A Guide to Choosing the Right Program and University for Your Master’s Degree

Sudeepa Kolli
5 min readSep 22, 2023

You might be wondering why I’m so insistent on choosing the right program and university. Well, chances are, you’ve already made up your mind about these decisions. But hear me out; it’s a big deal. You’re about to invest a ton of money and your most precious resource: time. So why not make sure you’re investing in something you’re genuinely excited about?

In the United States, universities offer a smorgasbord of programs beyond the usual suspects like Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, or Aerospace Engineering. Some folks, like maybe you and me, want a mix of different majors, and that’s totally doable. But it all starts with research.

Let me share my story. I got my bachelor’s in Computer Science, but I didn’t want to let go of my techie side while exploring my passion for management and entrepreneurship. That’s when I stumbled upon Engineering Management. Here’s the kicker: it’s a bit different everywhere you go. My game plan? To dive into Product Management, get a handle on entrepreneurship, dissect brand market value, and dabble in Econ and Finance, all while keeping my CS skills sharp. I made a list of universities offering Engineering Management and similar programs (sometimes they go by different names), and I handpicked six that felt like the right fit for me. Guess what? I got into my top pick, Cornell.

Picture I got during my graduation at Cornell in my favourite library.
A snapshot from my graduation day at Cornell, captured in my favorite library.

Here are the steps I’ve personally taken and recommend you follow when deciding which universities to apply to:

Step 1: Start with a Web Dive
Let’s kick things off by diving into the vast sea of information on the internet. Chances are, someone out there has already shared their wisdom about the program you’re eyeing and the universities that offer it. Take a look at the first 4–5 relevant links that catch your eye, and you’ll start to get a feel for the different programs and universities in your realm of interest.

Step 2: Craft Your Personal University List
Now, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and make your very own list of universities. Head over to the university’s program page and scope out what they offer. Check out some hard stats too, like what kinds of packages students are pulling in. If you’re hungry for more info, don’t hesitate to reach out to program coordinators, friendly student ambassadors, or even alumni. They’re like your personal tour guides in the world of academia.

Step 3: Score Those Programs
Armed with all that juicy data, it’s time to put on your judge’s hat (not literally, of course) and rate each program out of 10 based on how well it ticks your boxes.

Step 4: Mix It Up
Now, take your list and give it a good shuffle. Consider your preferences like location (think crime rates and weather) and test scores. From this mix, choose your top 10–12 universities, keeping your dream alive.

Step 5: Sort ’Em Out
This is where things get real. Take a look at the rankings of the universities on your list. Divide them into categories: dream universities (where you want to shout “Pinch me, I’m here!”), reach schools (a bit of a stretch, but worth a shot), and safe universities (where you’re almost guaranteed to get in). Some say the magic ratio is 3:4:3, but I say go with your gut. Personally, I went with 4 dream, 2 reach, and 1 safe. Bold, you might say, but I knew what was right for me. It’s your journey, after all.

Step 6: Don’t Sweat the Application Fees
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: application fees. Sure, they can add up, but guess what? I snagged application fee waivers for 6 out of 7 universities, including big names like Stanford and Cornell. Want to know how? Check this out to ace the fee waiver game.

Step 7: Get Organized
Finally, take your trusty Excel sheet and add two more columns for deadlines and application status. This will be your roadmap, showing you the exact order in which to tackle your university applications.

Awesome, right? Now you have the list of universities that are tailor-made for you.

And, you’ve probably heard of tools like Gyandhan and iSchoolConnect, which claim to predict your chances at safe, reach, and dream universities based on your test scores, CGPA, and extracurriculars. But here’s the kicker: while these tools can give you a general idea, the real MVPs in the university application game are your Statement of Purpose (SOP), Letters of Recommendation (LORs), and the sheer strength of your resume. So, consider those tools as a reference point, not gospel truth.

Take my case, for instance. These tools suggested that my dream schools were in the 70–100 ranking range. But guess what? I ended up getting into four universities in the top 20 by QS World Rankings.

Now, let’s talk about a secret weapon — reaching out to folks who’ve been there and done that. I had a chat with Amalu, who had recently completed her Engineering Management program at Duke. It was super helpful to get her take on each of the universities I had on my list, especially since she was fresh off the boat from her first semester at Duke when I was applying. Lucky for me, I knew her from before, and she was more than willing to lend a helping hand.

But here’s the thing — even if you don’t have a personal connection, platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter are goldmines. Craft a customized invite and let them know why and how they can assist you. I’ve helped plenty of people, and I’ve been on the receiving end too. It’s all about paying it forward :)

So, there you have it — a carefully curated list of universities that fit you like a glove. But remember, your journey doesn’t end here. To discover my tips and strategies for acing the other crucial aspects of your application, be sure to check out and follow my profiles. All the Best ❤