Karthik Rajkumar, BTech, Electrical Engineering, 2013. Currently doing an MS in statistics at Stanford University with an intention to do a PhD in economics immediately after.
1. When did you decide to apply for further studies?
I was pretty confused about what I wanted to do after IIT. I hadn’t paid much attention to the future in my first two and a half years. I was enjoying my coursework and that was that.
In my second year I applied to some start-ups and worked at one on a summer internship. I got this credited so I could leave my third year internship “open to exploration.” Then in my third year, I applied to (and got rejected by) a broad range of companies from Deutsche Bank to ITC.
This made me want to think more closely into what exactly I wanted and I decided to give research a shot. I sent in my application to the DAAD and MITACS summer programs and was luckily accepted by the former. Having thoroughly enjoyed my stint in Germany, I knew I was going to grad school. So that’s roughly 12 months before graduation, to answer your question.
Note: Deciding what exact field I wanted to apply in took a bit longer. After some soul-searching, I realized I wanted to study more “math”, with a leaning toward the social sciences.
2. How did you make the choice between placements and applying?
I wasn’t sure what my chances were at my apps so I did sit for placements, a
lthough I promised myself I would take up any university’s offer irrespective of repute and certainly irrespective of what job I landed. I knew I enjoyed college too much to get a desk job at 21.
3. Is a high CGPA required for applying?
In general, it depends on what program you’re looking at. If you’re talking about a technical PhD, then this is almost of requirement — unless you can bypass it by producing high quality research, which I have personally only seen occur once in my time at IIT.
Also, masters programs are easier to get into than PhDs in general. On the other hand, B schools tend to value work experience and PoRs much more.
4. How relevant are extra-curriculars and Positions of Responsibility?
For a technical masters/PhD, not very much. At best, they are a tie-breaker. (And at worst, you can come off as a very directionless undergrad.)
5. How did you identify your recos?
I tried to work on as many research projects as I could between my sixth and eighth sems, some less successful than others. I finally used a combination of letters from people I worked with (DAAD and BTP guides) and professors in whose classes I got a good grade and who knew me well.
6. Why do you think Stanford selected you?
Because I had a good GPA at the time of application, showed seriousness toward my application and thought the whole thing through (deciding to switch from EE to stats didn’t happen overnight).
7. How and which colleges did you decide to apply to?
I applied all over: University of Toronto (Canada), ETH Zurich and EPFL (Switzerland), UCLA, UC Berkeley and Stanford (USA).
I chose universities based on the quality of their stats department, flexibility for students to explore other fields (I was particularly interested in social science applications), and location. I was serious about looking outside America because I had just lived three months in Europe the last year and was looking forward to spending some more time there. Also, Canada because, well, Canada.
8. Did you have alternate options? If yes, what made you decide on Stanford?
I nearly went to ETH Zurich because that was the first offer I received and frankly, a fabulous one. (In fact the first thing I did after received this admit letter was to decline my placement job offer.) I also got into UCLA but I ultimately picked Stanford because of its interdisciplinary emphasis on research and the richness of its economic and polisci programs.
9. Any useful tips on SoPs, CV, Recos, Projects, Papers and choosing courses?
SoP: Be concise, articulate and to-the-point. No “when I was in 7th class, I knew I was born to be a computational neuroscientist.” Briefly describe your coursework and how you tailored it to fit your needs, talk about your research work (if any) and how your current interests spring from it and finally describe how the program you’re applying to is a good fit both for you and them.
CV: Stick to two pages, clearly labeled sections and bullet pointed lists. Since space is limited, talk as much as you can about your research and as little as you can about that freshie year intra-hostel junkyard wars bronze.
Recos: Get people who know you well to write your letters. Universities need to get to know who you are without being able to interview you or know you in any way other than these documents.
Projects & papers: Most people I applied with didn’t have papers or even submissions but still got into very good programs. However, they were all involved in some form or the other in working with a professor or two and that shows focus.
Courses: Since there is limited choice in coursework at IIT, make sure you pick the ones where you learn the most and in the area of your interest, rather what your friends are taking or the ones that are “free Ss”.
10. Did you have a mentor? Would you like to be one?
I had the privilege of having access to some of the most helpful seniors, both at IIT and outside and I couldn’t have made my choices without their support. I am obviously open to serving that role to people who may need me.