What is a Scholarship?
In this blog, we’re going to take a look at funding and scholarship opportunities for Indian students in the U.S. A very important and often a very exciting topic, this is something many of our readers care deeply about.
Before we begin, we would like to say that an MS in the US in itself is a fantastic opportunity.
Studying abroad will broaden your horizons and you should base your decision on the opportunity that you get – scholarships or any funding should ideally be an added bonus.
So just because you don’t get a scholarship doesn’t mean you should not look for ways to fund yourself because the opportunity of doing your Masters there in itself will be fantastic.
What is a Scholarship?
A scholarship is a financial aid awarded to the student based on the various criteria like academic achievements, financial need etc.
For one, it could be based on academic excellence namely the GPA that you obtained in your undergraduate degree program. It could also be based on any talent that you have demonstrated.
This might include very interesting projects that you’ve undertaken – hackathons, awards won, accomplishments and so on.
In addition to these factors, a university may also decide to award you a scholarship based on certain other factors such as your ethnic background (which is mostly relevant to American citizens) or your field of study.
Financial need and background are particularly relevant for Americans.
University Scholarships for Indian students in the USA can come from different sources – colleges and universities can award you the scholarship and that is predominantly the type of scholarship we speak about when we talk to an international student.
If you are not an American or Canadian citizen, then you’re unlikely to have other sources of scholarships.
If you are an American citizen, you do have additional options. For example, the government and certain private organisations do fund students who are native to the place.
Getting a scholarship is easier if you are a bright, talented and motivated Indian student.
You will find many resources to avail scholarships for free with some effort and time.
In the Indian scholarship search, your first step should be to look at your college’s financial aid office as most colleges provide this facility.
You will also need to know the eligibility for the scholarships as some require good exam scores i.e. the GRE, TOEFL, etc.
There are no specific ‘GRE scholarships’ or ‘TOEFL scholarships’ as such. But if someone refers to ‘GRE scholarships’ it means that he or she has taken the GRE exam and hopes to get a scholarship by relying on these scores.
These scores are only one essential component of your application process and will increase the chances of your getting an Indian scholarship.
Public & Private Universities
Before we proceed – A quick differentiator between public and private universities.
You must know that in the U.S. you have two kinds of universities- public and private universities.
It’s important to mention at this point that neither is a better option – both public & private universities in the US maintain high standards.
For example the University of California at Berkeley is a fantastic public university.
It’s a State University. Stanford University located just a few miles away is a private university and they are both extremely highly ranked.
A public university is primarily funded by a state government and they tend to be larger in terms of their student strength, they have larger class sizes and they have a wide selection of topics and subjects you can major in including a lot of stress on liberal arts programs.
Liberal arts, one would normally do in their undergrad in the US and they include subjects like humanities and sociology.
Private universities tend to operate as Educational NPO’s – nonprofit organizations.
They are usually smaller than public universities and have a smaller selection of majors but can offer a lot of specialized academic programs.
In terms of scholarships for graduate students, both private and public universities provide scholarships and financial aid.
In the case of public universities, you can save a good amount.
With private universities, merit scholarships are most popular but they aren’t the easiest scholarships to find- after all, most students at universities like Harvard University or California Institute of Technology would qualify for scholarships.
Merit Based Scholarships
Both types of universities do award scholarships and typically when you think of scholarships for Indian students in the US you think of merit-based scholarships.
In order to qualify for a merit-based scholarship scheme, you have to demonstrate excellence in a particular area.
In terms of ethnic background, merit scholarships are limited to typically native Americans.
This is a very important table you see above. The chances of funding if you apply for a Ph.D. program and if you are admitted is almost 100 percent.
It’s very rare that you are admitted to a Ph.D. program without receiving a full scholarship for Indian students and native students alike.
For an MS or an MA, it’s highly likely that if you try, you will find something.
For an MBA it’s a bit harder, full scholarships for Indian students are hard to come by.
People usually fund themselves through loans but you should definitely still try. At the very least, you might be able to get some kind of a Partial scholarship.
Graduate School Scholarships:
Graduate school scholarships are given on the basis of merit or need and these scholarships are offered by various companies, organizations, states and many more in the form of institutional scholarships, state scholarships, military scholarships.
There are many universities that offer these graduate scholarships to specific people, like minorities, women, first-generation college students, etc.
Find out more about these graduate scholarships provided by your home state and apply for them.
Don’t let things slip away.
Keep your eyes peeled for any opportunities that give you a scholarship.
Master’s Degree Scholarship:
Master’s programs are very costly so it makes sense you’d need a scholarship.
But it’s important to remember that a lot of opportunities will open up for you with this Master’s degree.
Take advantage of your school counselors or financial aid officers and get their services to obtain the requisite Master’s degree scholarships.
You need to be aware of your scholarship deadlines as they vary for different scholarships.
Types of Scholarships
Different Types of Scholarships for Indian Students
First, we have the Fellowship.
Fellowships can be fun – they don’t expect you to do any additional work for the fellowship, just to study your course really well.
As you can imagine, they are very hard to get.
Everybody wants a commission but a university has only a certain amount of money budgeted every year that it will award as fellowships to admitted students. These fellowships are typically announced during your acceptance letter or very shortly thereafter.
The next type of scholarship available for Indian students are teaching assistantships or a ‘TA-ship’.
A Teaching Assistant (TA) is expected to work 20 hours a week and the job always includes a tuition waiver.
The stipend is meant to cover your living expenses – your rent, food, bills, electricity – all of that.
The tuition is usually waived off.
In essence, the university tells you ‘hey you’re teaching, you’re working as a TA in our school, therefore, you do not have to pay tuition’.
That’s what a tuition waiver is. A stipend is also possible – often they are granted together.
In a research assistant-ship (RA-ship), the workload is quite similar although it can be a little higher depending on the projects that you’re working on.
These also a very similar to a tuition waiver and typically include a stipend if possible. These are the three types of funding that are available as scholarships to Indian students.
It must be clarified that in the US, you are not allowed to work outside the campus during the regular semesters. Only during the summer term can you work outside the campus for an internship.
If you’re working on campus as a TA or an RA, you’re allowed to do it for twenty hours a week.
This is called ‘halftime’ or half workload. The full workload is considered to be forty hours a week.
Let’s take a closer look at the elusive Fellowship. A fellowship is also a type of scholarship for Indian students that is granted to you along with your admission letter.
It aims to provides financial support to students.
Essentially, the university is saying “here, you’re so awesome you don’t have to pay a tuition fee, we might give you a stipend as well and you don’t have to do any work in return.”
But fellowships are typically merit-based.
If your application profile is so impressive and universities like you and think they’re going to love having you come on board and study with them because you’re so you’re promising – then they are likely to award you a fellowship.
You don’t have to do any work for it typically.
Teaching Assistant (TA-ship)
Let’s move onto a teaching assistant-ship or a TA-ship as it’s often called. This one of the best sources of funding.
Your job role involves being an assistant to the faculty conducting the course.
For instance, let’s say the faculty comes in and teaches a course, they lecture students.
Students will want to have somebody to whom they can ask questions if maybe they did not understand what was being taught.
You are their go-to person for that if you are a Teaching Assistant.
Obviously, this implies you will have to know that course in and out. You will have to have complete mastery over that entire course for which you are TA-ing.
It will look very bad if students come and ask you questions and you don’t know the answer to their questions.
In that case, they’re going to know that you’re not suitable to be a Teaching Assistant.
Typically you are likely to get a TA-ship for undergraduate courses because you are going for a graduate degree program – a Masters.
They will thus safely assume that you are likely to know the material taught in undergrad programs.
Perhaps an ‘Introduction to Biology’ class or ‘CS101: Programming in C and C++’.
You will be expected to spend twenty hours a week at your Teaching Assistant job.
What do the nitty-gritties of this job entail?
For starters – any administrative help that the professor needs with the course, you will be expected to provide.
This will include making sure all the handouts are given, making sure that homework is graded on time.
Depending on the course and the size strength, you might be the one grading the homework or you might have another graduate student known as a ‘grader’ help you.
‘Graders’ are paid on an hourly basis and that’s an additional source of funding although it’s a very meagre source of funding.
Graders will be assigned to grade classes with a large student-count.
As a Teaching Assistant, you will grade homework and exams, assess projects, help clear their doubts and help them do their homework.
Every course has what is called ‘TA office hours’. When people take the course you’re a TA for, they will have access to you during those ‘TA office hours’.
You will have to sit in the office during those hours and help whoever comes with any question on any topic that is being taught in the class up until that point.
You will have to help them understand it.
If they come down there needing some help understanding the homework, you’re supposed to help them.
You’re not going to solve the homework for them but you will help them understand the homework a lot better.
Clearly, because you will be speaking and teaching students from different parts of the world, your spoken English has to be excellent. This means your TOEFL score – especially your speaking section score – counts for a lot.
Even if the TOEFL speaking score is high and they have awarded you the TA-ship, some schools will require that after you arrive at the university you take another speaking exam just to make sure that you can speak clearly enough so that all the other students from different countries can understand what you’re saying.
Research Assistant (RA-ship)
Let’s move on to a Research Assistantship or an RA-ship. They are very common, particularly in research-oriented universities.
As a Research Assistant, you are not required to help other students understand the material but you are required to work under a professor or under a group of professors on a particular project.
Professors are typically given ‘grants’ which can be used on projects they’re working on.
They can use some of that grant money to fund their projects and pay their Ph.D. or Post-Doc students (if any), to fund any conferences they need at attend.
They can also decide, if they have sufficient money, to get Research Assistants to help out in the lab.
This is how research grants are distributed.
In order to secure a scholarship in this form, you will have to approach professors who have grants with sufficient funding.
Naturally, they must have enough in their kitty for them to hire you as a Research Assistant.
What would you do for this professor?
You might be expected to run experiments, to help with projects often with any programming or research papers that need to be written.
You might also be expected to set up labs, help their Post Docs or Ph.D. students conduct their research – there’s a lot of things that you can do as a research assistant.
It’s very varied and it depends on that particular professor. Typically this results in a tuition waiver and covers your living expenses as well.
There’s something very important that needs to be pointed out here – if you happen to be good at computer programming, data analysis or statistics, you can also find RA-ships outside of your department.
A lot of other departments including the Departments of Physics or Molecular Biology require computation nowadays.
There is a lot of data that needs to be crunched, that need to be made sense of and there may be some programs that can be written to help make sense of the research that’s happening in their field.
It’s not necessary that you must find a nice RA-ship in your own department – you can actually approach other departments and offer to do projects for them. Especially if you have the skills that are needed there.
For example, you could approach the International Language Processing department. They may be working on something in collaboration with the Computer Science Department.
If you have a background in Computer Science and speak English, you can offer to help them with their project.
As you can see, you will have multiple options if you know where to look.
Do not limit yourself to the department in which you’re enrolled.
Look around and see how you can combine the multiple skills you have to offer to get yourself a Research Assistant-ship.
Importance of GRE Test Scores
What do you need to get a graduate scholarship as an Indian student?
First – your GRE test scores are very important if you’re applying for an MS or a Ph.D. Students have a greater chance of getting financial aid if they have high GRE scores.
Take a look at the table below. This is the table that was published by ETS- the organization that conducts the GRE- and here’s what the percentiles look like. What do we mean by a ‘percentile’?
Let’s say that on the Verbal Section, you scored a 144/170. That sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. On the GRE, a 130 score is actually a zero.
So your verbal score of 144 puts you at the 22nd percentile. This means out of every hundred people, only 22 people were found to perform worse than you. This, in turn, means a full 78 people performed better than you.
Similarly, if your score is a 154, then looking at the very same table, you can see that 63 out of every 100 people performed worse than you. That’s what these percentiles tell you.
Looking at Quant, a score of 160 in Quant sounds good but it puts you only in the 78th percentile which means there are still 22 people out of every hundred who have performed better than you.
Always look at your GRE score not in terms of the absolute score (which is what you will typically share). Universities, however, get this percentile number in the score report that ETS sends. Most people typically look straight at the percentile, they don’t look at your absolute score alone.
Why do universities look at percentiles?
Universities look at percentiles because the percentiles will give you very interesting information.
For example, a lot of GRE test takers find the Verbal Reasoning section harder than the Quantitative Reasoning Section. A 162 on Verbal and a 162 on Quant correspond to entirely different percentiles – 90th in Verbal and 83rd in Quant respectively.
That means that out of 100 people, 90 are worse than you in Verbal but in Quant, it means that only 83 are worse than you.
The same GRE score can mean two quite different percentiles.
Similarly, if you were to look at the 150 to 155 range, it’s not such an awesome score in the sense that this is the average.
You can see that the percentiles they correspond to here are roughly right between 0 and 100.
A score in this range means that you are better than 40 to 60 percent of all test takers. So we strongly urge you to try and get as good a GRE score as possible.
This will prove to be very important.
Other Criteria for Scholarships
If you’re hoping to secure one of the limited-availability graduate scholarships for Indian students – You should have a decently high GPA. You cannot have very poor undergrads scores and then expect to impress the department that has given you the admits.
On what basis will you claim you deserve a scholarship?
You must show evidence of a high GPA. It need not be the highest in your batch but you should have a competitive GPA.
Submit a strong statement of purpose (SoP) – universities will read and base a large portion of their decision on this.
You should have fantastic letters of recommendation (LoR) from professors or your superiors at work.
Good projects, paper presentations and internships are always good to have.
High-quality samples of any writing that you’ve done, of publications, conferences attended – all of these things add tremendous value to your profile and make you a better candidate.
If you specialise in a field or have a research interest that’s very closely aligned with that of the department and the faculty there has sufficient funding, your chances of securing an RA-ship increases significantly.
Make sure that your application is well padded-out.
You might not be able to go back in time and change your CGPA but you can compensate by making the other components stand out.
4 Scholarships Search Mistakes
There ARE mistakes that you can make when looking for scholarships so let’s now take a look at what you should AVOID in order to give yourself the best chance at getting a scholarship. There are 4 main mistakes.
Getting a late start and limiting your search can make life very hard for you. The moment you receive your acceptance letter from the University, if you haven’t received a scholarship, start writing to various professors in the university.
Let them know of the skills you bring to the table and how they’re relevant to what the professors are looking for.
Talk about the work experience that you have, letting them know how your skills can add value and help them further their research.
Start looking for funding as soon as you’ve received your admit, preferably even before that. Most professors, however, will ask that you get in touch with them once you have an admit in hand but it can’t hurt to try.
Bottom line is, don’t put this off until it’s too late.
Do not wait until you are at the university to start looking for funding because everybody else is going to be hunting for the same stacks of funding that are left.
A lot of the funding will already be allocated before that so the moment you get your acceptance letter start talking to various people at that institute to try and get your money.
Do not start too late, do not limit yourself only to the department that you are enrolled in or only the minor research field that you are in unless you’re very confident.
In addition to RA-ships, look for teaching assistant-ships in any course that you are very good at.
Let’s say during your undergraduate you topped the class in control systems or microprocessor lab and you understand the in’s and out’s of that really well.
Once you’ve checked out the corresponding course at the university, the teachers, their material, the syllabus and you are confident you have all the relevant subject knowledge, start applying for TA-ships for all of those courses.
Another very important thing to keep in mind is NOT to write a cookie cutter application and expect it to work.
What is a cookie cutter application?
Cookies are baked by laying out the dough on the pan before you put it in the oven and moulding them into whatever shape you want – round, square or a star. You place them in a mould and all the cookies come out looking exactly the same.
That is what ‘cookie cutter’ refers to and in this context, if you ever copy and paste on your applications and send them in, your chances reduce drastically.
It doesn’t make sense for multiple professors to get the same application from you.
You have to modulate and customise your application for the particular department or the area of research that you’re interested in applying for.
Don’t expect to get everything right on your first try but don’t relax after you’ve gotten your acceptance letters – that’s when the real work begins.
Try and reach out to people and get funding in case you’re not one of those lucky people who get a fellowship along with the acceptance letter.
So keep trying and send multiple emails. If people have rejected you, ask very politely for a reason.
Be courteous and remember they do not owe you an answer.
You could say you understand and respect their decision not to give you the assistant-ship but that it would help you become a better student and professional if you knew on what grounds you were rejected so you could do better next time.
Not everybody will respond to that but some people might and that feedback will be very useful to you in formulating subsequent applications.
Some departments might even ask to have Skype interviews with you– a Galvanize student had multiple rounds of Skype interviews with all the post-docs from a particular professor’s department.
She had to sit through six hours of gruelling Skype rounds – they made sure she knew everything that she said that she did in her resume.
They made sure that she would be a top contributor to their project from day one and only after that they gave her a beautiful little offer including a full tuition waiver, full stipend and asked her to join their research group.
They will make their decisions based on how strong your profile is so don’t quit, keep trying.
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Bonus Scholarship Resources
Getting Powerful Letters of Recommendation
Writing a Winning Statement of Purpose
The GRE Scores & SOP needed by Top Global Universities
now it's your turn
I'd like to hear from you
Which type of scholarship from today’s guide do you think is a better option for you?
Have you started applying for scholarships yet?
Or maybe you’re still unsure of whether a TA-ship or an RA-ship is right for you?
Either way, leave a comment below right now letting us know where you stand.