Amit, a student of Indian Institute of Technology Varanasi, aspires for a career in computational mechanics. He is inclined towards pursuing MS in USA because of the excellent research opportunities that the US universities provide. Further, the R&D job prospects that he is unlikely to get in India excites him. He is planning to join the Fall semester of 2020. Like all other students who are keen to pursue higher study in the US, he is preparing for Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and TOEFL.
However, Amit belongs to a middle class family and he was a recepient of Merit-cum-Means scholarship at IIT. Now, he comes to know that on an average he has to apply around 8 US universities that comprises of a mix of moderate, safe and ambitious universities to get a fair set of options at the end.
Application Fee and Tuition Fee Trends
While there are several other MS aspirants like Amit with BIG dreams, a falling rupee has added to their woes. On average, the application fee to a US university costs around $75. GRE and TOEFL scores are mandatory to be sent to US universities. Sending a GRE scorecard to each university costs nearly $27 and the TOEFL scorecard costs around $20. So, on average, an applicant has to spend $125 per university application.
On one hand, the scholarships to international students are scanty, and the falling rupee has added to the woes of the students. While I was applying for the US universities in December 2017, the Rupee to Dollar price was pegged around 64. At the time of writing this article, the rate has gone above ₹74 for $1.
The figure below shows the tuition fees for various US universities as of 2017. US universities are known to hike tuition fees by 5%-10% every year. So, the prices are likely to go up.
So, if you are applying to 8 US universities, be ready to spend at least $1000 or ₹75,000.
The Loan Game and Debt Trap
I was selected for an MS in Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University for the Fall of 2018. The tuition fees for the first year was $47,500. The cost of living specified by the university was $20,000.
In order to get my I-20 (confirmation letter), I had to show to the university liquid fund of $67,500 ( ₹43,20,000 as of March 2018) in my bank statement. However, while the classes start in August 2018, I would have actually needed ₹47,00,000 to sustain myself financially. There is a straightforward ₹4,00,000 hike in my expenses per year due to the difference in the dollar to rupee conversion ratio in December 2017 and August 2018. The surge in the price of tuition fees due to the falling rupee led to a surge in my estimated budget.
While ₹4,00,000 may not seem to be a large sum for affluent and well-off families, but most students going for masters take hefty loans. After the recent RBI directives, the interest rate on educational loans offered by most nationalized banks has peaked to over 10%. Nationalized banks like State Bank of India (SBI) offers education loan at 10.65%. Private agencies like Avanse and Credila provide loans at a 12%-14% interest rate.
According to an article published in Quartz, the USD to INR rate is predicted to rise up further over the next few years. Even several other websites like Wallet Investor predict the same fate over the next 2-3 years. In fact, ever since 2010, the rupee has got devalued each year by 4%. The borrowers will have to repay the loans in INR and not in USD at the end of the day. MS in the US no longer sounds a very financially feasible dream.
Living Expenses In US
The average living cost for an Indian student in the US varies from $15000 per year in Texas to $25000 per year in New York. Many Indian students take up on-campus part-time jobs like a library assistant, record keeper at the parking lot, courier delivery, etc. that doesn’t bring much value to the resume.
A few fortunate ones get the Research Assistant (RA) and Teaching Assistant (TA) positions. The TA posts in most universities are reserved for Ph.D. students. So, it’s not as easy as it sounds. You must be really brave to endure such a path.
The Path Ahead
International students graduating from lower-ranked US universities often don’t find jobs immediately after graduation. A student graduating from a top tier US university like Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern University, University of Minnesota, University of Southern California etc. is usually able to pay off the debt incurred during the study in 2-3 years.
The US student Visa (F1) is issued for 5 years. Considering the above scenario, by the time the end of 5 years, he would hardly have any savings.
- The number of Indian students going for postgraduation to the US has been falling since 2016.
- Canada, Ireland, France and Germany have seen a surge in Indian postgraduate students.
Ph.D. degrees in the US are usually fully funded and recognized across the globe. Unlike European universities, one can pursue a Ph.D. in most of the US universities directly after B.Tech./B.Eng. The US is still the best destination for a Ph.D. in a STEM field.
If you get a fee waiver or some kind of scholarship before you start your degree in the States, you should join the programs. They are definitely worth it.
No wonder, the master’s degree from a Tier I US university and the job experience can get you a job in any part of the world. However, considering the huge costs incurred during the study and the diminishing number of H1B visas to Indians, one should reconsider his decision to pursue MS in the US and search for affordable study destinations.