24 January 2015

IT4BI: How To

In the post European Master Programs in Data Analysis I listed some Master programs that I myself applied to. There I also briefly outlined how to apply to them. In this post, I would like to give more details about the process of applying to the program of my choice: Erasmus Mundus IT4BI. This is mostly based on my experience and I would like to share this with you.

Additionally, I sometimes get questions by email about the program and quite a lot of them are about the process: documents, motivation letters, etc. In this post I will also address these questions, and spare myself the troubles of typing the same text over and over again :)

Admission

The official IT4BI website has quite a lot of valuable information, so first and foremost, be sure to read the Admission page and the Application manual: it has all needed information about the process.

Then you register at http://cs.ulb.ac.be/emundus/, and follow the steps of the wizard.

Some of the documents that you'll need to submit:
  • Motivation Letter
  • CV
  • Bachelor's diploma and transcript
  • Self-assessment form of studied subjects
  • Proof of English proficiency
So, let's now take a closer look at some of the documents that you'll need to submit.

Motivation Letter

As it says on the registration page, a cover letter should "state your interest, your possibilities in the Master, and anything you consider relevant to know for the Selection Committee", so this document may contain anything, and no wonder it's not always clear what to include there.

For me it was the most challenging part: it wasn't something that I could get over with just in one evening. And I believe you shouldn't do this: take your time to brainstorm ideas, shape them, proofread and rewrite it several times until you like the results.

I believe that you should include the following in the letter: first, say who are you, what is your academic and professional background, what are interesting challenges that you faced during your studies or work that led you into considering applying to IT4BI. Then, of course, say why do you want to apply, what are your goals and what the program will give you to achieve them. Lastly, you may mention your plans after you graduate from IT4BI. I also think that you should include any multicultural experience that you had, and, more importantly, what you can bring to the program and what you can share with your classmates in the future.

This was the outline of my motivation, and you may or may not agree to some of these points, and it's fine, because I believe that it's a very personal document, and it's up to you to show your motivation in a way that you think is the best.

The length of my motivation letter was 2 pages. Some people say that 2 pages is too long and there must be only one page. But eventually this is for you to decide.

From what I heard, the letter has more impact than any other document, so take it seriously: proofread it, discuss with your teachers, colleagues, friends, ask them to review it. I also showed the letter to my English teacher who helped me to nail down some phrases that needed reshaping.

And finally, please don't ask me to show my motivation letter. It's a personal document, and it will not be very useful for you. And I will not help you with your motivation letter, sorry: as I said, I suggest to discuss it with your teachers, colleagues and friends. They know you better than I and they will be able to help you.

CV

If you contacted me by email that you found in my CV from the IT4BI website, then you can get the idea of how my CV looked like when I applied. Although it's not the CV that I used for applying to the program, the content of mine was almost the same. Also, the CV has to be in the Europass CV format. It's pretty easy to create CVs there: you just follow the template and that's it. Also, if you haven't done it already, you can check CVs of my classmates at the Students page of the IT4BI website - many of them use this format.

From what I remember there should be some constraint on the length of your CV, so be sure to verify that as well.

Finally, last remark: please don't ask me to check your CV. However, if you do want to get it checked, there are plenty of professional forums where you can ask for help, and you find them by googling. And again, ask your colleagues or teachers, they are a very good source of help.

Recommendation Letters

When you register at the website, you enter the emails of your references and, after that, they receive a MS Word document to fill - like this one.

However the template (as you see) indicates that the recommendation applies only for students, so it seems that it can only be filled by academic staff. This is probably because they expect to receive recommendations from former teachers and professors. In my case, however, I wasn't a student anymore and I lived far away from my university, so it was quite hard for me to get in contact with my old teachers. Instead I asked my former boss and my colleague to give me letters of recommendation, so 2 of the 3 references in my case were work related, and only one was from my teacher. As for the template, they just didn't fill the parts about student performance, and described the job I did.

It might be that your references are willing to help, but they don't know what to write. Since you know the template, you can give them some hints. For instance, for number 3, "How does the applicant stand out in academic and personal terms and how would you assess his/her potential", it will probably not be enough to write something like just "he was an excellent student", but also give some details. For example, the dean described all my extra-curriculum activities at the university like participating in math and programming contests and some awards that I received during the studies. My colleague, on the other hand, described the problems that I was helping the team to solve and my technical skills. He also added that I'm interested in data analysis and like playing with data.

Self-Assessment Form

This is a form where you put all the classes that you had during your bachelor's degree and the credits that you received for them. The spreadsheet converts them to ECTS credits. This document looks crazy, and I remember struggling with it. No wonder that I sometimes receive questions about it and people ask me to show my form.

My experience with this form will probably be helpful mostly for people who have similar system of education as in Russia. For me it was difficult because in Russia we don't have a credit system, but instead we measure the effort of each class directly in hours. So I eventually just put the amount of hours in "original credits". Also at home there's no such thing as "minimum credits to graduate", so I just summed over all my hours and put it into "minimum credits to graduate". Finally, we have two kind of marks: for some subjects we have just pass/fail, and for some we get marks 3, 4 or 5, with 5 being the best. For the first type of mark I just left the cells empty, and put the actual mark only for the second type. I wrote down all the decisions that I made and add this as a comment to the form submission.

And here you can have a look at my form.

Other Things

To prove your working experience, you will need to contact your current/former employers and ask for a confirmation that you worked for them. In some countries, including Russia, people have employment record books, so if you have such thing, you may submit it as well. I did submit mine, but I didn't get the notarized translation, as it was quite expensive, so I decided to see if the IT4BI committee asked for it, but they didn't.

Additionally, you may take advantage of the career center at your university - they may help you with preparing the documents. I know that some of my classmates did it when applying for the program, and as I understood, quite successfully.

Evaluation

Once you submit your application, it will be scored according to the following criteria (taken from the IT4BI website):

  • Domain of the bachelor: Points will be assigned proportional to the percentage of Computer Science credits in the curriculum.
  • Academic results: This will be calculated as the weighted average of the marks in the different subjects.
  • Other studies: A second bachelor or master will score depending on the obtained credits in computer science. Extra-curricular courses taken will be scored based on lecturing hours taking.
  • Professional experience: Points will be given by year of work on IT or BI position (regarding the position held and the topic).
  • Personal project: Points will be assigned based on the following categories: organisation, sequencing, content, vocabulary and word choice, critical thinking, originality and creativity, accuracy of facts.
  • Reference letters: Points will be assigned based on the approval, comments and reputation of the referees, as testified by the reference letters and the referees’ H-factor.

By personal project, I believe, they mean the motivation letter. Just keep this criteria in mind when preparing you documents.

Waiting List

You may end up in a waiting list. Don't worry! It happened to me as well, but eventually I made it to the program, and so may happen to you.

Finale

Even though this post is about IT4BI, it might be useful for other programs as well. I hope it helped! If you have some other questions about our personal experience in the process of applying to IT4BI, you are welcome to ask in the comments. Of course, we will not be able to answer organizational questions, so in some cases it's better to ask the IT4BI consortium directly.

Whether you're applying to IT4BI program or you just accidentally landed on this page from a search engine, you might be interested in our posts about the program's content: IT4BI First Year: Business Intelligence Fundamentals and IT4BI: Distributed and Large-Scale Business Intelligence. If you have some other questions about IT4BI and they are not related to admission, check IT4BI FAQ.

1 comment: