Why I gave up a Full Tuition Scholarship to a top 50 MS CS Program two years ago

Two years ago I was admitted to a Top-50 US MS in Computer Science Program with a Full Tuition Scholarship, a Prestigious Dean’s Award and an assistant-ship with a stipend that easily could cover my living expenses. This program received over 900 applications for fewer than 20 spots, so the scholarship was a pretty big deal.

I was in my final semester of computer engineering. Just like any other CS student applying for an MS in US from India, I was told by admissions consultants, seniors and well-meaning relatives that I should apply to the MS in CS program over any other specialization because they were “more prestigious”,  perceived to be harder to get into and that I “had the right profile”. The perception was that if you like programming you go for CS, if you don’t you go for MIS and become an analyst. I loved programming and I did not want to become an analyst, I wanted a development role in a big company. That was essentially the goal – Landing a good job in a good company with interesting work going on and lead a secure, stable, “happy” life. So I went ahead and applied.

And then something awesome happened. I got the Dream Job I was hoping to land post MS. It was a Development job in a product development organization in a Tech Giant. The work culture seemed to be fantastic. I would finally get the chance to do the kind of work I loved and be in an incredible environment that would bring out the best in me.

And then the admits came out. I hated research, I was not interested in learning more “theory” stuff in Computer Science and I only was considering an MS to land a job, not out of any passion for the subject that would help me survive CS grad school. I loved computer science but I believed I could learn things on my own through ample resources including the internet and books. I took tough electives in advanced areas of CS in my final 2 years and I felt ready to go out and work on real-world problems in the industry. That’s when I realized that If I went for the MS, I would just be doing it for the wrong reasons and giving into peer pressure. My only goal was to land that dream job – What sense did it make to give that up once I had already achieved it?

So I declined the scholarship offer and the chance to pursue an MS in US for FREE in a word-class institution. Family members were unhappy with my choice. I was accused of being ungrateful for giving up such an opportunity, arrogant (because they believed I thought I was too good for the program – Not the case, it just wasn’t right for me based on MY interests and I don’t look down on any program for that matter.) and I heard everything from “but Sharma-ji Ki Beti went and she did just fine” to “You must have higher education”. Hardly anyone understood my decision. and that was completely alright because I knew I would be happier at the end of the day.

 

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Why I want to go to Graduate School

I started this blog originally to document my Business School Journey because I believed an MBA was the right path to achieving my dream – Product Management at a Technology Company.

I came across several specialized master’s programs which could also help me accomplish my goals, and as a result I applied to a mix of MBA and specialized masters programs and some of the choices I made were unconventional.

I think the most important thing before heading to graduate school is that you should know exactly what your goals are, what the program can do for you to help you accomplish those goals, and have a realistic view about the limitations of the program as well.

Graduate school is a huge investment in terms of money and time, but more importantly it is a life-changing decision that will determine the course of the next 30+ years of your career.

If you are in the process of making this decision of attending graduate school, there really is no right or wrong answer about which program you should attend or where you should apply. There are no right or wrong reasons, all that matters is what your personal goals are. Some of those reasons could be to get a prestigious big-name university on your resume, learn some specialized skills, work with a specific professor you admire, do research in a niche area, get graduate education to get work permit more easily in a foreign country, learning something you always wanted to learn even if the field is not something that makes you easily employable or even just a lifestyle decision to be closer to a loved one or move to a specific part of the country or world.

Regardless of what your reason is, NO PERSON can make that decision for you – It should be entirely your own. Because no one else will be able to think from your perspective of what matters most to you.

There is always going to be some one out there who will criticize your decision or tell you you should have done something differently. Or maybe you will manage to please/impress everyone around you with some impressive accomplishment. Either way, it really does not matter. Because YOU are going to be the one who has to wake up each morning and live with the consequences of your decision. YOU will be the person following that career path and you cannot blame anyone else if it does not turn out the way you wanted.

The only person you should be impressing is yourself. – This is the single most important thing I have learnt when it comes to the decision to attend graduate school.