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How I got the best out of my College Education.

I moved to the US from Mumbai, India in 2008. I went to Utah State University for my Computer Science Masters program after 4 years of BE in Computer Engineering and 2 years of work experience as a Software Engineer.

From conversations with NRIs over the years, I have noticed that different people move here for different reasons. My factors to move here were:

– The US economy is down and I might not get this conversion rate again

-I want to stay in tech. There are things still left to be learned in a classroom.

-I am stagnating in my current job. I want a change.

-I want to have international exposure.

-I want to live independently

-I don’t have dependents right now. It might be the only chance to pack my bags, move and do something this bold.

-My parents think they have failed themselves because I don’t want to study’ 😀

My dad is a doctor of medicine and my mother is a stay at home mom. Correction – was. Now she is more of a stay out and travel mom. My brother had done his MS in the UK as well. We are an upper middle class, education focused family. We had been saving from the start for our Education.

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Whatever the reason may be to study in the US, I would focus more on learning the most out of college, keeping your grades over 3.5 and graduating in a timely manner.

 

“LEARNING THE MOST OUT OF COLLEGE AND KEEPING YOUR GRADES OVER 3.5”

 

PICK THE RIGHT MAJOR

You know your skills and interests best. If you have a bachelors degree, are not particularly technical and leaning more towards managerial roles, there are courses offered by the business school for the same. So ‘I don’t like my major’ should not be an excuse’. I went to a counselor in Mumbai who helped me pick a major, Computer Science. What we call ‘Computer Engineering’ in India is ‘Computer Science’ here. Even after you move here, it is possible to change your major if your education in India can be counted as a prerequisite for it.

 

GET SOME WORK EXPERIENCE

Some work experience in India for the major you are going to study in the US is highly recommended! Firstly, you will understand the role you are studying for and pouring more years of your life and money in. For example, I wanted to major in Computer networking. After working, I realized that though I love the subject, I do not want to travel at odd hours when the network breaks. It’s a safety hazard for me. So, with a heavy heart, I dropped it. I also realized that a software developer role is better for me. I would say 1-2 years is enough and ideal. You’ll learn some work ethics and professionalism also. Some of your coding assignments will be a breeze. It’ll be easier to find a campus and full-time job based on that too.

 

PICK THE RIGHT UNIVERSITY

I messaged alumni and current students at my former university to ask them what their overall experience was. I went to studentsreview.com also. My parameters were 1. Whether I will get an admit, 2. Quality of education 3. Relevant courses, 4. Atmosphere, 5. Cost. One that should have been but wasn’t is what kind of job can I get in the US after I graduate? What is the percentage of students that get placed? is another one. That is something you can ask alumni groups online on Facebook etc. I used Orkut at that time and I couldn’t have been happier with the way things turned out.

 

PICK THE RIGHT COURSES

Pick the courses that will groom you for your dream job. Some courses get filled up as soon as they are posted. So set an alarm for when the enrollment starts and pick the best courses for you. Even if you take a tough but good course that hurts your grade, you can balance it with an easier course. A 4.0 is good to have but not the only goal.

 

MANAGE YOUR TIME

Balance credits, campus job and finances. If you are on a student VISA, you will need to have a full load of credits for the semester you are enrolled for unless you work 20 hours a week. 20 hours is the maximum you can work on a student VISA. I would suggest just getting a 10 hour campus job that gets you a tuition waiver the first semester. I would also recommend taking minimum credits this semester. Your graduate adviser can tell you the best courses to start with also. If you are new to the country, its wise to take it easy. You might need that time to gauge how things are going with your roommates, lecturers and how you feel about the university. You might have to switch. I would suggest starting work on an assignment 3 days to a week in advance. If you start on the last day, you will fail. It will be the same amount of work and no stress. No harm coming in early. You might have time for extra credit.

 

UTILIZE UNIVERSITY RESOURCES

When you need help, get help. There are lots of resources in the university to help you with assignments. You have books, ebooks, professors and TAs, seniors, friends – the whole reason why studying in the US is so attractive! If you email and set up an appointment with staff, they are very willing to help. Once you start working, you’ll want to learn and there will be no time. This is the best opportunity.

 

INTERN

It’s best to try interning with companies in the Summer. If they like you, the’ll make you a full-time offer. Big companies spoil interns rotten. I really regret missing out on this experience. I am always jealous of the interns no matter how much I make 🙂

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NETWORK, TRAVEL AND SOCIALIZE

You need to start building a professional network from scratch here. So, I would suggest participating in competitions, going to conferences (they can be reimbursed by the university), participating in university and community activities to do this. You might not have a lot of time in this big, geographically diverse country. So travel a little bit. You will get time off during Spring break, Memorial day weekend, Labor day weekend, Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are people from so many different cultures here. If you seek it, you can get a great exposure. There is so much to pick up from the American style of communication and collaboration especially.

 

ABOUT CHEATING 🙂

Every reputed college has a cheating policy and very serious consequences if you violate them!! With so much invested in a US program, its a huge unreasonable risk to blatantly copy 🙂

 

CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS WISELY

If someone steals your homework, you will both be punished equally. You are not doing them a favor by sharing your assignment. There are several ways to help if you feel obliged. Explain the method. Give the final answer too but don’t share your full assignment with steps. If they weren’t able to because of something unforeseen, they can speak with the professor and get an extension. If they are last minute lovers, they’ll learn a valuable lesson. Friends don’t let friends cheat 😉

 

GRADUATE ON TIME

Some students prolong their programs really long due to various reasons. Its very very fun to be a student here but it gets old. You want to graduate on time so you can start paying off your loans soon and get started with your real life. If your professor is taking advantage of you and making you work obscene hours, you can push back, switch from a PhD to a masters or change your adviser. But I don’t advise staying unnecessarily long till your adviser is completely satisfied. One person cannot answer all questions in a field. Some people get too attached to their campus jobs. Its not the priority. Better to work fewer hours there but graduate sooner. Campus jobs pay peanuts compared to full-time 😉

 

*STAY IN LEGAL STATUS*

If you are not a citizen, you have certain restrictions. Inform the post office and international students office after every address move. No working more than 20 hours a week. No out of campus jobs except Summer semester. Inform the international student office if you are travelling. Not getting terminated from the university. Paying your taxes, fees etc. So protect your documents and consult with your international student adviser when in doubt. Apply for full-time jobs 8 months or so to big companies before you graduate. Their background checks take time. New jobs open up in January. It is a good use of your time while you are studying. You cannot hang out in the US after you graduate but don’t have a full-time job for too long. Always always stay on top of this!

All said and done, my 2 years in the University were my best. I made so many memories and friends I still keep in touch with and we talk about those days fondly. Good luck!

 

Author: Nazneen Malik

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Nazneen is a Software Engineer based in the Greater Seattle area since 2010. She is originally from Mumbai. She did her B.E. in Computer Engineering and then worked as a Software Developer in Mumbai for 2 years.  After that she moved to Utah to do her Masters in Computer Science in 2008. She is  passionate about her career and serving the community. For fun she likes to read, hike, salsa dance and travel!

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