Hop on the DIY Bandwagon: 5 Essential Steps to Effective Planning
Before any undertaking or venture, whether academic or professional, I stand by the power of heading to the whiteboard and chalking out a plan. Nothing fancy – just a simple, step-by-step plan integrated with dates and milestones.
Why? Control. It’s really that simple. Having a strong strategy with well thought out activities allows you to take charge and own the process ensuring you are confidently putting your best foot forward for application season. It’s time to hop on the DIY train for your MS applications and utilize the numerous resources around you and tap into the network you have.
Here’s why I strongly recommend creating a plan for all MS applicants:
- Your plan tells you the sequence of events you need to follow. Backtracking from deadlines lets you plan well in advance and ensure you’re not chasing dates.
- It’s important to understand all the moving parts of your plan – sending your scores, ensuring your professors have enough time to submit their LORs, etc. Being informed is the key to making good decisions. Your plan will tell you everything you need to consider to be effectively prepared to apply. You will understand all the common components of your application process that you can knock out in one integrated strike.
- It allows you to see your whole application process from a drilled out perspective – it is very easy to get overwhelmed when dealing with applications. Having a plan lets you break down this process into smaller, easily consumable portions that you can achieve step-by-step.
Here’s how to own the process in 5 essential steps:
Step 1 – Finalize your course / courses:
For some of you, this may be pretty straightforward because you know exactly which course you want to do. For those of you who are confused between courses or are considering applying to more than one course – get this cleared as soon as possible. I’ve seen students unsure well into October, and that simply clutters your mind and you lose precious time just because you didn’t make this decision in advance. Talk to your alums, seniors, Mentor – ask questions around the jobs you can do after you graduate, the courses you will study during your Masters and the pre-requisites needed for the course of your interest. Research as much as possible and finalize the course you wish to pursue well in advance.
Step 2 – Shortlist the Universities:
As a heads-up, this step is the most time-consuming part of your process due to the sheer number of universities you can apply to. You will need to research extensively, talk to your alums / seniors or Mentor and understand the pros and cons of all the options available to you.
Contrary to what many applicants may think, this is NOT something you want to leave for later. Here’s what to definitely consider when shortlisting universities:
- Average profile of students admitted for the course including average GPA / GRE scores
- Courses offered within the program
- Job opportunities / roles available to you after graduation
- Examples of companies that come to campus for recruitment for internships and jobs
- Alumni Network of the program – this directly correlates to how easily you will be able to network
- Other specific factors if important to you – tuition cost and location
The best way to complete this step –
Each application is unique in both their requirements and expectations from applications, so ensure that you account for sufficient time to prepare effectively for each individual university.
Step 3 – Make your Calendar:
This is the time to make a list of the major deadlines and corresponding milestones for your application process. Be liberal with the number of universities you put on here – if there’s a slight chance you might consider applying for a university, add it to your calendar. Go to each shortlisted university’s admission page and read everything there in complete detail – right from the number of LORs, format of SOP and deadline for international students. Back track from the deadline and add in milestones to have your documents ready.
If you like virtual organizers, DayViewer and TeamWeek are helpful resources among many others available for free. Else the classic pen-to-paper is always a good idea as well.
Step 4 – Knock out the Basics:
Now that you have an integrated view of your applications, understand what is common among university requirements and complete these steps early. Obtaining your transcripts from your college, talking to professors about LORs, creating multiple versions of your resume are standard activities that you can finish off before you have to start with the more effort-intensive ones such as your SOPs.
Step 5 – Live by your Plan:
Plan your days, weeks and subsequently months, according to your plan. Be realistic– don’t plan activities over your exams or project submissions – but also be flexible and account for some flex time in your plan. Be as honest as possible and know if you’re falling back and how you should adjust accordingly.
Once you’re done with these steps, congratulations! You have completed the most important part of your entire process – this will constitute the difference between a smart, strategic applicant and an overwhelmed, confused one.
As is true with any endeavor, get ahead of the process and know the variables and moving parts that can be potential risks to plan for effective mitigation strategies. With a strong sense of direction and complete control over your applications, this can absolutely be a smooth sailing ride!