Gone are the days when you could think of a free education in America. To be practical and to give you the correct picture, here are the bare facts as against the varnished truth that many American deans would want you to buy.
The main difference between the best of European universities and those in America is that the former expect you to pay all your fees out of your own pocket; the latter will often pay a part, or sometimes nearly all of it, thus bringing the dream of an American education within the reach of a hardworking middle-class Asian.
That said, finding the necessary finances can be the trickiest part of the whole process of higher study in America. You will need all your ingenuity to manage this aspect smartly. Of course, once you get to an American campus more opportunities for financial aid will emerge than you can possibly imagine sitting at home. There have rarely been cases where a person has had to return home due to a lack of finances and it will not happen to you if you plan smartly and meticulously which is exactly what we shall now proceed to do.
Undergraduate or Bachelor’s level
The plain and simple fact is that there is very little financial aid available at the undergraduate level, and getting a portion of whatever there is, pretty competitive.
The fact you will need to acknowledge if you are trying for admission into a Bachelor’s program is that aid at that level, whatever be your specialization with the exception of Music, is severely limited and all sources of aid open to the American student are closed to foreigners, if you do get any kind of need-based assistance, It will not be before you finish your first year, Also, the jobs offered to undergraduate students are like those of assistants in the library or in the cafe and these are limited in numbers and preference is often given to Americans who may be needing the same. The essence being that if you want to try for a Bachelor’s, you must be ready to pay a substantial percentage out of your own pocket.
Financial aid options
The options that will be open to you as an undergraduate include:
- International Student University Grants
- Federal International Student Grants
- Departmental Cash Grants
- Part-time non-teaching work on the campus: Non-teaching jobs such as working in the library, cafe, student center, campus bookstore or in the newspaper office of the college.
In many colleges you must be admitted as a regular student before you are considered for scholarships and grants on the campus. In other words, you must have first joined before you get any undergraduate level jobs and these too come only after you have already been studying for at least one year.
Most of the limited financial aid for undergraduates from American sources comes from US colleges and universities themselves. Here, though, in some cases, you will be competing with American students for the limited aid available. Below are some possibilities that may help you obtain at least partial financial support:
If you are an exceptionally good student
If you are truly talented in some field, go ahead and apply to the more or less top-grade colleges with complete details of all the work you may have done.
You need a really good score on the SAT I with at least 720 average in each section.
If you have an excellent grade average and class ranking in your secondary work, if you have high scores on the SAT and a TOEFL score of at least 600, you may be able to qualify for admission to a school with very high admissions standards that will offer funding to students who meet their admissions requirements but are unable to pay the total cost of their education. If you think you can qualify for admission to one of these universities, go ahead and apply for admission to highly competitive colleges.
If you are an exceptionally good athlete, apply to those universities or colleges which have teams in your sports. You will need to consult references to see which universities actually give athletic scholarships. This may also apply to other special skills you may have, such as dancing or art. Opinions differ about how you should demonstrate your skill; a visit from a scout is best, but not always possible. If you send a video, be sure it is professionally made and of high quality.
Look for institutions which have given at least partial aid to first year foreign students in the past
Many of the institutions included in the College Profiles section fall in this category. You can also look through other reference books. If an institution says “No”, however, don’t apply for financial aid. That means that the institution really has none to offer.
Start out in a low-cost university or a community college
In case you are on a limited budget, you must initially select a college where costs are low. Do well there and then try for a transfer in your junior or senior (3rd or 4th year) into one of the top category colleges.
Choosing an institution whose total costs are less than $12,000 rather than one that costs $24,000 represents an effective $12,000 scholarship (see Tables 9.1 and 9.2). In general, you can stretch available funds much further if you plan to spend at least the first two years at a less expensive institution (but be sure your credit will transfer).
Taking advanced placement examinations or transferring courses from home-country institutions
If previous education enables you to get US college credit for advanced placement examinations, you can reduce the number of courses you need to take and thus the money and time you need to spend in the United States.
Although financial aid at undergraduate level is tough, don’t hesitate to apply for aid. Application for aid will not prejudice your chances of admission to a chosen program of study. On the other hand, since almost all scholarships cover only a part of the tuition, state the amount you do have available for study rather than asking for a full scholarship. It will greatly increase your chances of support. Do not understate the amount of funds needed in the expectation of later obtaining additional aid, however.
Many colleges and universities have unadvertised possibilities for at least partial funding of students who qualify for academic admission but need financial support; go ahead and apply for financial aid unless the institution lists itself in reference books as not offering financial aid. Make your request for financial assistance on the basis of merit, stating your need as a secondary factor. Only a superior application with documented financial need will actually be effective.
Sources in your own country
It may also be worthwhile to investigate the availability of loans, grants or scholarships from sources in your own country. Possibilities may include government ministries that provide support for study abroad in certain specific fields; non-government sources, such as private individuals, foundations and trust funds that give to charitable causes; business corporations, churches and religious groups; or schools and universities (especially those with US affiliations).
The educational advising center often as information about local sources of support. Because contacts are easier to make and the number of applications may be lower relative to the number of awards, you may be able to obtain financial aid more easily from home country sources.
Funding at the Graduate level
The encouraging fact about graduate studies in the US is that there is still a lot of financial aid available but you have to compete for However, an average student who is willing to work hard can hope to get a decent piece of the pie.
Select carefully the colleges you apply to
The main factor here is that you must be extremely careful about the colleges you select details of which are explained in the college Profiles section. This is extremely important if you are lucky, you may end up with something like $9,000 as annual assistantship for $11,000 per Year College. These figures typical of an average student with 60% scores in Engineering and a 2,200 score on the GRE and 623 on TOEFL. So, you may well be able make your way through college in about $2,000 per year and a one-way air ticket to the US.
Here’s a tips
For a Free Guide to the latest US Government Financial Aid, write to Federal Student Aid Information-Centre PO Box 84, Washington, and DC 200044-0084 specifically mentioning that you read about it in this book.
When we spoke about selecting the proper university, we did so because you will be in a better position in one that gives you no financial aid but has$3,500 tuition, than with a $20,000 university that gives you $10,000 aid.
University of Southern California is a typical example. Table 9.3 shows details of the awards open to international students. Table 9.4 shows the awards that are not open to you as an international student.
Unlike many Asian countries, where an Arts degree carries practically no value, your artistic capabilities and interest in poetry and writing may take you a long way in your quest for an American education.
While a Ph.D. still comes virtually free in every sense of the term by way of substantial financial assistantships, not many people have the capacity for going through yet another three years of studies after the Master’s level!
Then, again, there are a whole lot of additional options available. If you have been hearing too often that no financial aid is available nowadays, that is simply because it is becoming trickier to tap it than was the case earlier.
Grants, fellowships and scholarships
Outright grants and scholarships are offered only to students who are not merely above average but are truly exceptional in terms of their records at the undergraduate or school level. These scholarships or grants are non returnable and may well cover the complete tuition fees and also provide sufficient money to help cover the total cost of living expenses. These grants require no obligation from the student except for his maintaining a good track record. Rarely, however, do universities give you an outright non-repayable scholarship upon enrollment.
In America, the largest part of the funding will come from the very department which offers you admission. However, offers of admission and financial aid together are becoming increasingly rare. You may not receive an assistantship either teaching or research assistantships while still in India. As soon as you land in the US, however, you may get your lucky break in the tests that are offered on a competitive basis for these much-in-demand assistantships. These tests are offered along with the placement tests right at the beginning of the session.
The department you are applying to may have projects where you can contribute, if not by direct research, by helping some senior professor in his research. In such cases, the funding often comes from an outside agency which is sponsoring the research project. Awarding the research assistantship is solely, in the hands of the professor who also controls the budget.
As mentioned above, assistantships are the most common form of financial aid at the graduate level.
Financial aid usually comes in the form of a teaching assistantship or a research assistantship. In a research assistantship, you are expected to help a professor in some of his research projects. In a teaching assistantship, on the other hand, you will be required to either teach some undergraduate classes in a subject you have already studied at the Bachelor’s level, or you help out a professor with his paper grading and correction work.
Current laws in America only allow up to twenty-one hours of work per week. Considering that, you may have to take four classes per day for a five-day week totaling twenty classes per week. Or, you may have to supervise laboratory sessions. The university will make sure that you have to work at least that much before they offer you an assistantship.
A teaching assistantship may either be a half or quarter assistantship, each fetching about $800 and $450 monthly respectively. You will get either a full or partial fee waiver or some cash stipend as specified above and you can usually make ends meet with very little personal expenditure if you manage to get a half- assistantship. You will be expected to work four or five hours every day and assist a senior professor in taking junior classes for undergraduate students, correct term papers and help conduct lab classes.
A research assistant will have to assist a senior professor in some of his research projects.
For the reason that a good teacher must be able to communicate his ideas well enough, a good score on the TSE will go a long way in enhancing your financial assistance possibilities. The idea of taking TSE even if it has not been asked for can be a real plus point in this regard.
In the final analysis, TA or RA (assistantships) is the best ways to finance your education.
Alternatively, you could contact the private organisations which offer aid for studying abroad, listed in the Information Section. Figure 9.5 shows some funding statistics and research assistantship averages in the US.
Teaching assistantship tricks
If you seek a teaching assistantship, apply to a school with a large undergraduate population in the courses in which you have done your Bachelor’s. This will ensure that you don’t make the oft-repeated mistake of applying to a school where the undergraduate students are so few that teachers don’t need any assistants!
Such an assistantship is the most co savior for the lower budget Asian students who go to the US.
How to get more aid from the department
More aid can be had from the department presenting some proof which demonstrates you are more capable than the other applicants. Factors that work wonders in this regard include the smallest bit of published work. If you have had some poem or article or technical paper published in any magazine, it will; boost your chances of getting some assistantship. If you have ever held any part-time’ during the school or undergraduate study present a commendation or good work letter from your employer, then again you an advantage.
The Indian advantage
If you are an Indian, you will be happy to that Indians are considered to be the best native English speakers in the world! Since most Indians come out of a grueling educational system, the American system which breaks the backs of US students is often a breeze for the Indians.
More, English language skills naturally place Indians in a better position when it comes to awarding jobs such as TAs or RAs to international students.
The computer edge
If your area of work relates to computers you stand to gain even more, thanks to the excellent reputation previous American-Indians have earned in computer programming.
There are some jobs like maintaining university computer systems and installing and configuring software. In case your luck doesn’t shine with a TA or RA, then you can try this option if you have taken some computer courses earlier, and the humanities. Apply only for awards for which you match the specifications.
If an application requires that you write a research or project proposal, pay particular attention to this step. If possible, have the proposal checked by a professional in your field who has worked in the United States. For suggestions, see writing a Research Proposal, given below.
Writing a Research Proposal
To receive funds for research or study in the United States, you must often submit a carefully designed plan for your proposed research. As a rule, your proposal will be competing with those of other excellent scholars. It is not enough to state your qualifications by simply citing your diploma, your position or your experience.
When a departmental committee or review board looks at research proposals, they compare competing proposals with respect to several criteria:
1. Is the proposed institution appropriate? Does the institution have researchers who will be interested in the project and able to supervise the work? If equipment is necessary, is the right equipment available, or funds available for buying it? Are library or research collection facilities adequate?
2. Does the applicant clearly show the necessary background in education and experience to be able to do the research successfully? Has she demonstrated research aptitude? Supporting documents or past papers are helpful.
3. Is the proposal carefully written and neatly presented? The proposal should begin with a clear statement of goals of the intended research project. It should include a summary of background information regarding the need for the research, highlights of related research (with a bibliography), a step-by- step description of the research plan with expected results or major theses and conclusion. It should be typed.
4. Is the proposed research significant, timely and original? Although creativity, originality and substance are usually the most important criteria in choosing among proposals, disciplines differ. In some fields, such as medicine, proposals that have great promise of practical application may have an advantage.
5. If you are applying for a grant or program that supports development in your country it may be helpful in your application if you choose a subject for research that can be applied in your work after you return to your home country.
If you don’t manage to get an assistantship before you leave for the US, you can still hope to catch one once you get there or at least at the beginning of the next semester. In the meantime you may, as far as possible, support yourself with on-campus jobs at the cafeteria, library dean’s office and other places such as the college book-store. Chapter 18 gives tips on how to hunt for and get hold of such jobs once you land in America.
Foreign students on F-1 type student visas are not allowed to work off-campus during the first year of study. After one year, however, you can get permission to do so. You can hope to bank on a job only if the campus is located in a city large enough to give you employment opportunities.
On the campus however, you can take up jobs even in the first year of study which could fetch you up to $5 per hour. The cafeteria, the college bookstore and the library often offer these jobs which can help you make up a substantial part of your living expenses.
Source of finance in your own country
In your own country, you may look at philanthropic organizations for scholarships. But the upper limit of about Rs. 65,000 which you are likely to get in India is simply not sufficient enough. Though, as with any other money, it will supplement your resources.
The Fulbright Scholarships offered cover a major portion of your expenses but these are more often than not awarded on bureaucratic rather than on merit basis! So don’t pin your hopes on them.
Loans are always a possibility and the terms of the Canara Bank loans for study abroad given at low interest rates are possibly the best deal. They will give up to four lakhs for studying abroad, provided you show sufficient academic promise (there is a minimum marks eligibility criteria). Once you take up your first good job, you could pay back this loan in less than a year!
However, loans from the bank should be the last resort. Borrow only a reasonable part of the money which you think you can safely return in a few years. I know of an Indian who topped IIT and then went into a financing program that will take him thirty-one years to offload!
Thus essentially, the sources where you can look for financial aid are:
- The department to which you are applying;
- The professional body to which you belong;
- Associations of people from your country living in the US;
- Your own government’s limited resources;
- Low or zero interest bank loans in your country;
- Private companies or organizations where you may have worked.
Beg, borrow (or steal?) the money you need for your first year
“Nothing is easy,” says Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. Oh yes, I know someone more famous has also said so before, but literature was not my major! (Remember?).
Till about the early nineties the chances of getting assistantships were much higher and Asian students would often get an offer of assistantship along with their admission. Of late, matters have become worse. In many cases students are not being offered any kind of assistantship along with admission. In which case you must be prepared to shell out money for one semester which could be around $3,500 at least, converting to Rs. 1 lakh in India and about $5,800 in Singapore.
You can take a chance and in 95 per cent of cases get an award in the next semester.
As stated earlier, there is stiff competition for financial aid. Unlike even a couple of years ago, universities are no longer offering awards along with acceptance letters. But once you’ve joined up, options normally do work out. You rarely see anyone returning from the US due to a lack of funds. Such a situation rarely ever occurs. There are so many international bodies of Chinese, Indians, Taiwanese and others, that even if they pitch in with a dollar each, they can save you from going bust!
So even if you don’t get an assistantship along with your admission, you must still go ahead if you can afford even a semester’s expenses. After that, other options do work out. It’s surely worth taking the risk for a lifetime’s reward.
Can I take up a job in the US after graduating?
Yes, you can take up a job in the US directly after you complete your studies, and this is something that students have been doing since a long time. A change in visa status is however needed in such a case since the basic Student Visa doesn’t allow you to work full-time in the US.
In the past, the US Department of Justice which handles immigration has been granting these permits to US-educated foreigners.
Depending upon your field of specialization, on graduation, you can easily get a job starting with an annual salary, ranging from $25,000 to $70,000. The biggest pay-packets are offered by private companies and for teaching positions, though government offices are also quite high on the list of top-level payers.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
The first thing you need to overcome before you begin applying for US colleges on a limited budget, is your fear…the fear of falling short of money, for instance, in the second semester and being kicked-out of college.
Cast away such negative thoughts. Several members of my own family have been educated in America and that, too, on a small budget, No one I know of, has ever had to come back without completing his studies! It almost never happens. There are a lot of Indian, Chinese, Korean and other country-wise groups in the US who readily assist needy students from their own countries.
Also, with the tons of cash that lies in the research departments, students usually get accommodated somewhere or the other after having been there for a semester or so. So the possibility of being kicked out should not even enter the back of your mind. As an Archie’s card so aptly say: “To see new lands, you need to lose sight of the shore”.
So, go ahead. You need to learn to take at least this much of risk if you want to have the stamp and distinction of an American education on your visiting cards!