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Email Transcripts to answer FAQs

What follows is a transcript of my email messages to other students of my course while I was still in India, preparing to leave. The concerns, issues, questions in my mind will be similar to those what you may have now. Feel free to go through this listing and hopefully clear some doubts on the way...

NOTE: I am at Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) Information Networking Institute (INI) for as MS degree in Information Networking (MSIN). Most of my mail and queries are hence related to CMU INI. In case you are going to another university, you may ignore this file. You would, however, be served well if you try to draw parallels with your own university and course.

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Taking money to pay initial college fees

 > we are supposed to pay the first quarter fees (13k odd, i think) within the first 10 days of class. how do we take this amount across?

> (assuming i don't get credit cards). Options -

> a) whole amt in travellers cheques

Not very viable. In case u didn't know, the cost of processing a Travellers Cheque is 1%. You'll end up spending $130 on just transaction costs. Also, u might lose so many TCs. Too risky.

 > b) take some amount by cash/travellers cheques, open a bank acc when we get there, and somehow(??) get the money transferred.

The answer to the SOMEHOW is called a "wire transfer". U might geta cheaper bargain, but standard cost is $40 per transfer.

My suggestion:

c) Here's how u should take your money

1. $ 500 in cash, for small change and minor problems while travelling

2. $ 1500 (upto $3000 is allowed in the basic travellers quote - BTQ -by RBI) in travellers cheques or in Thomas Cook Prepaid Debit Card.

3. Rest in a DD made out in CMU's name for the entire amount of $13K.

 All these modes of cash are available from a standard foreign exchange dealer. Thomas Cook is the mkt leader in India.

Using the Net to Save on Telephone Bills

Mail 1:

I was suggesting to V that we use Net2Phone for our parents to talk to us to save on our phone bills. His response:

> I'd strongly suggest not! I have it and it *sucks*! Setup it up. Tried it with 1-800 nos

> Got carried away & bought 25$ worth airtime, used up 10 retrying and the other 15

> in confusing communication. (I have a 200MMX with a 56,6 modem.)

Oh ! OK, I guess I'll have to stick to Internet Telephony only (Voice over IP).

That's stuff like Microsoft Netmeeting, Mediaphone, Voxphone etc.

Mail 2:

 > About media-ring I have heard that both the parties need to be on the

> computer for it to work. Is this true??

Yes, it is a Computer-to-Computer "Voice Chat" Application.

Mail 3:

> Suvir, what are other net telephony sevices except mediaphone & net2phone.??

Some others are VocalTech IPhone, VDOPhone, Netscape CoolTalk, CuSeeMe, Webphone etc. If u've got ICQ, click on any user name, choose Internet Telephony/Games from the pop-up menu, choose view list/Download from the next pop up, and u will see the entire list, alongwith their download URLs. U could also try a Chip / PCQ Magazine CD from the last year or

Buying your own computer at CMU 

Mail 1:

> Buying a computer would be helpful but it would be better to go there & check 'cos CMU's got a very good network.

Yeah, I read somewhere that they have a very favourable computer to student ratio (close to 1:1). The GSIA booklet says they have 600+ computers, and their batch size is 200 something. Even with two Masters batches and some Phd guys, that's still 400-450 people and 600 computers. I would like to assume that the Engg dept would have *better* computing facilties than the MBA college, not worse !

Mail 2:

A College Senior:

> There is no personal computer funda .yes the desk (cubicals) will be assigned to u guys. so it will be mid of the fall semester. u'll have as many comp. as u want. but there is no personal u can install any thing with the permission of system adminstrator. but he is very nice.

Suvir: That's not too good. So if I download my mail, anybody can read it ? And I can't install all the software I like on one PC and then hope to use that PC when I get to the CC ? That's really bad too. Makes a strong case for my own PC. And won't our email/file storage be on server space, since it doesn't look like we'll be having comps assigned to us - i mean for r personal use only 

> Yes, they should be on server, as will all our documents, our assignments, programs etc.

i really don't fancy the idea of having to find a new comp to work on everytime u come in!

Neither do I. The question is, do you hate it enough to buy u'r own computer ?

I think I will. It's worth the $1000 investment. I get to learn a lot more by practicing at home. I mean, the System Administrator, however nice he may be, will not let me install Linux or any say a new Firewall on a cluster computer now, would he ?

MSIN books at CMU

> I've these books with me as of now. Pl. chip in ur comments as 2 whether ANY of these will be useful during INI's MSIN prog.:

> yes: C++ Programming (Techmedia)

> maybe: Data Structures & Files (Horowitz & Sahani)

> yes: Systems Programming & Operating Systems (Dhamdhere)

> maybe: Systems Programming (Donovan)

> maybe: Intro. to Database systems (Desai)

> maybe: Software Engg. (Pressman)

Its good to get those Data Structures texts, if you want to look at it and are familiar with the texts. Else, the library is always there. I suggest you also get any books on Java and C++. We'll use Java for assignments and projects, and a C++ book is handy on such occasions. Also, any other books on networking fundas (like Tannenbaum) or OS fundas will be useful. Database fundas book is subjective. Abook on an networking OS like NT or Linux will also be useful for experimentation.

Choosing MSIN Courses at CMU

Mail 1:

A great Tip from Susan on choosing courses:

Susan: "You can continue to add courses until the 10th day of classes."

What this means is that we can change courses even a week after attending classes.

Susan: " You may want to pick more courses than you will actually end up taking and drop them as soon as you know what you want your schedule to be. "

In other words, we can try-before-we-buy with one or two extra courses, with timings, profs etc. Great flexibility.

"You will also have a chance to meet with the current class to discuss courses they have found particularly interesting and pertinent to INI students. "

Another chance to make an informed decision. :)

Mail 2:

> the courses which r not in restricted electives r considered as free electives. u can take 18 units of free electives. these 18 units r from any courses. so u can take any course from any faculty. don't worry about that.

Good. And Susan tells me that I can take even more, if I decide to stay back after 14 months. We are allowed as many electives as we feel like - that too free of cost - according to her. Now that's cool !!

Mail 3: 

> >>> Is it compulsory 2 send this course list before even reaching there ? What if there r changes in my course plan ? I thought at the end of every sem., we can choose courses for the next sem.  

Yes, it is compulsory to send the list as soon as possible. But note: 1. This list only has first term courses. 2. The courses can be changed once u get there 3. U can take more courses than possible in 14 months.

Mail 4: 

I asked Susan if we could take any courses after the 14 months at INI:

 " If you decide you would like to stay beyond the 16 months to take extra courses, there is no additional tuition. As long as you have not asked to be certified for graduation, you can continue to take courses. We have not had to put a limit on the number thus far. Most students become eager to graduate and leave the ivory tower. "

 Neat, isn't it ?

Mail 5: 

> Suvir, the choice of electives that you have to give is for the first semester or ???. Also how many electives are we to take - 1 or 2?? Aren't we assigned a course advisor. On what basis are you choosing your electives??

 Some electives are available only in Fall, only is summer etc Others thruout. So you will have to see *all* the electives u want before you can decide. Of course, u can get away with not doing so, but it helps. Right now, we only have to give the choice for the fall semester, though. And u can take 1 or 2 electives, based upon the "units" each elective has (one of 12 units or two of 6). Boy, a course advisor would be useful., it's pretty confusing. U'll get one when u land up on campus. I chose them on the basis of what I want to learn, what the course desciption says etc.

Breaks/Holidays in the CMU MSIN program

> Has anyone any idea on how long our breaks will be in between i.e. if we do have any??

There are two long spells of holidays before the year ends. One is in December, winter holiday for almost 4 weeks and another around May after the Spring Semester for several weeks.

Communication with the college

How do you send mail (stuff like forms, papers etc) to the college ?

> >i sent the form in by regd post.

That's a good idea. I wasn't sure what to use. I have send the MSIN subject RAD form. A courier costs Rs 1200 per letter (reaches overnight), a Speed Post costs Rs 200-250 (may even take a week) and a regular letter costs Rs 10-20 (dunno if it'll be delivered at all.) The registered letter option looks like the most optimum. Also, the first 3 options (courier, speed post and registered) do not work if the college has specified a Post Office Box for an address. So one has to make sure that one's address is to an office, not a post box, as is usually the case in admission letters.

Carrying Woolens / Other Clothes

A: Any woolens 2 be brought from India ?

B: > Yes, for the winter they are certainly required at CMU.

C: I've been told to buy them from there. 1. No use carrying weight from here, won't need before winter 2. Cheaper and better there 3. The overcoats and blazers are made in a different "style" there in the US, according to some people my Mom talked to, and u don't get those styles here in India. So if u're fashion conscious....wait !

A: Any suggestions on clothes & other stuff 2 bring would be helpful.

B: Bring all your formal clothes. Stitch yourself some good suits. They are costly here. Shoes and jeans are very cheap here.

Electives to choose at MSIN

> Most imp. Which elective (Name) have you taken?? Suvir, looks like you have done a detail study please do respond to this.

This is a real toughie. One really needs the help of a course advisor here. U have to first decide what u finally want out of your degree, then choose all courses that fulfil that objective. Then u work out the distribution for each semester based upon course availability, your unit load, course timings etc. So simply choosing one elective won't be enough. It has to be part of a larger design. One interesting point here: One can go up as high as 66 units in the first sem (tough, not recommended, but possible). So u could actually have 2-3electives (maybe more) in the first sem. Hence your choice is increased even further.

This is why I was so confused: the packet has insufficient information for me to choose courses intelligently or to distribute them over semesters. My suggestion is to choose 1-2 seemingly good courses that u might take in all probability (which ones, I cannot say: it's a personal choice, the choice is too vast to comment), write them in your RAD and send it. Then on reaching, talk to your course advisor and take appropriate action. Also, remember, u could always pick more courses than u like, then drop the ones u don't, after attending a few classes (within 10 days).

Fee Payment Schedule at MSIN

> When do we pay the 1st installment of the tution & mode of payment. What about the others.

U have 2 pay as soon as you reach (before 10 days of course starting is the last date, I think). The amount is 1/3rd the total tuition fees i.e. $ 13,350 /- . The next two payments are due at the beginning of the Spring 2000 and Summer 2000 semesters.

International Student Loans

> i need more info abt the US loan funda. i was told that such loans are not avail to aliens.

I have what might be good news for you. I checked out the loan option some weeks ago, and turns out some perfect loan opportunuities. There are options in India as well as the US for seeking loans for professional education. In the US, there is something called a TERI loan, that is available to international students. This covers the ENTIRE cost of education *and* stay, even if you have a previous loan in your name.

What's the catch ? You need a US co-signer. If you can arrange one, the loan is quite reasonable too, around Prime + 0% (that's 7% currently), plus a sign-in amount of 6%. Even at 13% I think it's quite reasonable. You can check out more details at and follow links from there.

Some Indian banks offer loans too, at about 16-18%, upto 10 Lakhs. This is second hand info, though. One bank I heard about was Canara Bank. There are 2-3 more: I forget their names.

 Check it out. Even I might take a loan, quite possibly the TERI one.

Salary after CMU MSIN

> what is the future job u think we guys are looking at responsibility wise and ofcourse pay wise...

Resp wise, just see the list of jobs the INI booklet and website mentions. Pay wise, it could be anything from $65 K to $100 K, based upon prev work ex, performance at CMU etc.

Immunization requirements at CMU

> Is it necessary ( not advisable ) to get all the vaccinations listed on pg 2 of the Students Health History form

No, only 2 are *necessary*. 1. Chest XRay 2. MMR injection or proof. In India, all doctors give only one injection, whereas the form specifically asks for two. I am writing one that I got this week, and one that I got when I was a kid.

Official reply:

"I have the information about required immunizations.

You must have 2 measles vaccines or have had the disease and it can be documented by physician records.

 You must have either a negative TB or chest x-ray. If the TB test is positive, you must then have a chest x-ray which is negative.

Hepatitis and chicken pox are not required."

Actual Cost of Living at CMU INI

Mail 1:

The INI brochure says that the cost of living is $10,000. How realistic is this for an Indian Student ?

> my cost is

> $213 rent

> $ 20 cable

> $ 40 gas (in winter or $ 15-20 normal)

> $ 20 electricity

> it's around $300 + $ 100 grocery which also includes weekends parties like

> going to some restaurant. but this $100 is only for dinner. i usually take

> dinner only. take coffee in luch.

Mail 2:

 > Now the budget of $640 per month. Suppose we do take the fairfax apartment with 3 sharing it (cos 3 rooms )we end up with a remaining amount of $310 which don't you guys think is a bit too less. However I don't know the living cost there but it does seem less. I guess this amount als includes food etc.

 Does seem less. But I heard that food is damn cheap in the US. If we do our own cooking it comes to about $100 per head per month. That's a strong incentive to acquire some basic culinary skills. Restaurants are still expensive: about $10 per head per trip. The rest will be transportation: at $.35 for a bus ticket, it doesn't add up to too much. Plus season passes are cheaper. Entertainment etc is in our hands: a typical movie costs b/w $5-10, plus food and travel. Once a week is < $50 per month. On the face of it, $310 looks feasible. Plus, if we have such a fundu apts we could have more parties at home and save costs :)

Mail 3:

> >leaves 9 K for room, boarding and other misc expenses. So 9 K divided over 14 months gives $642 per month.

> In $642. we can get a cool house. Suvir u haven't taken into account other monthly expenditures like groceries, phone bill, laundry, et al in doing this calculation. And that will push up $11 K.

 The "and other misc expenses" includes these costs. At $600-1000 total, the per person rental cost is $200 - 333. The rest of the $311-442 is the amount on phone, laundry, utilities (water, elec) etc. Groceries is around $100 per head, from what I hear (again incl). So far 11 K seems reasonable.

Mail 4:

>Stay will be $333 + utilities (phone, gas, heat vagera). So set that to be about $400 (at max)/mo. Settling in, like getting furniture (we can get some good stuff for cheap) + lights + stuff like laundry + stationery + entertainment + misc comes to about $200/mo depending on how well you want to live. Keep in mind telephone bills to call india.

 Am teaching my parents how to use email :). Then also planning to put Net2Phone. That should bring down comm costs and maybe even reverse them (India side not US side).

 > You need insurance (health) too. Compromising on this is not a good idea - these doctors here are *$#@%*.

 That's another $ 1 K per annum.

 > Do get a dental, eye (get extra glasses if you need) check-ups. Get medicines like crocin, electral.


Apartment Search at CMU

> I have been told by friends that we should book an apartment early because we might have very less of a choice on our arrival. I think this can be done on the net. Also there is a site which has the photos

You're right about booking the apartment early. However, I think you should wait till next month before trying. Any place avaiable today will be gone by August. The name of the site is or

 Try 'em both. Also checkout the Mayur website for other guys to share rooms


Criteria for roommate

I just got an admission offer from ****. They had a sample form for judging compatibility of apartment sharers. I'm typing part of it here. Fill it in so we can know:

 1. Would you prefer to be placed with someone of the same major (Yes, No)

2. Do you smoke presently ? (Yes, No)

3. Would you like to live with a smoker ? (Yes, No)

4. Do you drink ? (Yes, No)

5. Would you like to be placed with a drinker ? (Yes, No)

6. Are you (a) Vegetarian (b) Non vegetarian ?

7. Do you consider yourself to be neat or messy (choose 1 to 5: 1 being very neat 5 being very messy)

8. Do you consider yourself a (a) morning person (b) night person ?

9. Marital Status

Visa Financial Fundas

Mail 1:

 > I've put in the total money in the bank.

> >>> Do u mean 22.5 lakhs as hard cash ?

> To put that much cash, I'll have to break some fixed deposits, sell of shares etc., because all money is in that form + property. Worst part is that it is in different banks, so I've 2 put it together in 1 place. That's why I've 2 break FDs etc.

Hey ! Don't do that ! According to the visa councelling sessions I've attended, this is what I've learnt: The heirarchy of desirable places to show money in (best to worst):

1 Savings Account

2 Fixed Deposit (maturity within or before college term is preferable)

3 Jewellery / Cash / Gold / Other expensive, easily saleable commodities (not consumer durables, please)

3 Govt Securities

4 Other Shares/ stocks / bonds (nowadays looked at with suspicion after the Asian Stock Mkt crash)

5 Property (Not at all preferred. Doesn't mean a thing until sold, and difficult to sell soon)

 The money can be in many different banks, that's not an issue. As long as you have enough statements from each they don't mind. In fact, it lends credibility to app (more likely to have the money spread than in one place ordinarily). So, don't break FDs or close bank a/cs. Shares and property sale and conversion to cash is a good idea. I too plan to do that. 

> & how much property + other assers need 2 be shown 2 visa guys ? Is 50 lakhs ok ?

Actually, even 1st year expenses shown + second year expenses + 10% increase in 2nd year expenses and fees for inflation is enough. I have shown around 25 Lakhs, just in case. 50 Lakhs doesn't mean anything if a major chunk is property. A cash component (points 1-4, preferably 3) of > 21.5 Lakhs is what is essential.

Mail 2: 

> I'm not sure abt. one thing. If u guys know, pl. reply back asap - i.e., I hope my having 3 sponsors (all Indian) won't weaken my case for visa interview.

Well, the visa consellor at USEFI did say that the higher the number of sponsors, the lower the chances of acceptance. But there are other factors: (a) the relation of your sponsors with you (parents are best, next real uncles - chachas, tayas). Friends are less preferred. (b) their motive in giving you the money (interest, goodness of heart - this is less believable) (c) how you expect to pay them back, do you plan to stay in the US ? :if it's not parents, you *have* to pay back, nobody's that philanthropic with > 10 L (US consulate's view).

 The popularly held opinion is that the higher the no of sponsors and the farther apart they are in relation to you, the higher their chance of default. One or two sponsors are ideal numbers. For three, like I said, it's subjective. Have your arguments ready for the three factors mentioned above, esp. b and c. If they believe you, you're in. Otherwise....

Age Limit

Dear Suvir,
My immediate concern is:
> a. Whether my age of 30 and let's take, passing out at 33 will cause a fitment problem for employers there or here

Not at all an issue, I think. If the w ex is relevant, that's a a big plus. If not, then as long as you can explain the logical thoughts that led you from one job to the other and to the degree, they have no problem. Job hopping and late degrees are quite common in the US. In fact, checkout, (especially their university ranking site) where they have a an article on "late-bloomers" i.e. 30+ people who are now entering college.

AT&T India Call Scheme

About the USEFI Pre departure seminar-
> How do you sign up for the "Asian value scheme"- in Delhi or its possible even in the US.

You do it when u reach the US. After getting a phone installed in your house, call AT&T and ask them to be your "long distance carrier", specifically quoting the Asian Value Scheme and asking to be placed in it. I believe they have an early bird rate also: any subscriptions before Sep 23 will get a $0.75 per minute rate instead of $0.80.

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Last Updated June 29, 1999