Your Guide To Studying Abroad

Your Guide To Studying Abroad

Guest Author | Mar 22, 2021

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NIT Rourkela Overseas Alumni Association (NITROAA), following NITROAA’s zeal to guide aspirants on higher studies and research, presents a layout to take up examinations, study sponsorships and many more:

Do check out more on NITROAA’s insights at Let's Hear It From NITROAA

Guideline for all exams needed for Studying Abroad:

This document contains guidelines or resources for appearing for the required exams when you wish to study abroad. This includes –

GRE or Graduate Record Examination is a standardized test that tests your basic understanding of Mathematics and English. It is widely accepted by many universities across the world for admission into graduate programs. It is held throughout the year and can be given at different test centres in a country. The score is valid for 5 years.

GRE along with the TOEFL/IELTS scores is a mandatory criterion for applying to a graduate program. Some graduate programs may waive off the GRE requirement. Departments in a university may have a GRE cut-off requirement that a student needs to score in order to be eligible for applying to a graduate program.

Note: The GRE exam pattern might change in future. Hence, always refer to the ETS GRE website for the latest updates.

GRE – General test Vs. Subject test

There are two types of GRE tests available, namely the general test and the subject test. Usually, the graduate programs require a general test score. Universities may require an additional subject test score if you are applying to pure sciences programs like mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics etc. You must always refer to the graduate program website to check for the GRE requirements and the GRE exam you need to take.

The GRE should be given at least 2 months before the university deadlines. It should provide ample time to reappear for the exam if you didn’t score well on the first attempt. Important web links to explore:

http://Parth Vijayvergia’s Youtube channel GREEDGE Online Webinars

GMAT/GRE: A gateway to B-Schools

When you decide to pursue an MBA degree, you are also deciding to prepare for and take a standardized test (GMAT or GRE). This may be your first test at some time. Years ago, business schools started accepting the GRE in addition to the longtime business school standard test, the GMAT. Although choosing between GRE & GMAT might be difficult, if you want to take the GRE route please follow the other blogs provided by @NITOAA for the preparation of GRE but beware that the admission process to a B-School is the same irrespective of the standardized test (GMAT/GRE) that one takes.

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a computer adaptive test (CAT) intended to assess certain analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to a graduate management program, such as an MBA. GMAT is a trusted and preferred part of the admissions process of more than 7,000 business and management programs worldwide.

For over three hours, the GMAT will test you on analytical writing (AWA), quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning and integrated reasoning(IR). Along with the pressure of securing admission into a stellar MBA program, taking the GMAT can be daunting. The following provides a breakdown of the section of the format


GMAT Format 2020 – Section-wise Distribution

GMAT Exam Format 2018 GMAT Structure



  1. Beat Procrastination and focus on GMAT preparation

  2. Measure your GMAT ability: Once you start preparing for the GMAT the first thing you should do is measure your ability or competence level. Using Official Guide Diagnostic Quizzes & GMAT Official Mock tests understand your range of score. This will give you a sense of what is necessary & important for your style of study. Measuring your starting GMAT ability is essential to understand how much preparation time you’ll need.

  3. Understand how long will it take you to prepare for the GMAT: Once you know your current GMAT ability it’s time to figure out how much time will it take you to reach your target GMAT ability level. This will help you to craft a fool-proof study plan and help you how to choose a suitable GMAT date

    • What is your current level of preparation?

    • What is your target GMAT score?

    • Which resources you are going to use for your preparation

  4. Choose a suitable GMAT exam date: Choosing a start date wisely will help you strategize your efforts sometimes if motivates you to overcome procrastination since GMAT can be frustrating many at times.

  5. Learn how to tackle anxiety

  6. Craft a GMAT mock test strategy: There are a lot of free mocks available, take one or two mocks every week to understand the pace of your learning & understand how could you improve the score in the mocks.

  7. Learn time management: One of the reasons could be poor time management. The other could be your low ability level.

  8. Prepare a GMAT Strategy for the last 25 days

  9. Get the best out of your GMAT exam day

  10. Plan for your GMAT retake, if necessary

  11. Buy an ESR and analyze it: ESR is an enhanced score report given by the makers of the GMAT exam to analyze your score and improve on it.

Scoring the best doesn’t necessarily guarantee you admission to the top B-School, MBA Applicants Prepare and manage their references while strengthening your profile. 

The following are the list of websites/blogs that keep you inspired about preparing for the exam and the admissions, there are a lot of stories around. One of the best blogs to look for test break-ups, preparation strategies & admission tips is:

TOEFL- English Proficiency Tests

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a standardized test to measure the English language ability of non-native speakers wishing to enrol in English-speaking universities. It is one of the major English language tests that is widely accepted by many universities around the world, the other being IELTS.

Currently, there are two modes of exam – TOEFL IBT (Internet-based test) and TOEFL PBT (Paper-based test). Students mostly prefer the Internet-based test (IBT). The test can be given throughout the year at different test centers


Note: The TOEFL exam pattern might change in future. Hence, always refer to the ETS TOEFL website for the latest updates. Due to the COVID19 situation, ETS has introduced the TOEFL IBT Home Edition option.


Almost all universities accept TOEFL and IELTS scores for admission into graduate programs. Some universities may prefer one score over the other. Usually European and Canadian universities prefer IELTS over TOEFL while the latter is more accepted in US universities. Hence, you must check with the graduate program regarding the English proficiency test requirements. 


Exam Structure and University requirements

The TOEFL IBT comprises 4 sections – Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. Each section is scored on a scale of 0-30. The test takes about 3 hrs. to complete. Universities may set a cut-off on each section and it may vary from program to program. Usually, a score of 22+ /30 in the speaking and writing section is needed for Teaching assistantship positions.

TOEFL Test structure (ETS) TOEFL sections (Magoosh)


The first question that comes to our mind while deciding to give an English exam is to decide between IELTS and TOEFL. If you are specifically aiming for the USA, then you can do two things- > 1) Give TOEFL as few institutions in the USA don’t accept IELTS. 2) You can still give IELTS, you just need to check with the particular institution you are aiming for about its acceptability of IELTS scores. 

Apart from these points, I am giving a couple of reasons for why I chose IELTS over TOEFL- > 1) The speaking test takes place on a different day, so you don’t have to sit through a continuous 4 hours of the test. 2)The speaking test involves talking to an interviewer (which I found more reasonable) unlike in TOEFL where you have to speak using a microphone to a computer. 

Sections in the Exam 

IELTS exam is of two types: Academic and General Training. For students aiming for abroad study, they must give the Academic one. 

IELTS has four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking. I am going to give a brief overview of each of them. The detailed analysis is there on the website:


The study materials are present on the IELTS official website. I think those are the best materials available. Also, once you fill up the form for the IELTS exam, you receive a lot of study materials. 


The listening section consists of four parts (10 questions each). You will listen to four recordings of native English speakers and then write your answers to a series of questions. 

Recording 1: a conversation between two people set in an everyday social context. Recording 2: a monologue set in an everyday social context, e.g. a speech about local facilities. Recording 3: a conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context, e.g. a university tutor and a student discussing an assignment. Recording 4: a monologue on an academic subject, e.g. a university lecture It is necessary to get enough practice as it takes some time to get familiar with the accents used in the recordings. 


The speaking test lasts for about 11-14 minutes. The test comprises of three parts: 

a) Introduction: The examiner will introduce him/herself and ask you to do the same. For this part, it is necessary to have a prepared version in mind of how you will introduce yourself. There are a lot of IELTS speaking interviews present on YouTube. Go through them. 

b) Topic: In this part, you are given a topic by the examiner, you get one minute to take notes on points of the topic and then speak on it. For example, I got the topic -Describe your ideal job. So, In the one minute assigned to me, I thought about my interest in research and the kind of job that will make me happy. A tip for this part would be to think and make points quickly and in case if the topic asks you to pick a side in a debate, then quickly pick a side and start speaking. Remember, It’s not a check of your debating skills, it’s a test of your speaking skills. 

c) In this part, the examiner will ask you questions based on the topic given to you in part 2. It is to check your one-to-one conversation skills and whether you can communicate complex ideas effectively. 


This consists of three long passages, each followed by a variety of questions. The reading section needs a considerable amount of practice. Also, your vocabulary needs to be strong for this section. It is necessary that you read each passage carefully and with considerable patience. One wrong thing that people often do is to directly read the questions and then find the answers in the passage. That’s the worst strategy as you are most likely to answer incorrectly and also end up wasting a lot of time. The best strategy is to go through a quick and careful reading and then look at the questions. Get into the habit of reading passages and marking important points as you go along. 


This section consists of two parts of 20 and 40 minutes respectively. Part 1 asks you to describe a picture, a graph, or a similar object. Part two asks to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument, or problem. Part 2 needs a lot of practice. A good strategy is to first think about the topic, note down in points what you are going to write and then elaborate on the points.

How to select schools for application?

Selection of schools is one of the most tedious and never-ending tasks. However, remembering a few points would help to target schools and their programs one is to your preference, financial and academic capabilities.

Fees and Funding
(this information is true in a very general way for most universities; some universities might have different rules)

An international graduate student (Master’s and PhD) needs to pay the following fees:

  1. In-state tuition fee

  2. Out-of-state fee

  3. Health Insurance fee (one might opt-out and take cheaper health insurance from outside)

For public and state schools, the out-of-state and in-state fees are almost equal in amount, while for private schools the out-of-state fee is a minimal amount of around $500 a year, the in-state tuition fee is much higher than the combined in-state and out-of-state fees to that of public schools. For details and exact numbers, visit the university tuition fee page.

Funding can be secured in the following ways through an academic appointment on a semesterly/quarterly basis: 

  1. Teaching Assistant (TA): The appointing department pays/waives in-state tuition and health insurance and provides a salary monthly/biweekly; however out-of-state fee still needs to be paid by the student

  2. Research Assistant (RA): The appointing faculty pays/waives all the 3 fees from his/her project funds and provides a salary monthly/biweekly

  3. Scholarships: Provides a stipend and pays/waives your fees

Almost all US schools secure funding for PhD students for the first 4-5 years through a combination of one or more ways above before offering admission. For Master’s, it is extremely difficult to get funding when admitted. However, if one keeps trying, TA opportunities (departmental decisions) might open later or after a semester/quarter. RA positions are provided by individual faculty members and one needs to contact them directly for openings. See the next section for more details.

Emailing Faculties

For PhD positions (or RA positions), contacting faculties through email is the most important aspect in the field of engineering. If one can convince a faculty member through email which generally follows a few online interviews, one’s entire application might go unnoticed and offered admission on the basis of his/her recommendation. 

Keep the length to about 300 words. Try to impress him/her here so that he/she opens your CV. Remember, faculties, prefer to fund PhD students more than MS students irrespective of the quality and experience of the students.

Go through Prof. Scott E. Fahlman’s answer on this link:http://

Start writing to the faculties early, around September/October if you are targeting next year Fall. A faculty gets around 20 such emails a day, so he/she might overlook your email. Most importantly, follow up and stay connected with the faculties if you hear anything from them. 

Finally Selecting Schools

Consider the following factors before choosing schools to apply:

  1. Faculty Response: If you received any positive replies from any faculty member (e.g. I want you to apply formally; What time will you be able to join?), definitely apply to those schools and apply to other schools as well.

  2. Ranking: Check the ranking of the schools in your specific area. US News generally provides a good idea about the schools in their rankings of US Schools. If area rankings are not provided, check out the rankings by departments, however, it can sometimes mislead in specific areas for which one must visit the university department website and check it out yourself. 

  3. Future Interest: If one plans to go for jobs after MS, proximity to cities/industrial locations should be considered. For a PhD, the research area and interest in the project that one is going to work on should be the prime and most important aspect.

  4. Strength of the department: The more faculties there are in your specialization area, the greater number of innovative courses, the greater number of grad students, bigger labs, and more research opportunities.

  5. Public/Private University: Apart from fees, public universities have huge undergraduate enrollment compared to a very small enrollment in private schools. Higher undergraduate enrollments ensure more TA opportunities. For prospective PhD students, while all applicants are evaluated in equal terms in private schools, public schools faculties often prefer domestic students since their out-of-state fee is waived. However, top private schools receive a huge number of applications and often the competition is the same for both public and private schools for PhD.

Now, if you note here, I have not mentioned about course program or research collaboration. Research collaboration is very difficult to understand before entering any lab, and according to the current scenario in the USA, all faculties try to collaborate to their best capabilities, and this is something which you must not worry about. Course Programs are important, but this is something you should look into more once you get an admit. 

On an ending note, please remember, MS is a coursework-based program and admission decisions are made by an admission committee formed by various faculties of the department. A sound GPA, SOP and CV would get you into this program but would not ensure funding initially. 

For PhD aspirants, you too shall need to take courses based on the requirements of the university but shall be more aligned with your research work. The key to getting into a PhD program is to convince a faculty member to be your advisor and secure funding through his/her sponsored projects. A few departments offer PhD positions without assigning advisors. In these cases, there is an implicit decision made on the funding available and the number of students admitted.

Typically, all schools require 3 recommendation letters. Recommendations can be provided by your previous school faculty members, managers you worked under you worked with. However, the qualification of the recommender is sometimes important.

Some links to follow when drafting your SOP:


Congratulations on receiving your admit(s)! Let the feeling that your hard work has paid off sink in. On receiving multiple offers (and assistantships), the decision to choose your grad school can be quite taxing. 

How to choose the right graduate school?

The following factors should be kept in mind when making a decision - 

  • Supervisor & group

  • Funding (for MS - choose the school based on funding sources; which school is giving funding; which school has better chances of funding) 

  • Research interests (it is very important to choose your grad school based on the alignment of your research interests; choose a school that has more faculties working in your field of interest. This is especially important for PhD students for choosing a graduate school)

  • Location of the university (based on what you want to do after MS/PhD the location highly matters for jobs like East/West coast is good for pharmaceutical industries. For a PhD, choose a school where the weather would not play an adverse effect on your five-year-long career. Also, the city/town plays a huge role in your PhD career)

  • Course Program (always choose a school whose graduate program aligns with your personal academic interests more - do your research well on each of the programs you’re admitted to, look out for things like where do their alumni currently work, courses they offer etc.)

Sometimes, these decisions might take a while. Feel free to reach out to the graduate program director and faculties of the department to learn more about the program in order to help you make an informed decision. Most schools are very open to talking to prospective students and are always willing to help out. Once you have decided which graduate school to attend, do not forget to communicate your decision to your recommenders!

Good luck!

Authors: Satish Tumulu (Ceramic Engineering, class of 2016), Saswat Priyadarshi Nayak (Electrical Engineering, class of 2018), Sagnik Paul (Civil Engineering, class of 2017), Anukta Datta (Chemical Engineering, class of 2017), Surya Sreevanthsanath (Mechanical Engineering, class of 2013)

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