Many people approach graduate school applications as if they were filling in a government form. They just fill in the forms, throw in the needed supplementaries and mail it. But if you notice patterns among successful applicants you will find that there is a focus on smaller and finer details, which help separate their application from the pack. The details in itself may be superfluous but the commitment shown to the application is certainly noticed. Your final application packet should ideally contain the following arranged neatly in an envelope.
1a) Draft for Application Fee
1b) Covering Letter
2) List of items in the envelope
3) Data Forms/ Application forms (can also be submitted online)
4) Statement of Purpose ( 2 sides)
5) 3 Reference letters ( each preferably 1 side)
7) Photocopy of GRE Score
8) Photocopy of TOEFL Score
9) Photocopy of Your engineering Syllabus ( Optional)
1. Covering Letter
A covering letter is required to introduce yourself and present information that cannot be presented anywhere else in the application. For example. After introducing myself in the most optimistic tone possible and clearly writing down my mailing address once again, I used the covering letter to address the "percentage marks" Vs Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) issue. I explained in brief the systems of conducting and evaluating exams in India. I also explained what goes into grading a paper in the percentage system. It is important to understand the CGPA system before explaining our percentage system in the right perspective.
In a CGPA system a course has several components -- homework, Projects, Midterms and Final Exam. Each count for a proportion of your total score on that subject. For example homework count for 10 points, Projects count for 20 points, Both midterms put together will count for 40 points and the Final exam is worth 30 points. Regardless of how many points individual entities are evaluated for -- In the end all your scores in a particular entity is totaled and converted/scaled to their worth for the course. For example if you had 10 homework each worth 100 points and your total score for 10 homework was 900 then you would get 9/10 for homework for that course. Similarly your total for the course (for that semester) - which is the sum of your scores for all entities put together would be calculated for 100, at the end of the semester. Then the scores of all the students would be sorted in descending order. This is where the individual philosophies of a particular Professor comes in. In a 30 member class, a professor may award an A grade to the first 5 students, A- to the next 5 and so on. This way even if you score a 96 on 100 you may not end up with an A (although this rarely happens). The highest grade he can give is usually A and the lowest he can give is F. The grading scale goes like A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+... and so on. International students doing a graduate degree in the U.S should try and not fall below a B in any course he attempts. Most professors I knew decided grades based on absolute values. For example All students who had a total above 95 would get an A, above 90 is A-, above 85 is B+, and so on. Some professors who are rally strict would barely give 2 A's for a course and give just B's to a large subsection of the students.
Then comes the complex GPA calculation. In a scale of 0 - to - 4.0, an A is worth 4 points, A- is 3.7, B+ is 3.3, B is 3.0, B- is 2.7 and so on. There is also a credit value assigned to a course ( this is where the weighted average comes in). Course credits range from 1 to 5 with most graduate courses worth between 3 and 5 credits. For example if you too 3 courses M1, M2 and M3. If M1 was worth 3 credits M2 was 4 credits and M3 was a 5 credit course. And you scored A, A- and B+ respectively. You GPA for that semester would be ( 3*(A) + 4*(A-) + 5*(B+) )/ (3 + 4 + 5) => (3*4 + 3*3.7 + 3*3.4)/12 => (12 + 14.8 + 17)/12 => 3.65. So your GPA for that semester is calculated.
So there you go. With this understanding try and figure out how your courses are graded and explain in 1 paragraph how the percentage is graded. Not a lot of people do this and I gather this is really appreciated by many admission committee evaluators. You can also explain the typical score of a person who is first in class .Try and avoid words like 'topper' etc as it is yet to be included in many English dictionaries (and may never be). This is really a colloquial word that is often misleading :-). So that the evaluators can get a feel of where you stand in your class. This also gives a chance to applicants from some parts of India to explain their relative low percentage score compared to applicants from other parts of India. For example in College of Engineering, Pune you are walking on water if you get 65% and above. If you get above 75% there is a temple built for you in your college. In University of Madras (now Anna University) if you get a 65%, you are scum. A 70% still doesn't make you different from insects floating in your college pond. A class first would typically get 88% or even 90% in University of Madras. Most American Universities are aware of such variances. However, a chance to explain it in your own words is valuable and must be utilized.
To be Continued....