Finding the perfect University and Program for your masters is probably one of the most important things to do. A lot of aspects, and mixed reviews from friends/ acquaintances studying in the US can make this process difficult, rather than easy. I’d go so far as to say that there isn’t really a perfect choice, rather, I believe you can choose any and make the most of it. But, choose you would, how? Let’s try and help you with it. I shall be adding a few examples based on my personal experience.
PROGRAM SELECTION: This one of the most important choices you’d have to make, and perhaps, the most difficult one. What helps is gathering as much information as you can, researching the shortlisted programs, some introspection, and also considering the following points:
1) Past: Building upon your undergrad degree, or even your post-undergrad work experience, can be particularly rewarding. You could waive off a few pre-requisite courses (explained later in this article), study more relevant courses, and be a subject matter expert in your domain. This can go a long way in getting a very good internship experience, as well as getting a full-time job right after your masters program.
2) Present: You could very well consider where your passion and interests lie, for it is a way to ascertain that you’d perform excellently in your chosen field. A lot of people I know choose to do their Masters in a field they are highly interested in, which was not entirely in line with their undergrad, and they are doing exceptionally well. The courses offered in a program are designed in such a way that they provide a pretty strong knowledge base for a considerably high-paying (and good growth) job.
3) Future: You must consider where your masters program can take you at least 5 years down the line. A lot of jobs, especially those for which a company is willing to sponsor H-1B, are concentrated in the data-related sector. However, there are many, many opportunities in other fields as well! In such a dynamic and ever-changing job market, it becomes important to make sure your choice of program stays relevant, at least for a few years after completion of the program.
4) Courses offered: Program names, and the general program descriptions you read about, could be very misleading. While the description may tell you what the program is about, holistically, once you learn more about the courses offered in the program, as well as about the general job market, you’d get a better idea about what exactly this program would teach you, and where it might lead you in your career.
UNIVERSITY SELECTION: Once you have narrowed down the program of your choice, you can go ahead and choose a university. A lot of aspects affect this decision, as listed below.
1) Ranking and Reputation: Undeniably, a university and your programs college ranking affects the worth of your degree. This ranking translates to facilities, quality of education, research programs, scholarships, university ties with companies, quality peer-to-peer interaction, which ultimately contributes to your success in corporate world.
2) Location: This is a tricky aspect, and not entirely definitive. However, proximity to job markets can be very rewarding. It provides opportunities for university-company programs to participate in, and companies prefer to hire interns/ full time students from well-known local universities. (A company in the city I studied in, hired 150 interns and offered many of them a full-time job with H-1B sponsorship!)
3) Total Credits: Check the total number of credits required for the degree completion, as well as the number of credits per course. This helps you know how many courses you would need to study for the degree.
4) Pre-requisite Courses: Some universities require you to complete a set of compulsory courses, which could also be pre-requisite courses for some other courses. For example, Supply Chain Engineering is a pre-requisite course for Strategic Sourcing and Procurement, and Mathematics and Statistics is a pre-requisite course for Supply Chain Engineering.
Bonus: Some courses could be co-requisite, meaning it’s actually a pre-requisite course, but you could take the pre-req course and the main course together in one semester. Additionally, some courses can be waived if you provide proof of having studied that subject (mostly, that you have studied the said course in your undergrad).
5) Additional Certification/ Courses from other colleges: Mostly, universities offer you course selection (besides the pre-req courses) from almost every other college in the university. Having this knowledge about a university’s programs makes you understand how concentrated/focused you can be towards your domain. Some universities provide additional certifications if you complete a certain number of credits from a college other than yours. (For example, I studied in College of Engineering, and upon completing a few credits from the Business school, I received a Graduate Certificate in Supply Chain Management)
6) Internship Program: An international student on a F-1 visa can work as a paid intern for upto 365 days. This is called a CPT, or Curricular Practical Training Period, where your job description has to be highly relevant to what you have studied so far (and needs approval from your program co-ordinator.) However, university rules and college rules may allow you a CPT period of as low as almost half of it (~180 days!), as well as have a minimum-credit-completion requirement, too.
Check the university website to find out such things, as it may affect your decision of choosing the program (in my university, EM students had a 8-month max 1-time CPT, whereas CS students had a complete 12-month CPT, where they could do 2 or even 3 internships totaling 12 months!)
7) On-Campus jobs: It is very normal to find a masters student in the US working part-time on-campus. Almost every university has on-campus job opportunities, where you can work a maximum of 20 hours per week (and 40 hours per week during holidays). With a good $/hr rate, you could very well manage your monthly rent, utilities, travel and food expenses. (with some extra savings tucked away for treats). Find out the kind of on-campus jobs available in your shortlisted universities, the number of such jobs, and the average pay per hour. (I worked 2 years on-campus for an average pay of 14$/ hour, and travelled to India twice with my savings, along with managing my living expenses in the US)