Georgia Tech OMSCS Admission Guide for International Applicants

Recently got my admission letter from Georgia Institute of Technology. I’ve been planning on it for over a year, or probably even before I moved to Sydney. I wasn’t particularly dreaming of Georgia Tech. I only knew how important education was for me given my nationality. The institution mattered less than the flexibility and cost of getting an education.

In retrospect, I was one of the “rebels” or the people who believe that you can be anything you want to and not care about “validation.” That was primarily because I was an autodidact who managed to stay in the industry for years. This is the same attitude which self-help authors like James Altucher and Adam Markel would tell you in their book or conference, which have a hefty price compared to a Computer Science education in my country. They have valuable advice, but they don’t work for everyone. For those from third world countries, you have to remember the obvious that you can’t show your GitHub profile to an immigration officer. They don’t understand or care about that.

A very decent Computer Science education in my country can only cost the same amount of money you pay to any conference in Singapore like JSConf.asia. It’s not that I regret paying for conferences. I think they are worth it, and you might be lucky to see language and framework creators like Ryan Dahl who are humble enough to recognize the flaws of their creation. Unfortunately, after paying thousands of dollars on conferences over the years, reading hundreds of technical books and gaining years of experience in the industry, it was deemed as not equivalent to having a Computer Science education to governments and Universities, except for the government of Australia as I already made it for that.

In the year 2014, I was hired by a company in Singapore but had to move back to the Philippines because my VISA application got rejected by the government. Singapore is notorious for not bending for anyone. Their laws are strictly enforced. My former employer ended up paying thousands of dollars for a lawyer. He said the cost was reasonable, but I don’t think it was. Hong Kong and the United States have similar laws for foreign workers. It was then that I realized the costs of complacency. I still managed to get jobs while living wherever I was back then, but in some ways, it was limiting my opportunities. The Computer Science education was cheaper than paying lawyers for sure. Everyone should understand that governments have a lot less leniency than Universities. My experience with pretty much all Universities is that they are far from tolerant and you have to live by the book all the time. From conversations with dozens of people, they still don’t understand how governments are actually less lenient and they have to read the rules which are not subject to any other interpretation. It was more heartbreaking for some because they can’t even claim points for their education. I hope they don’t hate me for telling the truth as it is. Many migration agents would charge them a lot of money and lie to them.

It’s futile to look back at such events. I want to focus on helping international applicants understand the metrics of Georgia Tech, and help build a guide for admission for Georgia Tech’s OMSCS program. A few students with an educational background in Information Technology did not make it and I have a hypothesis on why that happened. I believe Georgia Tech gave the exact reason why they rule out some people. Many seem to dispute that it’s not true because there are many people like myself who do not have a formal background in Computer Science but made it anyway. A few even said the date of application and recommendations were a factor. I think it’s misleading because I complied with the requirements and completed my application 22 days after the deadline, and I only had two recommendations. My guess is it’s how they wrote their essays, their GPA or something in their transcript of records which may have affected the decision. Hopefully, this post will make people will be less confused than they are now.

Find your purpose and write it down

Years ago, my number one reason for getting a Computer Science education was the fact it was a better than having a different passport. If you understand the laws of all of the first world countries in the world, you will know what I mean. I still believe getting a top University education is better than changing your passport. That’s no longer my primary reason for studying Computer Science.

You need a compelling reason to go through this program, because it will consume a lot of your time. It will be part of your life and who you are.

Many people think the degree can lead to them to better jobs, but it’s conclusive. There are many Computer Science graduates with no job. Some of them are graduates of Universities with a rank higher than that of Georgia Tech. In some ways, the education can be limiting. I was in Canberra weeks before I finished my application, and my cousin spent a little over an hour explaining to me how it doesn’t matter in Australia and that I would just be wasting my time. A lot of my relatives and friends probably think I am an idiot for going through this. They think academics are poor people and front-end engineers with no degree are paid more than those with a Ph.D in Computer Science. Such perceptions do not matter to me anymore, even if they are absolutely right. These people speak based on their personal experiences which is why they can’t be so wrong about their notions. They have post-graduate degrees and one of them even has a Ph.D in Computer Science from a top University worldwide. That University’s even preferred in Australia. I just absolutely can’t afford it. Little do people know, Harvard has open admissions. You don’t need recommendation letters for the Master of Liberal Arts (ALM) in Software Engineering. You don’t need to explain your GPA. It’s just way too expensive to go to Harvard with their residency requirement.

Your purpose should sound more like you need to learn Computer Science, and not how to get ahead of everyone. The brief career objective should be a summary of your statement of purpose. My career objective only had 17 words, and it didn’t sound like “I want to be filthy rich after 3 years of going through this.” Of course, your purpose can be unique but you shouldn’t expose your probable misconception about higher education. I did not state there are also legal reasons, because they were no longer as important as learning.

Briefly explain your skills and attitude towards learning

My background essay was a summary of my accomplishments over the years. They weren’t a lot so the highlights did fit into the essay. Remember that I do not have a degree in Computer Science. I did not explain my grades to them, or why I dropped out of my Physical Education class. The “D” meant dropped, not failed. Looking back, I was not a bad student or a really dumb one. I had very few A’s. A grade of A in my University meant getting 94 or above and the equivalence to U.S Standard can be seen on the top of the official transcript. Nearly no one gives a grade of A. If you ask graduates of the same University, they will tell you to “dream on.” Many spend 6 to 7 years instead of 4 years in that University simply because it wasn’t even easy to get a 75. They were called the “stockholders” and I could have been one if I chose to major in Economics or Accountancy. A B+ meant getting a grade between 91 to 93, which is damn difficult to achieve for major subjects. They will try their best to make it difficult for everyone in fact. I wasn’t a bad student. I was just disheartened and in the last semester, I was mourning. My mother died before I started the last semester of my undergraduate studies. Most people would expect that I would fail or get low marks, but I managed to get B+ in three of my major subjects, and lead an entire team. Today, I am still mourning. Some students had to explain their mishaps because of their GPA. The minimum requirement’s actually quite high: 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. I think the University has a definition of a GPA that is way too low by their standard, but I would still encourage some people to apply even if that’s the case. Simply provide proof that you have, indeed, studied Computer Science on your own. If you don’t make it, think of it as paying $85 or so to get a top University’s advice.

When you’re writing down an essay, you have a choice of explaining your mishaps and giving a mini autobiography, or a choice of explaining how you were as a student and/or educator and how you learned Computer Science. I chose to do the latter. I mentioned my mentoring experience at Thinkful, and how it helped me learn skills I could not gain through most programming jobs. It was the collaboration with other senior developers who were either students or mentors who actually helped me dig through problems I never encountered at work.

Have someone else proofread your essays

The most important part of your application are the two essays they require you to write. My essays were far from good by any standard. I even saw a typo, and it’s too late to amend it as I have submitted the application. I did everything last minute. For those who are applying, please take the advice of many top University graduate school students about writing a statement of purpose, find someone to proofread or at least use a spellchecker like misspell to make you look good to the University. Make it easy for them to read through everything. My essays were far from perfect because of the spelling issues. I did not spend a lot of time writing down the essays, but I spent some time thinking about my purpose of going through this.

Read everything on the FAQ first

There are many unofficial resources on the Internet that may mislead you as an applicant. Don’t make the mistake of reading Reddit first before the official FAQ. The FAQ in fact tells you the truth. I came up with a list of guides and resources. This is a work-in-progress and I hope that many students who are going through this would help in updating this.

Awesome Online Master of Science in Computer Science

Prepare for the TOEFL iBT the right way

Most international students do not know anything about the TOEFL iBT before they thought about applying for Georgia Tech. I did not. With a few hours to prepare, I focused on two sections that can give me a high score: Speaking and Writing. I had to submit the results before April 29. Thankfully, I met the 100+ score requirement on April 18 and got 28 for both Speaking and Writing.

Like many English tests, the TOEFL iBT does not solely test your English language ability. They test your ability to understand patterns and follow rules. The TOEFL however is the most difficult English test according to those who tried everything. I took the exam at the University of New South Wales, and I recommend taking the exam there if you are based in Sydney. I had no problem with their facilities or staff at all.

They have published information about percentile ranks. If you scored 28 for Speaking, that means you scored 94% higher than those graduate level students applying for non-business programs. If you scored 28 for Writing, that means you scored 92% higher than most who are applying for graduate-level non-business programs.

To prepare for the TOEFL, you should identify your weaknesses by going through some practice tests. I have taken the EF Set which eerily predicted my TOEFL score. It is a free test which simulates the real TOEFL test. The quick way to get through it with ease is to read the rules, and take the official practice test.

Do your best

A lot of students enrolled are complaining about Georgia Tech and how challenging it is. Higher level of anxiety’s normal. I say feel the fear and do it anyway. Richard wrote about how it takes a lot of his time. Many wrote about how they had to drop out because it’s not what they want in life.

I don’t expect anything to be easy. But I am very certain this is what I want to do for a very long time.

Special thanks

I would like to thank Tony Mason who adviced that I apply even if I do not have the required educational background. There were a few other supportive people, but they’re not a lot.