Dear Mentor:

How strong a candidate am I for a PhD?

I need your suggestion and guidance for my admission application to a PhD program. My GMAT [Graduate Management Aptitude Test] score is 680 (90th percentile): Quantitative - 92nd percentile, Verbal - 71st percentile. I ranked 4th, with 78% aggregate score, in my BSc (Engineering) in Electronics and Communication from BIT, Sindri. I ranked 2nd, with 72% score in my 2-year full-time Post Graduate Diploma in Telecom Management. I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). I have 6 years of work experience, of which the last have been as a Sr. Executive (Knowledge Management). Given this background, how strong/weak you find my candidature for a PhD program? I know that a lot of other considerations are taken into account while granting admission, but still I would appreciate to have your comments. Do they provide sufficient financial aid to students to support their families? Which universities should I apply to, given the above credentials?

Reaching for PhD, Mumbai, India

Dear Reaching for PhD:

We appreciate your thoughtful inquiry; obviously you spent the time to articulate your thoughts. More often than not, we get inquiries that are incoherent, with the sender expecting a thoughtful response from us nonetheless. So, thank you!

We are assuming that you are interested in exploring the opportunity for a PhD in the US. You are quite right in noting that the admissions criteria include more items than you have included. The typical admissions criteria, although vary across colleges somewhat, are:

  • Academic qualification
  • Entrance exam
  • Letter of recommendation
  • Personal statement of purpose or personal essays
Typically, the diploma programs are not treated as the degree programs and thus are not counted towards academic eligibility. Since you have a 4-year Bachelor's degree, it certainly makes you eligible for a Master's degree in the US. Those with 3-year Bachelor's degree should note that they are required to complete at least the first year of the Master's degree, and sometimes the entire Master's program, to become eligible for a Master's program in the US.

The system of education in the US has differences in requirements across colleges, and sometimes within the same college depending on the candidate's credentials. For example, some colleges for some candidates allow admission into the PhD program, without the candidate having completed a Master's degree. It depends on the college and on the candidate's academic and work credentials and performance.

Unfortunately, you did not specify the discipline for your PhD program. However, since you have taken the GMAT, we are assuming that that you interested in a business related field. You may wish to note that the GMAT is typically required for the MBA program. Many colleges offer the candidate a choice between the GMAT and GRE (Graduate Record Exam), but many others require that you take the GRE for non-MBA business programs. The GRE is the entrance exam for many disciplines, including engineering and computer science programs.

Your GMAT score is good; however, it falls at the low end of expected performance at very good colleges. First, your eligibility for the PhD depends on the requirements of the individual college; that is, if your background is adequate for eligibility for a PhD. Second, your GMAT performance suggests that you should target good to average colleges.

You should communicate with some colleges directly to get a feel for whether your credentials are acceptable. You can find them in the iMahal Education Channel:

The iMahal College Finder in the iMahal Education Channel identifies colleges that best match your performance and needs.

Financial aid is available to international students for the PhD programs in the US. However, competition for the aid is fierce. Admission is much easier to obtain than financial aid. A research or teaching assistantship with tuition waiver is financially adequate for one person. Maintaining a family with this amount is likely to be a significant challenge.

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