In Conversation With Ms. Simran Keswani

Simran is a Xavier’s Alumna who graduated with a degree of B.A. in Economics and Statistics in the year 2018. Today, Simran has completed the 2 year Master’s in Economics programme from The London School of Economics and Political Science. She is now working at National Stock Exchange of India in the Economy Policy and Research team. So presenting to you, an insightful conversation about Simran Keswani’s Master’s journey through LSE.

1. Can you tell us about your journey through Xaviers?

I joined St. Xavier’s in junior college, and then I chose Economics, Statistics and English Literature as my electives in degree college. As I was always very fond of reading, I decided to go for English Literature and then in the final year, I majored in Eco-Stats. Talking about extra-curricular activities, I did Malhar for three years, I was part of the EcoCircle, I was an editor for the Arthniti. 

Right after my final year, I went to LSE for my Masters in Economics (it was a two year programme). I graduated in July 2020 and started working in December last year.

2. Was Masters always your plan? Was LSE always the goal?

I knew I would always want to do a Masters, and then as college progressed, especially in FY and mostly in SY, I was pretty clear that I would go immediately. I wasn’t really interested in any of the jobs that were coming to campus and I was very clear that I wanted to learn more Economics before moving into the professional space. I think, as long as I knew that I wanted to do a Masters and I wanted to do it in Economics, then going to LSE became like a dream school. Of course I applied to other places as well, I needed backups, but for Masters and Economics, it made sense to go there.

3. Could you just walk us through your application process? What was your GRE score? What are the other colleges that one can apply to if not LSE?

The major parts are your GRE score, Statement of Purpose (SOP), transcripts, Letters of Recommendation (LOR). 

GRE score:

In terms of the GRE score, I got 328. If you are going for an Economics degree, they want your quant score to be on the high side. Luckily, that worked out for me. But otherwise I think every college will have a different threshold, they’ll expect different scores for quant, verbal and analytical writing. Although, anything above a 320 is usually safe. 

Statement of Purpose:

In terms of the Statement of Purpose (SOP) that you write, you shouldn’t really treat it like you are expanding your resume as you do submit your resume on the application portal. They have a good idea of what your profile looks like. I think people should use it as a space to talk about their personal incidents/achievements that they couldn’t write on their resume. For example, one can write about any internship or college experiences that moved them towards pursuing a Masters in Economics or any other Masters in that case. Furthermore, it is always good to give an indication of what you want to do after. College admission councils understand that your goals can change very often because when you are studying your interests change. But it’s good to have a clear idea of what you would want in the medium term after graduating. So you can weave your story around your experiences in college that have pushed you towards doing a masters, what you want to do immediately after and how the Masters will help you do that. 

Transcripts:

College gives you the transcripts. Work on your GPA. There will be a couple of semesters here and there where you feel like you’ve been slacking off but Xaviers gives you plenty of chances to bring it up again. 

Letter of Recommendation:

What I realized when I was getting my LOR was that it is more important on how long the teacher has taught you regardless of what their designation in the university is. If they have taught you for a year and a half then what they are saying will obviously carry more weightage. If someone has taught you for just three or four months then maybe not. 

Other colleges one can apply to in the UK:

There’s a small disadvantage that we have with the three year undergraduate degree as most American colleges want the 16-year education and we have 15. But within the UK, there’s UCL (University College London) which is also very good for Economics. There’s Warwick also which is pretty good. Cambridge also has a very similar option to LSE except you don’t apply to a two-year M.Sc., but you apply to a two-year advanced diploma and if you progress from that, they can transfer you to the two-year Masters in Economics. So that’s again a two-year degree. Oxford also has a two-year Masters. In Europe, there’s the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics which is also really good. There’s Bocconi in Italy also. If you are looking at the Development Economics space, then even SOAS is really good. The University of Sussex is good for development studies. In the US, there’s a Development in International Economics course at Yale which in the past, Xavierites have gone to. So they do have a history of taking in Xavierites who have also done really well after. So that’s also a good option, plus, they accept a 15-year education which is always great.

4. What are your tips and tricks for getting a good score in GRE?

I would highly recommend utilizing the summer before your third year to study for it. I took a class for it. I went to Jamboree, they have centres all over. I would recommend taking a class. You can always get tips from a mentor or someone who’s already taken GRE to plan it out. What really helped me was taking a lot of mock exams. I used to take breaks in between CIAs. Giving it under pressure is obviously not a good option. You can also set a deadline for yourself. 

5. Can you talk in terms of your CV? What can one do in Xaviers to have a good CV?

I think first of all, try as many things as possible. You are at St. Xavier’s. It is good to focus on doing things that will help you after you graduate but also make use of the fact that you are at Xavier’s and you are not going to come back to these three years again. Anything you try will add some experience and will help you in some way or the other. That’s for sure. But having said that, if you are interested in doing Economics right after you graduate, it’s good to be involved in the EcoCircle or any other planning events, taking part in the Economics journal or any other journal as well. When you’re writing your essay, all of these things just help prove that you’re really interested in the subject; and you’ve taken your interests further than just your classes and exams. It could be any other form of extracurricular activity as well. For example, I went for HCAP in my SY, and I wrote about that in my SOP because even though it wasn’t related to Economics, the international experience was great exposure and that always counts as well.

Regarding internships, I did one right after my FY where I don’t think I knew what I was doing or what I was contributing as a 19-year-old. But it’s just always good to get that professional experience (regardless of what it is) and as you move towards your TY, it then helps you narrow down what field of economics you’re interested in and what field you’re not interested in.

6. Could you tell us about the courses which you took up at LSE and your thinking behind choosing a 2-year programme there over their 1-year programme?

I chose the 2-year MSc Economics. In the 1st year, your modules include a Mathematics course, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Econometrics.

And then in the 2nd year: Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Econometrics, and you can choose a 4th elective of your choice. I chose International Economics, but they also offer electives like Monetary Economics, Development Economics, Public Economics, and some Finance courses as well if you’re leaning in that direction.

Why I chose the 2-year alternative is because the 1-year course is actually effectively only 10 months long. So, you arrive in September, attend the pre-session courses before the MSc starts, and the actual Masters is from October to June (when you give your exams); and then you’re done. I chose the two year option instead of a one year option because the first year is like a foundation year. It’s hardly any time, and I wasn’t very confident that I would be able to manage if I was thrown into a 1-year MSc. I also wanted the whole experience of having a 2-year Master’s degree because I really felt that the learning would be more; and it did work out like that!

Since the 2-year Master’s Degree has the 1st year as a diploma (as I mentioned before), I re-learned some things that I’d learned at Xavier’s. There was a lot of Micro and Macro that was repeated, but I also relearned it in the way that LSE, in specific, teaches it to you, which helped me later on too.

In our Xavier’s B.A., we didn’t have linear algebra or calculus, which the Math course covered. All of this adds up to really help in the 2nd year because even though the 2nd year was a Masters in Economics, almost 75% of my time was spent doing Math; and therefore, it was extremely helpful that I was pretty sure of those skills by that time.

7. How were the people there? What was the culture like? How many students do you have in a batch?

In the 1st year, there were about 43 of us. It was a pretty small class. But I do know that over the years, they’ve added 5 or 6 people every year, which is to say that it’s been growing.

In our 2nd year, which is when we were merged with the 1-year M.Sc. people, we had about 150 people in total.

LSE is an extremely diverse, international university. It’s kind of funny because in my first year, there were no Britishers in my class at all. There were Americans, Brazilians, Italians (it’s common to choose Econ and Finance there), Germans, and a fair share of Indians and Chinese as well. So, in terms of people, it was extremely diverse and I made a great set of friends who I’m still in touch with, which has worked out well.

It’s almost like a cultural exchange, because you’re getting to know people from a variety of places through organizing social things that help you do that. For example, we had Thanksgiving both the years, and we organized a potluck where everyone made something from their own countries and brought it to the dinners. There was a Diwali party, a Christmas party, and of course, this is all in addition to the usual socializing you do at networking events and at dinner after classes.

I had a really great experience with the people there.

8. In terms of the Math course you took at LSE, do you think it’s a huge, sudden shift coming from Xavier’s where we’re not taught a whole lot of math? How did you cope up with that?

It was definitely difficult to adjust to it in the beginning. Even though we had Math in the 1st year at LSE, it got even harder in the 2nd year; so, you constantly have to be on top of things. A lot of concepts you learn are used in essential Micro and Macro, and hence you really can’t do without it.

In the 1st year, you learn Math just as an individual subject, so it’s good to learn as much as you can while it’s being taught as a separate subject. In the 2nd year, Math is just thrown in with different sets of economic theories, and you’re also trying to make sense of the Math along with the theories. Therefore, it’s good to get a strong base of math as a separate subject first.

Even though we didn’t have a lot of the Math components at Xavier’s, I spent some time working on calculus after my finals in the hope that things would be a little easier once I got to LSE.

That said, however, LSE starts from scratch and teaches it pretty well with a lot of support from everyday Math support groups, Math departments who you can always approach for help, etc.

9. What are some of the topics used in Math there? Are there any courses we can pursue while at Xavier’s to get a head start on them?

Linear algebra and calculus are really important and you can easily get started on them. It’s definitely a good idea to take online/in-person courses on them as they’re used extensively in the 2nd year.

Any basic online course would work, but don’t just stop there. Try and take a slightly more advanced course on calculus just so you’re on top of things. It’s always good to get a little ahead of what they’re going to teach at university.

10. Is it a myth that people who go for a Masters are inclined towards research? Or can they go for jobs later on?

Yes, I think it definitely is a myth. A lot of it depends on the school and programme you’re attending. For example, this programme, there were a lot of people who wanted to take up PhDs after or were looking for research assistantships to then move to a PhD after a couple of years.

But you always find a mix of people everywhere. For example, I was not interested in the academic space, I wanted to move in the private sector. But there are people who want to take up Econ Consulting, Finance jobs, and even in the private sector, there is some aspect of research that you can incorporate in a normal job. Lots of people want to work at Central Banks eventually. There is a mix of all kinds of people. My friend group, I think 80% are now applying for PhDs but that’s generally not the statistics. I would say that it is a 50-50.

11. So people usually go for a finance job or an Econ consulting job after Master’s?

So that, or in general, the variety of Econ jobs in the UK and the US is generally a lot more than India. You will have specific consulting firms catered for economic issues and those are also divided into microeconomic and macroeconomic consulting firms. It is a little more specialized in that sense and the Central Bank there takes in a lot of people with a Master’s in Economics. This is at the Bank of England and the European Central Bank so there is definitely a greater demand there. Even at all the other well-known consulting firms, there will be a vertical that looks at smaller economic consulting cases. So there is definitely a wide variety.

12. How are the placements at LSE? Do you have to go off campus searching for a job? 

It’s not like the placements you would have in your third year in Xavier’s at all. The support you get from LSE is that the career’s department would organize internship fairs or networking events for you. The departments will organize something where they call an alumni, you get to talk to them and some of them would help you apply for an internship or something like that, or give you some tips. It is completely independent. Their cycle also starts a little earlier. If you arrive in September then you would start applying for graduate jobs in November/December itself and they have specific graduate schemes that are tailored for Master’s students. You have to go out and finish up all the applications yourself, but it’s definitely very structured. The application process is all organized on a portal and there are very structured interviews that you are made to take.

13. How has your job or your internship shaped you as a person and what did it teach you?

So during Xavier’s, I interned after my first year and I don’t think I contributed anything useful there. It was just a month but I was in a professional environment for the first time and that was the biggest experience I got out of it, more than the work I did there. It is nice to be in an office environment. I was working in the Transfer-Pricing department at Deloitte, in the tax vertical. I was helping with basic research for cases and having a team to work with, that was a really good experience. After SY to TY, I didn’t intern then. So after I graduated from Xaver’s, before leaving for LSE, I interned at another equity research firm and that again was a short internship but that was really interesting. I helped with a couple of reports on the state budget when they were released. I have always been interested in Macroeconomics so that was in line with what I wanted to study. I think that was also a good experience before I left for LSE, for sure. 

And while at LSE, between the first and the second year, I was a Research Assistant to Dr. Keyu Jin  during the summer and there I definitely learned a lot. I worked with a Macroeconomist. She was a Chinese Macroeconomist at LSE itself and she was writing a book about how China has economically integrated with the world and how it looks going forward. So I definitely learned a lot. In fact I had initially planned on taking Monetary Economics as my elective in the second year and that experience sort of moved me towards taking International Economics itself and that definitely shaped my interest also.

I have now started working at the National Stock Exchange with the Economic Policy and Research team, so there’s some regular reports that go out and being a Stock Exchange they have access to a lot of data there as well so there is some data work involved. So I am still figuring stuff out here.

14. So what are the pros and cons of staying and studying abroad?

In terms of the education itself, obviously it’s a different education system and every week we had problem sets to submit. In the second year, we had to submit them at regular intervals. There was always a problem set at the end of the week to reinforce what you’ve just learned and I think the west definitely does a good job at regular assessments and really assessing what you’ve understood over the past week. And it’s also the contact time with teachers because the whole system has that…there are so many more people between you and the professor there will be 5 or 6 Teaching Assistants who are taking your classes for you. So the lectures are separate, the classes are being taken by them and you’ll get ample opportunities to get your doubts sorted. You could bring up something that you learnt 3 months ago and get it sorted. So in terms of contact time, there is definitely an advantage there. And then I think just, of course, living abroad definitely teaches you a lot, you’re living alone, you’re living in a new city and you’re making a new set of friends, so just that experience, I think it really helps you grow.

In terms of disadvantages, I think Indian colleges definitely help you find a job after because even Master’s courses in India will have placements. So there is definitely that advantage. And, of course, the tuition fees can be quite ridiculous when you go abroad so that’s definitely a bit of a disadvantage because in addition to getting in, then you’re also worrying about how to fund your degree. 

15. Talking about tuition fees, do they have scholarships, any of these schools?

So, LSE in general, doesn’t give out too many scholarships. But I know that other universities definitely do. When you submit the application you can apply for funding at the same time and that is then considered separately. Once you get in, there are a pool of applicants that they consider. In addition to that, after you get in there are scholarships that you can apply for in India as well. If you’re going to the UK you can apply for the Commonwealth Scholarship. And there are a bunch of others that also offer interest-free loans. I mean those are smaller amounts but it all helps at some point. You can take 4 or 5 years to pay those back. 

In addition to that, after you get in, there are scholarships you can apply for in India as well. If you’re going to the UK, you can apply for the Commonwealth scholarship and there are a lot of others which provide interest free loans, although they are smaller amounts. You can take 4-5 years to pay them back.

16. What if someone wants to go for a part-time job while they’re studying at LSE? Do they have the time?

I don’t think anyone on this programme was doing a part-time job. Some people were doing research assistantships on the side but those weren’t very demanding and it was for the research experience. I wouldn’t recommend taking a part-time job for this course. 

17. Is it easy for a non-math student to cope up in LSE?

I finished my final exams in March, and left in September for LSE.  It was almost 5 months in the middle. You can definitely catch up, start from scratch, pick up an 11th or 12th grade textbook and only focus on the areas you know you’re going to do at LSE. If you know you want to  go for a masters only, it is actually good to start during Xavier’s itself. 

18. How is a drop year looked at by these schools?

They are really fine with it. But, it is important to explain what you did on the side. Some people even get into a college, and then defer it for a year and explain what they would do during that one year. In the West, it is really common to travel for a year or even take a social sector internship. If you’re taking a gap year to explore new ideas, then I think taking a drop year is a good idea instead of rushing into something that you’re not sure of. They view it quite positively if you’re giving a rationale in your SOP.

Edited by:

Dhwani Shah (Editor, Econ Declassified)

Contributors:

Khooshi Parikh (Writer, Econ Declassified)

Anuj Khare (Writer, Econ Declassified)

Aditi Prakash (Writer, Econ Declassified)

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