Studying in America and Canada

The ambition of studying in America or Canada often collides with the reality of the need for funding this prohibitively expensive endeavor. As an international student, you are prohibited (details of prohibition are quite different between America and Canada) from gaining employment to finance your education. If you are a typical student from India - one who is not independently wealthy - the need for financial assistance is paramount.

Let us state on the outset that, for international students:

  • Virtually no financial assistance is available for the Bachelorís level studies, and for studies in MBA, law, and medical programs.
  • In programs of study for which the financial assistance is accessible, obtaining admission is far easier than securing financial assistance. Despite fierce competition, financial assistance is more readily available in technical fields - such as engineering and computer science - than in other fields.

Your primary, if not the only, source of financial assistance, as an international student, is your prospective college. The choices are somewhat limited, relative to the local students, and the challenge is considerable. The challenge is, however, surmountable for those who can compete favorably on demonstrated performance, within the large candidate pool from all over the world, for limited opportunities.

You must realize that the government of every nation puts its citizens and legal residents first, and handing out the financial aid to students is no different. Very few programs in very few countries are available through which the government finances, fully or partially, the education of international students. These programs are typically designed to meet, implicitly or explicitly, the governmentís foreign policy objectives.

As an international student, you can typically avail yourself of only the opportunities that are not financed by the government. These opportunities in America and Canada, available primarily through your prospective college, are merit-based, and not needs-based. No financial aid opportunities are set aside for international students; instead, international students are permitted to compete for certain opportunities along with local students.

You might come across such statements as "77% of our students have financial aid" on college websites, or college promotional materials. Such statements are true, and not hyperbole or false advertisement. But, they do not apply to you as an international student. You must restrict your exploration and excitement to the section on financial assistance for international students. Only in this section will you find out the opportunities for which you are eligible.

At the end, you would learn that only the wealthy or the very smart can pursue higher education in America or Canada. Sounds unfair? Perhaps! But it is the reality. The situation for international students in America and Canada is not particularly different from that in other countries. Getting financial assistance is a privilege, not a right. You would be better off acknowledging the constraints of reality, than feeling sorry for yourself about the perceived unfairness of the situation. The situation is no more unfair than wanting to have something for which you do not have the means, and for which you must rely on others for help. Others would decide whether or not to help you, but you can certainly make your best case for why they should, by first understanding the range of potentially acceptable rationales.

Learn the rules first - if you want to play the game - and then play the game to the best of your abilities. Knowing the constraints would help you steer through the situation better, regardless of the outcome. If you win, you are off to better pastures. However, if you donít, at least you would know that you played the game to the best of your abilities. Moreover, you might learn from the setback to play the game better the next time, should you choose to do so.

So what are the rules and how does one play the game of securing financial assistance? Let us begin with the basic financial requirements, to learn what you need before learning how to achieve it.

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