1. When did you decide to apply for further studies?
I always wanted to study further. Right from the beginning I gave very high priority to my grades and other metrics of academic performance. But I was super confused about picking a stream to do my further studies in. I experimented with many fields to see if any one of them would build a lifelong passion for research in me. I tried economics, biochem, computational mathematics, fluid mechanics etc.. I finally decided to go with Fluid Mechanics because it came closest to my interests and academic strengths.
And I had to rush myself into making this decision by Feb 2012 so that I can start building a Fluid Mechanics oriented application. I would call this pretty late to decide on something like this. But I got lucky because I did not apply for DAAD or Mitacs. I had a 6-week long Schlumberger internship and had around 6 weeks to myself during which I did some reasonably good work with a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Dept. Around this time I also chose my BTP prof and chose a topic of interest.
My choice of courses for the 7th semester were also more focussed. But if you are looking at really increasing your chances I would sincerely recommend you to decide on something atleast by the end of second year summer so that you can work towards it during your third year , apply for a relevant project in the summer and start specializing in your courses.
2. How did you make the choice between placements and applying?
I don’t think I’ve still made that choice. I was quite torn between McKinsey and Stanford. I really enjoyed solving cases, and thought of it as a great opportunity to make real world impact. The atmosphere also seemed extremely dynamic, intellectual and energetic. A friend of mine then told me that McKinsey encourages you to go for higher studies and keeps your offer open for a year or two. So I decided to attend Stanford University in the meantime because deferring my Stan admit along with the fellowship was a tricky one. Also I did not want to break the continuity in my studies.
3. Is a high CGPA required for applying?
I think it is a requirement. But I have seen a (very) few exceptions to this. These people might have had really good recommendations to make up for it. There are also popular instances of people with really high CG not getting admits because one of their recommenders did not give a glorifying recommendation.
4. How relevant are extra-curriculars and Positions of Responsibility?
They are not really relevant. You cannot compensate your lack of academic credentials with extra-curricular activities. But some activities like TA-ing courses, working for a research magazine, etc which show an inclination to academics carry a good weight age. Co-Curricular activities in robotics, image- processing or anything that is relevant to your field add value to your application as well. But people do write about their extra-curriculars and PoRs in their CV because it definitely does not hurt.
5. How did you identify your recos?
One was my BTP Prof and another was a Prof with whom I had worked on a project during my 3rd year summer. I had worked quite closely with these Professors and I was reasonably assured that they would be able to provide some good insights about my research capabilities to the admission committees.
It also helps if your recommenders have done good work in their areas of research. For my third recommender I chose a Professor with whom I had done two courses. This Prof is really popular in my Dept. for being very influential with admission committees of US Universities. There are stories on how he got students with a CG less than 8 into MIT etc.
6. Why do you think Stanford selected you?
I think I had strong academic credentials. Being BP1 for two years overall helped. At the time of application I was BP1 among B.Tech students, which got me the fellowship. I also believe I crafted a really good SoP.
7. How and which colleges did you decide to apply to?
I applied to 3 colleges – Stanford, MIT and Cornell. These Universities had Professors who did the kind of research I wanted to do.
8. Did you have alternate options? If yes, what made you decide on Stanford?
My alternate option was Cornell, but I decided to go to Stanford because of its superior brand value, its emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, and its amazing weather.
9. Any useful tips on SoPs, CV, Recos, Projects, Papers and choosing courses?
1) Write your SoP before you look at any other SoP. Every individual has a very very unique reason for pursuing higher studies and it is very important that this part stands out in your SoP. If you read your senior’s SoPs before you write yours you will definitely get influenced and your SoP will lose its essence.
2) Spend at least a month on writing your SoP. You would need to make at least 8-9 versions of it before it takes a good shape. After every version send it to a senior, a friend or a professor and get their feedback on it.
1) Do not get recos from Professors who are known to be moody. Stay away from Professors who, in the past, were not able to stick to the student’s application deadlines. Stay away from Professors who could not get a student into a University which he/she rightfully deserved.
2) If you want good recos it is very important that you have a good reputation in your department. If you are the kind of a student who constantly worries about getting grades and pesters Professors/TAs to give you a re-evaluation, then good luck.
10. Did you have a mentor? Would you like to be one?
I had Akshay Subramaniam mentor me. He is in the second year of his Master’s program in Stanford’s Aero-Astro department. Yes, I would love to be one.