Dear Mentor:

I arrived in the US, but there is no financial support!

I was so excited when I got admission into a Master's program in Computer Science and Information Technology in the US. I packed my bags and left India for the US. I have been here for about 3 weeks now. I am disheartened and disillusioned because I can not find any financial support here. I also have severe limitations on where and how much I can work for employment. Within these constraints, the amount of earnings would be minuscule compared to my actual financial needs. I think I am deep trouble. Please help.
By the way, the iMahal Section on Indian Students Associations was extremely helpful for me. I was able to contact people who made my arrival and transition easy. Thank you.

Anonymous, Florida, USA

Dear Anonymous:

We thank you for your kind words. We are glad that our information on Indian Students Associations helped you. But we do not feel that that you read our information on financial aid carefully.

We have seen so many examples like yours. While we empathize with you, we hope that others would learn from your situation. Please permit us to address the financial aid issue with our audience at large, before we address your situation in particular.

The cost of college or university education (tuition, room & board, books, transportation, etc.) in the US is very high, particularly for international students, ranging anywhere from $20,000 to upwards of $50,000 per year. Our iMahal Financial Aid Section for the US states: Do not assume that you can obtain financial assistance after arriving in the US. Secure proper finances prior to departing for the US. Do not believe stories that you can easily obtain financial assistance once you arrive. It can happen, but the more likely outcome would be that of extreme disappointment. Do not play games with your life and money. As we all know, being optimistic is good, but being unrealistic is not.

Similar warnings are repeated to prospective international students often by colleges & universities, throughout the admissions process. The prospective international students follow the application process to the last level of detail, but for some reason, they often ignore the warnings of the required financial arrangements. Just ask yourself: When you are willing to accept all the information provided by the school, why not believe what they tell you about the financial situation? Why would the schools misrepresent only the information on the financial situation?

The immigration & visa process repeats the warnings again. In fact, you are required to demonstrate your ability to support yourself financially, through personal and/or financial aid sources, before a visa is issued. We know that some international students outmaneuver the immigration authorities, through misrepresentation of the facts on their financial situation, to obtain a visa. Or so they think, until they face the reality of the situation after arriving in the US. Just remember, getting a visa is not the end game, getting an education is. You have not outmaneuvered anyone but yourself. It is not unlikely that you may have to leave the US due to your financial needs, unless you become one of the lucky few who secures financial aid after arriving.

We don't know how else to say it. Do not play games with your life. Do not engage in high stakes gambling. Secure all necessary financing prior to your departure for the US.

We recognize that the preceding discussion does not address your personal situation, but we felt that it was rather important for us to present it to our audience. Let us return to your specific situation.

Your situation is similar to someone who got past the authorities to jump off a cliff. While outsmarting the authorities by not packing a parachute might have felt good, it was not a particularly smart move. Then going on to jump off the cliff without the parachute, with the hope that there would be a safety net below, is an action that defies logic. You can take some comfort that your situation may not be as hopeless, but it is not very far from it either, unless you can raise finances through personal sources.

If you can not secure such financing, here are some of your choices. You can work only on campus for up to 20 hours a week. Keep in mind that you must take enough courses to maintain a full-time student status as well, which is the requirement for you visa. If you can find this work, you are likely to earn the minimum wage, which is $5.25 per hour currently. You should look into becoming a lab demonstrator to supervise labs, tutor to help a professor tutor students, or grader to grade homework assignments. Of course you need to have relevant educational qualifications to do so. If you can get this work, you are likely to earn twice as much or more as the minimum wage. Even if you can get this work, the earnings will still fall way too short of your actual needs.

The only way you will really survive, except for personal financing, is to secure a research assistantship or teaching assistantship. Either form of assistantship in the US (not in Canada or UK), typically includes a full or partial tuition fee waiver.

Your department is the best place for you to look for teaching assistantships. You should contact the chairman of your department or the designated representative. A teaching assistant is typically required to work for a certain number of hours per week to perform as lab demonstrator, tutor and/or grader.

As a research assistant, a student is expected to support the research efforts of a particular professor. Professors secure grants from private and government sources to perform research. They engage graduate, as research assistants, to support these research projects. You can talk to professors in your department to see if there is a suitable match.

You are in a difficult situation and we do feel for you. We sincerely hope that you are able to resolve your situation satisfactorily. Best wishes.

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