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Higher Education in the US – Part 1

Satish wants to be among the thousands who go to the USA every year for Higher Education. But he does not know what he has to do in order to get admission to a university there. In fact, he is not sure that even after getting all the relevant information, he will succeed. He feels that most of the students who get admission there are from IITs or other premier institutes. For various reasons, students from other colleges do not get as many admissions. This puzzled him, so to know more about the admission process / procedure, he went to his friend Rajesh who has just returned from the US after completing his post-graduation. Rajesh explains the whole procedure to him. 

Rajesh: Yes, Satish, it is good that you came to me. Let me tell you that the most important part of the application procedure is to obtain application packages from the universities you have selected. For this, you communicate to them by post or by e-mail. There are some Web sites that will lead you to the universities in your field. Most universities make their application form available online for free. So, download these from as many universities as possible. The Websites given below will help you in this matter.  

The site  gives a comprehensive list of all universities in the US. It includes quite a few that do not have a graduate program. So, if you use this site, ensure that you get application forms only from the universities that have the graduate program in the field of your choice. To get a prospectus, you have to send them an e-mail with your postal address. 

Satish: Rajesh, I hear that studying in the US is, in general, tougher and more rigorous than in India, is that true?

Rajesh: If you are interested in long-term growth and learning, you must study at a good US university. You cannot have a better learning experience anywhere else in the world. Most of the professors there are very learned and sincere about conveying their knowledge to students. As for the standard of education, yes, it is tough, but most Indian students fare well in their studies. 

Satish: One more important question. When should I start applying to a university?

Rajesh: When you are applying for admission, you need to start at least one year in advance. Say, for next year's Fall program, you can start your preparation in the Fall of this year. I will give you a chart, you can follow it…

May – June: Research universities, go to the USEFI (United States Educational Foundation in India) office, get access to the Internet, go through Peterson's Graduate Guide and begin your college search. Determine the exams you need to take (GRE/GMAT/TOEFL, etc.) and start applying for these exams. 

July – August: Speak with the faculty, the graduate students and professors in your desired field about the colleges in the USA. Draw up an initial shortlist of various colleges in your field and start sending pre-application forms. Study for the exams (GRE/GMAT/TOEFL, etc). Take diagnostic tests, understand the basic structure of the exams and the types of questions asked. 

October: You should now be ready with all the application forms. You should shortlist the colleges you wish to apply to, e-mail current students, recent alumni of the college and programs you are considering. Prepare application packet – make a list of potential recommendation, begin drafting the Statement of Purpose, and draft an academic resume. 

December – January: Complete mailing applications in the first week of December. Research financial alternatives, apply for financial aid from external sources. Submit all the forms required by the college, draw up an order of preference of colleges to which you have applied. 

May: Choose a college and wait for confirmation of admission from that college. Send formal letters to other colleges that offered you admission thanking them and expressing your inability to accept their offer. Study entire packet sent by the college you have chosen. Research and fulfill the immunization requirements of college chosen. Arrange financial papers and attend the USEFI visa seminar. 

June – July: Apply for student visa, attend the USEFI pre-departure seminar. Prepare to leave – arrange tickets, etc.

August: Time to leave for the USA. Attend the college orientation and start your education. 

Satish: What are the documents that I need to produce at the Consulate at the time of applying for a student visa?

Rajesh: The following must be presented to the Consulate at the time you apply for a student visa: 
1. Form I-20 or IAP - 66 (obtained directly from the university you intend to attend)
2. Visa application form and USEFI survey form (available at the Mount Road gate of the American Consulate General, Chennai: Monday through Friday, between 3.00 p.m. and 4.00 p.m.)
3. One passport size photograph and a valid passport
4. Visa fee, four demand drafts for Rs. 1050/- each, (the total being equivalent to $100) drawn in favor of American Consulate General, Chennai
5. Test score reports (original) – TOEFL / GRE / GMAT / whichever is applicable
7. Latest degree /mark sheets
8. Evidence of financial support as described below: 
A) If the university has awarded financial assistance, please enclose the relevant letter.
B) If your sponsor is in India, you will need the following documents: 
(a) Affidavit of support on stamped paper (Rs. 10, 15 or 25) from your sponsor promising to bear the cost of your program for the entire duration of your stay in the United States. This document has to be notarized as well.
(b) Verification of your sponsor's financial resources by a certified Chartered Accountant. This statement should indicate that your sponsor has the means to support you during the entire duration of your study and stay in the United States. All original documents for the sources mentioned in the Chartered statement, including bank passbooks should be brought along, to be produced before the Consular Officer, if necessary. 
C) If your sponsor is in the United States, the following documents must be provided: 
(a) I-134 (available at Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) offices in the United States) promising to bear the cost of your program for the entire duration of your study and stay in the United States.
(b) Bank account statement of your sponsor
(c) Salary statement of your sponsor

D) If your sponsor is from a country other than India or the United States, the documents to be provided are: 
(a) A notarized letter or statement from your sponsor promising to bear the costs of your program for the entire duration of your study and stay in the United States. The affidavit of support from your sponsor can also be submitted by form I-134 available at the American Consulate or Embassy in the country where your sponsor is a resident.
(b) Bank account statement of your sponsor
(c) Salary statement of your sponsor. 

You may apply for a student visa no earlier than 90 days prior to the reporting date mentioned on the I-20. For example, if the reporting date shown on the I-20 is September 05, you may apply for a student visa between June 5 and September 5. 

You can listen to audio recordings of discussions by consular officers on student visas, at the USEFI reference library. You may visit their office between 1.00 p.m. and 4.30 p.m., Monday through Friday, (except holidays) and schedule an appointment to listen to a tape on student visas. 

Satish: I have heard that one needs about 16 years of education in India to apply for a post-graduate degree in the US. Can you tell me more about it?

Rajesh: Yes, Satish, most US universities make it compulsory that you complete 16 years of education before getting into their post-graduate degree program. They do not consider nursery and K.G. as formal education. This means that 12 classes + 4– or 5-year courses (B.E/B.Arch/M.B.B.S.) will be sufficient for one to get admission. Those with a three-year degree (B.A./B.Com./B.Sc.) need to complete one year of a post-graduate degree before joining any US university for higher education. However, like anything else in US academics, even this aspect is flexible. 

Satish: Rajesh, one more doubt before I leave. What visa should one take if one wants to go to the US for higher education?

Rajesh: You are in a real hurry to know everything at one go, aren't you? Well, an F1 Visa - is the kind of visa that you should obtain to be a student in the US. This visa expires either on the date that is mentioned on it or on the date that you get the degree, whichever is earlier. However, you can get a work permit for an interim period after you complete the degree. In this period, you can try to get a job and switch to the H-1 visa.

Satish: Thanks a lot, Rajesh. But this is not the end, I have some more queries about applying to US universities, financial aid, and some other aspects. I will meet you again to clarify my doubts. 

Rajesh: You are always welcome. 

Continue .......part 2

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