Question of the Week – 7/17/2012

by neville

This week’s Question of the Week comes from Richard of Ghana an aspiring Electrical Engineering major.


Richard wants to know how he should answer if he is asked about the university he chose. He also wants to know how he should reply if asked about his decision to do Bachelors instead of Masters. You can see Richard’s very detailed comment here.

Professor_B’s Answer:


Thanks for your patience and for the well laid out question complete with all the information that allows me to answer you intelligently.

Although this answer will serve the greater community as a feature, it is fine if it resonates a bit more in West Africa, and even more specifically in Ghana.

I am totally familiar with the education system in Ghana and have actually consulted on a system conversion there. The HND is actually a slightly enhanced Associate’s degree in american terms. It is better than the ND but you are correct. Although some European schools, including some in the UK, will allow you to do master’s degrees from that level, American universitites of any repute will not allow it. It is an undergraduate designation not equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. In fact, even with the HND, and even if you stay in the same field, you may still require two calendar years to complete your degree.

While your path has not been direct, you are not too old, and you were doing something academic, productive, and consistent with your goals. Your course of study is the natural next step from where you currently sit, and it is highly technical. That means that there is a clear benefit to studying it in the USA where the quality and state of the art would be factors. So all good on the choice of study, the circumstances, and the explanation.

I have actually visited Sunyani Polytech (back in 2004–stayed at the hotel right across the street) and met and subsequently enrolled one student from there into my institution. What I do know is that fees were miniscule by US standards. The next path for many of them was Kwame Nkrumah in Kumasi or Cape Coast U, or if possible Legon. So be prepared to explain why not one of these at a fraction of the cost.

Why is that explanation necessary? Well you indicated a third party, non relative sponsor. Like most Ghanaians (and I have experienced that sad reality so often) you have more determination, ability, and drive than you have the means to bring to fruition. However, that third party sponsor will be looked upon with extreme skepticism. The embassy is aware that it is highly unlikely for that person to actually be paying your fees. I suspect you are also aware that the the “sponsor” is more a facilitator than a benefactor. So the question of where the fees will actually come from will sit over that interview like a dark cloud.

Many students, particularly in West Africa, believe that they just need to get to the USA and they can work their way through. I preach repeatedly that this is a foolhardy approach. It is a wrong approach. It is an unworkable approach. Yes thousands prove me wrong. It is very much like taking a chance on a canoe to cross the Atlantic. If you are willing to risk drowning in the ocean, then it is worth it. Most of the student who get here on that pretense may not actually get a degree directly, but somehow, by all the illegal and innovative means necessary, they get a better life. Ultimately, that seems to justify the means. So I am speaking with the authority of statistics, not the absoluteness of certainty. If your sponsor is that rare bird who will actually be paying your tuition, then you are blessed. But you will have a difficult if not impossible task of getting that past a VO. It just will not fly. He will rely on what he knows of your culture, his world, and the reality of the human condition and dismiss it.

The second piece of information is actually a harbinger of the inate thought process. That you deem him necessary is a validation of the concern about the total sponsor. An invitation letter is not necessary from a relative when one seeks a student visa. The I-20 serves as the de facto invitation letter. Moreover, a relative, per se, is presumptively a liability because it only signals family ties to the USA.

So how do we take that package of lemons and make lemonade? How do we make it work in your favor? Here is a plausible scenario. What if the sponsor is just providing you with the tuition? Per your explanation, that is all that is needed since your relative is providing the accommodation. So why not asked the company to indicate that they are paying your tuition, and to clearly state why they are doing so? Companies are not necessary endowed with social consciences, so they typically have a quid pro quo motive for that sort of interaction. It would be helpful if they could spell it out.

Then, your relative should give you an equally clear letter. That letter should indicate that his residence in the area of the school is the reason why you selected that school. He should describe his dwelling place and indicate his intent to sponsor your room and board. But he should complete an 1-134, put his job letter and a bank statement with it, and show that there is real commitment.

I would strongly advise that you make sure of the distance from your relative’s place to your school. It may be in the same state but would require an airplane to get there. I once had a student take a flight and attempt to take a taxi from an airport eight hours away because that city was in the same state and he had no idea of the size and dimensions of the USA. Even in Dallas, the metro area is so vast that if he is not living close to UTD that room and board offer would be moot.

Texas is a great state for education. UTD is a great school choice. But you have some burdens. Largely, it is financial, and you look on paper like the textbook West African student trying to put something together to advance yourself. Admirable. But unfortunately it spells 214-B.

Work the two sponsor angle. Be prepared to lay out your plans. Highlight your famility in Ghana. Frankly, and generically, they must be aware that you have a 90% chance of not returning. But they continue to give visas. So that tells me that the system wants to keep a certain number of folks. So as an electrical engineer, you would certainly be a boon to the US economy. Let’s hope you sound intelligent; speak clearly; and fall into that category of those that they know will not return, but they decide to let in anyway.

I like your chances by the way you laid out your case, by the fact that you are a teacher, and by the fact that you have the drive and determination. And I had a great time in Sunyani. So I hope you make it in.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lowly Boy December 9, 2012 at 4:21 am

Hi Prof,
I have been following your useful and potentially encouraging comments.
Thank you.

I have obtained admission into North Carolina A&T State University to read computer science.
I had a 76% CWA evaluated by WES as 3.86/4 GPA.
I do not have GRE
The school required TOEFL, later requested for Proficiency in English
The school offered me an out of state scholarship of $5715 and a $3000 stipend for spring semester.
cost of living is estimated $22,500 per year.
Daddy’s support stands at $23,000 per year.
My father’s sponsoring me
I am married
please advice me since i have scheduled my interview on the 20th of this month
with just about 11days to go.
Thank you once again.


Lowly Boy December 9, 2012 at 4:21 am

please the degree i’m seeking is MS


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