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Royan – Life at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor – Aerospace Engineering

4 May 2014 3 Comments

Hi All,

I would like to introduce Dr.Royan, who has completed PHD from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to talk about life there.


Sundar Rajan G S

* Brief Intro about yourself
I am a PhD student in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I completed my undergraduate study in Civil Engineering at the National Institute of Technology Karnataka – Surathkal in 2008.

* Entry Criteria:
– Approx CGPA range
Higher ranked universities require CGPA well above 8.5/10. There may not be an official cut-off CGPA for many schools, but higher it is, the better. In my opinion, this is the most important part of the application.

– Gre & Toefl scores range
GRE scores should be above 1400 in the Q800-V800 format. It is important to have a near perfect score in the quantitative section when applying to a graduate program in engineering. TOEFL iBT score should ideally be above than 105.

– Research Experience at undergraduate level
It helps to have some research experience at the undergraduate level, especially when applying to the PhD program. I must warn that this is secondary to the applicant’s CGPA. If the applicant has managed to publish the research work at some journal or a reputed conference, the research experience at the undergraduate level would stand out and most likely be taken much more seriously.

– Does the graduate program favor PhD applications more?
No, because there are fewer openings in the PhD program when compared to the MS program. The PhD opening depends on the availability of funding and vacancies in a particular lab, when compared to the fixed and higher number of seats available in the MS program.

– What are the general strengths of the departments?
If you mean student intake per year when you say ‘strengths’, then that would depend on the department – about 60 for a medium sized program to even 15-20 for small sized ones.

– Any advice for writing statement of purpose?
Along with the CGPA, the statement of purpose is an important part of the application. You have to put some effort perfecting this. Some general advice: be direct, persuasive and clear in your writing. Each paragraph should logically follow from the previous one. Avoid clichés and use active voice wherever possible. Use simple words. Don’t annoy the admissions committee with trite stories of your childhood fascination with the intended field of study. This comes across as being pretentious and also insincere. Get to the point quickly. Include examples that show your interest and/or prior experience (if any) in the proposed field of study. Avoid quotes by famous people or talk about how it inspired you. Faculty members on admission committees want compelling (and rational) reasons as to why you want to go to that particular school (given your credentials) and what you want to do with that education (career goals). You must communicate that message simply and effectively. Remember, the admissions committee would have read a lot of sloppy SOPs to immediately recognize a new one.

– Any trend in the amount of Indians in the graduate program in the department?
Indian students generally make up for the second largest foreign representation (after Chinese) in the graduate program in engineering. I am not aware of the numbers in other departments.

– Is it advisable to email professors prior/during applying?
Professors are busy people. They prefer not to be bothered with queries about chances of admission and about any research position in his/her lab before applying to the program. This is because they may not have an absolute say in the admission decision. They expect the applicant to first get admitted to the graduate program before they can entertain emails from incoming students. Once the student has been admitted, the email conversations become more meaningful.

* After you get in:
– Aid scenario – #number of ppl who come in with aid, chances of aid after coming in, more details on RA/TA/small work around campus.
Admission to the PhD program comes with financial aid in the form of RA/TA. On the other hand, financial aid is difficult for students admitted to the master’s program, unless the candidate has a stellar record in his/her undergraduate study. Professors prefer to invest in students (via RA) who stick around for longer periods (continue towards the PhD for instance) and not those who would graduate after 3-4 semesters. That said, there is a fair chance of getting paid on an hourly basis (without tuition waiver) to assist research. Yes, there are opportunities for students to work inside the campus (such as library, dining) provided they apply early.

– How much money should one shell out for the entire course if it completely unfunded.
It depends on the university. In Michigan (an expensive public university), the tuition fees are just under $40,000 per year. Hence, three semesters taken to complete the MSE degree would roughly cost $60,000. Other public schools would be cheaper by varying degrees. Private schools are of course more expensive costing around $45,000 per year.

– What are the living expenses?
Cost of living ranges between $750 to $1,000 per month.

– How easy it is to switch departments?
Switching directly after getting an admit may be difficult. However, it is easier to get an additional degree from another department.

– Switch from Phd to MS or vice versa?
It is possible to switch from MS program to the PhD program if a faculty member has agreed to advise and fund you. Even then, the student may have to apply to the PhD program and get accepted after the usual screening process. Switching from the PhD program to the MS program can happen if you inform the department or relevant faculty member early enough. I say ‘early enough’ because the faculty member can then find a replacement and proceed with his research project as planned. The worst thing is to tell your advisor that you are committed to the PhD at the beginning and then back out with an MS once you have completed all course requirements (after 3-4 semesters). In doing so, you have not only wasted his/her time and money, you would come across as a fraud.

– Availability of public transport?
Yes. Medium to large campuses have free shuttle service.

– Any big concerns for weather?
Not really. It gets pretty cold during winter if you are in the north east (NY, Boston, Pennsylvania etc.) and mid-west (Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin etc.). You should do fine if you dress appropriately (winter jacket, gloves etc.).

– Any Indian activities or Indian associations?
Yes, Indian student associations are active on most campuses. They organize events during festivals (Diwali, Holi, Independence Day etc.) and may even help with housing for new students.

* After the course:
– Career opportunities after the course?
There are on-campus job fairs held once every semester. Job opportunities depend on the reputation of the program, whether the company has any federal restrictions on hiring international students, or whether they want to sponsor your work visa.

– Typical earnings during internships?
$4,000 to $6,000 per month.

* Personal:
– What is your area of specialization?
Structural and solid mechanics

– Why did you choose to pursue the course abroad?
Graduate education in the US  is second to none.

– What is your driving force to earn a MS? Is it joy of learning or monetary options or both?
Personally, it is a combination of both learning and monetary aspect that was the driving factor to go to graduate school. Apart from this, you get to meet people from all over the world and this can change the way you think and work.

– Any other issues/ inputs, which will be helpful
Start applications early. Some universities may select candidates based on ‘rolling admissions’.

Thanks Royan.



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