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I am a 4th year Electronics engineering student studying in India. I applied to Master's of Science in computer science programs (I wish to change fields) offered by 11 universities in the US, but my application was rejected by all 11 of them.

One of the important factors (correct me if I am wrong) that I consider is weak in my application is my background. I have no formal background (even though I have lots of informal background) in Computer Science (my university did not encourage Minoring in a second subject).

To address the above stated problem, I am considering enrolling into the "academic graduate pathway program"(by academic I mean that it is not intended to fulfil english language requirements, but to fulfil background requirements for the graduate studies in some field) which is basically an additional year before the Master's program where I will study all the required prerequisites for a Master's program in Computer Science.

The problem is that the cost is an issue. I will have to spend an year's worth of extra money before the Master's.

So, my question :

  • Is enrolling into the pathway program necessary (and if yes, how much) for improving my chances of getting into a Master's in Computer science program, or would taking online courses on coursera, edx, udacity ... be equivalent (by equivalent I mean would it benefit equally in the admission procedure)?
  • Hypothetically, if I get an offer for a 6 month research internship in a subject of my interest (Machine Learning - which is what I wish to concentrate on during my graduate studies), will the internship, or studying at the pathway program benefit my application more ?
  • Are there any other ways, specific to my case, in which I can complete the background requirement, without formally enrolling in such a program ?
  • This question is likely to be closed, because we don't give recommendations about the suitability of individual programmes to individual people. However, if you edit it to be about pre-master's programmes in general, it might be more suitable for the site. – David Richerby May 7 '16 at 16:38
  • @DavidRicherby what about now. I edited the question so that it is more general that it was before. If it is, how do I put the question "off hold" ? – riyansh karani May 8 '16 at 5:19
  • It looks better, to me. Now that you've edited the question, people will vote on whether to re-open it or not. – David Richerby May 8 '16 at 5:20
  • There are pathway programs in the US for international students who lack the English language skills to be admitted normally. Then there are other "pathway" programs not specifically targeted to international students, that focus on preparing students for graduate-level coursework and research. (Sometimes these target minority students.) Which kind are you referring to? – ff524 May 8 '16 at 6:44
  • @ff524 I am referring to academic pathway program, not the english language pathway program. – riyansh karani May 8 '16 at 6:59
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My experience with interviewing/selecting candidates to enter a masters program (in social science, it may be different in computer science) is that the process can be highly variable, and candidates may be rejected for a range of reasons ranging from test scores, to a lack of experience, to not filling out admission paperwork properly, and, unfortunately, discrimination due to ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, etc.

Different programs have different mentalities toward admitting students, some programs might want you to apply two years in a row, because they decided that this is an indication that you are "more serious".

So... It might be safe to assume that your lack of background is the problem (particularly since you were rejected 11 times), however, the only way to know for sure is to ask the admission committees.

In my experience, graduate programs in the U.S. will NEVER tell you why you were rejected, because doing so places them at legal risk. However, they will respond if you ask them "What can I do to strengthen my application between now and the next admission cycle?".

With regard to how you can get experience - many faculty members I talk with don't consider MOOCs legitimate at this time. This may be different, depending on where you are applying. Personally, I would advise you to seek education at a brick and mortar institution, if you can afford to do so.

You mention prerequisites - in my experience this term generally refers to a course that is required to take another course. Thus, prerequisites are typically taken at the same university as a graduate program in which you are enrolled, as credits won't always transfer. What you are describing seems to be taking general coursework.

Unfortunantly, there is a hierarchy in higher education. In my experience it goes:

  1. Research 1 Universities (ranked by the Carnage foundation)
  2. Other universities
  3. Community colleges
  4. Online programs

With option one being the most prestigious and most expensive and option four being seen as the least prestigious, and also the least expensive.

In summary: 1. Ask the graduate programs what you can do to strengthen your application. 2. Engage in the behaviors that the programs tell you to.

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It might be a year, but are there that many pre-reqs in total? Isn't it just 3 to 4 courses? Regarding admission, if you want to continue for a master's at that school offering the pathway program, and if that program is really competitive, then the pathway program is crucial for you. The good programs trust their own professors and quality and content of their own courses. They'll be more convinced of your preparation, if you do well. However, if you're not aiming very high for a master's, maybe consider cheaper options to fill in your pre-req background.

  • Just to clear it up, No I do not intend to enrol in the same university which is currently offerring the pathway program (and according to my best knowledge, it is not a very competitive program either). My intention is to apply to other universities, while I complete the prerequisites in a pathway program. – riyansh karani May 8 '16 at 13:32
  • And also, could you please clarify what do you mean by "cheaper options ?" – riyansh karani May 8 '16 at 13:36
  • cheaper meaning doing the pre-reqs at a college near you -- just so long as the classes are not from a two-year community college (these types of classes are not considered competitive by master's programs, I think.) You should also really try to reach out to your target schools, let them know of your situation, e.g., being recently rejected, and find out what's the best plan for you to apply / reapply. – User001 May 8 '16 at 13:49
  • the extra costs of a pathway program, in the long run, may be a good investment -- unless you were going for a humanities degree. – User001 May 8 '16 at 13:56
  • The more important question is that can taking "online courses" be considered as a replacement for a premaster's program ? Because it isn't only about the money, but a lot of other things that drive me against the pathway program. So, I am really trying to avoid enrolling in one. Hence, looking for all the possible alternatives until I am sure there aren't any. – riyansh karani May 8 '16 at 14:11

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