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The Grad School Diaries #1 - Nathanael Koilpillai


Meet Nathanael Koilpillai, an ECE alumnus from the Class of 2014, College of Engineering, Guindy, Anna University. With numerous admits in hand and a full-scholarship from KTH Sweden, he's currently pursuing his Masters at Clemson University, South Carolina, with full scholarship. The Guindy Times sat down with him to know how he managed this feat.


How does one go about selecting a high-profile internship that best suits them ?

The following are excellent venues to obtain information about research and industrial internships that interest you:

(i) Visit our CIA website for a list of international universities that have an MoU with Anna University. Look around the websites of these universities for internship programs in your specialization.

(ii) Look up circulars of exchange programs.

(iii) Frequent sites like www.internshala.com, which notify you about different internships in companies and universities throughout the world. These sites only notify, however, and it’s up to us to visit the website of every individual program and see how well it suits us.

(iv) Apply to international programs like the DAAD (Germany), MITACS (Canada), and the Erasmus Mundus (Europe). Since AU is one of the Indian universities that co-ordinate the program, chances of getting accepted are high.

Once you have been accepted into more than one program, choose one based on location (well-reputed institute with good research facilities), duration (see how much time you can spend), stipend (consider affordability in its absence) and, most importantly, the topic, which should be geared towards your eventual MS specialization.



How does one improve grad-school admission prospects ?

Your CGPA, test scores (GRE, TOEFL), SoP, LoRs are the most decisive factors. However, even without a stellar CGPA, you CAN have solid admission prospects, if you ensure the following:

(i) SoPs must be very well-written, and convincing enough to make its readers believe you deserve a place in their MS/PhD program.

(ii) The content of the LoR is as important as who writes it. LoRs should be written by those who have taught you core subjects related to your degree of specialization, and have a good opinion of you.

(iii) Show some academic work for every break between semesters, even if it is short. This shows in the resume a dedicated student always looking for an opportunity to better themselves. This can be done by taking courses at internationally-renowned institutes like IIT.

(iv) Look at options besides the US to pursue MS. For instance, Sweden is a country that not many will consider for Masters. However, their KTH is ranked among the World Top 30 for Electrical, and they are eager to get more Indian students.

Similarly, NUS and NTU are ranked in the Top15 in the world for other field – their fees are less, acceptance rates are higher, distance from India is less, all their profs have studied in the best univs in the US and around the world and also, these universities have virtually unlimited funds for research. 

On the same note, NCTU and NTHU (Taiwan) have all of the above, plus they have a separate quota for students from Anna University. Our college is highly respected, and we must take the effort to find out and make use of the opportunities available to us. 

(v) Check the cost of Graduate Studies. Two of my batchmates had applied to and got accepted at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, only to realize that the tuition fees were exorbitant (even higher than Stanford) and that they couldn’t afford it. So, in effect, those were wasted applications.






Tips to lever scholarship advantages ?

Keep your competition in mind. Universities have a certain threshold above which students get admission but, in order to get a scholarship, they have to believe that you are one of the best.

(i) Choose colleges you are likely to get into. Although you will be having international competition, it is important to keep track of who all from your college are applying to your department, and ensure you are not competing against people whose profiles are light-years ahead of yours! For example, everyone in my department was going after UC Berkeley, USC, UCSD and UCSB. Those are good colleges, but they were all in my Ambitious range. So, I opted for Georgia Tech, Purdue and Wisconsin. I made it to the final round of Georgia Tech, got rejected by Purdue, and got partial scholarship in Wisconsin.

(ii) Apply to colleges at different levels. Based on your profile, work out which colleges are Ambitious, Ambitious-Moderate, Moderate and Safe. It is good to apply to a few colleges in each bracket, but if scholarship is an important criterion, the Safe and Moderate universities are where you are most likely to get it.

The best way to improve scholarship prospects is to aim for colleges where you are easily one of the best students coming in.

(iii) Small Is Big. Applying to a small school isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Smaller state-funded and private universities encourage more interaction with faculty, increasing your scholarship chances by getting a good LoR. Since most of these universities are trying very hard to come up, they will really take efforts to place their students in good companies.  Also, small college-towns where the town is based around the university are usually cheaper since things are located closer together.

(iv) Check Out The Indian Population. Since Indians are usually helpful to other Indians abroad, the size of the Indian population there is a good indication of your chances of landing a local scholarship there.





The Guindy Times thanks Nathanael for his insights, and wishes him the very best for his future endeavours.


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