Typically, you would expect that a Masters (MS) degree is meant for the students with no or little work experience. But, these days, that’s not the case especially if you are applying for competitive programs like Masters in Data Science, Machine Learning, AI, or Business Analytics. In fact, in the last 3 years, I worked with 8 MS applicants who were 35+.
Mohit (Ahuja) had initially opted for an online counselling session with me in September 2019 to discuss his application plans for the 2020 admission cycle. Later, he signed up for a 4-university application package with us.
Mohit had a pretty strong profile. He has been working as the Lead Data Scientist for a Logistics startup in the Middle East. Carrying the tag of being an IIT-graduate, he had more than a decade’s experience in the relevant field. Additionally, he had also completed quite a few online courses on machine learning & AI and data science.
Mohit was very clear about his objectives and post-MS goals. He was specifically interested in the best masters programs for ML/AI and data science with considerable research components around Natural Language Processing, Deep Learning, Supervised/Unsupervised Learning, and Reinforcement Learning.
However, he had two issues that went against him in 2019 admissions round. His GPA was below average and he was from Chemical Engineering background.
GPA anyway matters if you are aiming for the top-25/30 universities in the world ranking. Besides, most of the top programs in Data Science, AI & ML expect CS and related majors in the undergraduate programs apart from a high GPA. Moreover, even though the Masters programs do not ask for GRE, a few top universities do require a GRE score – either as a mandatory or a recommended component.
After getting multiple rejections, many applicants either drop the plans of pursuing Masters or apply to low-ranked schools. In the subsequent year (2020 admission cycle), with the previous year application failures weighing on his mind, Mohit was still keen to stick to his university list for UK and Canada. He went back in as a re-applicant and faced the same issue.
In fact, even the lowest-ranked university (in Mohit’s UK list) that he applied to rejected him as well. The graduate school for Data Science ML/AI programs at that particular university received 2,500 applications for just 160 places in the 2020 admissions round.
Yes, you read it right; that makes an acceptance rate of 6.4%. Graduate acceptance rates for the top universities (and for highly selective programs) often hover around 5 – 10%.
So, being from a non-CS/Math background and with a low GPA, Mohit had an uphill task ahead of him. However, after a bit of patience and tweaking the application tactics, he cracked two top programs in the UK. Here is Mohit’s story about his turnaround for the fall 2020 admissions.
MS Artificial Intelligence Admit for Non-CS Graduate in Mid-30s with Low GPA
By Mohit Ahuja
A Little Bit About My Background
I hold a Bachelors Degree in Chemical Engineering from IIT Delhi (2002-2006). Having more than 14 years of experience in data science, machine learning, and analytical consulting, I am currently working as the lead data scientist in a tech startup in Dubai.
Data Science is an ever-changing field. Therefore, I took multiple online courses on data science including core CS courses (data structures and algorithms, web applications, etc.) and AI courses (machine learning, reinforcement learning, etc.) while learning on the job.
Why did I Choose to Apply for a full-time Masters degree in Data Science, ML/AI?
For the first 7-8 years after college, I was predominantly doing data analytics and consulting. I then decided to do my startup and also decided to build the product myself. This is when I was exposed to the software engineering and programming components required to build products. I developed a deeper understanding of the technology that was available and the products that could be built related to data science and machine learning. My interest grew in this area.
After my startup, I decided to take a purely technical role as the lead data scientist of a startup that would let me apply the skills that I learnt in a professional environment. Here, I understood that the lack of a computer science education was limiting me in what I could do. So I decided to do a masters to formalize my learning and deep dive further into the core CS and ML components of this area.
My Application Approach: 2019 vs 2020
My application in 2019 was extremely haphazard. It was just a last-minute submission where I got together all the required documents within a week and I wrote my personal statement over a weekend 🙂
In 2020, however, my approach was extremely structured as I got immense guidance from Stoodnt and Tanmoy Ray in particular.
I decided to take the GRE even though it was required for only 3 programs out of the 18 programs (across the UK and Canada) that I applied to eventually.
I took the IELTS twice as I wanted a minimum of 7 in each area (one of my top 3 choices required this). My personal statement took an extremely long time to complete as I wanted to tell my story clearly. I went through multiple iterations with Tanmoy.
Each university had its own requirements in terms of word limit as well as the aspects to be covered. I also created a paragraph that was specific to each university and covered the courses to be taken and professors to work with. It was a Herculean task that spread across 6 months but I am glad that I did it as it paid off in the end. The key here was constructive guidance and support from Stoodnt (particularly Tanmoy Ray and Ajay Singh).
Traditional Overseas Education Counsellors vs Independent Admissions Consultants
I think independent admissions consultants are not biased towards any particular university. They follow a complete meritocratic approach where the universities that you are applying to are highly ranked so any sort of connection with the agents would not work. It completely depends on the hard work that you put into the process with the help of the counsellors or consultants.
My Feedback on Stoodnt’s Admissions Consulting Services
Each component was taken care of extremely well. We kicked off with an introductory call where the entire process was explained. I chose to go in for the entire package as I felt that I would need help in all areas. There was a lot of to and fro about university shortlisting. A list was provided but we iterated on it.
I got extremely good feedback from Stoodnt on the universities that I researched and suggested – which were eventually added to the list. Additionally, the reasoning and logic behind building the personal statement were explained carefully. There was no hand-holding – only steering and guidance.
Tanmoy would come back with revised drafts and we would debate openly about each point. Tanmoy also helped me reach out to a few professors to request for supervision on my potential MSc dissertation. This clarified a lot of things about the university, program, and professors.
Finally, the aspect that I found really helpful was after the application process – when the results started coming in. It was extremely helpful to have some guidance on how to face rejections and be patient!
Editor’s Comments: We do a bit of hand-holding in the case of high school students (for profile building and UG applications/admissions). For MS/MBA applications, I (and Team Stoodnt) prefer not to follow a spoon-feed approach.
For MS applications, quite often candidates expect we would fill out the online application form (I do help if an applicant gets stuck), do research and provide a list of 50 universities/programs, or write the CV, SoP/Essays, LoR, etc. on applicant’s behalf. If your expectations are similar, we might turn down your request.
We have even issued two 95% refunds in 2019 (even after we had finished 30 – 40% of the agreed scope of work) when we found out that the applicants’ intentions/expectations don’t align with our work ethics or style of work.
Back to Mohit!
My Thoughts on SoP/Essay Process
Team Stoodnt helped me to present my story in a better way. They will not write your story for you.
For me, this was the best part. I wanted to write my statement on my own but I needed the right amount of guidance which was duly provided. It was also communicated upfront that the personal statement would have to be written by the student.
Feedback on Flexibility of Admissions Counselling Process
I received a lot of flexibility from Stoodnt. As I was working during the day, Tanmoy helped me by taking late-night calls. I remember I once had to reschedule the call at the last minute due to a family emergency. It was immediately rescheduled and there were no issues. In terms of written communication, all my emails were read carefully and I received a clear response for each one of them.
Feedback on the Remote (Online) Nature of the Admissions Consulting Process
I did not face any problems working remotely. We scheduled calls that were duly attended by both. There was complete flexibility even in times of local holidays in the UAE when I would not attend calls or work on the application as I was on holiday. We also did the same when it was the holidays in India. There was mutual respect of each other’s time and personal commitments.
I faced multiple rejections initially. Even though I have a lot of relevant work experience, my GPA was on the lower side (7/10) and my undergrad subject was not relevant (Chemical Engineering). This caused a lot of high ranking universities to reject me as they required a minimum of 8/10 GPA and they wanted students from CS or Math background. This is because a lot of courses in the MS program have CS and Math courses as prerequisites that are not necessarily covered in the Chemical Engineering undergrad.
Tanmoy had mentioned that “Admission consultants could provide insights about programs/universities & jobs abroad, arguments from a point of view of an admission officer, and help you to present a stronger application. But, they don’t possess a magic wand and might not alter the possible impact of the undergraduate degree or GPA/GRE score entirely“.
Tanmoy helped and reassured me after every rejection and asked me to be patient. I finally received an acceptance from my target university for their MSc Artificial Intelligence program. This was one of my top choices.
Is Admissions Consulting Service Worth it?
Short answer – Stoodnt’s services are 100% worth the money!
My Two Cents for the folks who are considering competitive programs like MS ML/AI or Data Science/Analytics in the UK, Canada, or the US?
This field is extremely competitive. Get into it only if you are really passionate about the area as you will face many challenges in this path.
Additionally, please don’t write the application on your own. Get help! There are experts out there that have done this for many years.
It is much better to get help and get into your dream university rather than saving some money and risking your education.
You will earn more than 100x of the counsellor’s fees in the first year after you graduate.
Signing Off: It was a great experience overall. Thanks for all the help! And thanks for being patient with me through my endless rejections! 🙂
– Mohit (Mukesh) Ahuja
We hope Mohit’s application story would inspire a few MS aspirants and would help them in their applications. A suitable Masters program can certainly help your career irrespective of your age.
However, if you are someone with considerable work experience and ready to take a leap of faith, you need to ask yourself the following questions first:
- Am I genuinely passionate about the subject area?
- Is the advanced degree going to fetch me a good ROI?
- What are my chances to make it to the top universities that are known for the specific area of specialization?
- Is it better to opt for online courses (or online Masters) or to focus on gathering work experience?
- Am I ready to commit effort and time towards my applications?
If you get a YES for all the above questions, you should certainly go ahead.
A Masters degree from a top foreign university is always helpful for anyone during a recession. Read how a master’s degree can help your career during and after a recession.
With people maintaining social distancing, and businesses opting for more digital business verticals and working remotely, employers (not just tech companies but all) will be aggressively looking for tech professionals (cloud, IoT, full-stack developers, data science, robotics, and AI/ML talent) in the next couple of years.
Given the current scenario around the world, most of the organizations would be looking for qualified professionals with knowledge skillset in core artificial intelligence, machine learning, and business analytics. So, specialized Masters Degrees can be more than handy for techies to stand out in the international job market.
If needed, you can always work with us for your applications – either for the end-to-end process or the specific components (university shortlisting, SoP/Essay review, or a custom package). Feel free to have a look at our admission counselling for MS services.
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