The field of Computer Science and Information Technology is seemingly bulletproof. It’s survived three waves of stock market busts, investor pessimism and innovation barriers to come back again and again. And that’s meant that it has always been a magnet for many of the brightest and best engineers in the world – and that’s because the long-term prospects are great. Graduates flocked to Apple and Microsoft in the past – and still do – while others try desperately to get into Google and Facebook, or any one of the great technology startups in the Valley.
It’s no surprise that a lot of our students, who go through GRE coaching and admissions counselling with us, want to get a Master’s in CS. And, since there’s no real bias against people with different undergraduate degrees, we often have discussions on how to maximize the chances of getting in.
Here is the distilled result of all those discussions. Here is the Jamboree guide to getting an MS or PhD degree in Computer Science abroad, without necessarily having any formal academic experience in the field:
Do as many courses in CS as possible
In case your undergraduate program allows you to audit courses or sit through courses, not of your department, do complete as many basic CS courses (introduction to databases, introduction to algorithms, etc.) as possible. This will ensure that you can highlight it in your application as relevant academic experience. In case you have graduated, or if auditing is not an option, you can definitely complete courses online through MOOCs, and even acquire certificates of completion, if you do the course in real time with assignments, etc. This will work in your favour as a demonstration of your intent to get the basics strong, in your field of interest.
Churn out code
As in any other field, the best way to get really good at CS or IT is to start programming. One good starting point might just be the assignments in books, or in the online courses that you are doing. Over time, as your interest and skill grow, you could start attending hackathons organized by various companies. Even if you get a chance to assist one of your friends in writing code for a specific purpose, you should grab the opportunity with both hands. You will get real-time feedback on your work, and get to see someone more experienced in action – always the best way to learn.
Complete at least one relevant internship
Strengthening the professional experience section in your grad school application is never a bad thing, and making it relevant to the field of application is even better. To this end, we suggest that you start small, by taking up projects that you know you can do for sure, to get a critical mass of projects on your CV – these could even be with a professor in your undergraduate college in the CS or IT department. Once you have the basic requirements and the confidence, apply to companies within India – using networks or even intern sites – to build something in the professional arena with less of a safety net attached. In all these internships, focus on the learning aspect. Ask yourself – Will there be someone guiding you who has relevant deep experience? Will you get to work on new technology, or a new platform, or on the things you know in a new way? Will you be able to tell the story of why you interned in this role with this company in an adequate way in your final application? If you are able to satisfy yourself in the answers to these questions, you should go ahead and select the internship.
This is, again, a powerful demonstration of intent. The school to which you are applying will be able to see that you wanted the CS MS enough to take time out of your primary undergraduate degree and get relevant experience – both academic and professional – in a different field. This could make all the difference.
Keep in mind that your disadvantage is small, at worst
A lot of applicants have told us that they feel psychologically disadvantaged, that they feel like they are competing against people who have 4 years of experience more than them, and that they will therefore not be able to get an admit. To them, we always give this assurance: the Admissions Boards at the top CS MS programs know that their course is much more rigorous, much more demanding, and much more thorough than most undergraduate programs out there. Their final selection of candidates is a function of many things, and a lot of those have to do with the ability and will to excel at any chosen field.
So go ahead with full confidence, and tick the basic boxes above. Concentrate on writing the best application you possibly can, and depicting yourself as a great potential computer engineer throughout your application, and you should be good.
We hope that this Jamboree special feature helped you think through the possibilities of getting into a top US graduate degree in Computer Science. As you embark on your journey, we wish you all the best. In case you have any queries regarding any part of the admissions process, do get in touch; you can call us, visit our website, or drop in at any of our centres.