Fortune Favours The Brave: From 6 backlogs to an Ivy League Admit

Shantanu Kumar obtained his B.Tech in Civil Engineering, from Vellore Institute of Technology, Chennai.

With 6 backlogs at the end of the second year, an Ivy League admit seemed like a distant dream.

How did Shantanu Kumar turn his life around?

We were curious too, so we decided to ask him.

GREedge: When were you bit by the proverbial GRE-bug?

Shantanu: My roommates were giving GRE when we were in the 3rd year. I did not have a passport back then so I did not start along with them. I was focused on getting into NICMAR in Hyderabad. But fortunately, I did not get in. [grins] So, I started looking at options abroad.
I enrolled with GREedge in February in my last semester. But it wasn’t until June that I actually sat down to seriously prepare for GRE. July and August was the period of core GRE preparation for me.

GREedge: Could you describe your preparation strategy for GRE?

Shantanu: After 4 years in engineering, I was pretty confident about Quant. Perhaps, a little overconfident, because I was expecting a 170 and I ended up scoring only 161. But since I wasn’t applying for an MS in streams like CSE, I guess I got away with it!
But, I had made constant efforts to practice Verbal. I learned almost 2000 GRE words. I also practiced reading daily. It was like a medicine course. I used to read 2 articles daily, one in the morning and one in the evening. [chuckles]
I gave my exam in mid-September and the rest, as they say, is history.

GREedgeTalking about history, you had 6 backlogs at the end of second year.
How did you get back in the game so strongly?

Shantanu: [laughs] My graph has been a parabola. It slumped during college but I managed to bring it back up at the end. I did an internship at ESSAR Projects in Odisha where a thermal plant was being constructed at that time. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I was inspired and that’s where I cultivated my interest in construction management, which is my Master’s specialization also now.

So, chin up soldier, all is not over, you got miles to go and much to conquer.

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GREedge: Wow, it’s one thing to be inspired, but you have managed to turn the tables, so to speak.
Did having backlogs affect your admits?

Shantanu: I’m not sure how the admission acceptance works because initially I was rejected twice based on my CGPA. My CGPA was 7.77 which roughly translates to around 3. But with the same CGPA and GRE score, I got through Cornell, Purdue, University of Texas and Colorado State University.
Maybe it’s luck! [chuckles]

GREedge:. Is it luck or the strength of your admission profile?

Shantanu: It could be. I cannot pinpoint the exact reason based on which I was admitted. My application to Cornell was a long shot. I did not even imagine I would receive an admit.
But, I would say this, that the Letter of Recommendation (LORs) I received from my teachers and employer was definitely a differentiating factor.
I got one from a professor under whom I completed my undergraduate thesis. I worked with him closely for about 1.5 years and he knew me personally. He portrayed me as a stellar student and he praised me for my work in construction planning and scheduling. I’m pursuing something similar in Colorado State University (CSU) now.

GREedge: Wait, CSU? You aren’t accepting the admit from Cornell University?

Shantanu: [laughs] Yes, I know. I rejected an Ivy league Admit. I can’t believe it myself. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I had applied for Engineering Management at Cornell University and I was almost certain of taking it up, until I heard back from CSU. At CSU, I will be pursuing Masters in Construction Management – something I am very passionate about. They also offered me a Teaching Assistantship! I would be teaching undergraduate lab classes on scheduling!

What other reasons do I need to make the switch?

GREedge: I agree, it sounds like you got your dream.

Shantanu: Yes! It does sound too good to be true. Initially, I was entirely sure they sent the acceptance letter from Cornell by mistake. I mean, something similar happened with CSE applicants last year, as in 2014, with CMU where they sent acceptance letters to rejected applicants also because of some server issue.
I was expecting a rejection letter soon afterward apologizing for the mixup.
But, thankfully, it never came!

GREedge: Would you say your experience was a smooth ride?

Shantanu: Oh no! Definitely not. It was a very tense period in my life! I wasn’t even sure that I would be going abroad, even after receiving such great admits because I wasn’t sure if my loan application would be sanctioned. I finally heard back from them in April, approving my loan.
It has been an interesting experience but I am so tired with all the admission formalities. I just want to get started already!
But, I’m excited to say, that as of July 1st, my Visa got approved and I’m flying on 8th August!

GREedge: Can you talk us through your SOP? How did you tackle that challenge?

Shantanu: I had edited SOPs for my friends who were going abroad back in 2014 and I knew how precise I had to be. I was particular about getting the details right. I was adamant about not making a common SOP and that paid off. I modified my SOP for each university depending on what course I was applying for.
For example, at Cornell University, I knew I was applying to Engineering Management, which is a professional course. So I emphasized what I had learned during the 1 year period when I was working, which was related to planning also. I also talked about my aspiration to open my own firm someday.

But when I applied for CSU, I was applying for an MS course, so I focused on talking about my research projects. Our college was focused on project-based learning and so I also talked about my project experiences in great detail.

At CSU, apart from the SOP and LOR, they had also asked for a research agenda where I had to mention particular topics of research I was interested in. If that aligns with what the faculty there is working on, you have higher chances of being admitted.

GREedge: How does it feel to be flying abroad for higher studies?

Shantanu: Honestly, I’m excited but also extremely nervous. I have been told that first-year students in the US have more knowledge than we do in our final years.

So, the TA is surely going to be a challenge. But, I am looking forward to it.

GREedge: Before we let you go Shantanu, what advice would you give to future GRE aspirants?

Shantanu: [laughs] I am not really good at giving advice, but I would surely say in terms of preparation, I think, 2 hours every day for 2 months is surely enough if you have a decent hold on verbal and quant.

Also, please don’t take the admission process lightly. Shortlisting universities, writing and rewriting my SOP, getting a solid application ready before the deadlines took much longer than my GRE preparation itself.

Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong in the last minute only. I remember, when I was applying to Virginia Tech, it was the last day and my credit card refused to work! I didn’t receive a receipt of a successful transaction and I called people around the world trying to find out what happened.

So, yes, time management, planning ahead and total focus is absolutely necessary if you want to have a smooth admission experience.

Thank you so much for sharing your GRE Journey with us.
GREedge congratulates you on your success and wishes you the very best for the future!

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5 Responses

  1. Ram Chaturvedi says:

    This is so inspiring!

  2. Abhishek Singh says:

    All the best Shantanu! Fortune favors the brave indeed! 😀

  3. SK says:

    Very interesting story. I have 25+ backlogs because I nearly quit college midway, is there any point in me taking the GRE?

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