In August 2006, a few months after I had received my 12th grade results, I decided to study in the United States of America. The decision was difficult: I initially thought of pursuing MBBS in Nepal, and then mulled biomedical engineering when I realized that the medical field was not for me. However, even with a modest scholarship, the two lakh rupees for four years of biomedical engineering was way above the capacity of my family. Then, one of my friends suggested – “try USA, maybe you can get a scholarship there.”
Until this point, I had never given a thought to studying abroad. Walking through the streets of Putalisadak and Naya Baneshwor, I had seen countless consultancies that “help” students willing to study abroad. I had also heard about various standardized tests one needs to take to apply for admission in American colleges and universities. Crucially, I had also heard stories about all the costs – not just for the applications and tests, but the money that had to be paid to consultancies for TOEFL and GRE classes and service fees so they can “get you all set for the US.” The process appeared daunting and cost was through the roof. So I never even considered that option.
Knowing that there were scholarships available got me interested and I started spending time in a nearby cyber café to learn about the education system in the United States. I learnt about college rankings, financial aid packages and how difficult it is for an international student to get scholarships at the undergraduate level.
A friend and I then decided to check out an education consultancy in New Baneshwor. The expert behind the table told us that his consultancy was one of the best and based on my grades, he was confident that he could get me into the “number two” university in the US. Later, I checked the ranking of the university he named, and it was ranked well beyond a hundred.
This experience and my lack of financial resources became two major reasons that I decided to figure it all out for myself. Then, I heard from another friend of mine about a place funded by the US government in Gyaneshwor that provides information about studying in the US, for free! I immediately walked over to Gyaneshwor and asked around until I located the United States Educational Foundation (USEF).
Turns out, USEF had a lot of useful books on US universities, preparing for college applications, writing college essays, and preparing for SAT/TOEFL. There was also free access to the internet to research colleges and universities. Moreover, they also had speakers, either college admission officers or students who had made it to the US who would share their knowledge. In addition, they had a team of professional staff who were there to help with any questions. It was the perfect place for a student who struggled with money, but wanted to get the best shot at studying in the United States.
For the next few months, I walked to USEF almost daily, and took advantage of all the facilities they had as I prepared for college applications. The only thing that I did elsewhere was practice for my English proficiency test. During my 11th and 12th grade, I used to listen to the BBC world service radio and was much more comfortable with the British accent. Therefore, instead of TOEFL, I decided to take IELTS. In order to prepare for IELTS, I became a member of the British Council Library for Rs. 800 and practiced for the listening portion of the test with the library’s audio and video equipment, and borrowed some IELTS books to prepare at home.
Unfortunately, as an international student, one cannot apply for financial aid for tests such as SAT and TOEFL. That was one of the reasons I avoided the SAT subject tests which meant some of the colleges became out of reach. Nevertheless, I had gotten the best deal overall – I had prepared for the college application process on my own and paid almost nothing for it.
With my legwork, I found four schools where I could see myself get admitted with a full ride. I applied and was admitted into Berea College which paid for every single penny associated with my study in the United States. Of course, I had to pay for the student visa application and buy a plane ticket to get to the US, but that is another story! I landed in the US on August 19th, 2007 and had never had to look back.
I see many people still paying huge fees to education consultancies. Especially today, when information is readily available, I see no reason to spend tens of thousands of rupees in preparing for standardized tests or getting help with your college application.
Facilities at USEF changed the course of my life and I think anybody who is interested in studying in the US cannot find a better place to get started. If your goal is just to set foot on US soil, then consultancies can help you. However, if you want to set your own path, you need to put your work into it, but you do not need a big pocket to achieve your dreams of studying in the United States.
Author: Ramesh Adhikari
Ramesh is Assistant Professor of Physics at Jacksonville University, Florida. He completed his Ph.D. in Physics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, and B.A. in Physics and Mathematics at Berea College in Kentucky, USA.