MS in USA, A Guide : Part ONE

A lot of people around me have been asking about "A-to-Z details" with regards to pursuing an MS degree in the US. For the benefit of all I've been wanting to write this guide since long... guess the time has finally come to pen it!

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed here are solely of an individual and are not in any way associated with any University or person. Readers should not take all the scores mentioned in this guide as a definitive cut off mark. Getting an acceptance or reject from a University is dependent on various other factors and is determined by the University authorities; it is hence unpredictable. This guide assumes that the aspirant is pursuing a 4 year Bachelor's degree. MS in the US requires the aspirant to have completed 16 years of formal education. This disclaimer applies to all the parts of this guide.

1) Exams - GRE and TOEFL
2) Reporting scores and applying to universities
3) Post admit work to be completed
4) Applying for a VISA
5) Booking your tickets and packing your bags

These points would be covered in parts.

1) Exams - GRE and TOEFL

I'll come straight to the point and start with the first step to MS in the US. Just as we haf entrance exams here you need to appear for a similar exam to pursue MS. These exams are conducted by a organization called Educational Testing Services, ETS for short ( The exams one needs to appear are the Graduate Record Examination - General (GRE - General) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The newest version of TOEFL is called Internet Based Test and is abbreviated as TOEFL iBT.

Registrations for both the exams can be done at ETS' website - The examination fee is to be paid through Credit Card. Tho there are other methods to register for these exams, the online version is the most preferred way. The test fee for GRE is $170 USD (as on today) and for TOEFL iBT is $165 USD (as on today). You would need sufficient preparation for the tests, especially for GRE (verbal section). Hence book the exam dates wisely. It is always better to haf your TOEFL iBT exam after your GRE (explained later), preferably with a gap of about a week.

The GRE has 3 sections - Quantitative (Quant.), Verbal (Verb.) and Analytical Writing (AWA). The Quant. section is predominantly a test of aptitude with max. marks of 800, the Verbal is more like your vocabulary test with max. marks of 800 and the Analytical Writing tests your ability to write thesis with a max. marks of 6.0. A decent score in each test for a Science and Technology aspirant student would be 730+, 530+, 4.0+ respectively. The questions and time breakup is as shown:

Analytical Writing 1 Issue Task* 45 minutes
Analytical Writing 1 Argument Task* 30 minutes
Verbal 30 Questions 30 minutes
Quantitative 28 Questions 45 minutes
Unscored** Varies Varies
Research*** Varies Varies

* For the Issue task, two essay topics are presented and you choose one. The Argument task does not present a choice of topics; instead one topic is presented.
** An unidentified unscored section may be included and may appear in any order after the Analytical Writing section. It is not counted as part of your score.
*** An identified research section that is not scored may be included, and it is always at the end of the test.

TOEFL iBT has 4 sections:
Reading (max. marks 30), Listening (max. marks 30), Speaking (max. marks 30) and Writing (max. marks 30); totalling to 120 marks. The breakup is given below:

Reading 3-5 passages 60-100 minutes 36-70 questions
Listening 4-6 lectures 60-90 minutes 34-51 questions
Break 10 minutes
Speaking 2 categories 20 minutes 6 tasks
Writing 2 categories 50 minutes 2 tasks

GRE and TOEFL preparation material is available online. You could also join preparatory classes conducted by organizations like Kaplan, The Princeton Review etc. Its always good to start preparing early for GRE as it takes time to build up your vocabulary which is very important in the Verb. section.

The best time to appear for the exams is given below:

1) If applying for MS in Fall session (in August):
GRE - Mid September
TOEFL - A week after GRE

2) If applying for MS in Spring session (January/February):
GRE - Mid February
TOEFL - A week after GRE

The reason being it takes almost about a month for the official results and your scores to be announced and sent to Universities. Your GRE score (Quant. and Verb.) would be shown to you at the end of the test. After you've taken your GRE exam you would be required to report your scores to the Universities you intend to apply to. This has to be done thru ETS only and you need to pay ETS a fee to do that. It, however, gives you the option of sending your scores to 4 Universities for free, just after you finish your GRE at the testing center. Hence, its always a good idea to make a list of Universities for a range of GRE scores before hand. A sample:

GRE Score (Quant. + Verb.): Universities to apply to:
1200-1300 A, B, C, D...
1300-1400 E, F, G, H...
and so on...

Depending on your GRE score you can select to send it to the Names and Depts. of Universities you intend to apply to. Now comes the reason why its better to take TOEFL after GRE. Unlike GRE, for TOEFL you need to provide the list of Universities to whom the score should be sent to (for free) before you take up the test. This list can be modified till one day prior to your test by loggin into your TOEFL profile. Your TOEFL scores are put up on your login id approx. 20 dayz after your test. If you make a list of Universities and the score range beforehand you can save almost about $200 USD, which you'd otherwise spend on reporting your scores to Universities later. The list of Universities is important as each University is ranked differently according to the department. Hence, do a thorough research about the University and its offered programs.. whether it suits you, the fees, the living expenses (depending on how big the city is) etc. This is also a very important aspect.

After you are done with your GRE and TOEFL you haf about a month to relax. If you've goofed up in the University list then this is the time to select the correct universities you intend to apply to. Make use of this one month time.


If you are reading this post you may be interested in the following posts too:

MS in the US, a guide: Part ONE - Exams - GRE and TOEFL
MS in the US, a guide: Part TWO - Reporting scores and applying to universities
MS in the US, a guide: Part THREE - Post admit work to be completed
MS in the US, a guide: Part FOUR - Applying for a VISA
MS in the US, a guide: Part FIVE - Booking your tickets and packing your bags
MS in the US, a guide: Part SIX - Traveling to the US and initial days of stay
NCSU Specific Information


Aamod said…
Thanks for sharing your experience..
Anirudh Acharya said…
Keep watching this space. Will update the article soon with Part TWO.
Quiz_Master said…
The problems with students like me is that they don't know HOW to do things...
This guide will help a lot....
Thnx a million times for this.
T said…
awesome guidance,sure come hady if i plan to go GRE

you have been tagged :p
Anonymous said…
Anyone who can tell me :
I am in third year of my engineering course and can i appear for GRE or TOEFL before completion of my degree, means now if i apply for GRE entrance and lets say, if i cleared it, will it be counted. OR is it that i could appear for it only after completion of my 4 year bachelors degree???
Please u can mail me your answers and suggestions at
Anirudh said…
You can appear for GRE/TOEFL anytime you want. But remember that the GRE scores are valid for 5 years and TOEFL for 2 years only. Meaning if you take GRE today then you haf 5 years until when you can apply to Universities with that score and 2 years for TOEFL.
Anonymous said…
Hi Anirudh,

I would like to thank you very much for taking your time and providing many of us with the details on pursuing MS.
I am currently working in a s/w company in Singapore and having a work exp of 2 years.
Could you please suggest me the books to read and the tests to take online.
Is 2 months of preparation with daily spending 5hrs for studying GRE, good enough for a good score?

Kindly suggest.
My email id is

Thanks a lot.
Anirudh said…
Hey Pravn,
Glad you found the article useful. For GRE you can get books like Baron's and for TOEFL, Delta is a very popular book. Apart from that if you haf any friends who've taken some classes at Princeton Review or Kaplan you can get those books as well. These must be enough to finish the prep in 2-3 months @ 5 hours daily. About obtaining a good score, its more about tricks you apply to solve the problems as quickly as possible rather than learning the theory behind it since you will already be knowing most of the answers.

Good luck :)
Anonymous said…
Hi Anirudh,

Thank you very much,
I was waiting for your reply :)
smith joy said…
Great blog.thanks to shear this information.very help full for students.
MS in US

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