Higher education abroad for bourgeois Bangladeshi students
Going to the USA and getting a North American degree is only a dream for many, “but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?” While getting admitted to a world-class university is difficult on its own, getting a scholarship to fund your studies is nothing short of a life-changing dream come true. Fortunately, I am one of those lucky few who receive a full tuition scholarship plus living allowance at a North American University in Texas. The ecstasy of achieving something like this is hard to describe in words. But preparing oneself adequately enough to apply for a scholarship can be a daunting task, one that I have set out to outline in this article.
I began my application process as soon as my A Level exams ended in July 2010 from Maple Leaf International School. I had already decided a year back when I finished my O levels that I would pursue a foreign degree only if I get a full scholarship since my parents, like most Bangladeshis, would not be able to pay for it. It is typical for any Bangladeshi family not to have the $240,000 saved up for their children's education, which is roughly the amount of money required for a Bachelor's degree at a good US university. Therefore having strong academic success is imperative in achieving a scholarship abroad. Good O and A level results are paramount since scholarships abroad, for both undergraduate and graduate levels, are based on academic excellence, also known as merit scholarships. The education system is designed, with good reason, to hunt talent. However, academic scores are not the only variables that determine whether one will be able to study abroad.
North American University in Texas. courtesy : Internet
The second vital determinant of receiving scholarships in the US at the undergraduate level is the score one receives in the SAT Reasoning test, a standardised test for college admissions only in the United States. Those who apply to graduate school (masters) have similar tests such as the GRE (for Science and Economics) and the GMAT (for Business). For undergraduate, most renowned universities accept students with SAT scores ranging from 600-800 out of 800 in each section. The writing section, being relatively new, is given less importance than the two other traditional sections for scholarship. A score of 1350 in the critical reading and mathematics section combined is recommended. I had no problem scoring high in the Mathematics section since I was always fond of mathematics (I had scored 96% in both my O and A level Mathematics). However, it took a lot to do well in the Critical Reading section but I was able to squeeze out a score of 1380!
Academics alone do not guarantee scholarships. Besides having good grades, one needs to be actively and sufficiently involved in extracurricular activities. I was fortunate to be a part of the 'Duke of Edinburgh Awards' in which, one is awarded for honing four categories of skills. I was also a member of my school's community service club and writers' club during my senior year at Maple Leaf International. Other clubs which students can actively become associated with are debating clubs and the student council. These activities also make it easier for teachers to write informative recommendations that also form part of a student's profile. Admission offices globally rely on what teachers have to say about their students in terms of potential, interest and commitment. It's important to request only those teachers to refer you who really know you and are well-informed of what you have participated in, or else the reference or recommendation letter will simply become a flowery composition of utter vagueness which admission officers can see right through!
A few websites which helped me a lot were the Official SAT website, www.collegeboard.org, and www.meritaid.com. College Board has an extensive college match maker option which allows you to search according to your major, preferred location, preferred tuition and lots more. The Merit aid website allows you to enter your data and compare yourself with your desired college to see how you rack up against the current students. It also has many helpful articles on choosing universities and saving on college.
Although it is recommended that you apply to at least eight colleges -- two which are difficult to get into, according to your qualifications, three which match your results best and two a little below your academic level but which will surely accept you -- I only applied to 4 colleges, since I had to apply near Dallas where my uncle lived. Winning scholarship awards takes a lot of time and effort but success only comes to those who really put in the dedication and start with enough time in hand. It only comes to those who really want it.
Another hurdle in the path of achieving admission abroad is the requirement of an international credit card. It is crucial that you look for credit cards within the family if your parents do not own one. If your parents have Tk 1,00,000 saved up, which they do not plan to use in the near future, ask them to get a credit card from the banks where they have accounts set up. Some banks also give credit cards to customers without any safety deposits, which are very helpful. As for me, I had my uncle's credit card to use. The last resort in this respect is of course to resort to certain local admission file processing centres that charge a small fee for you to use their credit card to make payments.
Most universities charge a small amount for their applications which range from $30 to $100+ and also require prospective international students to submit TOEFL or IELTS scores. Submitting school transcripts, teachers' recommendations, applications, SAT and TOEFL scores and other achievement certificates should be done by the priority deadline if applicable and definitely before regular deadline to be considered for scholarships. I had all my applications submitted before December 2010 for the fall semester (which starts from September) and received my scholarship letter in early April 2011. Spring semester deadlines usually lie along February and April.
Receiving a scholarship letter from the University of Texas at Dallas stating that I will receive FULL tuition coverage and $7000 to help pay for housing and books was the single most amazing achievement of mine to date. But, thinking back, I really owe it to my mom who helped me throughout the process and always pushed me to make something of myself. When you have a parent like that, it makes life a whole lot easier! I hope this article helps students like me to make the right decisions and achieve generous scholarships in prestigious foreign universities. I also hope that they go on to make contribution to their fields that not only make people take notice, but has a positive impact on the global community. That is the kind of future I will be striving hard to realise.
(The writer has just graduated from Maple Leaf International School.)