Studying in America and Canada  

3.5.3 Cost of Education

We have touched upon the subject of cost. One must consider the total cost of education, and not just the cost of tuition. The total cost of education in America is extremely high, ranging from $15,000 to $45,000 annually. The total cost for Canada is much less, ranging from Cdn$15,000 to Cdn$30,000 annually, but still an exorbitant amount for an average student from India.

One would think that in a free market mechanism, such as that in America or Canada, the higher cost would indicate better education, and thus more competition for the college. Such is not always the case. There are several reasons for it. First, the free market mechanism is distorted by the presence of public (government-funded) colleges. Public colleges tend to be less expensive than private colleges. Second, even among private colleges, some colleges follow more altruistic philosophy than others. Third, the location of a college can have a significant impact on the total cost. For example, the cost of living in San Francisco, California is significantly higher than that in Dayton, Ohio.

Avoid the trap of assuming that the more expensive the school, the better is its reputation and the greater is its selectivity.

This issue of cost is of course mute if you must obtain full financial aid that would cover nearly all your costs. Should you find yourself in the position that you must finance your education, at least partially, the total cost of education becomes a significant and important hurdle.


3.5.4 Your chances for admission

Your chances of getting admitted depend on your performance - as discussed in Section 3.2 on the decision criteria for admission - relative to the pool of candidate applying to the college for the same program. There is no way of determining the caliber of the current candidate pool. However, some historic information is available on the caliber of candidates who were admitted in the past.

All elements of the decision criteria are prone to subjective evaluation except one, and that is your score on the standardized entrance exam. In this exam, all candidates are subjected to questions of the same type and level of difficulty. Your score on the entrance exam is one indicator that is readily and objectively comparable to other candidates. Even your academic performance - admittedly quantitative in nature - is judged subjectively for the caliber of school from which you graduated.

One can make a fairly good and informed decision on your chances of success by comparing your entrance exam score with historic information, with one caveat. It assumes that your entrance exam score reflects a similar level of performance on other elements of the decision criteria. Should that not be the case, you have to adjust for the discrepancy. For example, assume that your entrance exam score is far superior to your academic performance. You have to adjust your expectations downwards. If your entrance exam score indicates, when compared with historic data for a particular school that you are reasonably competitive, you are likely to be moderately competitive or worse when your academic performance is taken into account.

We recognize that determining your chances for admission is not a science, but you have to make decisions on the basis of the information that is available. You are simply trying to maximize your probability of success. We will show you later in Section 3.5.6 how you can do just that while minimizing your risks.


3.5.5 Your chances for Financial Aid

The discussion in the preceding section applies equally well to your chances for financial aid, with two exceptions:

  1. No historical information is available on the entrance exam scores or anything else for the students who were offered financial aid in the past.
  2. Despite this, we know that a fraction of the students granted admission is offered financial aid. This assertion needs more explanation because an American or a Canadian reading this would say that it is utter nonsense. And, he or she would be right, but only for the legal residents or citizens of the respective countries. You are likely to come across in your research such statements by schools as 70% of their students have some form of financial assistance. And this statement is right too, but it does not apply to you.

We will discuss the topic of financial aid in great detail later in Chapter 5. Financial aid in America and Canada comes in various forms, ranging from partial tuition waiver to loans to scholarships. You are not eligible for most of them as an international student. The basic requirement for many of the financial aid sources is that you must be a citizen or legal resident of the country.

The fundamental message that you must understand here is that securing financial aid is far more challenging than obtaining admission. A small fraction of the students offered admission - seeking the type of assistance you are - is offered such assistance. There are no additional criteria. The criteria are the same as those for admission. So what does this really mean to you in terms of targeting schools? Well, it means that schools in which you thought you could get admitted relatively easily - on the basis of your entrance exam score and historic data - become more competitive for financial assistance. Again, this is not a science. You are trying to predict on some rational basis, with limited information, your chances of success. We will show you next how you can do it systematically.

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