Dear Mentor:

How can I continue studies in the US?

I'm a 21 year old girl from Poland. I graduated from high school in Poland and studied English for a year at the university in Torun. I really enjoyed my studies as I consider higher education as a priority. Unfortunately because of my parents poor financial situation I was pushed to start working. I became an au pair. Sadly the money I'm getting for my work isn't enough to pay for my studies and the reality is that my year here in the US is coming to an end and I have nowhere to go. My dream has always been to study in the US. I believe in myself and I know I can make it come true. All I need is a little help and piece of advice. I have passed FCE and CAE exams. I'm taking a course at a local community college, and my teacher says I'm an excellent writer. I've lots of experience too. I've been a baby sitter, a tour guide, and an English teacher in a high school in my home country. I'm interested in sociology, international relations, and American history. I need help to find a sponsor for my student visa. I would be very grateful for any piece of information.

Struggling Student, Chappaqua, New York, USA

Dear Struggling Student:

How we wish we could solve your problem easily and right now! We are quite familiar with situations like yours. Unfortunately, your situation does not have an easy or immediate solution, at least none that we know about.

As you have already found out, the cost of education in the US is extremely high. Unless you are a US citizen or a permanent resident (green card holder) - effectively, you are an international or foreign student - virtually no financial assistance is available to pursue undergraduate (Bachelor's degree) education. This particular constraint of reality shatters the dreams of many motivated and intelligent international students who are not wealthy. You seem to qualify as being such a student. This may simply confirm the cliché that life is not fair, but such is life. The challenge is not that you have hit what may appear to be a dead-end but what you can do equalize the challenge. Despair, regret, and self-pity are not the answer! Keep your wits about the situation.

The challenge may be insurmountable in the near-term, but it is not so in the long-term. Rest assured, it will test every bit of your patience, commitment, ambition, focus, and determination. However, fully understanding and acknowledging the constraints is the essential first step.

While little or no financial assistance is available to international students for undergraduate studies, such is not the case for graduate (Master's or PhD) studies. International students for graduate studies are eligible for research and teaching assistantships. These assistantships are adequate for international students to survive while pursuing education. True, you would be poor by North American standards, but it matters little since you will be able to pursue your dream. This is precisely the reason why most international students come to the US for graduate studies.

This background information may help you define alternatives for what you should do, such as:

  • Return to your native country, Poland, to pursue a Bachelor's degree and then:
    • Come to the US for graduate studies. You should make every effort to obtain your Bachelor's degree from a top college and demonstrate extra-ordinary performance. Note that the quality of your education and your personal performance are critical ingredients for securing financial assistance for graduate studies in the US.
    • Get a job that could bring you to other countries, such as the US. You may consider multinational corporations for employment which may consider locating you in the US either immediately or after some time. Some career options include: flight attendant, translator, interpreter, secretary, and journalist.
    • Get a job for a few years to save money. A combination of personal savings and partial financial assistance from your prospective school in the US may enable you to pursue graduate studies in the US.
  • Explore the possibility of extending your current employment arrangement, and continue your current, difficult incremental approach to studies.
  • Contact the Polish Embassy in the US to explore opportunities for employment for such positions as: translator, interpreter, receptionist, and so on.
  • Contact Polish Student Associations to seek advice and counsel. Go to a search engine like Vivisimo and type in "Polish Student Associations" and you will get many useful websites. However, we can suggest a few places to find more information: It may help your cause if you emailed people at these websites and asked them for their advice.
All through this, you should be mindful of the legal visa requirements and the constraints that each visa type imposes on the holder. You must not violate any of the rules - not even once - or else future applications for the US may be rejected summarily.

We wish you the best of luck.

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