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Studying abroad on a scholarship

Winners talk about their TOEFL scholarship and ways to score high in this test reports Vimal Chander Joshi and Akshay Chaudhary

education Updated: Aug 04, 2010 09:46 IST

Studying in a Marathi-medium school did not stop Abha Jeurkar from aspiring for a Master’s degree from a reputable university overseas. After completing her engineering studies at the Birla Institute of Technological Sciences, Pilani (Goa campus), this girl from Solapur took the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) which assesses your proficiency in English reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Other than this, she was also required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) which is mandatory for those applying for Master’s programmes (other than MBA, most of the time) in the United States.

Her consistent efforts to improve her English and regular reading of novels helped her score 119 out of 120 in TOEFL, which fetched her a scholarship of $5000 to study for a Master’s programme in biomedical sciences at the University of California, Los Angles. She chose this programme because she is from a family of doctors. She is also applying for other scholarships to cover the remaining tuition fee.

“It was cumulative learning in four years of engineering (which came handy) and not just the preparation before the exam in improving my English,” says Jeurkar.

She adds that she didn’t have much time to prepare and cumulative learning is what actually helped her.

She is one of the seven winners of the TOEFL scholarship which will be announced soon for the 2011-12 session.

Though the scholarship is open to anybody who appears in the TOEFL, one must apply separately for the scholarship.

This year, the deadline was March 31. Visit the website of ETS (Educational Testing Services) which conducts the TOEFL and the GRE for the next announcement.

To qualify, applicants must pass three stages — get a good score in the TOEFL, write a 2000-word essay on a given topic.

For last year’s scholarships, students were asked to write an essay on how to arrest the drop-out rate of primary school students.

Anirudh Iyer
Bachelor of engineering, University of Mumbai Offered ME in wireless communication at McMaster University
TOEFL score: 116/120
GRE: 1490/ 1600

‘In Canada, an academic score is more important than GRE’

Applying to Canadian universities was a natural choice for Anirudh Iyer after he got permanent residency in the north American country halfway through his engineering studies at Vidyavardhini’s College of Engineering and Technology, University of Mumbai.

“I and my mother are moving to Canada soon. As I have the PR, my fee is C$7,000, which is drastically lower compared to the fee for international students,” says Iyer.

This fall, Iyer will fly to the McMaster University for his ME programme in electrical (with a major in wireless communications and networking).

Getting a TOEFL scholarship worth $10,000 was unexpected to him. He hadn’t even known about the scholarship until the fag end of the application deadline.

“My mother read about the TOEFL scholarship in a small obscure corner of a newspaper supplement on March 22, when the deadline was March 31. Luckily I got it while a friend who got a perfect 120/120 didn’t because he wasn’t aware of it,” he says.

Apart from McMaster, he applied for a couple of other Canadian universities, but four noted varsities (including the universities of British Columbia and Toronto) weren’t impressed by his 149 score (out of 1600) in the GRE leaving him with only two options – McMaster and Victoria. “In Canada, they don’t give much weightage to the GRE score. Some varsities don’t even ask for it. They base their decision completely on academic performance which in my case wasn’t too impressive,” he informs.

For Iyer, preparing for the TOEFL was not at all demanding. He says he studied only the module provided by the ETS.

“The exam gauges how much English you know. To check the pattern of exam, (those with a good command over English) should devote just a week or two.

GRE, on the other hand, calls for devoted hard work and it took me a lot of effort and intensive study of one month to ace it,” he adds.

Pulkit Khanna
BTech mechanical engineering, IIT Delhi Offered master of management at London Business School
TEOFL score: 118/120

‘No need to Study for hours’

Pulkit Khanna took up engineering because of his love for science. However, in college, he was drawn to the business side of things, particularly management consulting. Achieving a worldwide rank of 18 out of more than 1,200 teams in BNP Paribas’s consulting competition Ace Manager further reinforced his desire to pursue consulting as a profession.

“My father is the biggest inspiration for me. A philanthropist at heart, he is still working at the age of 62 with the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in the Congo. He has essentially taught me everything in life – from working hard to sparing a thought for the underprivileged,” says Khanna.

About the preparation for TOEFL, he says, “It was regular and timely study. It is not necessary to spend hours a day on the material. I believe that preparing for two to three hours every day for one to two weeks is more than enough. Also, I would suggest taking as many practice tests as possible, as it really helps in preparing one for the real exam.”

More than 300 students applied for the scholarship, and 30 were short-listed. Then there was a telephonic interview, after which seven students were awarded the scholarship. “I think that the essay, which was about how India’s education system can be improved, was one of the most important criteria for the award,” says Khanna.

He is very excited about going to London, which he says is one the world’s best cities. “Travelling to a new place, interacting with a diverse set of people, provide for a very intellectually stimulating experience. Also, England is the best place to go to for a football freak like me,” he adds.

Rachna Sharma
BE in environmental engineering, Delhi College of Engineering (now DTU) Offered ME in environmental sciences, engineering and management at Carnegie Mellon
TOEFL score: 117/ 120
GRE score: 1370/ 1600

‘I am looking for funding to study at Carnegie Mellon’

Helping mother nature is the motto of Rachna Sharma’s life. It also helps her build a promising career at the same time. Having done her Bachelor of environmental engineering from Delhi College of Engineering (now Delhi Technological University), she is now waiting for December when she will fly to Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University to study ME in environmental sciences.

This former international climate change champion of the British Council worked on a project ‘Require Environmental Action for Climate Change’ to sensitise school kids about the steps that ought to be taken to save the environment.

After graduating in 2008, she joined Deloitte, Hyderabad, where she still works as a consultant. No prize for guessing that there too, she found an environmental activity, known as Greener Deloitte, to get involved with.

The road ahead is still tough. Even after receiving an offer from the University of Illinois for the two-year programme she wanted to go for – environmental information technology – she had to settle for a one-year programme at Carnegie Mellon so she could save a year’s fee and living costs.

She was supposed to join this fall, but deferred it to January to arrange for the funds. Having got a fee waiver of $12,000 from the university and another $5,000 from ETS, arranging the total of $60,000 still seems a tall order for a girl whose father is a government engineer. She is now planning to go for a bank loan.

She took her TOEFL and GRE within a gap of two days, last November. Though she couldn’t prepare as well as she would have liked to, she secured 1370/ 1600 in GRE and 117/120 in TOEFL.

“You practice a lot to score well and I would also suggest focussing on the English section of GRE more. To improve vocabulary, you must make an extra effort. You should also visit the ETS website to gauge where you stand,” she says.

First Published: Aug 03, 2010 12:22 IST