Monday, January 6, 2014

Higher Education Abroad - Funding Your Studies and Handling the Formalities

When to Start?
I should have started with this the last time. Technically universities abroad have two intakes: Fall and Spring with start dates from Aug-Dec and Jan-May respectively. Also universities will have deadlines for applications. For US universities the deadlines usually lie in the month of January or February so it is wise to start applying the November or December of the year before. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t completed your current course you can still apply with your provisional scores and mark lists.

Funding your studies abroad
As I mentioned before applying for courses abroad is an expensive affair from the start itself. So as you look at your university options itself, you SHOULD consider how you plan on funding your studies abroad.

For doing a one year masters in UK the expenses incurred by me were as follows:
  • Passport fee: Rs.1500/-
  • University Application fee: GBP 25/-
  • TOEFL exam registration fee: USD 140/-
  • VISA fee: Rs.25000/-
  • Accommodation for an year: GBP 4770/- (This was for on campus accommodation, if you decide to live outside the campus the expenses will be approximately 300 GBP per month on an average)
  • University tuition fee: GBP 15,720/-
  • Living expenses excluding accommodation: GBP 300/- per month. (UK border agency estimates are for one month in UK living expenses including accommodation for students comes to GBP 800)
  • Health insurance for students is covered by National Health Services (NHS)
  • Flight tickets: Rs.70,000/-

So the expenses come to 25 lakh Indian rupees; which was covered by scholarship and an educational loan in my case.

For a masters in USA (which is usually two years) the expenses may be approximated as follows. But I have been told expenses will vary drastically from state to state.
  • Passport fee: Rs. 1500/-
  • University application fee: USD 25-100/-
  • TOEFL (which is preferred in US): USD 140/-
  • VISA fee: USD 400/-
  • Accommodation (University of Michigan): USD 400/- per month
  • University tuition fee: USD 21,000/- per semester
  • Living expenses excluding accommodation: USD 350/- per month
  • Insurance: USD 100-120/- per month (Depends on university and state of residence)
  • Flight tickets: USD Rs. 50,000-70,000 per one way trip depending on the time

So the expenses come up to 32 lakh Indian rupees per annum.
Thank you Avin for the details

Scholarships, grants and bursaries
There are a number of options available before you, for funding your financial needs during your studies abroad. Unfortunately consultancy groups like Edwise don’t often have any schemes to help you with this.

Ideally you want an option that can cover your tuition fee and provide you with adequate amount of monthly stipend to meet your accommodation and living expenses. In that regard commonwealth scholarships are an excellent option to completely fund your studies. However the selection process for the same is quite tough. Also most, if not all, universities have their own scholarships and grants for its prospective students, details of which may be found on their websites.

Apply for as many funding options as you can and don’t be disheartened by a few rejections. A scholarship application, like university applications, will usually require:
  • Personal Details
  • Academic and Professional profile
  • Skills/Hobbies
  • Course/University Details (Some scholarship applications may require you to be holding an official admission offer from one or more universities.)
  • Personal Statement
  • Essays
  • Transcripts and Certificates
  • Recommendations

Identify the categories you fall into, ‘developing country’, ‘science’, ‘young women in science’, ‘agriculture’, ‘common wealth’, ‘single child’, ‘first time studying abroad’, ‘Indian’, ‘international student’, ‘athlete’, ‘union office bearer/ young leader’, ‘programmer’, ‘artist’, ‘writer’. All these can be used to identify scholarships you may qualify for. Websites such as will keep you up to date about open calls for applications.

Sometimes you may not get a scholarship that can cover your whole fee, that’s OKAY, there are a number of organisations offering grants and bursaries to meet the remaining part of your academic expenses. Scholarships like TOEFL Scholarship are useful in that way.

‘The Alternate Guide for Postgraduate Funding’ is a useful resource in this area. Usually universities have subscriptions for the guide, and it is made available for its students. You can access it following these steps:
  1. Visit
  2. Go to the green box
  3. Enter the Alternative Guide pin: 2717
  4. Enter your email address
  5. Click on "GO!"

For PhDs it’s always wise to look for a fully funded project, but be aware that many of the funding organisations will give priority to their own citizen.

Education loans
I took an education loan from SBT. The upper limit to the amount you can take as educational loan is 20lakh Rs. Talk to your local branch manager for details.

The application process explained
Once the application has been send the Admissions Office will send it to the relevant admissions tutor. At this stage all of your supporting documents (for example your references) will be considered. Provided your application is incomplete- for instance your final degree certificate or toefl scores haven’t been submitted the university can still make conditional offers based upon the information you have provided and subject to you submitting the appropriate supporting documents. As the names suggests conditional offers are given when the student haven’t yet met all the universities requirements. You may also be contacted to send extra information or clarify what you have provided. It may take a few weeks for the university to make a decision on your application.

Once the decision has been made, you will be contacted possibly via email. If you have been made an offer, an offer letter and information pack will be send to you. If the application was done via an online application portal, which usually is the case, you’ll also be able to see the ‘status’ of your application there. You would be asked to accept the offer that has been made to you, which may be done by either returning the confirmation of acceptance form send to you, or online.

If you receive a conditional offer, you will need to provide evidence that you have met the conditions of your offer before you can register. As soon as evidence that you’ve met the conditions of the offer has been received, an unconditional offer letter will be send to you in the post. This is an important document- which proves your admission status to the university.

Once your application has gone through, the university will identify you, as their own and thus will assist you in the next steps, such as arranging for accommodation, applying for visa, on campus arrival and registration. Be aware that the university have staff who have been handling cases like yours for years, who will be knowledgeable and obliging.

Visa formalities
Visa formalities for different countries are obviously different. But in general you will need to provide evidence of acceptance of studies as well as evidence of funds for the purpose of obtaining Visa. I will briefly explain the visa processes I am familiar with.

You will require a tier 4 student visa to study in UK. The Tier 4 (General) category is for adult students who want to come to or remain in the UK for their post-16 education. Details of the same may be found on the website of UK border agency (

While filling the Visa form you will have to provide details such as your arrangements for accommodation when you arrive in the country, and itinerary for travel. The evidence of acceptance of studies (CAS) will be provided by the respective universities once you have obtained an unconditional offer. Any fee already payed should be stated in the same so you don’t need to show them again in your accounts. Funds may be shown as loan sanction letters, fixed deposits, savings in the bank, scholarship certificate, sponsor’s letter or combinations of these. Full tuition fees and living expenses for at least 9months at the rate 800pounds per month need to be shown in this way.  Passport size photograph for UK Visa should measure 45mm x 35mm; be in colour, taken against a light grey or cream background, not framed, not be digitally altered, and be of the full face, without sunglasses, hat or head covering (unless it is worn for religious reasons). Usually you will not be interviewed for the visa, however if you are called for a telephone interview don’t panic, it means you haven’t been rejected yet to say the least!, they just need clarifications.

For Malaysia you will require to submit the required documents (Student Pass Declaration Form, Health Declaration Form, passport-size photographs with blue background (50mm height x 35mm wide), photocopies of your valid passport including blank pages, A certified true copy of your final academic certificates/transcripts in English and Proof of Payment/Bank Draft of before arrival fees to the university instead of the embassy to apply for the visa. The university will then send you the 'Approval for Foreign Students Studying in Malaysia Letter'. Your student pass however will be stamped only on arrival to Malaysia after the compulsory health checkups. So once you have received this you should contact the embassy for your entry visa to Malaysia, which will again require submission of required documents (Such as original passport and copies, passport size photographs, bank statement, visa application, air tickets and copies). Details could be found on the official portal of Immigration department of Malaysia

US visa is one of the hardest. You will require an F1 student visa to study in US. The evidence of confirmation for studies is called I20 for this. An interview is compulsory in this case. Details could be found on .

If you face with any problems during the visa process feel free to contact the 'international office' of your university. They will be happy to help you out in any way possible.

There are many aspects of studying abroad that I haven’t explored here. But if I go on writing this will be the only topic I may ever write about! So let me just conclude by wishing the best of luck in which ever direction you may choose for your future. If there are any questions feel free to email me/ simply leave a comment here. I will try to answer you to the best of my knowledge or direct you to someone who can assist you better.