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.
GREedge: Talking 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.
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!