It’s a general belief that it’s only the fresh graduates or the folks with 1 – 3 years of work experience who opt for MS abroad. However, in the last 4 years, we have worked with many applicants in their mid-30s or late-30s who applied for MS. More interestingly, almost all of them applied for Data Science, Business Analytics, Machine Learning, or Artificial Intelligence. In this post, Shahid Shakil, a JPMorgan Associate talks about his application journey and his experience of getting MS Data Science in USA admits at three top universities; including 40% and 15% scholarships from two.
Shahid has been very sincere with his research and application efforts. He had contacted us back in January 2020 to discuss his application plans for fall 2021. He had a great academic profile along with solid professional experience in the software domain. Shahid was very clear about his objectives and post-MS goals (PhD and a research career).
However, not everything was too smooth on his journey. In the summer of 2020, he was a bit unsure of pursuing MS due to the pandemic and all. He already had a bad experience with another study-abroad counseling agency (and pretty a popular one in India). In November, he faced a little dilemma of whether to choose the US or Europe because of funding issues.
He was in a very good situation to submit all the applications by November or December, But, due to multiple circumstances, he submitted most of his applications between January and March 2021.
Shahid received admits from Duke (15% Scholarship), Rochester (40% Scholarship), and Northwestern. Here is his story!
MS Data Science in USA Admits with Scholarships
By Shahid Shakil
Pre-MS Career and Post-MS Goals
I have donned multiple hats during this tenure and I tried to acquire everything that could be considered as a professional success but I usually got bored with routine and mundane software development tasks and battled a moral dilemma that I wanted to do something meaningful which had a larger social impact.
I wanted to get into research roles and explore areas like NLP and Computer Vision which have the potential to address some of the world’s most challenging social problems. But, considering I just had an undergrad degree, not many were ready to take me seriously and offer similar roles. In retrospect, I was not a prodigy or a genius and had to carve my own path myself.
I reckoned I would have to leave my comfort zone and to everyone’s dismay and disbelief would have to go back to graduate school so that I can dedicate my time to getting some good publications and get a plethora of research experience in core areas of Artificial Intelligence so that prospective employers or academia can take me seriously.
Limitations of PG Diploma (Data Science / AI & ML) Programs in India
I completed the PG Diploma program from Great Lakes (in collaboration with UT Austin). The experience was good in terms of understanding the “How” of data science but it wasn’t as Math/Statistics intensive as I wanted it to be. The teachers were great apart from a few exceptions which are true for any academic setup at the moment.
I wanted to explore the Research aspects of Data Science and wanted to publish my work in respected journals. But, it was not possible during the PG Diploma.
I wanted to dedicate some time to learning the theoretical concepts as well which becomes way more difficult while you are dabbling with family, full-time work, and your learning goals hence I decided to focus just on my learning for some time.
Poor Experience with Study Abroad Consultancy and Signing Up with Stoodnt
Earlier, I had signed up with a test-prep cum study abroad consultancy. But, that agency had a one size fits all approach and sent the same set of docs to everyone, and put zero effort into understanding my profile and my story. They tried to shove a generic college shortlist after several follow-ups which alarmed me in looking for alternatives.
On the contrary, when I spoke to Tanmoy (after signing up for a 1-on-1 counselling session for MS Data Science application consultation), he went through several strategies that I was not even considering and he patiently heard what I aspired to and suggested several tips on how I could achieve them.
After 2 sessions I was convinced I should go ahead and take the 3-University package.
For anyone serious about their admit goals I would suggest reaching out to consultants for hourly/half hourly sessions to identify if they would be a good fit and if they understand the domain in which you plan to venture in.
My Feedback on University Shortlisting and SoP/Essay Review & Edit at Stoodnt
I had an excellent experience with the entire process, after initial SOP reviews I was confident that the SOP told my story. Apart from the SOPs Tanmoy also helped with additional admission essays for the Duke application.
The best part was the patience with which Tanmoy dealt the entire process. There were several times where I got caught up with work and could not get back to him on time but he was kind enough to review it when I sent it across to him.
He was more of a friend who guided me through the entire application process, he was the one who helped me stay on track and also talked me out of applying to a different country than the US when certain family constraints had been raised. I can’t thank him enough for his help.
Advantages of Working with Independent Admissions Consultants
The best part of working with independent admission consultants is that you have the privilege of choosing someone who you think has a similar work ethic as yours and has expertise in the domain that you are trying to get into.
For example, someone who has helped an applicant get an admit in Biomedical Engineering or Artificial Intelligence and understands the domain better has an edge over someone who just works with MBA applicants. The initial 1-on-1 counseling sessions can help ensure that the consultant is approachable and if he is someone you can work with for the entire process.
Advice for the Folks who wish to work on the MS Applications on their own
It’s not impossible to get admitted to top universities (with scholarships) without hiring a consultant. After all, not everyone might have a budget for admission counselling services for MS.
- I would suggest researching as much as you can about the universities that offer the program of your interest. One should be aware of the details like the curriculum, prominent faculty in the department, current student profiles, research labs, and research opportunities.
- Once we have the details reaching out to the professors and the alumni helps you understand if you would be a fit and have a shot at the program, one can also go through the historical data of the admits available on several websites.
- After shortlisting the programs one should write the SOP highlighting the motivation behind pursuing the program at that very university. The research done in the initial stages does help in the entire process.
- The applicant should not be overwhelmed by the amount of information available, this is a very individualistic process and every applicant will have a unique profile so identify your strong points and highlight them.
Editor’s Note: We understand that not everyone might be able to afford end-to-end guidance or comprehensive counselling packages. Hence, at Stoodnt, we offer multiple bite-size counselling services. Read MS in USA Counselling Services: How to Decide between End-to-End and Bite-Size Guidance.
My career advice for aspiring data scientists
I have come across several fresh graduates who just want to jump on the bandwagon because of so much marketing hype around data science/AI. It is this notion of being able to do “magic” that causes the misalignment in expectations. Just because the title is attractive does not mean that you will be doing data modeling day in and day out instead a lot of work goes into data quality and data management.
I would suggest fresh graduates (and students) do research if they would be a fit for the field by doing online courses on Coursera, Udemy, edX, etc., and by doing projects using datasets from Kaggle. There are some equally challenging and lucrative fields like Full Stack Development and Cloud Engineering which could be considered as well.
For someone who enjoys data analysis and is convinced that this is the career of their choice I would suggest working on projects and highlighting them on your portfolio could be extremely helpful in getting employed in this field.