How to track down alumni: The Stalking Method

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You have been offered a place in a programme of your choice. You have contacted the programme administrator to put you in touch with alumni of the course, but its been 2 weeks and so far no one has contacted you.

The deadline is looming and you have to decide whether you should pick the no.1 programme on your list or the fully funded offer lower down your list. And you have no other information other than some marketing brochures and what’s available on the school’s website.

So how do you track down alumni when all else fails? Let me introduce you to The Stalking Method using linkedin. That’s how I did it and the response rate was pretty high.

  1. Go create yourself  a linkedin account if you haven’t already done so.
  2. Then go to google.com and type in site:linkedin.com name of programme name of school in the search box.
  3. For example, if you wanted to track down those who read an MPhil in Finance at University of Cambridge, you should type in site:linkedin.com MPhil Finance University of Cambridge.
  4. This search alone gave me over 854 results from linkedin itself. Though some of the results may not be as accurate, you should be able to come up with a handful of people who read an MPhil in Finance at Cambridge.

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Which masters program should you pick?

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If you are one of those who were set on pursuing a masters program after graduation, you probably would have applied to as many programs as you can. Now that you have received a few offers, deciding which program to choose is perhaps the next biggest thing on your mind.

So what factors should you look into when deciding which program to choose?

Fit – One of the most important things about choosing a graduate school is the right fit. You do not want to be spending a huge sum of money studying in an environment you dislike or even something you have no passion for because somebody else told you to do so. That is why I would suggest you to do your research thoroughly before applying. Take a look at the school’s website. Talk to people who have graduated from these programmes. Talk to the programme director. Look at the course content.  Then ask yourself – Is this degree is going to add value, intellectually and professionally?

Brand – As shallow as it may sound, the brand of the school is fairly important – particularly for those who did not attend a top tier university. If you are thinking of a career in investment banking or consulting, then this should be a critical factor in your decision making process. As harsh as it may sound, your resume is probably going to get binned even if you graduated with a first and distinction from the University of Timbaktoo.  Investment banks and consulting firms ONLY hire students from top-tier universities. Occasionally, you may have heard of your neighbour’s son from a third tier university working at Goldman Sachs, but the chances of him working in front office are slim to none. Most likely back office material.

Location, Location, Location – This is pretty self explanatory. Where would you like to work after graduation? If you are planning to stay in London, then choosing a school such as LSE or LBS would be an added advantage as it will give you access to thousands of employers within the city. Oxford and Cambridge are also particularly good choices for those who intend to head back home to their own countries, such as India, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, where local employers are generally more impressed with the overall prestige of the university rather than what you have actually studied.

Fees – If you are one of the lucky few who was born with a silver spoon or perhaps inherited a fortune from a rich uncle who recently passed away, then you can skip this section. Let’s face it, graduate school is expensive. One of the most expensive masters programmes I’ve seen is Oxford’s Master of Financial Economics. Tuition alone amounts to approximately 33,000GBP (51,000USD). Total costs including living expenses can set you back for a grand total of at least 45,000GBP (70,000USD). Hey don’t forget you still have your undergraduate loans to pay off as well. Good luck on entering the real world with that!

Exit Opportunities – If you want your degree to pay for itself, you should always check with past students and look at the careers section of the programme that you have chosen. First, I’d suggest you contact the programme administrator and ask him or her to put you in contact with alumni of the course. Unfortunately, due to privacy issues, programme administrators are not allowed to pass you alumni contact details. So it is likely that you would have to wait for alumni to contact you. If you cannot find anybody to talk to, what I can suggest is to use the stalking method. And if you’d like to know whether if your degree is valued, there is no better way than to ask the beast itself. Cold call HR  at companies you have been targeting and ask them if a masters degree is an added advantage in their firm. But if you have a graduate degree in basket weaving, then I’d suggest you save yourself the embarrassment.

I have a GPA of 3.6, Is this equivalent to a first class honours?

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If your undergraduate school operates on a GPA system, you may be wondering if your GPA is equivalent to a 1st class honors or 2.1 degree?  The truth is many schools have different classifications as to what GPA is considered 1st, 2nd upper and so forth. Some schools consider a GPA of 3.7/4.0 as a first, while others think its a 3.75/4.00. Anyhow, you can use the table below as an indicative guide of whether your GPA meets the minimum requirements of the programme that you are applying for.

Here it is:

How do you go about writing that personal statement?

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Personal statements

What on earth is a 2.1 degree?

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Quite often when you browse through the admission pages of the masters programs of many UK universities you often come across a requirement “Minimum 2.1 degree or equivalent”. For example, the minimum academic requirement to apply for an MPhil in Management at Judge Business School, Cambridge University is:

A First Class Honours degree in a subject other than business or management.

But wait! What on earth is a first class honours degree, let alone a 2.1 degree? This is probably what many of you will be thinking, especially for those who either come from outside the UK or did not attend a British patterned undergraduate education.

Generally, honours degrees are classified into the following categories:

  • First-Class Honours (1st)
  • Upper Second-Class Honours (2:1)
  • Lower Second-Class Honours (2:2)

First-class honours degrees (also known as “firsts”) are awarded to the top 10% of the class at most British  universities. British patterned universities such as those in Australia and New Zealand only award honour degrees to students completing an additional year (usually a dissertation/final year project) upon completing the coursework requirements of their 3 year undergraduate programme.

An upper second class honours degree (also known as two one) is usually awarded to students (sometimes even to those who sadly missed the first class mark by just a few GPA points) who did pretty well . This is also usually the minimum requirement that most Fortune 500 companies look at when hiring

If you have a 2:2 degree or lower, don’t fret. You still have a good chance at getting into a top postgraduate programme of your choice provided you start focusing on your ECs (extra curriculars), improve your CV, personal statement and essays.

Imperial College and London School of Economics have diverted their mountains of GPA related questions by setting up dedicated pages for specific country information, here and here respectively.  Cambridge has one for undergraduates but I could not find any for graduates. If you do find it buried within somewhere, do let me know by posting a comment below.

For those who would prefer a GPA conversion chart, you can always check it here

Why you should not under estimate the application process

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Many students under estimate the time involved in creating a strong application for oxford, cambridge and LSE. Do note that a strong application requires plenty of research. Therefore, do apply early and keep in mind how the graduate schools operate – aka rolling admissions can how you can use this system to your advantage.

A ready-to-submit application generally involves completing the graduate admission form, two letters of reference, academic transcripts, scholarship essays, and the dreaded personal statement. The whole process can expect to take up to 8 weeks,  so ideally, if you are savvy enough, you should start preparing in July for Oxford and Cambridge; and August for LSE.

I will be coming up with an article on rolling admissions and reasons on why you should not under estimate the application process.