Here's Abhijith Ashok who upheld Kerala's pride at Harvard

Here's Abhijith Ashok who upheld Kerala's pride at Harvard

Abhijith Ashok, a native of Thiruvananthapuram, wore a crisp white mundu (dhoti) and a kurta for his convocation ceremony and had read the universal declaration of human rights in Malayalam. All these may not seem unusual; only until one hears that it happened in the convocation ceremony at the prestigious Harvard University in the United States of America. The scholars and academicians at the university too were impressed by Abhijith’s display of his incredible respect for his mother tongue and culture.

Abhijith says that he had applied to Harvard University just to avoid feeling regret later. However, it took him to the renowned Harvard School of Public Health and successfully completed a course in MS Health Data Science. Before Abhijith completed the course, he got appointed as a data scientist in Microsoft with an annual salary package of whopping Rs 1.5 crores. Abhijith, son of Vazhuthacaud natives Ashok Kumar and Archana, both teachers, shares his experiences of how he got into the prestigious university.

How to apply

There are special admission committees for each course. After the initial verification, this committee comprising of Harvard professors would scrutinize the applications. There would be interviews for the MBA and PhD programs. The application for a course which commences in August should be sent in November in the previous year. The results would be published in February or March.


Test score: The candidate should pass the Graduate Record Examination, a standardized test that is an admissions requirement for most graduate schools in the United States and TOEFL, the English language test, with great scores.

Statement of purpose: Explain why you are applying for the course in not more than 600 words. It shouldn’t be just an ordinary note; instead, it should be explained like a wonderful story.

Letter of recommendation: Letters of recommendations given by the professors at the previous colleges or the managers at the workplaces. At least three such letters of recommendations should be submitted along with the application.


Financial assistance would be made available for more than 70% of students applying for the various courses at Harvard. Online application forms for the scholarships would be sent just two weeks after submitting the main application. Scholarships could be selected as per the course.

Abhijith had won Harvard’s Karuna Majumdar scholarship of Rs 21 lakhs. Besides, the students can work on the campus as teaching assistants or library assistants for 20 hours a week. They could earn up to Rs 1400 per hour.


Visa procedures

The candidate could apply for the American student visa (F-1) after the results of admission have published. One has to apply for the visa using the I-20 and SEVIS documents that are sent by the Harvard University by post. The date and time of the interview could be booked after submitting an online application and paying a fee of Rs 11,000. The US consulate in Chennai is the nearest.

It is the officer at the consulate who conducts the interview and decides whether a visa should be granted. They will let you know whether the visa has been granted or not immediately after the interview.

“Professors are not addressed as sir or ma’am in most of the universities in the United States including Harvard. If someone addresses them as sir or ma’am, the professors would correct them immediately. Irrespective of their ages, all the professors are addressed by their first names. Most Harvard professors are the best in the world in their respective subjects. Besides, they are the humblest too,” says Abhijith.

Data scientist at Microsoft

The representative of Microsoft had contacted Abhijith through his LinkedIn profile. He was offered to be part of their development acceleration program in the artificial intelligence department. Abhjith had gone through six interviews to grab this spectacular opportunity. The first phase of the interview was conducted in the first week of February over the phone. A data scientist at Microsoft asked about his experiences and also about the published papers.

The next 4 interviews were held on the same day, in the last week of February. Each consecutive interview session was 45 minutes long.

The sixth and final interview was conducted within a few days after the previous ones. This one-hour long interview was conducted directly by the director of the acceleration program in Microsoft. Abhijith got his offer letter in the last week of March.

New role

Sriram Venkataraman IAS too had completed a master’s course in public health from the Harvard University. “I did a nine-month-long master’s program in public health. It was an incredible opportunity to acquaint with the public health systems followed by many countries including the US, that could be adopted into our local situations as well,” said the IAS officer. 

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