I am a master’s student pursuing informatics at the Technical University of Munich, Germany. I am about to complete my third semester soon and during this phase, I have received a lot of messages from known as well as unknown people to give them an opinion about master’s abroad, especially in Germany and the United States.

One of the common questions a lot of them asked, “Can I opt for admission counseling services for the preparation of my documents?” and my answer has been consistent always, “No, do not opt for admission counseling services at all!” For remaining section of this post, I apologize in advance if you feel I am being rude or acting like a snob. But if you care about your admissions abroad, please read this and think for a while before you come to any sort of conclusion.

First of all, the main things with respect to your application are: application form, letter of motivation/statement of purpose, letter of recommendation, résumé/CV, grade sheets/transcripts, and sometimes, an essay about a particular topic.

Application form consists of things like your name, address, the course you want to pursue, the marks you obtained during school and/or bachelors, and so on. Do you really need to pay someone to fill such a form for you? The answer clearly is NO. There will be a few fields in the form which can be vague but you can always google it up or inquire the admission committee of the university your are applying to. Filling this form takes a few minutes and is perhaps the easiest task of all.

Letter of motivation or statement of purpose is one of the crucial documents that forms the backbone of your application. It is your story to tell to convince the committee how you are the right candidate for the particular course. You must be the one talking about your goals. It also is a medium for you to clarify any mess ups that happened in terms of grades during your previous studies. When I say this, the next question that comes to me is, “But I am not a writer. I do not know how to articulate it properly!”

If you are going for higher studies abroad, you would have written atleast one of the three – GRE/TOEFL/IELTS. Take these exams seriously to hone your writing skills. Once you go start doing your master’s, you will be writing a lot of project reports, short papers, thesis reports, and so on. If you are still doing your bachelor’s, do not get involved in the practice of submitting poor reports just to get grades. Take it as an opportunity to improve. Imagine how hard it will be to write a 50 or 100 page technical report if you cannot even write a 2 page statement about yourself and your goals. Write it on your own even if it is crappy. And then pester your friends with excellent hold of the language to proof read it to fine tune it further.

Letter of recommendation is an alternative of statement of purpose. The difference is someone vouches for your abilities instead of you doing it for yourself. You have to convince them to give you a recommendation. It does not stop there. Sometimes, universities send emails to the recommenders to upload the documents. There is no role of counseling services here. If your recommender is busy or not having excellent writing skills, you need to take up the initiative to write one and get it sanctioned. There will also be occasions when you have to get it printed in your university letterhead to post it via mail to the university you are applying to. This is something you could get it done with your friends by referring samples online or from seniors/other candidates who had applied earlier.

Résumé/CV is another important document of your application. There are plenty of samples and templates online which you can refer to. Concentrate on putting the most important content pertinent to your prospective degree in a concise manner. Unlike personal statements where you need to form proper sentences and structure for paragraphs and check for connectivity between sentences and paragraphs, this document is relatively easier in terms of going about but do not take it lightly. Again, compare your document to the various successful samples available online. Get this document proofread for any grammatical mistakes or content that seems totally irrelevant with people who have good knowledge in the domain of your interest.

Universities also require the transcript or grade sheet from your earlier university. There is nothing that the admission counseling people can do here. You need to go apply for extra grade sheets at your university, put it in an envelop, get it sealed and send it by yourself.

An essay might be required by the university in certain cases. They might be about a particular topic relevant to the majors you will be applying for. I am going to reiterate what I had mentioned in the case of personal statements. If you cannot write a two page essay about a topic, how will you write a 50-100 page document involving some sort of research. Or how will you even write a scientific research paper if you wish to some day.

So, what do the consultancies or counseling services do?

They tell you how to go about things. They help you shortlist universities based on your scores and at times, for their benefits with their partner universities. Offering to correct your documents is another service of theirs.

How do I go about with shortlisting universities and preparing documents?

First of all, visit the university website to know about their requirements. Carefully read and find out if you are eligible in the first place. If you are not, there is no point adding it to your list. If you do stand a chance, check on websites like Edulix, Gradcafe, and many others to know where you stand. You will also know about how the trends have been in the past. This will give you a hunch and categorize your list of universities into ambitious, moderate and safe.

I have already spoken about what goes into preparing your documents. It is the effort you need to put since it looks like a lot. It is indeed a lot of effort. I took 3 complete months to apply to 8 universities in the US and 2 in Germany. I was much worse in terms of writing than now. But I took GRE and TOEFL as a medium to improve. I had friends who encouraged me to write it first irrespective of how it is and then volunteered to correct. When I had doubts about application forms, I looked for people on social media platform and my own friend circle who were applying or had applied to a similar place. Additionally, I had also clarified my doubts with universities by contacting them.

What about post-admit  and visa documents processing?

Repeat the same I had mentioned earlier. Universities, after admit, list out the additional things they require and want you to do. Follow them and contact concerned people to clarify things when in doubt. As for visa, the same advice is applicable. Contact the consulate or embassy if you have any doubts; they are helpful usually.

I still feel intimidated by the entire process. What should I do?

I agree all these things are a lot to do. Application processing is just tip of the iceberg. Your master’s degree will have more challenges like signing up for courses and exams on time, regular assignment submissions without plagiarizing or copying someone’s work, submitting assignment/project/thesis reports, revise plenty of previous topics to catch up or understand a current topic, and many more. If you really want that master’s degree, preparing your own documents must be the least you could do. And it’s worth it. All the best!