Monday, June 22, 2015

How I Found Financial Aid for My U.S. Education

By Omanjana Goswami
Student Ambassador, Rutgers University

Quality education does not come for free. It comes with a hefty price tag and considerable expenses. The same is true for education in the United States, be it for undergraduate or graduate degrees. My dream, like thousands of other students, was to pursue a graduate degree from a university in the U.S. However, that dream comes with a “some conditions apply” asterisk. I couldn’t afford a graduate education unless I was offered financial aid. I was planning to pursue a doctoral degree, which usually takes about five years to complete. There was no way I could bear my own expenses for that long without financial support. 

My extensive online research revealed that universities in the U.S. usually offer financial aid in the form of research or teaching assistantships and scholarships. Meritorious students may also be offered partial or complete fee waivers. My first step was to identify universities where the research profile of professors overlapped with my interests. Another crucial step was choosing schools that correspond with my overall profile, including grades, test scores (GRE and TOEFL), and extracurriculars – I looked for schools where I stood a good chance of being accepted. I identified professors whose research interested me and emailed them directly to express my desire to work with them. I found that U.S. professors are usually honest and reply promptly. Some encouraged me to apply, others said they had no open positions, and a few didn’t reply.

I had my application package ready a couple weeks before the application deadline – it’s better to play it safe than rush at the end. Deadlines for international applications and financial aid consideration are usually earlier than that for domestic applicants. Score reporting from testing agencies also takes time. The next phase was the most nail-biting one – waiting patiently for decisions. Universities usually start making admissions decisions around March. One of my top-choice universities accepted me with financial aid that included a TA position, a full tuition waiver and health benefits. I also got my professor of choice as my adviser!

Here are a few tips to help you in your financial aid search:

1. Identify your areas of interest and correspond with professors before applying. You have nothing to lose because professors are almost always looking for students to join their groups!

2. Contact the financial aid office or graduate coordinator of the department and ask about financial aid opportunities. There’s no harm in asking!

3. Applications for financial aid consideration are sometimes due early so it’s always best to have the materials ready well before the deadline. Better to be safe than sorry!

4. Universities offer scholarships as well. While some scholarships are sponsored by academic departments (applicants are automatically considered for these in most cases), some others are university-wide and require a separate application. Be sure to apply for those!

5. Financial aid opportunities are available even after enrollment. So never stop looking for new ones!

Omanjana Goswami is an incoming doctoral student at Rutgers University, where she will study environmental science. She plans to focus her research on contaminants in natural and engineered settings. Omanjana enjoys reading, travelling and exploring new restaurants and cuisines. She is from India.


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