FAQ about applying to UT Austin

Originally posted here on edulix
I keep receiving queries from people (especially CS/ ECE) and there are common queries regarding UT Austin. I am not an expert here, but I'll try to put together answers to the most frequent questions. This I'll also copy-paste in my blog and in the testimonial for the Unisearch feature, so that even if this thread gets drowned, someone can locate it.

0. Should I apply?
Yes, this is a ground rule question-answer that you must read before the rest of the stuff. It is generally difficult to say if you'll be admitted, and in all cases this is an Ambitious bet for anyone. However, just a 1480 on the GRE or 300 on the TOEFL will not do: you need to show something extra, something stellar that makes you stand out among the pool of applicants to reasonably expect a call from this place. The above numbers are just indicators, and not absolute values. See the AGRE question below for some more decision making help about your applciation.

1. Funding
It is quite good, but if you are an MS applicant, chances are thin that you'll land anything right in the first semester. In my batch, about 8-10 out of the 25 people who joined the CS department from India this fall have managed to get some sort of funding as RA or TA or something, mostly in other departments. After about two semesters, almost everyone gets funded (although you need to keep hunting for it) and the CS department of course pays the highest to its RAs as compared to the others.

2. Jobs
You name the company, and they are ready to hire you! Microsoft, Google, Accenture, Ernst and Young, Amazon, Verizon, Dell, AMD .... and the list goes on and on and on. Of course you need to maintain GPA, prepare for interviews and all, also maybe get a few publications... but you can usually do that. If you have been admitted to UT, you are smart and therefore you'll manage. Ohh... lest I forget to mention: they take care of the H1B part of it as well ;)

3. Internships
Nobody remains without an internship during the summer if they have thrown their resume around. Yes places like google are in high demand because of the $ and the quality of work: but you can pretty much land an internship even in Bloomberg and make enough money over 3 months to cover your tuition and expenses for the coming semestes.

4. Expenses
Texas is not so expensive, and if you manage to hook up with people the rent for a 2 bedroom 2 bathroom place (commonly called a 2-2) comes to about $900 per month that you share. Besides that, your expenses for food and other stuff can be about $100-200 per head per month depending on how much you are willing to accept the american food habits.

5. Life outside studiesAustin isn't a place like Los Angeles or New York, but you can have a good time here easily. Those who've looked at the Halloween pictures will know what I am talking about. But I have a little confession to make: that is just one day of the year, doesn't happen daily :) Anyway, Austinites refer to the city as the Music Capital of the World, and you can pretty much catch live music anytime during the night hours downtown. The weather here is quite nice, especially people from Mumbai will find it quite close to home-like conditions.

6. The AGRE
The Holy Grail of all questions: do I need to take the AGRE if I am applying to the CS department? It will definitely better your chances and I'll recommend that you do that. But if you have a stellar profile (read 2-3 international publications, kickass recos and ongoing ideas about future research) you don't need to take the AGRE. Otherwise, yes, you do!

7. On Campus Jobs
Although these definitely do not have as much of an RoI as an RA/TA, if you are one of those people who think that "half a loaf of bread is better than no bread", then there are plenty of jobs for you. Restaurants, small fry shops etc are always looking for students and they pay about 8-10$ per hour. It may get strenuous, though, especially since unlike an RA ship you will have to put in the full 20 hours per week working continiously at one place if you need to get the dough.

8. Hot research areas
This is kind of tricky, and I can only partly answer as far as the CS department goes. I dunno about EcE research much. The networking group is awesome here, with world-reknowned authorities of wireless etc working. The core systems and compilers people are also quite active, especially with the recent Boyes-Moore Theorem prover for the AMD CPU making headlines all over. UT also leads the pack in Distributed Computing. In AI, robotics is pretty hot, and the allied fields such as neural networks and machine learning etc also have very active groups. NLP research is building up and UT will be on that map as well within a few years hopefully.

9. Mechanical Engineering department
I just talked to a grad student in Mech and this is what he has to say about the UT Austin mechanical department, which is ranked about 11-12 he told me. Basically, if you are in Mech, the chances that you'll land an RA or TA-ship in any other department are very thin: you'll need to hunt within your department itself. Therefore, in most cases the chances of getting aid in the first sem itself are very thin, and the Fall 2006 batch was an exception in that everyone who came to Mech got some form of TA ship within the department itself. Otherwise, people typically get funded after about a year. Jobs are generally tough to come by if you haven't had any internships, and that roughly translates into the fact that if you land an internship somewhere, you have great chances of getting placed in that company finally. Having said that, my friend also mentioned that only in the rarest of rare cases are people unable to find internships.
10. I am looking for roomies -- where do I find them?

This is what I suggest: hunt around on the Yahoo and Google groups for UT Austin Fall/Spring Your_Year. If there isn't one, create it and see who else joins/ is already there. You will be able to find potential roomies etc. much more easily there.

11. Or maybe I should stay on campus for the first sem...what do you say?

On-campus living is expensive, and mostly undergrads live in the dorms --- so if that is okay with you go for it. Otherwise most grad students tend to live off-campus (close to the Univ) along with other grad students.

12. I'd like to know rent rates (minimum) and the facilities i would get in the rent I pay,

Typically, the rent for a 2-Bed 2Bath at an average distance from the campus is about $850-900 per month, with utilities and other common bills coming to $300-350 per month. This is for the entire apartment, and if about 3-4 people live there then you can do the math.

13. What is the standard of living --- how much pocket money would I spend?

Depends on what standards you expect. For a normal grad student, you should not need to spend more than 100$ as pocket money in a month (even if you are funded). But again, you can make that figure $0 or you can also bloat it to $500 --- up to you.

14. Transportation

UT Shuttles are present and they connect almost every place in town with the university. And they are free. Also, you can ride the Austin city buses (called the CapMetro) free with your UT Student ID --- transportation is never a worry for people here.

15. Also, I'd like to know what to do to make my case strong for a visa when I go for my visa interview. What are the kind of questions they ask and what's the best approach to take to prepare for the VI?

This has been discussed a lot on the edulix forums --- please read through them. It has all been answered.

16. Also, if I are rejected can I defer my admission to next year, since UT does not have a spring semester?

This is a misconception --- UT does have a spring semester and they do allow people to defer their admits on a case by case basis. I don't know if the things are any different for different schools, but you can definitely apply again for the Visa if you are denied once.
17. How much money do I need to take there, and how?

Typically, the total fees plus living expenses for the first sem will come to around $7000. I had brought along $10,000 in total, split like this: $8000 in an international M.O. made out to my own self, $1500 in travellers cheques and $500 in cash. The first two in that list I got from HDFC bank --- you can get them from any such bank like ICICI, maybe even UTI, etc.

In Austin, there is a bank right beside the university called the University Federal Credit Union (or UFCU for short) that lets you open an account without SSN and stuff. You can deposit your money there. The process will take hardly 15 minutes and you don't need a person for reference to open the account. Also, they let you have a credit card with a limit of 2000$ without an SSN because you are a grad student -- go for it. The money order can take a few days to clear, however.

Wire transfers from any Indian bank is possible later on if you need more money. The bank routing number and all you can get once you are here.


18. Which locality is the best in terms of connectivity and proximity to the university? Are all the infrastructural facilities/rent the same for every locality or do they vary from place to place?
Almost all localities are good, maybe Riverside is a place to be avoided due to high crime rates and all. Otherwise, all places close to the univ are good. Even if you live afar, like Far West or someplace, the UT shuttles provide very good connectivity. Facilities are almost similar in most places --- it doesn't vary so much.



19. Are there any South Indian shops located nearby for pure vegetarians? Are items like soy milk,tofu,plain yogurt,etc. available there?

A lot of vegetarians come every year, and there is plenty of food for all of them. All these items are available locally at the superstores like HEB, Fiesta or Walmart. There are also some Indian stores which are accessible by bus, and good Indian restaurants as well.


20. I also heard that clothes tend to shrink when washed in washing machines in the US.This must be due to faulty handling of the controls,right? Are we allowed to hang clothes inside our apartment or does the landlord come in for regular inspection?

Well, none of my clothes have shrunk yet. You can hang clothes 'inside' your apartment, but hanging outside is taboo. Also, nobody really hangs their clothes --- people use the dryer to dry clothes after washing them at the laundry.

Landlords do not come for inspection (and that is a serious privacy matter), but yes, you will have to return the apartment in the condition you got them --- else you'll pay. So don't worry about it.


21. Do we need raincoats for the rains in Austin? Are the classes temperature controlled/air conditioned?

Not just classes, even the buses are air-conditioned. You will never really feel the heat/cold unless you venture outside directly yourself. And that will be really less, I assure you. You might get a raincoat --- but just an umbrella is enough. I haven't seen anyone wear a raincoat here yet; it doesn't rain so much (Texas, remember?).


22. Is it better to buy cellphones and laptops in the US or bring them from India?

Cellphones come along with the new connection lines you take, so there is no need to get them from India. Similarly, laptops are much cheaper here and you will get great deals through the university store, most of the time. So, don't bring these from India.

Any more general questions you can ask: I'll include in the list if I know answers.

Just to preseve records... here are the things you need to do once you come to Austin:

A couple of you emailed me asking what are the things you need to do after you come to the university (or to Austin, for that matter). I'll list out all that I can remember from last year:
  • - Report to the International Office at 600 West 24th, Wooldridge Hall, Austin, Texas 78705: go and find that on google maps and reach that place. You need to sign up for a particular orientation session that clears the international bar (one among the many towards registration). The slots for this registration fill up pretty fast so make sure you do this as the first thing after reaching UT. You'll need your passport and I-20 here.
  • - Get a map of the campus from this office and cling on to it --- it is something you'll need all through your first 1-2 months at Austin. Oh, just in case you don't know where you are on that map right then, you're in the building called WOL: find that!
  • - Go the building marked FAC on the map (right beside the tower) and in the ground floor, there is an ID desk where you can get your photo id, the glorious UT Student Id, that is. If you are finicky about the kind of photo that will remain on your id for the next 2-5 years, better go there with a clean-shaved face or proper makeup, whichever applies ;) Again, you'll need your Passport and I-20 here.
  • - If you need to check your mail, etc while you don't have net access during this initial time, FAC is again the place to be. In the ground floor as well as the second floor, there are plenty of computers available for use for as long as you like with your UT EID and password (which should be with you by now, anyway). Go and do as much orkut scrapping as you like, here.
  • - At the information and ID desk, they'll tell you that you need to pay 10$ for the badge that was just issued to you. You don't need to do it right away. But if you want to, go inside the Main Tower (right beside FAC) and there will be a payment desk in one of the rooms. Again, as I mentioned, you don't need to do this and can rather pay it up online.
  • - Go and open a bank account, either at UFCU or at Bank of America, whichever you like. UFCU gives you a credit card with 2000$ credit limit since you're a grad student even as you open an account, whereas the BofA account can be useful if you need to transfer money to/from people around the USA. You can always open an account in the other bank later on -- don't worry. For opening an account, you don't need any references or SSN, you just need to go there with your Passport and I-20, and preferably the UT Student Id (which you get from the FAC, above). These are located on the Guadalupe Street, right on the opposite side of the Texas Union (building called UNB). Actually if you walk towards the street from in front of the FAC and onwards to the fountain, you will see them right there.
  • - Go to the UHS and get your medical records and bars cleared. This is located on the map in the building called SSB. Go in and go to the first floor, they'll examine your form and ask you to go and take the TB test. I don't remember if you need your passport and I-20 here (the UT Id should suffice), but take them there on the safer side. You will need to pay them $25 for the test (it maybe $14 ... but take $25 anyway) on that floor itself. They will also ask you to come back and get yourself checked for the non-effects of the TB virus (the little blob should've disappeared from your arm, thats all).
  • - For those who have to get this done, go and get your GIAC bar cleared. It is done at the building called GIA on the map, at the intersection of Dean Keeton and Guadalupe. You will need to take your passport, I-20 and final degree certificate here.
  • - Finally, make sure you go and meet the secretary of your department as well. He/she will probably register you for some individual departmental orientation sessions, and also mark you as "arrived" on their checklist. CS people --- it is Katherine Utz in TAY building.
  • - One more thing that was missing from the list -- for those of you who're coming to visit from the Orkut community -- you need to get your Texas State ID (not the drivers license). Take the RR/CR bus shuttle (you'll get the directions from the International Office): and go there with your I-20, Passport (which should have the Visa stamped inside) and your I-94 card. There, you need to run around inside a solid iron hall shouting "I love America" 50 times (once for each state). They actually keep count of the number of times you've shouted that. After that, you're granted that State ID.

    Heheh... in case you just believed the above running part -- I was just kidding! ;) But do get the ID: it is invaluable to carry around instead of going to airports, pubs or anywhere with your passport in tow.
I hope all that helps. Please let me know if there are any more general questions. Good luck with all your apartment hunt, funding hunts etc. Make sure you attend all the orientation parties and socials --- they're a lot of fun!! Looking forward to meeting y'all soon!! :)

An addendum to things posted above: some might be repeat stuff:
Some of you have been asking me about apartment finding, course selection, laptops and mobile plans, etc. and the following is my take on most of these things:
  • Finding an apartment: By my count, there are at least a hundred apartment complexes within a 1-2 mile radius of UT. You can go about it in two ways. #1 -- do your own research online about all apartments around UT (look at google maps, read reviews, try yahoo searches, apartment rental websites, etc.) and finalize it or at least come here with a shortlist. Then you go and visit the apartment/property managers personally and finalize by yourself. #2 -- come here with the phone numbers of one or two apartment locators and go around with them in a car while they show you different apartments and you finalize one at the end of the day or two. The best way of course would be to do both, but it depends on how much time you want to invest in this. Anything that has a UT shuttle or a CapMetro route alongside it that goes directly to campus is good enough. Even places like Far West (to which a bus ride takes 30 mins) is a very good place if you know what you want. Of course, staying close to campus means you can stay late and still walk home (and I mean 4 am by that :) ).
  • Course selection: At least in CS, we have something called a bull session just after the departmental orientation, and this happens before the course registration opens up. At this time, older graduate students come in and straight-talk about which courses to take and which not to take; at least in terms on course load. That should get you enough information to decide for yourself. And here's another gem that can get you started: go to your UT direct page (after the secure sign-on), go to Sitemap -> Academics -> Course Instructor Survey. Then, compare all courses on offer in your course schedule one after the other (or the instructor names) and you will have a fairly good idea about things from the surveys conducted over past students who took the course. Remember, average course load means you stay up till 2:00 am only 2 days on an average every week.
  • Laptops and computer use: Unless your laptop is brand new and you have a lot of stuff set up in it already, don't bring it. You will end up staying long hours in the lab anyway, and therefore the lab computers will be your friends. The FAC and the library (PCL) is open till 2:00 am and all your email checking and youtube/facebook/orkut can be done there itself, free of charge, for as long as you want. How? Because there are around a hundred desktops available for use by anyone with a UT id at these places. Also, with your UT id you can check out a laptop (yes they do give it out for free) for 24 hour periods and you can do all you want with it. Just don't get carried away and visit the "wrong" sites or start bit torrent downloads. :P And lest I forget, the UT wireless network is available all around campus and accessible through these laptops. You'll soon fall in love with the culture of warm coffee on a sunkissed wooden deck under the evening shadows typing away on your laptop. *Wait for romantic music here*
  • Mobile plans: Don't purchase them in India. No matter what they say, you aren't that desperate to get in touch with people from here. Purchase a calling card after you land here (I think Airtel calling cards are available in the airports in India that work overseas) and use them. Also, carry a bunch of quarters with you so that if you are stuck somewhere and need to call people, you can use the pay phones. There is nothing called an STD here -- everything is the same "local" rate. Which network to choose? Get down here, compare plans, talk to other folks and find out.
  • Staying with your host: I hope all of you are already doing this, but I need to stress that you must get in touch with your hosts as soon as possible. Get their cell phone numbers, addresses, etc. and keep them informed about when you are coming, what arrangements you need regarding the key, etc. The other important thing is to give your host the priority: please arrange your schedules so that theirs do not change. A lot of them have internships and need to use the bathrooms early in the morning; please don't block them.
If this post was useful to you, puhleaaz consider a donation - you'll make my day! :)

Comments

  1. This time it was informative! :)

    So were you able to read my post?


    -Rani

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good one, Sudipta! Would give everyone atleast a basic answer to the most common of questions on every Indian applicant's mind.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Eh?

    UT is a good choice. And getting there equally tough. Are you into PHD program? God forbid... hehehehehe

    S

    ReplyDelete
  4. AGRE??? Well what is it?? Give me more info on that sudipta.. Is it so essential to appear for that??

    ReplyDelete
  5. Rani, heyy! I had read your blog, really: but couldn't find an appropriate comment for it. I'll post something today for sure, ok? :)

    Alpine path, yes.. that was the intention, thanks! :)

    It Doesn't, first of all, welcome onboard! Well, I am in the Masters' program right now: thinking about the PhD! God Forbid, eh?

    Jeevan, well, to cut a long story short, go and look on http://www.edulix.com or http://www.ets.org or your target universities webpages. But you are not from CS: I don't think you need to bother about that!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey it is funny that you could not find an appropriate comment.

    I guess taking the decision of creating your own blog itself is courageous. Atleast that is what I feel...:)

    BTW I liked your comment, it was really encouraging!

    -Rani

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for enlighten UT Austin aspirants like me. You answered all my queries except few. How girls over there.Are they hot? How hard is it to get laid?

    Sincerely
    Balaji
    Call me:981773422

    ReplyDelete
  8. Balaji, only if you had posted your full 10-digit phone number here I would've called you up from here to reply. However, since you haven't, I shall use this space to reply.

    Tell me a place where you think you will be living amongst girls aged 18-30 and not find them hot (err, unless you are all happy and g** that is). With your extensive depth of the knowledge about how to sodomise the Queen's language (as demonstrated by your pithy comment above), I'd say that your chances of getting laid are as good as that of being able to prove P=NP in computer sciences.

    Hope that helps,
    Sudipta

    ReplyDelete
  9. That was quite informative, I must say :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. hey wuzup...my bad man...I thought u were a chick....not my fault though..sudipta apparently a girl's name(ur papa is a funny man) and also essence of ur posts is pistil-bearing...so dont bother to call me.

    balaji
    512-8X7-12X5

    ReplyDelete
  11. Phatichar, thanks :)

    Balaji, so you actually ventured to ask a girl what are your chances of getting laid? Nice nice... I can say that your probability just got squared!

    ReplyDelete
  12. awesome reply...sudipto

    fitting without falling to the level of the instigator

    cheers
    augstya

    ReplyDelete
  13. Augstya, Cheers mate! :)

    And welcome...

    ReplyDelete
  14. I have got 670 (30 percentile) in AGRE. Should I send this score to UT Austin ?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thx a million bro>>

    That was informative......

    ReplyDelete
  16. Arjun, well, what is stopping you from sending your score to UT?

    Riding, welcome onboard! And I'm glad you found it useful. :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. This is a nice writeup. Any aspiring applicant can take away some generic information from this article about life as a student in the US.

    ReplyDelete
  18. qwertykris, thank you, and welcome onboard!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi,
    Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on this wonderful piece of blog. In fact, it is a MUST READ for every aspirant.

    I am an undergrad from College of Enginering, Anna University. I have an offer from Morgan Stanley, Mumbai as a technology analyst with a pay of 10LPA. I also have a reasonably stellar profile, and might get UTexas, Austin.

    My priority after a Masters in the US, is NOT phD or research but a lucrative pay and a high standard of living and HIGH PURCHASING POWER.

    1.Kindly, advise me on as to whether i should take up this job offer from Morgan or opt for a masters given my present priorities.?

    2.If you know some thing about the work and growth at morgan, do enlighten me about the same?

    3.I heard that jobs for freshers (with a reasonable salary say around 65-70k USD)are really hard these days and the job scenario has detoriated and i might also need to be prepared to find a job in India and companies prefer US residents.
    Kindly advise on present job prospects in the US and as to whether this job in Morgan Stanley or a Masters from an Univ like UTA, would land me at a lucrative position after say 3 years.?

    4. Are internships / jobs easy at Utexas austin?
    and do all of graduates get placed?

    Thanks alot for this wonderful blog and thanks for your time :) :).. Reading your blog really made my day :)

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anonymous, thanks for the compliments. I have replied to your email.

    ReplyDelete
  21. hello sudipta..

    You kind of forgot about how work experience might help especially if its relevant and the company is well known.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right - work experience matters, especially if your supervisor is willing to write about it in more detail.

      Delete
  22. Hey sudipta,
    I am also considering graduate studies at UT Austin, though a bit apprehensive since I do not know whether they know my univ or not. The GRE scores are fine 323(163q,160v,4.0AWA) and I have research experience from IIT Delhi with two professors recommending me there. I wanted to ask if I applied to the MS program at ECE then what can I expect from UT Austin (Sorry if these type of questions offend you, but since you have gone there from India,I hope you can understand my anxiety).
    -Ankit

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ankit - it is hard to tell. From what I am seeing above, you should apply. Worst case, they'll reject you. At least then you will know that you have tried!

      Delete
  23. Well, thanks for that write up
    I'm in 11th standard n I wish to apply at UT Austin !!
    I'm outstanding at academics but still I have no outstanding achievement ( I think so , I have national achievement but no international like. I have secured 2nd position in a national basketball event, have been in national mathematical seminar ( for limited one only ) , and have been qualified for inmo . Etc )

    .
    .
    I will manage to get outstanding score in sat i and ok and toefl !!
    .

    .
    So do you think I will be able to get admission with those achievements ?
    .
    .
    Or should I get more of those achievements ? ( cuz I'm also preparing for jee apart from that )

    ReplyDelete
  24. Hello Sudipta. Yours was an extremely informative blog. I have applied for MS in ECE at UT Austin. It is my dream school. My profile is as below:
    GRE: 329/340 (Q: 168, V: 161, AWA:4)
    TOEFL: 117/120
    GPA: 9.29/10 (Jr./Sr. GPA: 9.48/10) (From an NIT in India)
    4 Publications
    I am currently a research assistant at IISc, Bangalore. My area of focus is nanotechnology. That will be my area of focus when I enter UT Austin too.
    Do you think I have a shot there? I really want to enter this school. I will be really glad if you help me out.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hello. Nice Post.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Well, thanks for that write up
    I'm in 11th standard n I wish to apply at UT Austin !!
    I'm outstanding at academics but still I have no outstanding achievement ( I think so , I have national achievement but no international like. I have secured 2nd position in a national basketball event, have been in national mathematical seminar ( for limited one only ) , and have been qualified for inmo . Etc )

    .
    .
    I will manage to get outstanding score in sat i and ok and toefl !!
    .

    .
    So do you think I will be able to get admission with those achievements ?
    .
    .
    Or should I get more of those achievements ? ( cuz I'm also preparing for jee apart from that )

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hey sudipta,
    I am also considering graduate studies at UT Austin, though a bit apprehensive since I do not know whether they know my univ or not. The GRE scores are fine 323(163q,160v,4.0AWA) and I have research experience from IIT Delhi with two professors recommending me there. I wanted to ask if I applied to the MS program at ECE then what can I expect from UT Austin (Sorry if these type of questions offend you, but since you have gone there from India,I hope you can understand my anxiety).
    -Ankit

    ReplyDelete
  28. Where can I find other people from India going to UT Austin for undergrad?

    ReplyDelete
  29. What was the 120 amount and for what duration?

    ReplyDelete

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