Applying to USA

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Applying to USA



This  is intended to help students apply to US universities in a timely manner.
Introduction: 
Applying to US universities is physically as well as emotionally challenging job.  This page is intended to help students apply to US universities in a timely manner.
I applied to 19 US universities and got offer from four of them. I spent about $350 in application fee, and sending official TOEFL and GRE score. I also spent some amount to send the documents to university, but I did it via general mail from Sundhara. I think it cost about Rs. 200 to send each, and took about 20 days to reach USA.  I will try to share my experience on how I did this whole application process. I definitely did some mistakes while applying, but in this page I will explain what is the right way to do, rather than talk about what I did wrong.
Timing:
Timing is MOST important while applying to US universities, as most of the universities have strict deadline. Most of the university has a deadline of 15th January for Fall semester, which starts from August of the same year. Hence I would recommend you all send completed application package such that the document reaches the University by 15thof December (not January).
Let us assume you are applying for 2015 Fall session. Then here is what I recommend you do:
DateWhat should have been done?
May 2014Should register for TOEFL/GRE exam. Requires PASSPORT.
May-Sept 2014Prepare for the TOEFL and GRE exam. Meanwhile, get familiar with Internet, especially on how to find the webpage of physics department of a university, where to go for application, and who would you have to email if you have any questions.Save these web pages, and the contact names. DON’T SEND EMAIL YET. Also get your recommendation letters ready.
Sept 1st 2014Should have your TOEFL and GRE scores in your hand.
Sept 1st – Nov 1stSend emails to the contacts you saved before during May to Sept period.  Below, I will suggest how to write email to professors, and things not to do while writing emails.
Nov 1st 2014Should make sure which are the universities you will apply to, and what documents are needed.
Nov 15th- 2014Completed documents should have been sent to all universities.
Dec 15th – 2014Should make sure that they have got the document. If not, send a new package.
March 15th – May 15th2015Wait for the offer letter!! Meanwhile you can also send some emails to the university, details below.
May 2014:
You need to register for TOEFL and GRE exam. You must have a PASSPORT for this purpose.
Choose your exam date wisely. As most of the US universities are taking students only during the Fall session, you want your score to be valid for at least two academic years. If you appear for the exam on  Sept 20th, then for the next year, it will only be 1 yr, 4 months old. However, if you take toefl on May 20th, it will be 1 yr 8 months. Some university might ask you to retake the TOEFL suggesting it to be old.
Sept 1st – Nov 1st:
This is the most crucial phase. DO NOT write long emails with multiple paragraphs. You do not need to tell them “Nepal is poor country, I was born in village. I went to government school. I did struggle etc etc”. This thing does not matter at all in the long run.   Most of the professors who are reading your emails do it as an extra job, they kind of have to do it as per university policy. So, they want to get done with this very fast. If your email is long, they will simply read the first paragraph and stop reading the rest, or delete it right there.
  • Your email should be like, “My name is XXXX, from Nepal. I have ****** score in TOEFL (write score of each section) and ***** score in GRE. I have *** % in my Masters. Attached with this email is the unofficial copy of my scores. I would be obliged if you could have a glance at my documents and suggest whether I have a good chance of getting a TAship in your institution. The total cost of sending application fee and official toefl and gre score cost around $150, which is about 15 days of my income. Hence I do not want to go ahead with application procedure unless I have a high probability of being selected. Thanking you in advance,
Futta Bahadur Fuyal J “
  • Always keep record of all the emails you sent to different universities. Sometimes you forget you had sent one, and then resend it to the professor, which will look very unprofessional.
March 15th– May 15th:
You can send an email to professor asking the status of your application starting April, but you want to send email once every fortnight, maximum. Do not send email every week, that kind of looks irritating to the professors.

Frequently Asked Questions:
1) Here is my TOEFL and GRE scores. Which universities are appropriate for me?
This is the most common question I have come across and the answer is not easy. Here are few things that I feel, and would like to share with you. Just for the sake of convenience I would like to categorize US universities into three categories:
  • Universities that look at TOEFL/GRE scores only, don’t care about your M.Sc Percent
  • Universities that look at M.Sc. percentage, and require minimum TOEFL and GRE scores
  • Universities that look at both, TOEFL/GRE scores and M.Sc percentage.
Now, it is up to you to find out which one is suitable for you. The best way to find out is to see where your seniors went, and what their TOEFL/GRE score and M.Sc percentage was.

2) OK. I found 15 universities that I think is suitable for me but I want to apply to 8 of them. How to choose which ones?
The most logical way would be to look at the ranking of those universities and then choose, 2 top ones, 3 medium ones and 3 low ones. One other criteria would also be to find whether the campus has M.S program only or has PhD program as well. Below is the link to find the college rating.
http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/data

3) Which are the universities that do not require application fee?
Above is the link. I can not assure it’s validity, but nothing wrong in trying.

4) What is a GPA? My M.Sc. percentage is 72, What is my GPA?
GPA is an acronym for Grade Point Average.
When you come to USA for Masters/PhD, you need to enroll in at least 9 credit hours per semester to be in status. This means during each semester, you need to be taking 9 hours of classes each week. For example, I took 3 credit hour each of Quantum, Mathematical physics, and Electrodynamics to complete my 9 credit hour and stay in status. How much credit hour a course carries is decided by the university.
Now, for each course, at the end of the semester, the professor assigns a grade (A = more than 90 % marks , B= between 80 and 90% marks , C= between 70 and 80% mark , or F= fail).  So, A = 4 GPA, B = 3 GPA, C= 2 GPA. Now over the entire period as a graduate student, you find the average GPA of all the courses you have taken, and this will give you your overall GPA. Obviously, the maximum GPA a student can have is 4.0.
There is no hard and fast rule to convert the TU Percent based system to a GPA system. There are some online marksheet conversion sites, but they are costly (about $200), and you do not need to do it. If you have noticed, TU marksheet has “60% and above = First Division” written somewhere. that will be enough for them to understand that you were a first division student.
Do not even attempt to convert your percentage to GPA using free sites and report that as your GPA ! Just tell them your M.Sc. percentage.

5) Who is the best person to email in the University?
Professors who are also listed in the website as “Admission Committee” member would be the first one, “Graduate Advisor” will be the second one. If you do not see either of this words, then department head would be the best person to send emails to. If you send to a random professor instead, that email might not get forwarded to appropriate person at all, but, the department chief would definitely forward it to the appropriate person.


This is work in progress. Although we might be unable to answer all your queries in a timely manner, we will update this page in a regular manner such that frequently asked questions are answered.
Thank you,
Shree Krishna Bhattarai

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