Sunday, October 31, 2010

What One Must Know Before Taking GRE

To score well in GRE one must know certain secrets of GRE exam. In GRE test the time management is the most important thing. Make sure you answer all the questions. The GRE test is a computer adaptive test (CAT) which means that computer adapts itself according to your performance. Therefore, if you answer a question correctly the next question on the screen is relatively more difficult and if you answered it incorrectly the next problem is probably an easier one. So if you see that the difficulty of the problem is increasing, you are doing well.
The first few questions in a GRE test is worth more point so you can spend comparatively more time on a first few questions. Try not to get first few questions incorrect otherwise it may have devastating impact on your score. To emphasize, answering wrong to the questions appearing first has more negative impact on your score than answering the questions appearing at the end. However, that does not mean that you should struggle with a question which appeared earlier in the exam. DON’T spend too much time on a question, move ahead. Answering a question wrong does not devastate your score. In GRE you can answer 2-3 questions wrong and still can score perfect that means even after getting 2-3 problems wrong you can score 800. However that depends on the difficulty level of the questions. In any case, spending too much time on a question is not advisable.
When you are approaching the end of the test, you may sometimes find that you don’t have sufficient time to answer the remaining questions. Don’t leave any question unanswered. A question unanswered has much more negative impact on the score than a question not done right. Since you cannot skip a question in a GRE test hence if you are running out of time just make educated guess and you should be fine. This is my personal experience, I didn’t practice much for the quant section because I thought it was too easy and hence in the test I was not able to manage my time properly in quantitative section. I realized at the end of the test that I had 8 questions to answer in less than 3 minutes. So I just started choosing the options blindly but completed all the problems by the time. I was in the mood of canceling my test because I thought I had messed up my quant but since I wrote the test already too late if I canceled the test I lost my year. SO finally I decided to see what my score was. And much to my surprise I had scored 760 in quantitative section. The central point of the discussion is, don’t lose your cool during the test and answer all the questions. You would be able to score well.
Got questions and comments? Feel free to write down your concerns.

Fall Semester versus Spring Semester

Many applicants have a question which semester they should apply to. Unambiguously the fall semester is the best choice for applying to a university for better admission and assistantship opportunities. In US universities there are primarily two semesters: Fall semester beginning in August and Spring semester beginning from January. However most of the universities don’t accept admission in spring semester hence, it’s highly advisable to apply in fall semester.
The arguments of the students willing to apply to spring semester goes somewhat like discussed below. In the spring semester there are not many applicants applying for admission and hence there is not much competition for admission as well as assistantship. But this argument is only partially correct at the best. It’s true that there are significantly less number of applicants in the spring semester but the number of admission and assistantship to be offered is even less and hence, it’s more difficult to get admission. So, be ready to write your GRE and TOEFL at the right time such that you don’t have to wait till the spring semester. But if you have to in certain circumstances then you can give it a try in the spring semester or probably you would want to work for that year which adds value to your application.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Worst Possible GRE for Economics PhD admission

‘Interesting title’ – isn’t it? Well, the credit goes to an applicant who searched this keyword in Google search which returned this Blog address. I found this very relevant and interesting and now penning down what I think about this. Hope this helps this guy.
As everyone is aware that GRE is one of the important criteria for not only admission but also for the assistantships. GRE requirement for admission is lower than GRE requirement for assistantship. For an international student, to get admission into a good university; a GRE score of 1200 plus or on the safe side 1250 plus should be fine. Of course the division of scores is important, a quant score should be minimum 720 (740 plus preferred). The assumption here is that the applicant has a decent SOP, GPA and recommendations. For an American student on an average, 1200 plus should do.
What about the assistantship? To secure an assistantship opportunity, an international applicant should have ideally a minimum of 740+ in quantitative section of GRE with a total of 1250. But that does not mean that a student with 1200 GRE score can’t get assistantship. Of course he can as other criteria are also important for admission and assistantship.
However, there are universities where one can expect assistantship with GRE score as low as 1150 or may be even less. One should choose the universities to apply for very carefully as it needs resources in terms of money and time to apply for every single university. You need to make according changes in your SOP for every university you are applying to. Make sure you browse the university webpage to gain all the necessary information. Also determine your chances of getting funding from a particular university. You should be able to find all the information on the website. Many of the students go to Consulting agencies for the same which may be time consuming, costly and do not add any value to your knowledge about the university.
How about top 50 universities? To get into a top 50 university almost everything should be excellent. A GRE score of around 1400, a very good SOP, a good GPA and good recommendation letters may be required.
You don’t need to go to consultants if you use this blog in a proper way to find information on… how to write SOP, whom to request recommendation letters from, and how to choose best universities depending on your scores and GPA. Leave your doubts as comments and I will be able to address them.
All the best!!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Writing a Professor for Assistantship

Many of the applicants have this question in their mind: should they write to the Professors of the department they have applied to for assistantship? The answer to this question is not straightforward as it can be beneficial but also can backfire sometime. This is sometimes viewed as against the academic spirit.
The best idea thus, is to have zeroed in on the particular universities you want to apply according to your area of interest well before the application season may be six months before or so. After having done this you need to identify some professors who are working in the similar field. You can then write them about your area of interest and the work you have done so far in that particular area as research assistant or in some project or even in school assignments. You need to substantiate why do you like that particular area and why do you think that working with that professor will be good for you and what you can contribute to it. You may then ask him the question like… will it be a good idea to get a PhD from that university and like that. If you look serious enough about the topic and the professor is working in the same field he might offer you research assistantship directly under him. But that of course, requires solid background in that particular topic.
Considering the fact, it’s too late and nobody has time left for that now let’s move on to what an applicant shall write if he wants to do that now. That is a tricky question as noted earlier because some of the professors may take it as a negative thing. However, you can write to a professor but be professional in your mail. Tell him you want to work with him… you read such and such papers of him and this is something you liked and this is something you disagree to. Validate whatever you write to. Stress on your strengths and your ability to contribute. Be concise in your mail. If you write a long mail the professor may not even go through this as he obviously doesn’t have free time like you when you are waiting for the reply from the universities.
What if he doesn’t reply? Don’t shoot another mail. A professor gets tens of such mails every day and unless he sees some substance in the mail he is not going to reply you back. Sending another mail may irritate him and this may have a negative impact on your application.
But yes… surely write mails to the professors and the department chair if you have got admission but not the assistantship. Describe your situation to him that it would be difficult for you to continue your studies without funding and that you are really interested in the department because of such and such reasons. Again don’t bluff… browse through the website of the university and find out the information about the university so that you have something substantial to say about.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Documents Needed for Applying to Universities

This is early November and you have got your scores, GRE and TOEFL, you have your transcripts and recommendation letters ready. This is time to apply to the universities you have selected. As discussed in Introduction, one should apply to 7-8 universities which can be divided in 3 categories: ambitious, realistic and safe. One should apply to some universities which fall in safe list for him in the sense that given his credentials it’s almost certain that those universities will grant him admission with assistantship because you don’t want to waste one year in case you are unable to get admission to your dream universities.
Now that you are decided about the universities you are ready to apply to; recheck the admission documents especially the SOP and CV if there are some spelling mistakes or grammatical errors or some important information is missing. Find the deadlines of the universities which range from 1st of November to 1st of March or even later but be advised that only a few universities have deadline left after 1st of February so your choice set gets smaller day after day 1st of January. Most of the top universities have deadlines no later than 15th if January. You need to check the website of the university to find their deadlines.
In most of the universities the application can be submitted online.  For online application one needs to open an account on the university website. However, some universities may require to apply via mail. Some of the universities may accept online application but may require a recommendation letter to be physically sent to the department address. Remember almost all of the universities will require you to send your transcript to them via post before the deadline in order to view your application complete. So send these documents well before the deadline of application otherwise your application would not be considered complete and may not be reviewed by the admission committee.A list of documents that university needs:
SOP: Most of the universities accept online SOP.
CV or Resume: For most of the universities it can be submitted online.

Recommendation letters: Most of the universities accept them online however, some universities still require them to be sent physically. Most of the universities require 3 recommendation letters.
Transcripts: Most of the universities require one transcript. However, some universities may ask for 2 transcripts one for the department and one for the graduate school. So when you are requesting your school for the transcripts, carefully determined how many of them you will need.
GRE score: You need to order ETS to send your score directly to the university. You can find the school code on the university website or can find its code by its name on ETS website.
TOEFL Score: Again only official TOEFL score reported directly by the ETS will be accepted by the university. Normally ETS takes about a week to send the score to the universities so make sure you order them a week or preferably 2 weeks before the last date of submission of application.
Well… that’s it. Seal them all in a big and strong envelope and mail them a week before the deadline if you are sending them from within USA or send them at least, 2 weeks before the deadline if you are sending them from outside USA. Use a fast and reliable postal service.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Post-recession PhD funding scenario in USA

The recession that began in December 2007 and hit the US economy badly has finally reached an end and the recovery has begun. The ‘National Bureau of Economic Research’ has declared that 18 month long recession finally hit a trough in June 2009 and the economy is recovering. What is it’s implication on PhD funding?
Well, because of the recession many universities are facing financial crisis. Many of the state universities are facing budget cuts and hence, they have reduced the number of PhD students significantly. The private universities are also facing financial crisis because of less projects available. So in 2009 and 2010, it was relatively harder to secure funding even for them who thought they might easily secure a funding. The situation has become worse for International students. Hopefully in the recovery phase the funding situation will improve but it may take another 2-3 years to return back to initial level.
The recession has not only decreased the funds available for the PhD students but also increased the competition for it. As many of the undergrads who are unable to find a job continue their education to graduate level. However, this does not mean that funding is not available at all. The universities are still offering TA/RA ship to its students.
So presently it’s recommended to have a better GRE score and other credentials in order to secure funding. Even US students are recommended to score at least 1200 GRE with 740+ in quants in order to secure admission with assistantship in a good university.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Length of SOP

What is the proper length of a ‘Statement of Purpose’ for an economics doctoral applicant? Well, this depends how much you have to write about your academics and research prior to applying. However, you cannot just keep on writing and writing. There is a limit on the length of the SOP. Even if there is no limit; an ideal SOP should not be too long as it might distract the readers and they may miss out the important information. At the same time, it should not be too short such that it looks too abstract and difficult to understand. This happens because of the use of multiple complex sentences and due to the lack of cogency.
An ideal SOP should be of around 1200-1500 words. Not more than that. The committee has a large number of applications to evaluate and choose the right candidate from a large pool of applicants. So they want to extract the relevant information in as little time as they can. 1500 words is more than enough to write relevant information for you where you can easily show them your strengths and prove why you are a suitable candidate for PhD and of course, also for the assistantship.
Some of the universities require that SOP must not be more than 500 words. Reducing 1500 words 500 words is not an easy task and some important information may not be incorporated. It's better to limit your SOP in 500 words in those cases, however, there can be a few more words but not too many. One good idea when you are not able to fit all important information in the limit provided, is to conatct the department. In certain case they may increase the limit. That’s a pain. In any case, it’s advisable to keep the 2 drafts of your SOP ready, one with 1500 words and one with 500 words such that you are not under pressure when you find out that a certain university requires 500 word SOP. As mentioned under ‘Writing your Statement of Purpose and Resume’ this is a very important part of your application which shows your personality and creativity. Include only the correct information about yourself and don’t lie! Look convincing whatever you write about yourself.

Friday, October 8, 2010

“Does the ranking of a university matter?”

Here is one of the most asked questions from a graduate applicant
“Does the ranking of a university matter?”
Of course, it does. The question should be ‘how much’?
Should one sacrifice one’s a year or two in the hope that he can get into a better university later? Is it worth to study in a university which has a ranking more than 100?
Indeed this is an interesting as well as a complicate question which needs to take into account many possible factors and depends on the circumstances one is applying in, like the current applicant has to take into account the going recession impact too.
I would like to see your views on this and also raise your questions as this is very important to choose your university and the deadlines for the applications are approaching. After your comments I will try to summarize and discuss the pros and cons of the issue while building up the idea based on your questions and comments.


You have nothing much to do for transcripts. You just need to contact your university or college whichever applicable in order to issue the transcripts. However, in some part of the world people are still unfamiliar about transcript and so when you contact a schhol official in those part of the world they might as well ask you a question: what is transcript? Don't panick!
You just need to convince them that transcript is nothing but a statement of marks or grades which is signed and sealed by the school official with the official seal. Remember that transcript just like the recommendation letters must be sealed in an envelope preferably one with university logo.
Sometimes it may take a while so it's better to contact your school well before in time such that you get it on time. An application is not considered to be complete until your official transcripts are received by the department you are applying to. So the US students are also advised to apply for their transcripts as early as possible once they are finished with the required tests.
One more piece of advice to international students relates to picking the service provider to send the admission documents. Choose one which is reliable even though it's a little costly as otherwise you may have to feel lots of stress when you see that your documents are not delivered on time by a cheaper courier service. So in the long rum you are worse off.

P.S.- I see from the stat that many students are probably visiting the blog but they refrain from making comments and so I am not sure which information I should stress on. As I can't remember exactly the questions I had when I was applying, I would encourage you to post your questions and comments and I will try to answer them as perfectly as possible. This I also feel that my time is used in a productive way. Thanks.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Recommendation Letters

Here is one of the most important parts of your admission application. The recommendation letters are given high priority in the admission process. Before I got into the PhD program I wondered why it is so. And above all, when they already have so many parameters regarding your academic ability such as your GRE and TOEFL scores, your undergraduate GPA and statement of purpose

Well, success into a PhD program does not only require academic ability but it also requires a lot of patience and dedication. Let me reiterate, you need to be very patient and dedicated to be successful in PhD program which on average takes 5 important years of your life. Sometimes it can be frustrating and sometimes… I must say it will give you a feeling of pride.

Academic ability doesn’t necessarily show your research capability though they might be closely interlinked with each other. So, here is where the importance of the recommendation comes into the picture. A recommender has to comment on your research capability. He is normally the person who has taught you or guided you in some reach project and thus, he is able to make comments on your research capability. He is comments on your dedication towards research and the probability of your being successful into the PhD program because when a university accepts you as a grad student it wants you to complete the degree and not drop it in the midway.

Knowing that what is expected from a recommender, now you need to know who can be the best recommender for you. Of course, most of the universities need three recommendations out of which two must be from the persons who have taught you. Now, here is the thing, you have got to get recommendation from a Person who holds a PhD degree. Reason: A person who has himself done a PhD is in a better position to comment about the other person’s ability and dedication for the same. Second, the person who is going to recommend you must know you very well. You can’t take recommendation from a person who hardly knows you. This essentially means that you should not get recommendation from your relative or your acquaintances who have not taught you no matter how renowned he is in research and academia and how important his recommendation can be. 

Try to get at least one recommendation from a person who is familiar to US education system in any capability. He might have been associated with any US university as a grad student, or he can be a visiting faculty or something like that. A person familiar with US education will have more weightage in his recommendation than his counterpart who is ignorant about US education system and this is very obvious.
Proceeding further, many students have a question: whom should they take recommendation from? From a person who is well known and who will write moderate recommendation opposes to one who is not well known but is going to write really good recommendation? There is not a clear-cut answer to this question because that may depend upon the circumstances. So in order to minimize the risk, the best idea I guess will be to get mix recommendations. To make it more clear, one shall try to get two recommendations from the persons who are going to write good about you and you can use one which has written moderate about you. However, make sure that none of the recommendations should make negative comment on your abilities because that may jeopardize your dream of making into the program. Wherever possible, you can ask the faculty if he can write good things about you. Those are in general, going to write positive about you in whose courses you have done well. You shall ask them to write recommendation letter for you well in advance and also ask them if they need your help in writing one. Sometimes they may ask you to come up with a draft. Search on google and you will find many drafts for recommendation letter. If needed, I can also provide some link on it.

Hope this helps, please leave your comments such that I know there are people who are interested otherwise I feel I am wasting my time.