I'm from an upper middle class family, so I'd like to know whether US college education is even an option for me from a financial perspective. Do Indian students pay for college through family funds or loans or scholarships? Would you advise me to attend a US college by taking a loan?

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    Paramita Mishra
  • pmish@sas.upenn.edu

Paramita Mishra Answered 6 months ago

Hi! There are two kinds of colleges in America - need-blind and need-aware. There is also a third kind - one which does not offer any aid whatsoever to internationals, and I suggest you get started with a document recording the kind of college each of your preferences falls into. In most scenarios, I'm assuming you wouldn't want a non-aid option - I mean here colleges like UC Berkeley. Cross them out. For the other two, you have need-blind i.e. the admissions office will offer/not grant admission regardless of your financial situation simply because they don't even have access to it while admitting you. A lot of the best colleges have this for internationals - Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Amherst, as far as I remember (I'm sure about Harvard and Amherst, but do double check for everything else.) The other ivies have this only for Americans (a lot of colleges which are need-blind tend to be so only for Americans, so look out for that.) Anyway, need-aware is still very much an option - the only problem here is that your chances of admission would be affected, so you may not, say, get into Penn if you require aid and apply for it, even though you might have been offered admission had aid not been a problem. That being said, I know quite a few people at Penn and most ivies as well as schools like Michigan, University of Maryland, UDub etc who are on 100% aid. In fact, I also know someone who gets paid to attend a college.

In case finances are a problem, here is how I see it:

- Try to work hard and make your application exceptional enough for Harvard, Yale etc. You will be judged fairly here. If this doesn't work out, 

- Still apply to the other, need-aware top schools. While here, you're at at a disadvantage, it is certainly NOT impossible to get aid. Then,

- Still apply to some other schools which are good with aid - some state schools are a good example. Indians often have a stigma against anything which is not top tier, but firstly that is simply wrong because these other colleges (almost any college for that matter) are all amazing and all have at least some job placements at the best companies in the world, and secondly if all goes well, you are set to go here FOR FREE - while getting an amazing education. Lastly,

- There are some scholarships at great schools, like the Tata scholarship at Cornell. There are also non-school (external) scholarship options. Deadlines for these may vary, so be cautious and apply on time. The other option you have:

- Loans. It really depends on your past, present and future, financially, but I know that the stress is terrifying, something you may have to live with all your life. If I got into an ivy on no scholarship/aid and another university that I did not prefer on 100% aid and I had financial problems, I would go to the university instead of living with that burden, personally. I would also apply to Canada, which has way better programs in terms of finances, and UK, which has shorter programs by default. Keep in mind the exchange rate between the dollar and the rupee varies, and is generally a strong disadvantage to us Indians, and you don't want that eating at you all your life.

So by all means, it is possible. That being said, things I'd consider:

- What do I want from college? India has amazing programs too - they're just entirely different.

- What is my exact financial situation? How much loan/aid do I need?

- Can I pay for my living? I mean flights, insurance (PLEASE do not consider not getting health insurance), food, stuff like that. I live in Philadelphia, and I have come to realize living is pretty expensive in an American city. 

About the other part of your question - I paid through family funds for Penn and did not apply for aid. Many internationals do that, and Indian students typically rely on either this or aid. Scholarships aren't super popular and till now they're often been limited to American students but there are enough available and they should be considered more. Loans - as I said, very risky situation.

Keep in mind a few things:

- Living and studying abroad is hard, and the struggles are worthwhile, but you have to be 100% in on it to get the most out of it

- You need to consider what you want to do and where you want to be after college

- College will be hard, no matter what you do and where you come from

Use this to decide. Most importantly, though:

- Anything I say to you should act as a starting point for your own research. This is your painting, and you will love to paint it, because you can see it far better than I do right now.

I hope this helps! Use this to decide, and let me know if you have any clarifications. Good luck :)

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