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Road to an American University

M S Raunak

If you are like me, you have always had the dream of studying at a fine university abroad. And if you have got a little too much resemblance with my mind-set, you probably had also decided to fulfill your dream without spending anything from your own pocket.


Well, if you still havenít reached your goal (I assume you havenít; otherwise why would you be reading the article!), this article is for you.


I was able to go for my Graduate studies at a fine university at Amherst, Massachusetts and off course, I didnít have to pay anything other than the one way air fare to the United States (well, the air fare was also reimbursed by the Bangladesh Government). This article is aimed at sharing some of my experiences about going for higher studies to an American university. You may find some tips and guidelines here that I hope will help you in your endeavor.


A lot of our students have got a preconceived notion that studying abroad is a very difficult proposition and only the most brilliants should go for it. Well, I disagree.  Anyone who has gone through her high school or undergraduate studies with reasonable results should be able to find her place at a university in America, England, Japan or Australia. Merit is definitely required. The more important factor is, however, to know the proper way of approaching and preparing for it. If you donít agree with me, let me give you a small example. The population ratio between India and Bangladesh is roughly 10:1. But when it comes to the ratio of Indian students vs. Bangladeshi students at American universities, it is more close to 100:1. Is an average Indian smarter than an average Bangladeshi. I donít think so. The difference comes from the fact that Indians work a little harder than us to go for the higher studies.


Now that I have convinced you about your ability to study at a prime American university, let me tell you the steps that worked for me. 


Choosing the Right School

One of the first things is to decide on which university you want to apply to. The United States has got about 3500 universities including all its community and undergraduate colleges. It is very easy to get completely confused with all these university names and their positions. There are quite a few factors involved in deciding on a university. You can, in fact, utilize these factors to narrow down your options.


Area of Concentration

The subject you are going to pursue your higher education in is one of the most important factors. Not all universities are good at all areas. If you are looking to study liberal arts and if you are shooting for only the best, Ivy league schools (Harvard, Brown, Princeton etc.) are definitely amongst your top choices. You should also consider schools like Amherst College and Brandies University. For engineering, there are plenty of good schools out there: MIT, Stanford, UC Berkely, CalTech, UT Austin, UIUC. The list goes on and on.


Ranking of the University

If you are bent upon going to one of the top schools at your subject area, the search becomes a lot easier. Just look up this year or last yearís USA Today ranking of universities and apply to all the universities following the rank starting from the top. However, it is usually recommended that you apply to one or two universities that are moderately ranked in addition to all highly ranked universities. The usual practice should be to apply for couple of top ranked schools, quite a few moderately ranked schools and one or two sure shots. The sure shots are the universities where you feel quite confident of getting an admission.


Financial Aid and Assistantship

To a lot of us, this factor is the most crucial one while deciding on where to apply. For graduate studies in top universities, the answer is simple. Almost all top universities provide some sort of assistantships to their graduate students. This is not universally true for all departments, however. So you definitely want to find out the number of incoming students the university provides assistantships to. There are some universities that are more reluctant about providing assistantships to new international students. Try to find out whether your department happens to be one of them.


If you are applying for undergraduate studies, the search is a little more difficult. Not many universities provide scholarships or financial assistance to foreign students. Your best bets are probably the top ranking schools. Since these schools are usually very rich, once you ensure an admission there, chances are high that you will manage some sort of assistantship. You should also look out for special scholarships offered by some universities only for international students Brandies University used to have a scholarship like this.


While going for graduate studies, even if you donít get an assistantship right from the get go, donít give up. Try to find out whether students can manage assistantships once they are at the campus.


Physical Location of the University

America is a huge country. The northern part of it is very cold. States like Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, Minnesota, Seattle are on the north. It snows heavily during the winter. If you canít stand severe winter, you had better avoid schools in these states. You still have got plenty of states left. The mid American and western states are mild in Weather. California bay area is renowned for its wonderful weather throughout the year. If you like warm weather like Bangladesh, choose one of the schools in a southern states (Texas, Luisiana, Florida etc).


Universities with Many Bangladeshis

If you want to go to a university with a lot of Bangladeshis, you can check the list available here. By the way, this is not a comprehensive list. There are a lot of other universities with a lot more Bangladeshi students.


If you have a relative living in the US, you may want to get admission to a school in the same city or state where your relative lives. It may be helpful in some cases to have some known faces when you land in America for the first time.


The Mighty Application Process

Now that you have decided on the universities you would like to apply, you need to get into the real business of actually filling out the application forms. At this stage, I feel one of the things that is absolutely necessary to have is access to a computer with Internet. You will need to browse a lot. In fact, the browsing starts with the process of choosing the right university.


There are basically two main ways one can apply. In the regular case, you can send an email to a university admission office to send you application materials. You will get all these information by browsing through that university website. Send a lot more requests for application materials than you are actually going to apply. The papers you receive will also help you in deciding the universities you are finally going to send your applications to. Draft a simple email and use it with different email addresses of different universities.


Now a days, a lot of universities will also allow you to fill out your application online; or at least provide you with an online form to request application materials.


Once you have got the application materials, you need to sit down and complete the application process. This can be quite time consuming and needs a lot of planning.

Completing an application usually involves five major operations:


1) Getting the test scores

2) Gathering all educational credentials (certificate, marksheets etc.)

3) Collecting good recommendation letters from your professors.

4) Writing an essay, and

5) Filling out the application and sending it with fee within the deadlines.


On the next part of the article, I will share my experiences about preparing for the tests, getting excellent recommendation letters and writing the essay.


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