong. The alumni and seniors are always willing to help.

Job Opportunities: Located near Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach, tech giants like Google and Amazon recruit from USC during job fairs.

Active Indian Association: The Indian Association at USC is very active. Apart from getting you connected to fellow Indians, they offer mentorship programs and temporary accommodation till you find an apartment or if your lease starts later.

On campus opportunities: Plenty of on-campus jobs which will help you fund your education (living expenses at least)

University of California, Los Angels (UCLA)

  • Research opportunities: UCLA is renowned for its well-equipped labs and ground-breaking research. You get an opportunity to work in labs which fostered Nobel Laureates and Turing awards winners.
  • Ranking: UCLA’s MS in CS program is ranked among the top 15 in the US
  • Location: Los Angeles (enough said.)
  • Assistantships: A lot of students get RA, TA and grader opportunities to fund their education
  • Batch size: Very small batch size. Less than 100 students. Contrarily, a small batch size makes it extremely difficult to get into UCLA.

Georgia Tech This was a long shot. Ranks in the top 10 in the US. Brand value. Excellent research opportunities. Cheaper than other colleges. Living expenses on the lower end.

Arizona State University: Value for money. Ranked 1st in innovation in the US. Strong Entrepreneurial culture. Since it’s on the West Coast, good job opportunities and a pleasant climate. Amazon recruits heavily from ASU.

Stony Brook: Ranked well. One of the best colleges on the East Coast (after the Ivys of course). It’s great if you want to get into financial firms near NYC. Not very expensive. However, living expenses might go up since its NYC. Coursework, in general, is good but the ML course at Stony Brook is not very good in comparison to other colleges.

UC Irvine: One of the smaller UCs. Located very close to Los Angeles. The Computer Science department is very good. Intake for the MS in CS course is very low.

Final Outcome

Shristi got admits from USC, Stony Brook, and ASU. She got rejects from GaTech, UCI and UCLA. She will be starting as a Master’s in Science, Computer Science (MS in CS) Fall 2019 candidate at Viterbi School of Engineering (University of Southern California)

Shout out to Shristi

Shristi was great to work with. She puts words to her thoughts really well and comes up with a better draft every time. We were able to work through her applications in less than 6 weeks. We are so excited to see her take charge at the University of Southern California and take the industry by storm.

Shristi’s advice to prospective MS applicants

  • Writing an SOP is a frustrating process. It takes a lot of refinement cycles. Some details might be cut out during refinement or the underlying meaning of the paragraph would change. Always speak to your counselor if you feel that something important is being cut out.
  • It’s always advisable to get your SOP proofread from someone you know very well. Friends and sibling will be your harshest critics. Even if it is annoying to deal with their constant critiques it does wonders for your SOP. They may be able to find mistakes which you missed out and occasionally even highlight positive factors about you.
  • Also, get your SOP proofread by a person who is an expert in the domain you’ve based your SOP on. It will help rule out any technical discrepancies.

Does SOP writing seem daunting to you. Read what we blogged about it in ‘Statement of Purpose done right!’


If you have got the time, do check out our FREE E-book on ‘Biggest Mistakes you make in your resume’. It contains some super pointers on how to modify your resume and make it fit for a graduate school application.

resume writing tips

Interested in talking to a Gradsmiths expert on how to go about your applications? Book your calendar here.

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