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NOTE: This article was written a few years ago. Please check with current students for latest info.

Information for new graduate students from the Indian sub-continent

I write this in honor of your arrival here in “the land of the milk and honey”. These are exciting times for you. The memories of which shall remain an integral part of your history for generations as you relate to your descendants and practically everyone you meet about your process of coming to the United States of America (are you anxious already!) until the point that they know the story well enough to propagate your experience to all around. So that is why it is imperative not to screw up !! Plan, think, and do everything possible ahead of time. (whatever that means !)

As a proud member of “the-ones-who-already-got-here” coterie, I feel honored at this eminent growth in membership by obviously intellectual bodies. As was given to me, so I must do unto you the help and advice that make powerful tools against the “screw-up” bug. With this brief introduction let me proceed to some advice that is mine entirely and thus maybe wrong completely. If you trust me, you do so at your own risk. Do not quote me. I will deny everything.

Arizona State University – The University

“A neat little university situated in the middle of the desert”, said someone to me when I was in India. No desert here for a couple of miles around people! All the artificially pumped water keeps the lawns green and trees growing. Our city even has an artificial lake !! How about that ! The red brick campus is not too large and can be covered on foot on most days. Although, many students purchase a second hand cycle or a new one (if you are feeling rich enough). Amongst the highlights of the campus: there is a central location (Memorial Union) that houses the restaurants, a couple of computing sites, libraries, recreational center, and even an opera house for our artistic ones. When you arrive, I suggest taking the campus tour that is given to people (Americans) who have the privilege of seeing campuses before they enroll. Besides showing you around the place you learn some interesting trivia, like this one which I never fail to mention to all I know. The ASU Law Library is shaped like a book and no window in the entire building looks the same !! Neat huh ! Be prepared to wear shorts up to October when the decrease in temperature requires jeans and maybe a windsheater.

November onwards temperatures are pretty cool and a warm sweater or light jacket get you through with your hands in your pockets for warmth. This beautiful winter lasts until February and while the rest of the country freezes in ice and snow, Arizona only gets cool. From March to May, you can expect lovely warm sunshine, this is Spring. You don’t want to hear about Summer (June-September). Trust me. So the temperatures here in Tempe are in the range of a max of 45 degrees (mostly 40-42 degrees) and a min of 4 degrees (mostly 5-8 degrees) Very dry weather !! You need cream, sun screen lotion ( especially in Summer), sun glasses (because its quite sunny in the “valley of the sun”).


You are a student and will have two homes. One in the lab and one in the apartment. There is no time for a lot of things. You especially don’t want to spend it doing laundry ! Every apartment complex has a laundry room with washing machines and dryers. These get crowded on weekends as expected, so I see people try crazy things all the time. They take a break from school in the middle of the day for laundry, or try very late at night, etc.

These machines are coin operated. Laundry is typically done once in 2 weeks. So you need enough wear for a fortnight. That translates into that many underwear and socks and what ever number of T-Shirts and shorts. Jeans are worn for half a year and shorts the other half. Get shirts only if you are used to wearing them. Most attire here is informal. My advice is to get some shirts just so you have decent business casual wear for occasions as they come up. “Business casuals” that is a new term, In India we are used to formals and informals. Here it is referred to as business formals (that includes a blazer, for men and women! No saris for the damsels or salwar kameez) and business casuals (this is typically a full sleeved shirt and trousers). Do not expect to wear any of this attire for at least 3 semesters for Master’s students and typically a loooong time for PhD. Students!! Dress sense on campus is quite informal. But do include in your list at least one pair of ethnic wear. There often are functions that you might want to participate in to show off your finesse in Indian garments! Vests are a good idea for winter time and so are sweat shirts.

If you know how to swim, or don’t, get your swimsuits for the annual swimsuit parade!

Just kidding! Almost all apartment complexes and even the University recreational center have pools, and you don’t want to go skinny dipping! If you are buying clothes it is a good idea to consider that almost all who come here double in weight. Oops did I say double. Actually there is some truth in this. Weight in this country is not in kilograms but in pounds, and my gym going enthusiasts will know right away that 1 kilogram is 2.2 pounds. There another bit of trivia! Honestly, I do feel that people gain some weight after coming here. Make your own conclusions after you’ve been here about the reasons. I have heard a variety. Get some handkerchiefs even if you were not in the habit of using them in India.


Most people live in off-campus housing and some weird ones exist in them. Boy!! That was a sad attempt at being deeply philosophical. The apartments are all around the University campus, but mostly to the east of it. The housing complexes have swimming pools and some even have a health club. Most of them have Laundromats and dryers. Apartments are generally carpeted and centrally air-conditioned. In winter this becomes a central heating system. There are a couple of apartment complexes that provide basic furniture like sofas, beds, tables and chairs. The monthly rent in these places vary. I have seen students pay from 740 dollars to 900 dollars a month for the 2-bedroom apartment rental. Of course, before you gasp and run out of breath, this amount is split amongst 3 other roommates. Rent is decided by the housing complex manager and varies because of the amenities provided by some places. Family housing is also available in the form of one-bedroom apartments. Choose your roommates carefully, you want to make sure you get roommates who are equally messy or equally clean, or with the same dietary habits, etc. The Indian Student Association, provides a pick up service from the airport as soon as you arrive and puts you up with anyone who is willing to bear up with you for a couple of days until you can find your self an apartment and roommates. All this for no charge!

If you will be in apartments that provide beds, do not get bed-sheets from India, because they do not fit these types of beds. You need your own dinnerware at apartments and I recommend getting plates that can be microwave-able.

Financial Aid

Without financial aid, the fees are around 6000 dollars per semester. There are 3 kinds of assistantships: Graduate Assistantship (GA), which are jobs in the various departments of the University campus, like: English department needs some data on their computers, or the administration office needs a program written so that they can allow students to register for courses online, or the computer centers need people to repair computers and maintain systems, basically a software needs to be developed or a professional web page needs to be developed and they do not want to hire some software firm to do it but they give it to students. There are, I am sure, other types of GA jobs but being a CS student myself, I have only heard of the CS GA’s. GA job openings are posted around campus and also get sent out on an email list that you would need to subscribe to when you arrive; Teaching Assistantship (TA), needs a Speak test or a TSE score. It is a good idea to take the TSE in India before you arrive so that the scores are ready and they can give you a TA. Involves a lot of grading, proctoring of exams, maintaining office hours for students to come and ask you doubts and problems and help with assignments. The CS department advisement office receives TA applications; Research Assistants (RA), probably the most coveted position because you get paid to finish your research and do your thesis. While the other types of assistantships, you have to do your research and thesis AND also do the TA responsibilities or do the GA project that you are building. RA’s sit in the lab and so research! ;-))) Well occasionally they surf the net, and send email or write useless essays like this one!! Maybe more often than occasionally. You need to select an advisor before you can become an RA. Many advisors do not give out RA’s to students until they arrive here, unless you are absolutely brilliant. And since most of us have a bloated ego and exaggerate our intellect and our skills, we all try writing to professors while we are in India to tell them how awesome we are and what a great coincidence it is that we have experience in the very area they are doing research in! But the reality is, many professors are too busy or just don’t worry about this until they can meet the student. So come here, maybe meet them, take a course under them and after they know you, they might offer an RA position. But that is not to say that there is no one who has been offered an RA while in India. In fact my old roommate was made such an offer! Some people just don’t bother with RA’s or even TA’s, because they come here, switch to the MCS (Master of CS) program, which is a non-thesis Master’s that only requires a project, not a thesis. So they stick with a GA job, and do not worry about faculty at all, except for courses.

All assistants: GA, TA, RA, are paid around 900 to 1100 dollars a month, sometimes GA’s get higher pay rates. I have known someone who got 1,600 per month. But those are very very rare! I think there is a pay hike in July, so you might start off higher. In addition to this, your out-state tuition fees are paid and therefore your financial commitment to ASU each semester is only around 1,200 dollars. Now there are 2 other options: an on campus job, that could pay anywhere between 6.5 dollars an hour to 10 dollars an hour and encompass jobs like: cleaning the restaurants, making Subway sandwiches, sitting at the counter in the library, sorting books in the library, working as a reporter in the campus newspaper, etc. These jobs are not assistantships and therefore do not pay any tuition. So you would still have to pay the approx. 6000 dollars to ASU per semester.

The second option is to sign up for the CLP (Corporate Leadership Program): With it, you get a job somewhere in the valley developing software for some company maybe, or doing something related to computers. You are expected to also do 2 hours a week or community service, like: make a web-page for a blind school, or teach a group of people from an old age home something about computers, etc. Generally the jobs are quite a bit away from the campus and I have known students to go by bus (45 min to an hour one-way), or buy a second hand car for the transport. The distance in my opinion is the only disadvantage. In all other ways, it is similar to a GA. BUT, CLP pays both your in-state and out-state tuition fees and also gives you a 300 dollar a semester, book allowance. That means you only earn and do not pay ASU anything!! Additionally, if you are a part of CLP for 2 consecutive semesters, they send you at no cost to you, for a trip abroad for about a week. My colleagues went to Australia in the Spring Break. Please note that the CLP is extremely competitive and the recent slow-down in the US economy means that less companies are hiring students via the CLP. With all the knowledge of this, I hope your mind is at ease about how financially independent one can become after coming to the US of A. And especially with ASU!

- Mujtaba Khambatti, sometime in 2000

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