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Applying for your Masters overseas? Here’s a Guide by FS Grads.

13 min read
Image by Manolo Franco from Pixabay

Every year, lakhs of students all across India apply to post-graduate programs overseas. In addition to picking out the country and institution of choice, students have to navigate through the process of determining fees, courses, visas, travel and financing.

Earlier in July, we asked Formula Bharat participants who had applied to Masters’ programs abroad to fill a short survey for us. We received responses from ten applicants. Below is a table-graphic that highlights quick details of their programs and application process. If you are planning to apply for a Masters program next fall, here is snapshot of what to expect.

Our survey respondents even provided a few details of their application journey, which our readers might find helpful. Scroll through to read what they have to say!

Why did you choose to pursue a post-graduate program abroad?

Jawad: From my undergrad days itself, I had always wanted to pursue my post-grad studies in a different country to get international exposure and the experience. Living, working and collaborating in a different culture and demographic environment had its own appeal to me which led me to deciding to pursue my Masters outside of India.

Aditya: Primary reason is quality of research and tools available for research. Other reasons include association with some of the worlds best MNCs for research projects.

Ricky: The reason I chose to do a Master’s in the first place was because I wanted to change my field and upgrade my profile. I chose to study in the UK as it’s much easier to get admission there (without having to study again after the degree) while also providing me with a quality education and the opportunity to live independently.

Anubhav: I had an job offer of my dream company right after the placement session began in our University. This gave me ample of time to decide whether I should have a MS degree in the near future or at a later stage of my career. But after working in the automotive industry for some time now, I began to feel the exposure of the Indian automotive industry and its future. So in order to position myself in the best possible way in the next ten years to come, I decided to pursue my MS in a technical field itself.

Why did you select the program of choice?

Shanay: [Masters in Management, Technical University of Munich Germany] Best university in the heart of the automobile hub of the world! German engineering is epitome of excellence and the course is a bridge between management and engineering studies

Jawad: [MBA, Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester] Throughout my undergrad studies, I was associated with Formula Student through my university team – Wrench Wielders Racing. During the final year of my engineering I was the Team Captain and I remembering enjoying my role of managing and leading a group of 25 odd teammates. This experience was I think also my first, albeit relatively small, taste of knowing how to manage finances and people. Since then I have been working as part of the business team for my current organization and during the last three and a half years, I’ve gotten exposed to various aspects of business development and management, collaborated with other verticals and cross-functional teams and have understood the interdependent role of legal, finance and compliance in the functioning of a business. I have also had the opportunity of working with a few international clients and stakeholders during this period. So it was a logical step for me to pursue an MBA at the current stage of my career to polish myself, gain new expertise and background that an MBA would provide. I also felt an MBA with a diverse class profile will allow me to collaborate and work closely with people from across sectors, cultural backgrounds, and with those at different stages of their career which will pose an opportunity for me to get great exposure.

Balaji: [MSc Racing Engine Systems, Oxford Brookes University] To get into F1 as a Powertrain designer.

Het: [MS Mechanical Engineering, North Carolina State University] NCSU ranks among the top 25 engineering schools in the US. It is renowned for heat transfer and fluids which is the area I’m looking to specialize in. It has great lab facilities including supersonic wind tunnels for experimental work.

Ricky: [MSc. Robotics and Automation, University of Sussex] I was looking for a program to enter that is expected to flourish in a few years here in India, without going too far from my Mechanical Engineering degree. The field of robotics wasn’t the only program that I chose, I had also considered other management related programs. I had selected Robotics and Automation believing that I will be able to work in that field and innovate in that field. Various movies such as the Star Wars franchise, Iron Man and Batman had also inspired my choice!

Anubhav: [Commercial Vehicle Technology, Technical University of Kaiserslautern, Germany] Right after joining the university’s FS team, I was more inclined to acquire practical knowledge in automobiles (especially in powertrain), but above all, it fueled my passion for the automotive field. After working for almost 2 years in the automotive industry with Bajaj Auto Limited and having worked and shadowed some amazing projects at an industry level, I decided to further my career in this field itself.

Where do you see your career heading after your program’s completion?

Rishi: [Aerospace Engineering, University of Florida] Research / PhD. In a specific domain (Dynamic System & Control)

Shanay: [Masters in Management, Technical University of Munich Germany] I aspire to take up roles such as a product manager or business development analyst in an automobile company in Germany – Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen or Audi perhaps.

Jawad: [MBA, Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester] As for my immediate post MBA plans, my current preference is to return to professional employment, ideally within the UK. One of the filtering factors for my choice of pursuing an MBA in the UK is that it is one of the most significant economies in the European market and it is where most, if not all of the major consulting firms have a base. This should help my prospect at building and growing networking opportunities for me. In the long term I hope to see myself leading a multifunctional team, hopefully directly responsible for a business budget in an executive role of an organization. And then later, I would like to transition down to an entrepreneurial pathway once I’ve developed the right aptitude. There’s no denying that the ongoing pandemic has had some unprecedented shift in business outlooks, but as the entire globe grapples and adjusts to the new found realities – it also represents a huge opportunity for businesses to be innovative, unconventional and sustainable not just to itself but to the environment as well. And in this realm of opportunity I feel developing and accentuating the necessary skills will put my professional future in the right place. Oh and on a side note – I guess subconsciously one of the reasons I picked UK for my studies is probably because most of the motorsport industry has a base here. Who knows – maybe I can find myself associated back to this industry. I hope at least.

Ricky: [MSc. Robotics and Automation, University of Sussex] I am looking forward to working in the medical or defense fields. Probably initiating a startup later in the future.

Samkit: [Automotive Engineering, Clemson University] After my program completion I see myself as a designer, who aims to get the cost of EV low and affordable having a good mileage.

Did your participation on a Formula Student team aid in your application?

Rishi: Yes, my role as a team captain and experience of leading Team Ojaswat Motorsports into FB 2020 did boost up my profile. Also because of FB we were able to design and fabricate a student formula racing vehicle which led to the publication of my research papers.

Shanay: Yes definitely, my profile is strong on the automobile side due to my formula student experience. I had shifted from technical to management as the team captain of Orion Racing India and that gave me an experience of how the managerial roles in technical domains work, hence it supported my decision to apply for a Masters in management.

Jawad: Yes definitely! Under the motivation part of my statement of purpose I was able to cite my experience of Formula Student as one the reasons of wanting to pursue an MBA. Even during the interview I was able to draw my experience from Formula Student of managing a small team, as an initial experience in business management which struck well with the interviewer (at least I think it did!).

Aditya: Yes. As I mentioned before, my GPA is average at best. My profile was definitely bolstered by 1) Participation in Formula Student 2) Work Experience (which Formula Student had a big part in preparing me for!).

Het: My participation on team SPCE Racing was definitely helpful. It helped my identify my area of interest and also provided me with hands-on experience and knowledge which is usually missing in other applications, especially by the students who don’t take up jobs after undergrad and those who go for the Master’s degree directly.

Ricky: I mentioned proudly that I was the captain of my formula student team and that I participated in two events. Although I’m not sure if it played a prominent role in me getting the call letter, but I’m sure it was good enough to cover the 6.94GPA I scored in my undergrad.

Anubhav: Yes. Having attended 5 FS (Formula Bharat and Supra SAE) events as student and 1 FS event as Design Judge (FB2021) added a lot of credibility of my motivation towards the automotive field in my Statement of Purpose and CV.

Throughout the entire application process, what was your most difficult hurdle to cross?

Het: University selection and Visa application. Making an informed decision with university selection is very tough because rankings can be manipulated or misleading, and hence it must not be the only criteria for choosing the ideal university. Getting accurate information is essential. Secondly, visa application is the last step, and we must ensure that there are no complications which may affect us in the interview. Getting rejected at this last step is a very tough pill to swallow.

Anubhav: I believe the application process to German universities was the most difficult hurdle to cross. They have a very tedious process of it and its different for every other university. And above all the application portals are not user friendly and some of them are in German itself, even for English taught programs.

Is there any advice that you would like to provide to your peers in terms of the application process?

Rishi: Yes, start early, always depend on your research, perform a thorough research (check the degree offered, subjects taught, fee structure, etc.) before applying to any university. Some universities might be very aspirational for you (there is no chance you can get into that), on the other hand make sure you get the deserving university and don’t settle for lower. The application fee for almost every university is more than about INR 6000. And most of the students apply into more than about 6-7 universities. So make sure that you shortlist wisely.

Shanay: Start early! The day you decide you want to pursue your masters, reach out to seniors and alumni on LinkedIn and start clarifying your doubts. In a day if you reach out to 5 people, you’re definitely going to get 3 new tips that you didn’t know before.

Jawad: As a personal opinion, I feel what any candidate needs to be absolutely sure of when they think of a masters application are “Why do I want to this?”, “What am I expecting out of degree or program?” “What will I do post my masters and do I have some idea as to how will I go about achieving it?” In a crux, the answers to the above questions are basically what a foreign masters application is all about. And the more confident you are of your answers or of your reasons to do the above, the better you would be able to articulate it in your application and interviews. Another piece of advice is – Plan early and plan well! My application was the result of a plan spanning over 4 years. You don’t need it to be that long. But set yourself a target as to when you want to start your studies, where do you want to go, what do you need to do to meet eligibility criteria and work backwards from there, so you when you need to do what and have all the details and documents with you when you finally sit down for your application.

Het: I would say that use rankings for short listing, then visit program websites and research about the work being done there. If getting jobs is the most important reason for pursuing your Masters, then location is of utmost importance. Also, please be very patient in choosing specialization or field, as this is probably the most impactful education that will be useful throughout your career.

Ricky: Start early and do your own research. Go for an agent only if very necessary, as you can do everything that they do. Although there is fear of going to a new place on your own without much support, remember that it is the same for most of the students who are with you in the program. Take your time selecting the course and college. First select your course, then use resources such as those provided by The Guardian to check course-wise rating.

Samkit: Everyone is usually scared that what they should include and shouldn’t. Just be calm and everything will be done. For the SOP, keep it short concise and crisp and to the point. Do not write stories.

Aboli: Take help from your seniors. There is no need to pay for any counseling. You have to just be patient.

Any particular financing method you would recommend to your peers?

Jawad: Obviously, the more one can fund through personal funds the easier it it. However, it is not always feasible, so a student loan is not the worst option. There are plenty of options to get a student loan one can look into depending on their situation – Nationalized, Private Banks and NBFCs such as HDFC Credila, Avanse and InCred. Banks may charge a lower interest rate than NBFCs but may have stringent requirements in terms of documentation, and lower limits in terms of sanction amounts, moratorium period etc.

Balaji: An education loan may seem to be high interest but the return on investment will be more than sufficient.

Het: Please show enough personal savings (try for at least the amount shown in the i20) besides the loan amount. Savings can be liquid assets as well. I used a Nationalized bank loan from Union Bank.

Ricky: The issue with self financing is that you have to show that the amount has been in the bank for at least 28 days. So if that is not an option, a loan is always better. They will start collecting the amount after the moratorium period has ended (usually 1 year after study) and there are multiple plans available.

How long was / is the visa process? What are the hurdles you have had to face?

Rishi: It takes about 3-4 months. Obtaining the i20 form, filling up DS 120 form / fees, paying SEVIS fees, selecting dates for biometrics, selecting dates for the visa interview and setting up finances (loan, bank statements, sponsor letters, listing and proofs of assets and much more).

Shanay: German long-term visa processing may take upto 8 weeks. Due to Covid, things are not very certain though.

Jawad: UKVI student application is relatively straightforward and can be done by oneself online. A VFS appointment is needed to submit biometrics and documents for visa. Standard response time to get a decision is 10-15 working days, however priority options are available at additional costs. A pre-requisite for the UKVI Visa application is a ‘CAS’ document which is prepared by one’s university upon acceptance of an unconditional offer. If applying for a UKVI student visa from India, please do keep in mind the financial evidence criteria and TB Test requirements, which are the major discussion points between students for the visa application.

Aboli: 1- 1.5 months. Patience and confidence are the only keys. It was hard to get visa appointment slot in Covid time.

Has Covid-19 impacted your travel / residency application process?

Rishi: Yes, students are barely getting dates for a visa appointment. Also several tests and quarantine is required after entering the foreign land. Due to low frequency of flights, the rates are much higher than usual and there are hardly any direct flight options.

Shanay: Germany has banned travellers from India and have stopped stamping the visa to avoid students entering Germany through a third country.

Jawad: Not yet. India is currently in the UK red-list for travel so most likely would have to undergo govt-mandated Quarantine upon travel to UK. However the university has confirmed to reimburse the mandatory quarantine cost for students travelling from red-list countries.

Het: I had to defer my admittance by a year.

Ricky: Due to Covid, the staff at the university has been reduced which is why it took so long for the call letter to arrive. Other than that, Covid has actually increased the number of students applying abroad. So I’m expecting the prices of rooms to be higher than usual, and it’ll be a lot more difficult to find part time jobs and permanent jobs once the course is over.

Aboli: Yes. Hard to get visa appointment slots.

We hope that you have found this blog post helpful towards your journey of pursuing a Masters Program overseas!

We would like to thank Rishi Desai, Shanay Shah, Jawad Shaikh, Balaji Mahendran, Aditya Nair, Het Padachh, Ricky Ambrose, Anubhav Routray, Samkit Shah and Aboli Jaydeep Patil for their participation in the survey and towards this blog. Wishing you all the best in your future endeavors!

Note: Certain text in the responses have been edited for grammar.