Studied MS in the US - My experiences and lessons learnt

Studying abroad can mean different things to different people. I share my experience as a student in the US. I learned some valuable lessons and would do things differently, given a second chance. Read on to learn from my experience and you'll perhaps make better choices.

I always dreamt of going to the US for higher studies. Most of my friends at a premiere technical institute had similar aspirations. My friends and I had ambitious plans of getting admission into one of the Ivy League Universities. We were sure we'd win a scholarship which would lessen (to a certain extent) the financial burden on our parents. I belong to a middle class family, and wasn't quite sure (despite my parents assurances) how my folks would pay the high fees. So, when I graduated I decided to work for a couple of years and see if I still wanted to go in for a PG course to the States.

Preparing for GRE

A year and a half of working and that desire to study abroad was still alive in me. I realized I had a tidy sum saved, which could help pay part of the fees. That gave me the confidence to seriously start pursuing my dream. The first step was to prepare for GRE, which I did in earnest. I used whatever little time I had preparing for the GRE. I browsed through material online and used the official guide for the prep. I finally appeared for the GRE and managed a decent score. It wasn't a brilliant score, was fairly good.

Since I knew nothing about US universities I approached a firm of education consultants with a good reputation. They helped me with the processes of short listing universities and applying to them. We picked on a mix of universities, including a few where the fee structure was high! I banked on winning a scholarship, based on my academic record and work experience.

Out of the 8 universities I applied to, I got selected in 5. I also got scholarship offers, but I finally settled for a university that did not offer me a grant – University of Texas at Dallas. My reasons for opting for Dallas University was logical, I could afford the fee, it had an academic repute and it was conveniently located to some telecom giants, such as Ericsson and Cisco. And of course the weather was an added advantage.

Settling in Dallas, Texas as a foreign student

I found the Indian Students Association (ISA) in Dallas University to be most helpful. Similar associations are present in almost all universities abroad. These are managed by Indian students, and are there to help new students find accommodation and any other guidance they might require. I felt at home, in a foreign land, among foreign Indians.

Besides that the interactions I had with students from other nations were quite enriching. These interactions helped me become confident, improved my language skills, enhanced how I handled interpersonal relationships and made me more aware of a world outside my own cocoon.

Living in the US as a student changed me in many ways. I became independent. I had to take decisions on my own – right from renting an apartment to getting an electrical connection. Buying groceries, doing my laundry, budgeting etc; everything that in India is done by a house-help, I was doing on my own.

Weekends were a time to chill, especially when there were no assignments to be completed or tests hanging around the corner.

The actual student experience at Dallas University

I was in for a big surprise when I walked into university for the first time. I had expected to see a lot of American students on campus; instead I was surprised to see large numbers from China and the Indian sub-continent.

The classes themselves were different from what I'd been used to in India. They were informal, more like interactions than lectures.

I managed internships at multinational telecom companies like Research in Motion and Motorola, besides some local companies. The internships were advantageous to me, as I got paid a tidy sum which I used to pay the tuition fees. I also learned a lot working in corporate offices.

Struggles after completion of MS in the US

I use the word 'struggles', because I graduated when the world was going through a recession. Not the best of times to graduate for anyone, leave alone an Indian student on American soil. Companies weren't hiring and for me on a student visa the task got tougher. I needed a company visa sponsorship to be able to work there.

Since, that wasn't going to happen I decided to work on projects as a volunteer. I didn't get paid, but I did get experience that would look nice on my resume and I also managed to preserve my visa status.
After almost an year, I landed a job with a startup company. I learned a lot on the way, honed my skills and never gave up. A 3 year stint later, I found a job in a 'regular' telecom company. My journey so far had been eventful. I am still holding my job and enjoying all the perks. However, a tiny bug in me has lately been pestering me to take a break and do an MBA. Maybe, I'll listen and go for an MBA sometime soon.

The lessons I leaned in the United States

I had a multitude of experiences as a student. There were a number of things I got right and a few that when I look back now; I think I should have done differently. I am confident that the advice that I share here will be of help to you (since you've read through the entire blog post). So, here goes:
  • Do not compromise – Your aim must not be to get admission into any US university; it should be to get into one that is on top of the league. If you get admission into one of the better universities that have a global ranking, my advice is to go for it. Yes, go for it even if you do not get a full scholarship and the fee structure is high. You can take a loan, which believe me you'll be able to repay within an year. Remember, at the end of the day where you got your degree from is important. You'll attract a higher package if you graduate from an Ivy League college as opposed to just another US university.
  • Tougher the better – Don't opt for easy courses, despite what others tell you. Your aim must be to acquire knowledge rather than up the grades. You'll be paying a lot to study in the US, so make sure you learn skills that will hold you in good stead. Don't focus on grades alone, some courses will be difficult to score well in, but you'll learn much more. You'll realize the significance of what I'm saying when you come up for an interview in one of the tech giants, like Microsoft or Google etc.
  • Work experience counts – Take a break from studies after completing your bachelor's degree. Pick up a job. Now the advantage of doing so is manifold –
    1. You can save money to fund your university study
    2. You can decide whether you want to spend the rest of your life working in the tech field that you graduated in or to make a switch your career
    3. You'll be able to decide whether you want to improve your resume with an MS or an MIS/MBA degree
    4. You'll be older and wiser and better equipped for a stint abroad
  • MBA or MS – Don't be a blind sheep and follow all others. Decide for yourself if you want an MBA or an MS. The two will lead you to different career paths. Don't be in haste, give it a lot of thought, know exactly what you want of life and decide your future sensibly

Finally, whatever you do, good luck with it. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section. I'll be happy to clear all doubts.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer publishing with Constant Content and sister sites of Techulator. She writes on a variety of subjects that interest her. She is a voracious reader and that helps her keep abreast with the latest in technology. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Eng. Lit, is a mom, a wife, a homemaker and a qualified teacher.

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Guest Author: Kamal Kant Rai20 Sep 2015

One of the major problems, the newly joined students face the paucity of public transport system in US especially when the universities are located on the outer side of the major cities. Active participation in Indian Student Association activities particularly in a position of leadership helps in building up strong resume. By consistence efforts one can get a proper employment immediately after completing the degree, even without any waiting period. I had very good experience of UTD and have even visited the campus as my daughter studied there.

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