With years of experience preparing engineers for their careers, and as an Accepted admissions consultant since 2015, I’ve seen what works and doesn’t work when applying to masters and Ph.D. programs in engineering. Whether you’re applying in software engineering, chemical, computer science, civil engineering, systems, mechanical, or biomedical engineering, you will need the following for a successful application:
1. Undergraduate transcript (coursework and grades)
2. Test scores (GRE and TOEFL or IELTS for international students)
3. Strategy for researching and selecting schools
4. Statement of purpose with clear educational and professional goals tailored to each specific program
5. Resume with relevant experience
6. Letters of recommendation
7. Personal qualities
8. Research (required for PhD; optional for MS)
Understand GPA and Test Score Requirements
Most top engineering schools require a minimum 3.0 GPA. Some schools mainly rely on the grades earned in the junior and senior years for their admissions decisions. However, if your GPA falls below a 3.0, you may be able to compensate with a higher GRE score, and with excellent research and/or work accomplishments.
Every school you apply to will require an official transcript that only your undergraduate institution can provide. You could also consider taking a few courses prior to beginning your application and earn A’s to show that you are now ready and able to manage the curriculum. Courses to consider taking include: calculus 1, 2, and 3; physics; chemistry; linear algebra and differential equations; biology; computer science; and statistics.
The top ranked engineering schools prefer GRE math scores in the 164-167 range. Although, the verbal score is not as critical in importance, the schools like to see a score of around 150. Not all engineering programs list their minimum standardized test score requirements on their website. Check with the U.S. News and World Report Best Engineering Schools issue to determine if the schools you are interested in have reported their average scores.
If you are an international student, you can be assured that most of the best engineering schools accept the TOEFL scores for the English Language requirement. If you have scored 100 or higher, you have satisfied most schools’ minimum score requirements. Some schools accept the IELTS scores; however, Harvard and Stanford do not. Determine which tests are needed by reading the admissions requirements for each of your target schools. You will need a 7 or higher score on the IELTS to meet the requirements of quality engineering programs.
A few words about your undergraduate major. Most applicants to graduate engineering programs are applying for a graduate degree in a program that aligns with their undergraduate engineering studies. I have had clients with a major in the liberal arts successfully apply for graduate engineering programs. They enrolled in the prerequisite engineering and math courses prior to submitting applications, and earned the grades that showed they could handle the technical and quantitative subjects.
Researching Graduate Engineering Programs
In selecting the programs to apply to you should be guided by two primary factors:
1. Your goals
2. Your qualifications
Your strategy begins with what you want to do after you earn your degree. You need those professional goals when you apply to graduate engineering programs to make the entire graduate experience worthwhile. You should know (and the admissions committees will definitely want to know) that the programs you are applying to will help you realize your professional dreams. To quote Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.”
To determine if a program will help you achieve your goals, examine the curriculum – what you’re going to be studying and doing during your graduate program. If it prepares you for your future career in the way you want to be prepared, it’s a program worth considering.
Then look at your qualifications. It makes little sense to apply exclusively to programs where you have little chance of gaining acceptance. Caltech and MIT can’t take everyone. Apply mostly to programs where you have a decent chance of acceptance and if you have one or two dream schools and are willing to spend the time and money to apply, go for it. But be realistic.
Other factors you should consider when researching graduate engineering programs, in addition to these two primary factors, include location, personal preference for urban vs. rural, climate, large vs. small programs, diversity of the student body, etc.
Know the Research Requirements
Many engineering candidates apply to applied engineering programs where prior research experience is not required. These programs are usually titled Master of Engineering. If you are applying for a Master of Science in Engineering, the schools will look for an interest in research and will want to know what research you conducted as an undergraduate, and whether you first and/or second authored publications.
Write a Sizzling Statement of Purpose
Most undergraduate students in engineering are practiced in mathematics, modelling, design, robotics, thermodynamics, and/or simulation, with little opportunity to take courses that require essay writing. Thinking about what content should be included in a statement of purpose (SOP), and writing a coherent and persuasive essay can be daunting.
The SOP is a critical component of the graduate application as it is an opportunity to persuasively tell a story. That story should explain what motivated the applicant to major in engineering (or any other chosen major), and why a graduate degree is important now, as well as how this school and program will help you to accomplish your goals. And, the story should have an interesting beginning, as well as an ending that relates back to the starting content.
It is imperative that you understand the critical importance of clarifying short-term and long-term goals. Schools want to know that you are clear about your purpose for desiring a graduate degree, how you will use that degree upon graduating, and what impact you ultimately want to have on your community or society.
It is equally imperative that your statement of purpose address your reasons for wanting to attend this particular program. You can exhibit genuine interest in each program by discussing how courses, professors, extracurricular activities, or geographic location will enable you to realize your educational and professional goals for graduate study in engineering.
Prepare a Relevant Resume
You will need a professional resume at some point in the application process. It should be the format desired by the school and include the necessary content, usually one page in length, and organized so that it quickly informs the reader of the most recent work, educational, and volunteer accomplishments. The applicant should describe, with action verbs, engineering experiences during internships and full-time jobs, highlighting promotions if applicable. Engineering resumes also usually include a brief list of technical/software skills.
Again, to maximize chances of acceptance, make sure you have the kind of experience (and resume) that your target programs are most interested in.
Snag First-Rate Letters of Recommendation
Most schools require 2-3 letters, and usually require at least one from a former professor who can attest to the candidate’s abilities to succeed in graduate work. The purpose of the recommendations is to provide the schools with other perspectives on your candidacy.
To earn great letters of recommendation, you first have to develop excellent relationships with professors and supervisors. In both cases you need to have done outstanding work under their supervisions. Then you need to ask potential recommenders if they are willing and able to write strong letters of recommendation for you. If they hesitate, ask someone else.
Once you have selected your recommenders, make it easy for them to write the recommendation. Provide them with the information (deadlines, access to forms, brief statement of program values, and perhaps a summary of your achievements under their supervision if time has passed or you were part of a large class) that will save them time and ease their way. They are busy people. A few weeks prior to the due date, send a note reminding them of the upcoming deadline.
Reveal Appealing Personal Qualities
Through your essays, resume, and letters of recommendation, admissions committees will ascertain your personal qualities. They look for candidates who have the intellectual ability to succeed in their program, but they also want to know how you interact with team members as you will spend much time working in team projects with your peers. They also look for leadership qualities, integrity, and emotional intelligence. They are interested in how you resolve conflicts, as well as whether you are willing to ask questions and challenge the status quo to create new products and services. Schools may include an essay requirement that asks you to explain your exposure and experience with diversity.
A nice plus in an engineering application is the ability to communicate not only with fellow engineers, but with end-users. Engineers are known as problem solvers, not communicators. If you are analytical and also a good communicator with non-techies, highlight that talent in your application.
Developing a competitive application for graduate programs in engineering takes strategic thinking, thoughtful organization, thorough execution, and of course, time. It is important to start early, allowing sufficient time to take standardized tests, write a revealing, informative essay, send academic transcripts, refine a resume, line up recommenders and provide them with the appropriate information for them to submit outstanding letters on time, and lastly put it all together.
How you arrange your schedule is a personal preference and is dependent on your study, work, travel, or family considerations. But no matter the timetable, it is vital that you thoroughly reflect upon and think through each of the application components to ensure that you are submitting a most competitive application. One of the reasons that applicants hire consultants is to do just that. Many applicants find it helpful to talk through their bio with an objective listener who can help strategize which information or experiences should be included in an SOP, and even provide an outline to help you begin, not to mention provide feedback and corrections to an SOP draft.
Get the expert guidance you need to create a Masters in Engineering application that will gain you admission to your top-choice graduate program. Check out Accepted’s Masters Application Packages now.Want Karin to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• Get Your Game On: Prepping for Your Grad School Application, a free guide
• Optimize Your Grad School Application: Grades, Essays, Resume, Activity History, and More, a podcast episode
• Writing Your Masters of Engineering Statement of Purpose
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