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Show me the dollars!

Unlike post graduate studies, it’s hard to get scholarships or other kinds of assistance from US universities if you pursue an undergrad education. So, is it something only rich kids should aim for?

Students who’ve been down that road share their advice. Their experiences may help you decide.

Green card holders have it easier
I finished my 12th in India and then did my undergrad at University of Massachusetts. It was easy for me to get financial aid as I am a green card holder.

The field you study determines the likelihood of your getting a good, paying job. eg if you study Pharmacy or Nursing you get a well paying job and chances are within a couple years you might payoff the loan from college. But the most important part is how hard is student willing to dedicate himself. He/she should be able to let go of many things that he/she would normally not while back home.
Tulan H Kantesaria

Decide what you want in life, first
As a undergrad student for 4 years and now graduate on his OPT (Optional Practical Training) I would say that it is pretty easy to get into a good undergrad program in the US. And quite easy to excel at as well, especially if you did well in high school in India.

Although I gave the SAT 4 years ago, and its format has since changed a bit, it is still quite a straightforward exam, in which you can score really well if you practice, practice, practice…Your boards exam marks don’t count for much and you’ll be in the clear with anything above 75% or so (this also depends on the university). However, extra-curricular stuff, especially volunteering etc counts quite a bit, also recommendation letters and your essay.

Above mentioned are the main factors, the SAT score is always the main focal point of your application (coz everyone aces TOEFL!). Other factors differ in importance depending upon the univ.

Funding is quite easily available through student loans from India (ICICI, SBI etc) Undergrad scholarship availability again depends on the univ. You’ll have to dig deep in public universities, the private ones like NYU, BU etc might have a bit more than public ones. But in my experience there weren’t many scholarships for international undergrads, they are mostly kept for post-grads. Also, under your student visa you are not allowed to work-study either. I would recommend getting a loan in India and then working on campus for some extra pocket money.

As far as living is concerned, I would recommend living on campus in a dorm the first year, it will really open you up especially if its your first time abroad or in US. Avoid always hanging out with other desis, because you could lose out on some really great experiences. And yeah you shouldn’t worry about ragging etc, unless you plan to join a fraternity. Life will definitely be different even if you’ve been to US before, but it’s not hard or tough, school and friends will keep you busy enough (the first year for sure), so homesickness hardly ever sets in. Also, calling or going home is becoming cheaper and cheaper each year with more and more direct flights and call cards! One last piece of advice, don’t consider going to the US (or any other country) for undergrad a ‘second option’. Decide on it as soon as possible, since you will need to really focus on preparing for the SAT. That may require you to give less priority to school work etc for a while. The earlier you give the SAT the better it is for you, so that you can focus back on the boards.

What is Optional Practical Training?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment authorization that gives F-1 students an opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work experience off campus. You may use some or all of the available 12 months of practical training during your course of study or save the full 12 months to use after you complete your studies .

Authorization for optional practical training is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and can take at least 90 days and frequently up to 120 days to obtain. So, it is important to apply for the authorization early.

Eligibility Requirements
To apply for OPT, you must:
– Have been in full time student status for at least one full academic year preceding the submission of your OPT application
– Maintain valid F-1 status at the time of the application, and
– Intend to work in a position directly related to your major field of study.

Optional practical training while studying may be any of following:
– A part-time or full-time job during an annual vacation
– A part-time or full-time job after completion of all coursework, but while working on your thesis, dissertation, or project
– During the academic year, while pursuing a full courseload, only part-time jobs are allowable

For OPT, after completing the degree, you may:
– Work as a full-time employee
– Work for as many companies as you want
– Work as an independent contractor

To lengthen your stay in the U.S. beyond the maximum 12 months of post-completion OPT, you can try for an H1-B visa sponsorship from your current employer.

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