Step 1: Prepare Better. Define Your Brand & Decide What You Want

Go back to Our 7-Step Approach

By Rajkamal Rao 
We are glad you are about to start preparing for the most important change in your life - going to the United States to study.

Before you start, we suggest placing all of your thoughts and content in the "cloud".  Google Docs is a great way to store and retrieve your assets in a secure manner from anywhere. You don't have to worry about saving files or backing them up.  And you can have others review your work and provide comments. 

We hope you have reviewed our introduction to this section: There’s a Better Way - Our 7-step approach. We term Step 1 simply as Prepare Better.  That is, long before you visit a school’s website to download an application, you must have a good picture of who you are and what you want.

All the things that you do in this step can help you significantly throughout the process - and frankly, even beyond.  A lot of what you do in this first step will change, over time.  But don't worry too much about that now.  Let's focus on the basics. 

First, write down your strengths and what really differentiates you from your friends.  Perhaps you are strong in mathematics.  Or you are good in the way you write.  Or you have excellent speaking skills based on all the compering you have done at college events.  Or you are a good organizer.  Or you have learned a foreign language and are good at it.  Or you are devoted to a social cause, such as working for a NGO on weekends.

One of the world's most successful companies, Google, looks for key attributes in a future employee.  Although you are not applying to Google for a job, it can help to look at yourself through the Google lens.  These attributes are: technical ability; learning ability; emergent leadership (sense of ownership to step in) and intellectual humility to recognize the competence of others on the team to step back.

You get the picture.  Write down every positive thing about you that makes you proud of your accomplishments.

Next, demonstrate, don't just tell.  That is, for each positive thing you wrote about yourself, try to provide a concrete example.  If you claim you are good in writing, document the articles you wrote - including title and date.  If you think you are good in research, document the name of the professor for whom you worked and where you helped present the paper.  [At the Indian Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIIE) conference in Bangalore in October 2012, we came away impressed by dozens of BE students who wrote papers and presented material to august attendees].  Don't exaggerate your accomplishments - just be truthful.

In summary, what you are doing is building your "Personal Brand" which will ultimately result in your resume.  The resume is an important part of your application and allows you to brag about your accomplishments.  Although this checklist on creating a power resume applies more to undergrads, it can be well adopted for a graduate application too.  Click here for more tips on how to build your personal brand.

The second part of Step 1 is to know what you want in life.  You are allowed to dream here.  If you had a magic wand and you could get everything that you wanted, what would you want to be 5 years from now?  It's not good enough to say that you want to earn a lot of money, drive good cars, own a nice home and share it with someone you love.

You must be as specific as possible.  That is, after you graduate from a US school of your choice, what do you want to do?  Some guiding questions here could be:
  1. Do you want to work in the US?  If so, for how long? 
  2. Are you pursuing higher studies in the US simply to immigrate to it and settle down there?  This is a tricky question.  When you approach the US Consulate for a visa, it is the question foremost on the Consular Officer's mind.  Consular Officers, by default, assume that you do indeed wish to immigrate to the US.  The burden of proving otherwise rests solely on you.  But at this point in your journey, thinking about US visas is inappropriate.  This is more a look-in-the- mirror-and-answer kind of question.
  3. How passionate are you about your current field of study?  That is, if you are studying environmental engineering, do you want to be in the same field 10 years from now?  Or if you are graduating from 12th grade, do you want to pursue Liberal Arts or the Sciences?
  4. Do you want to work for a few years and pursue another graduate degree such as MBA or Law?
  5. Do you want to pursue a Ph.D after US schooling?  Are you interested in research?  Do you like to teach?
  6. Do you want to return to your home country to join a family business?  
  7. Do you want to return to your home country to start something on your own?  
You have to be brutally honest here.  There is a time and a place to say what the other person wants to hear but this is not it.  As we said, this exercise is almost like looking in the mirror:  you want to first understand what you want in life.  It is fine if you don't have all the answers - but if you don't have a clue about what you want, that is a problem that can be hard to overcome.


We have finally come to the end of Step 1.  We now know who you are and what you want to be. The rest is relatively easy! 

Where do you want to go next?
  1. Step 1: Prepare Better. Define Your Brand & Decide What You Want a t
  2. Step 2: School Rankings Matter Less Than You Imagine, So Think Different
  3. Step 3: Choose Your Target States by Better Understanding the US Economy
  4. Step 4: Identify Occupations in Demand and Industries that are Trending Upward
  5. Step 5: Review School Selection Factors, Including Financial Considerations
  6. Step 6: Finalize the List of Schools
  7. Step 7: Finalize your Application

Go back to "Rao Advisors - Home".

A Note About Premium Services

Our promise is to empower you with as much high-quality, ethical and free advice as is possible via this website.  But students often ask us if they can engage with us for individual counseling sessions to complete this and other steps.

Individual counseling is part of the Premium Offering of Rao Advisors and involves a fee.   Even if you take advantage of our services, you are still ultimately in charge.  This principle is ground in our fundamental belief that you alone should be responsible for the career decisions you make.

We suggest that you review our Note on Premium Services for more information.  Or you may
contact us directly for more information about our Premium offering.

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