Masters – What the admissions committee looks for?

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Graduate Applications: What the admissions committee looks for? The Graduate application process is a grueling task requiring many months of preparation and hard work. In this blog, we will discuss the various components of the graduate application and its contribution to the admission process.

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The Graduate application process – Academic Record

A candidate’s academic record is one of the most crucial components of the application. The caliber and competence of a student is measured by his/her academic performance over high school and college. It is not possible to compare GPAs across different institutions. As various universities across the world use different grading scales like 0-4, 0-10, 0-100. Moreover, they may even use marks and percentages.

Moreover, the process of calculation of grades is different for different universities, even if the scale is the same. A cumulative GPA score of 8.9 at university X may not be the same as 8.9 at Z University! Thus, it is challenging to define or set parameters for what constitutes a good GPA. Scaling the different GPAs and comparing them would be a waste of time, apart from being a gross injustice to the applicants. 

So how does the Admissions Committee review this very crucial component? While there is no hard and fast rule, but generally candidates with excellent and consistent academic records do stand out from the crowd. However, that does not mean that if you are not amongst the top three, one will not notice you. One must maintain a decent GPA of around 3.6/4 and 8/10-8.5/10 for admission. It is easy to consider scores from known universities. However, one will consider you if you are in the top 10% from a mediocre university. Academic records should be backed up with a strong presentation in the rest of the application.

However, in some cases, one may overlook a poor academic record. So, in case there is something exceptional in a candidate’s profile. Such as a competitive internship/ work experience with an exciting project or a demonstrated expertise in the chosen field of study. So let’s discuss these other factors

Masters - studying for the GRE exam to get into grad school.
Masters – studying for the GRE exam to get into grad school.

The Graduate application process – Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Almost all top Universities require the applicants to give the GRE General Test, conducted by the ETS. The GRE Test scores are more like a threshold cutoff for the colleges. So, a poor test score might find your application in the rejection list. But a good score does not necessarily mean that you will get admission. Overall, a good GRE score is a definite plus as it highlights the academic performance of a candidate. It is advisable for candidates applying for engineering and other STEM domains to have a good quantitative score (around 160/170). whereas, other applicants should have at least 150/170 for favorable consideration.

The cutoff for verbal section scores can be less for international students. Therefore, you could pass the grade with at least 150/170. An excellent analytical writing score is also necessary. Thus, you should aim for an excellent overall score in GRE. If you do slip up in the verbal or analytical sections, a good quant score can make up for it. However, if you have a poor score in all the parts, then it is a cause for concern. To know more about GRE, please check our blog –  All About GRE General Test.


This English Proficiency Test is also a requirement for almost all graduate programs. However, it is more of a qualifying criterion; the actual TOEFL score has practically no bearing on the real admission decision. If a candidate has an active profile but a poor TOFEL score, even then the applicant can be considered for admission, provided he/she takes up an English Proficiency class or an additional test for the same. To know more about TOEFL, please check our blog – TOEFL – All You Need To Know!

Statement of Purpose (SoP)

The SoP forms an integral part of the application process. It is a tough nut to crack for both the students and the admissions committee. For the students, writing the perfect SoP is a challenge, while for the Admissions Committee, it is one of the most difficult to judge and evaluate. The SoP allows the applicants to highlight information that they could not cover in their application. The most important thing, however, is the ‘purpose’ of the SoP. The real motivating factor behind the choice for a graduate program needs to brought out clearly in the SoP. The various internships, exciting projects, work experience, and other accomplishments can have an added advantage to the applicant.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the SoP should be written by the applicant only, as after going through thousands of essays, the admissions committee can spot fakes easily. For an excellent and balanced SoP, the applicant must show that he/she has put in a great deal of thought and effort. The admission process takes into account several factors that include thorough research of the department and finding a way to connect its offering to your interests and vision for the future. Highlighting a compelling idea/reason about why you wish to pursue graduate studies in the particular school would surely catch the attention of the reader, and your research shows that you are serious about your application. To know more about essentials elements of a good SoP, please check our blog – Essentials elements of a good SoP.

Letter of Recommendations (LoRs)

Most colleges require Letters of recommendation from applicants, which form a crucial part of the admission process. A well-written LoRs highlighting the candidate’s genuine abilities can be a game-changer in the application process. The LoRs are essential as they provide an insight into the applicant from professors/ managers who have been associated with him/her. Thus, you must choose someone who will do justice to your application.

It is important to note that the committee can easily judge whether the recommendation has been written generically off a standard template or whether the recommender knows the applicant well. The committee comprises professors who have composed letters for their students, so it is easy for them to spot a genuine or not so genuine LoRs! A good recommendation letter gives a detailed view of the work/projects undertaken under their supervision and their honest evaluation of the candidate citing specific instances from their observation and interaction with the candidate. To know more about LoRs, please check our blog – All About Recommendation Letters.


Most graduate schools will require you to submit a résumé or curriculum vitae (CV). The applicant should mention the educational background, academic /non-academic achievements, details about projects, internships, work experience, publications, etc. The résumé should not be the standard resume, which one sends out for a job application. The CV should be tailored to focus strongly on academic background and strengths relevant to the program that you are applying for.

Additionally, you must highlight your relevant work experience and leverage it to your advantage. However, the résumé is not an all-important document on which your admission hinges. As mentioned earlier, not all schools insist on one, and the projects, work experience, academic scores, etc. are already mentioned in the SOP and recommendation letters.

The Graduate application process – Work experience

While work experience is mostly essential for MBA programs (Masters), the MS programs usually do not require work experience as a qualifying criterion. The work experience of a candidate has a bearing on the selection process only in case it is relevant. The role that the applicant worked in and the relevance to the program of studies he/she is opting for can be a plus point. Needless to point out, a sales experience for an MS in Computer Science will hardly get you brownie points with the admission committee. The experience will also come in handy in cases where the applicant works for a top-notch company even though his/her college is not so well known.

To conclude, we can say that the admission process takes into account several factors. Therefore, it is a combination of various interacting factors based on which one makes a decision.

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