phd admission experience
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How to Apply for PhD Admission in USA. Tips From a Student With $48,000 Scholarship

Giridhar was planning to apply for a Ph.D. He visited about eight admission consultants in Hyderabad, India. He realized they were trying to trap him for number of reasons.

He decided to take matters into his own hands. In the end, he got admission with a 100% Tuition Waiver and $25,000 in stipend per year. Sweet deal, right?

So, how did he apply for PhD admission in USA and received $48,000 in Scholarships and Stipend? Let’s hear from him about his Ph.D. admission process.

I recently received my college acceptance letter for Ph.D. in Chemistry (Medicinal Chemistry) for Fall 2016, from two U.S. universities.

I received 100% funding. My full assistantship is $48,000/yr. After covering the tuition fee, I will receive $25,000/yr as a stipend.

I have been watching your videos and interviews with students, and I’m glad to say that they have helped me a lot. I am extremely thankful for that.

About My Education


  • I finished my Masters in Chemistry (Ranked 12th in all of India) from NIT Warangal.
  • I started working as a Lecturer in Chemistry at an IIT Coaching Institute.


  • I began working as a Research Associate in a Pharma company, and I am still working there to date.

My Research Background

I have done research on the Synthesis of Intermediates, which is used for developing anti-cancer drugs. As of today, I have three years of research experience.

I have been an active member of various seminar series which are held at NIT Warangal. In addition, I have won first prize from several International Seminars.

I think that all of these extra achievements might have helped me in the admission process, apart from my Statement of Purpose and Reference letters stating my accomplishments.

Test Prep – GRE and TOEFL

I am a student of life sciences, with no math background. I stopped taking math classes after my 10th standard exam, so getting a good score on the GRE Quantitative section was an arduous task.

I took about eight months to study the Math fundamentals from 6th to 10th grade, in addition to attending the GRE coaching center.

Working on research and attending classes in coaching was tough for me, but I succeeded with a strong commitment.

GRE Test Scores

  • GRE – 1st attempt : 297 (Q-153,V-144, AWA-2.5)
  • GRE – 2nd attempt : 310 (Q-159,V-151, AWA-3.5)

TOEFL Test Scores

  • TOEFL – 1st attempt : 91 (R-19, L-24, S-26, W-22)
  • TOEFL – 2nd attempt : 105 (R-24, L-25, S-30, W-26)

Ph.D. Admission and Consultancies

When I approached consultancies for my Ph.D. admission, they thought that I was a naïve student and would be willing to settle for less. Plus, they treated me me as if I was unaware of the U.S. College admission process.

They tried to trap me in different ways. I will explain them in detail below. All of the U.S. Admission consultancies I visited are located in Hyderabad, India.

They told me that:

  • I should first have a GRE score of 320, and a TOEFL score of 110. Only then could I get admission for a Ph.D.
  • I should be prepared to pay fees for at least first four semesters if I did not receive funding.
  • I should have a strong Thesis in Masters.
  • I should have at least two publications in a Masters Degree.
  • I should use their service to convert my Indian college grades to U.S.A.-based GPA.
  • They will apply to the universities to which I would need to apply, as per their contacts.
  • They will apply only to the universities to which they have references/contacts/tie-ups.
  • They will make the final choice of schools to which I should apply.

I asked myself, “Who the hell are these people to decide my future?”

After visiting 6 to 7 consultancies, I found that every one had the same set of answers and approach. I got frustrated (rightly so).

Then I happened to read an article in The Hindu newspaper about a Ph.D. admission process and decided to follow that.

Here’s how I approached my Ph.D. admission process:

I reached out to the professor from the first university of my choice, (in Washington), via Email. I sent an email to the Chemistry Department Chair. My email included the following:

  • My education
  • My research Experience
  • My GRE Score
  • My TOEFL score

I received a reply in eight hours from the Graduate Advisor with details on:

  • How to apply for a Ph.D.
  • Deadlines and priority dates.

We exchanged about eight different emails, and the Chair encouraged me to apply as early as possible.

8 Lessons Learned  – Ph.D. Application

1. No Consultancy, Please

First, never approach any consultancy for a Ph.D. admission process. You will be easily trapped and become a scapegoat with unnecessary financial expenses.

For example, they charge 10,000 INR each time that you apply. It’s fake, so don’t get into that mess.

2. Decide on Research Focus

Determine your choices for future research and make a list of at least 8 to 10 universities.

Keep in mind that you must choose universities not only by their ranking, but also based on academics and test scores.

If your GRE is 305 and you aim for Stanford, it will look ridiculous per se and impractical.

Know the possibilities and be practical.

Keep in mind that you must have your GRE and TOEFL scores in hand before applying.

I recommend TOEFL on IELTS if you aim for a better university. Of course, IELTS has a good consideration, but TOEFL is accepted as a priority in the majority of U.S. universities when it comes to a Ph.D.

A TOEFL score of at least 100+ with an S-28, W-25 minimum is expected in a majority of universities. These scores may vary if you consider IELTS.

If you have publications, that’s fine. If you don’t, please don’t bother, as publications are not mandatory. Having strong academics and good scores, (at least GRE-305+, TOEFL-100+), will suffice.

3. Send Emails to Professors

Once you decide your research area and university lists, start contacting professors via email. You can reach out to the department chair and to individual professors.They respond to many students’ emails. It may take 2 or 3 days, but the response will be definite.

Try to express yourself genuinely, and inquire about the required SCORES’ details and further information which you feel may be necessary.

4. Know the Admission Deadlines

If you plan to go for the Fall semester of 2017, you must apply for the previous year’s Fall semester, (i.e. Fall 2016 ). Applying a year ahead will always give you better chances. Typical schools have open admissions from Oct 15, and deadlines will vary, (Dec. 15 or Jan 15).

The priority deadline is December 15th. Be prepared to apply online early, by November.

5. Prepare Admission Documents

Most importantly, keep your documents ready to apply.

  • Have transcripts – at least eight sets.

The most important things are Recommendation Letters and your Statement of Purpose.

  • You will also need 3 References.

Prepare for yourself a working draft of SOP. You can purchase SOP services, which range from $75 to $200, online, or, if you are well-versed in English grammar, you can prepare your own.

Ask the department whether they need online or hard copies of reference letters. Additionally, find out if they need hard copies of transcripts, or if online only is enough.

Be aware that some universities are very specific, and that some of them don’t accept online TRANSCRIPTS as genuine. Make sure to address that.

6. Report Test Scores

Order your GRE and TOEFL/IELTS scores from the ETS/IELTS website at least TWO months before applying.

It may take 15 days to process. Once the score report is delivered, verify with the university that they received the scores.

7. Submit Application

Be sure to apply before the admission deadline. If possible, at least 15 days before the deadline would be good.
Inform the contacts to submit the reference letter online.

Inform the faculty that they will receive reference forms from universities, as they have to send them in before the deadline.

Always stay in touch with them or with managers/higher professionals (if you have work experience like me).

8. Mail Documents

Lastly, use postage services like DHL or FedEx to send the documents.

They have special services for students who apply to U.S. universities. Ask about student coupons; You can get approximately a 40% discount.

Finally, just before mailing the document, double check if you have included all the documents in the application package before mailing it.

Finally, dear Raghu, I would love to share my video experience with you.


Giridhar requested not to disclose the universities list just yet, but I plan to do a video interview with him, to ask questions about:

  • How he improved his GRE and TOEFL Score (the exact plan, books and materials)
  • His email exchanges with Professors
  • The list of universities (admits, rejects)
  • His Statement of Purpose
  • How to get “strong” recommendation letters
  • Names of the consultancies in Hyderabad

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  1. How can we send the sealed transcripts as my son studied in nijam college degree . M.s In Kansas . As the UNITI is issuing it .. can u pls tell me??? Thanks

  2. sir,
    i have finished master degree in electrical engineering. now i trying to do ph.d in USA. wat s the procedure. nowadays end of this year(2016) and GRE also preparing. i am plan to join next summer (2017). wat s the selection process of the guide can i contact on the universitry based. pls find this msg reply me.

  3. I have a bachelors degree in pharmacy.I got 305 in gre,97 in toefl,my undergraduate CGPA is 6.4/7. What are my chances of getting a phD scholarship for Medicinal chemistry in a university in US.

  4. Well girdhar and thanks raghu I am also getting myself ready for phd .And the thing that I got to see came at the right time.


  5. i fully agree with the author of this piece; i think that trying to work out one’s admission through a consultant is a very bad idea. first of all while studying in USA is great, it is not the end of the world. therefore i am not sure why one should be desperate to go to any lengths, sometimes unethical means like lying and producing fake documents and then demeaning oneself in front of others. secondly, i am not sure what a consultant can offer today and one’s own research and application cannot. after all, they can at best guide you and provide information. today, most graduate applications departments in any decent university would be happy to provide the same information and much more. thirdly, going to a visa interview with inputs from a consultant is a terrible idea. it is akin to abandoning all our thinking and faculties and putting faith in a stranger. therefore, my humble suggestion to those aspiring to pursue education in USA or in any other country for that matter is to look deep within for answers to fundamental questions; what, where, how and why.

  6. Dear Raghuram and Giridhar,

    Congratulations for the great post !! It’s really very helpful for people like me :). Could you please do a favor and give me Giridhar’s video interview (as you have mentioned in the post that you will interview him) link regarding this post .

  7. I agree with Dr. Chandok. There are consultants in the US as well that work in the best interest of the students. They guide the students through not only the university selection process but also the Ph.D. application process. Most of our consultants hold Ph.D.’s themselves.

    I am the Co-Founder of Power Punch Club. Our mentorship program works closely with the student during the application process and well after they have been accepted into university.

  8. This is definetely great information for students looking to apply for PhD programs in the US. It totally depends on the program / school you are applying , you can definetely compensate for your publications with research experience . Having publications is definetely a plus, that’s one of the way the schools assess your productivity . Another way to follow up about the program or school is just go to current students page and contact them and ask about the program and PI. If you are applying for PhD programs in biology , I would definetely recommend having publications or working in a good research institution or decent work experience .

  9. I came across your site and would like to place on record an alternative view of the above. There are many genuine consultants in India. They charge a fixed amount to the student since there are no commissions where students get funding. They help to make list of universities depending on the student’s profile. They guide the student’s through the entire admission process, visa application and departure process.
    Yes, the students do need to do their due diligence to locate the right consultant.

    1. Perhaps Dr Kiran Chandok would like to advise us all of the basis for the due diligence that the students have been advised to conduct for themselves. As all those who provide technical services in our world know that no remit can be executed appropriately if the basis for that remit is not adequate. Dr Yishu Nanda Chartered Engineer (UK).


      Can you please tell me the names of genuine consultancy services who can provide me with the best supervisor and university for my Ph.D program.As I want to pursue my PhD in Electrical Engineering.

      Kind Regards.

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