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How to quit a good job and get a scholarship to study in the US

Photo © Miraj Patel

Since childhood, I was fond of everything related to computers, but the Unified State Exam in Mathematics resisted the desire to learn a technical specialty, and I went to political science at MGIMO, after which I started a successful career in public relations. At some point, I realized that I wanted to develop in another field, and in 2014, I decided to enter the United States to study Data Science.


Admission process

I regularly looked through some other resources, but did not see anything suitable. Grants from the European Union were too specific, there were few places in Holland, the Spanish IE Business School It seemed too commercialized, and although I liked the St. Petersburg Higher School of Management at St. Petersburg State University with the opportunity to study abroad, I was in no hurry to enter because of dislike for cool weather.

In 2014, when autumn was approaching, I decided to pass the GMAT, GRE and TOEFL exams as soon as possible. I was a bit like an MBA course. Strategywhere I learned about the features of these exams, most of the time I was preparing myself. A few months of preparation was enough to get decent results by December. I had already planned a small tour of the States.

I didn’t have time for open days - maybe it was even for the best. Instead, I sent several letters directly to the universities I was interested in with a proposal to meet, and many responded positively. These meetings were semi-formal and did not commit to anything, but I had a great chance to tell about myself and be remembered. Still, not every applicant will knock on the mail to the chairman of the selection committee.

I went to Yale, and I also traveled to Princeton. I didn't like the east coast. Part of the thing was that I went in the winter and it was very cold. At Yale, there was an opportunity to receive, it seems, generally the only grant in the United States designed specifically for Russians. It became clear from the conversation that we have different goals: I was primarily interested in quantitative methods, and for them politics and everything related to civic activism are more important. This meeting rather reduced my chances of admission. Later I received a letter stating that we were not on the road with Yale.

I was not very worried about this, because the climate is difficult there, and I still had a meeting in sunny California. Here, in UC San Diego at that time, my friend from MGIMO was studying. He showed me the campus and told me all about his faculty, especially how great the focus is on econometrics, applications like Stata and Matlaband now publicly available languages ​​such as R и Python. It seemed that I had found the master's degree of my dream: that about programming, but not strictly for graduates of technical universities.

I left the office of admissions with a good presentiment. He quickly returned to Moscow, filled out all the documents, paid the fees, collected letters of recommendation and wrote introductory essays. It was already the beginning of January 2015 of the year, and ahead there is a painful waiting for results until April.

In the meantime, I continued to work and tried not to think about entering. In the promised timeframe, the first letter from San Diego came: “You are accepted!”. A week later came another. It said that the university for my services gives me a generous grant (merit-based scholarship) for education. By that time, I had about four years of work experience, which, I think, along with the recommendations, played a major role in the provision of scholarships.

From my friend, I learned that several such grants are allocated each year. Naturally, the earlier you serve, the greater the chances. When submitting documents, you do not need to indicate anything additional, and on the website of the faculty this opportunity itself is not advertised. Therefore, I recommend not limited to information available online, and try to find out about the institute you are interested in as much as possible firsthand.

Photo © Erik Jepsen

What is the educational process

I am studying for a two-year program in School of Global Policy and Strategy. Like the rest of the university, we study in quarters, not semesters. This changes the pace of work: in 10 weeks, the student must become an expert in each of the four required subjects, with intermediate sections, exams or large written assignments. Over time, you can begin to make your schedule, but less than four courses can not be taken. Each course is two lectures, and sometimes two additional seminars per week.

In addition, at least one technical discipline is studied every quarter - statistics, econometrics, big data analysis, and so on. For those who wish there is a direction in finance and accounting. In general, the program sounds exactly like an MBA, only it is not an MBA. Here are strong regional traditions established at the foundation of the faculty. Historically, we have specialized in the countries of the Pacific Coast: China, Japan, Korea and Latin America. True, this is now fading into the background due to the focus on quantitative methods. Last year, the Pacific focus was even removed from the title. At the same time, despite the deepening of econometrics, we do not have STEM status (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), which, among other things, gives some visa privileges to foreign students. All because of the fact that in our diploma they still write “Master of International Affairs».

In this quarter I study five subjects. The main one is Evaluating Technological Innovation about advanced econometrics tools and the design of statistical experiments. A / B tests, if in our opinion.

In this course, I will write an analogue of the thesis, because we do not have them in the usual sense. I also signed up for International Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing. I always try to take the most interesting courses, but, of course, often there are inconsistencies in the schedule and I have to sacrifice something.

Also this year I started working as an assistant teacher (Teaching assistant) within the program Culture, Art, and Technology with us in UC San Diego. Twice a week, I teach English and Rhetoric for 30 – 40 undergraduate students. Along with checking the work, it takes about 20 hours per week. We write detailed essays, learn to make beautiful and understandable presentations, create personal websites and professionally maintain accounts in social networks. In addition to monthly earnings and interesting experience, this position also partially covers tuition fees.

If at MGIMO I did for the most part without a calendar, then here I cannot survive without it. The pace of study is so fast that it is easy to lose sight of something - just like at work in a large corporation. Fortunately, the deadlines for homework and other deadlines become known at the beginning of the quarter, which is very convenient. You can immediately add all events and reminders to the calendar and update as needed.

For me, studying is not only lectures and seminars. The social component in our faculty takes considerable time, and that's great. There are a dozen student interest clubs, and all of them are quite serious in planning activities throughout the year - with a budget, lobbying the local administration, and so on. Everything is well organized and institutionalized, with mandatory meetings and voting by the club directors on various issues. I have never seen anything like it before.

Difference in training in the USA and Russia

The main difference in the availability of choice. There are compulsory courses, but not many of them, especially at the undergraduate degree. Everyone can fine-tune the program depending on their plans and interests, and the choice is incredibly large. Here you can sign up for subjects from all faculties. With certain reservations, of course. In the first months, it was shocking, because after our fundamental education, it seemed to me old-fashioned that it was almost criminal to take courses not in my specialty. And even from the required courses can be waived, if there is an opportunity to confirm that you own the subject well. In all this, there are certain disadvantages.

Every year there are students who are deducted for academic failure. Often these are those who could not decide on the direction, enrolled in courses in several faculties and some of the subjects filled up.

Separately, it is worth noting the learning process itself, but the people involved in it. If you compare not only with Russia, but also with neighboring universities like UCLA or Berkeley, there is definitely the most friendly student community. In general, I expected that in America, students would be ready to go over their heads in order to slightly increase their average mark. And it seems to be the case, at least in the most popular universities and business schools. In San Diego, the atmosphere is more relaxed, almost everyone is happy to discuss any issue, regardless of whether you are competing for grade in the classroom. This helps in learning, but most importantly, after graduation, many are ready to help. Therefore, we have strongly developed ties with graduates, every quarter events are organized with their participation. Often they help with getting a job. This is a good business model for the faculty, because the most successful then begin to support it financially.

The life of an American student

For graduate students and candidates of sciences there is a separate type of housing, much more spacious and affordable than for bachelors. So here they try to attract the best minds. So, I live in a four-apartment house like "townhouse", surrounded by huge eucalyptus trees. Usually the apartment is completely given to couples, often with children. There are a lot of them here, there is even a kindergarten. In my case, my neighbor and I share a kitchen and a lounge, but each has its own room.

Photo © Masha Titova

It was quite easy to get housing, the main thing is to get in line immediately after entering, otherwise you would have to wait half a year or a year. I was doubly lucky, because I settled on the second floor - due to the gable roof we have a very high ceiling. Spacious and cozy.

Bonuses for students here at every turn. Free travel by bus, for example. Almost any software can be bought at a big discount or even get it for free.

I therefore subscribed to Spotify - I really wanted to try out their recommendation algorithm in practice. I also use for free Table - a tool for visualization and work with data (now it is rapidly gaining popularity in the corporate segment).

Everything related to sports and fitness is also free within the university. There are several large gyms, jacuzzi pools and even a climbing room. A couple of semesters back for a nominal fee, I signed up for a surfing course. Feelings are really inexpressible. Despite the cold ocean, I recommend riding here in the winter, when the best waves.

I am applying for a postgraduate practice on a student visa, and I will do this. Anyway, with visas, I am mainly interested in high technologies and online business, so it would be logical to work here, closer to Silicon Valley. I believe that without an internship, my studies in the USA will be incomplete. Due to strong competition, it turns out that if you are successful here, you will be able to achieve your goals anywhere. Usually, those who return to Russia with American experience and education move very quickly up the career ladder. In particular, with work in Western companies.

Original published in interview with Anton Prokopiev

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