Masters Success Story - Applied Data Science
However, being a non-CS student, I felt my profile wouldn't be competitive for such a program. I didn't realize back then that many CS skills can be self-taught [Lesson 1]. I decided to play it safe - I'd just study something that was close to my interests but my profile was already perfect for, and so wouldn't require effort in applying.
I wrote my GRE and applied for Fulbright for Applied Economics. My essays and recommendations told a well-knit story of my commitment to economics. Moreover, I was involved in research by the public and private sectors, I had significant social work and a great GPA. What could go wrong? But something did go wrong. The facade of my interest in economics simply fell through in the interview [Lesson 2].
I was disheartened. I rethought my strategy and decided to focus on what I want. I wrote GRE again to improve my score but the rest of my profile remained the same. I now applied to data science programs at NYU and Columbia. Sadly, I was once again faced with rejection [Lesson 3].
At this point, I gave up and decided to focus on my job [Lesson 4].
However, my interest in data science was still present. So with the aim of just learning what I enjoy, I began taking CS courses in my free time and building up my skills. Two of these courses were on Coursera (it was offered by UC San Diego). I was so impressed by how the faculty thought, I learned so much! Once again, the idea of studying in the US seized me. Moreover, I realized since I had amassed some CS knowledge, I was in a much better position to secure an admission in a data science program. I was still under confident and I was tired of spending my family's money on tests and application. As a result, I applied to only one safe school. I was thrilled to receive my first admit the MS Data Science program at George Washington University. To the surprise of my friends, however, I decided not to attend it. It was a very new program in a school not well known for its engineering and science programs [Lesson 5].
Feeling more confident in my skill set, I applied to the University of Southern California and was accepted in the MS Applied Data Science program. I jumped at this opportunity and will InShaAllah be attending it from the coming August.
During this long journey I learned the following:
- Discuss your career goals with teachers! E.g. if you are interested in a different field, approach someone who teaches it, they can guide you and save you a lot of time.
- If you aren't convinced your choice of study excites you, it will be very difficult to convince anyone else.
- A great profile is no good if it isn't relevant.
- Sometimes you are going to hit a dead end. I did too. It is okay to take a break from it all. Studying from abroad isn't the purpose of life. While you're applying, maintain your value in the job market at home so have a job to fall back on even if it doesn't work out
- Know your worth, invest in an education that will get you both security and skills.
- Begin writing your personal statement the day you decide your course of study (even if you are in your second year of undergrad. Start writing bullet points!). Writing the personal statement can be a process of self-discovery if you spend a significant amount of time on it. It will make you realize what you really want to do, what advantages you have, and where you are lacking. If you begin early on, you will have time to cover up your weaknesses by picking an internship / doing a course / getting involved in research etc.
- Try to be organized (definitely more organized than me!). E.g. I first applied to the best schools, then the safest school and finally the perfect fit, I also didn't research properly before applying. Researching early on will save you money because you will not apply to schools that are clearly not a good fit for you.
- Don't pressurize yourself because your friend is already back from masters and you haven't even gotten an admit. Everyone is engaged in their own battles, focus on yourself.
- Don't let failure push you into the victim mentality. If you've failed, ask yourself why and fix what you can. Meanwhile, keep back up options open.