Studying in America and Canada  
5.3 Opportunities for International Students

For all practical purposes, financial aid is available to international students in America and Canada only for pursuing graduate (Masterís or PhD) programs in computer science, engineering, humanities, sciences and business (minus MBA). Students in all other programs - all Bachelorís degree program, and MBA, law and medical programs - must fund their education virtually by themselves.

Financial assistance opportunities for international students are restricted to certain forms of assistance: research and teaching assistantships, and ad hoc employment. Let us first develop an understanding of what various choices mean, before addressing the differences between America and Canada, which are substantial.

Research Assistantship

A research assistantship award obligates the student to perform research on a specific topic under the supervision of a particular professor for a fixed sum of money. The award is typically for one year, subject to renewal for subsequent years. Research conducted by the student, as a research assistant, becomes an essential and integral part of the program of studies in the form of a dissertation (as it is called in America) or a thesis (as it is called in Canada).

Some of the cutting-edge research in America and Canada is conducted by professors in the universities. Conducting successful research is an essential part of the career progression for professors in America and Canada. Professors compete for and obtain research grants from various government and private sources to fund and support their research. Professors with research money, in turn, recruit graduate students on research assistantships to conduct and support their research projects. Under this arrangement, the student gets the learning, training, education and financial support, while the professor gets to deliver results as stipulated by research grants.

Teaching Assistantship

A teaching assistantship award obligates the student to conduct a variety of specified tasks - such as laboratory supervision, tutoring, grading homework, and so on - for certain professors for a fixed sum of money. The assignment of tasks is made at the beginning of each term (semester or quarter). We shall explain the semester and quarter system later. The award is typically for one year, subject to renewal for subsequent years.

Universities utilize teaching assistants to support the teaching efforts of professors. As a result, these awards are funded by universities themselves, and not by outside sources. The number of such awards is obviously dependent on the department needs.

Ad Hoc Employment

Universities recruit students to perform various tasks. Some example include: tutoring a course, grading a course, supervising a laboratory, being a receptionist, re-shelving the books in the library, and so on. The remuneration can be on an hourly basis, or a fixed sum for a particular duration.

As you can see, some such positions require particular skills, and others do not. Demand for these positions, particularly for skilled positions, is high; so there are no guarantees that you could avail yourself of any of these positions. Except for the skilled positions for grading or tutoring a course, or lab supervision, the jobs are menial.

All students, including those pursuing a Bachelorís degree, are eligible for these positions. Before you pin your hopes on these opportunities, you must be aware of three critical issues. First, you are not being promised any employment by anyone. It would depend on your skills and background, and the supply and demand of the labor pool on campus.

Second, the remuneration for these jobs is low. Menial jobs such as being a receptionist or re-shelving the books in a library would fetch compensation near the minimum wage, earning $6-$8 per hour in America. International students can not typically take up these menial jobs in Canada. Skilled jobs such as grading or tutoring a course, or supervising a laboratory would fetch you $15-$20 per hour in America and Cdn$25-Cdn$35 per hour in Canada. These compensation amounts are shown as a range; the numbers will depend on the going rates at your college. While these skilled jobs offer higher remuneration, the number of hours for which you can work on these jobs is substantially lower.

Third, legal constraints placed on the student visa holders in Canada may make these positions inaccessible to you. More on this in Section 5.5.

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