US universities extend deadlines to help Chennai

US universities extend deadlines to help Chennai
Photo Credit: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters
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The unprecedented rain that paralyzed Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu in the first week of December hit various sections of the public with unusual severity. Less noticed among the victims was one particular group – students applying for graduate studies in the United States.

Shivana Raj needed transcripts from her Chennai college to complete her application in time, and as the institution remained shut for the better part of three weeks thanks to unusually heavy monsoons, her panic increased. Aditi Sriram, on the other hand, had her application complete in every particular – but couldn’t dispatch it in time thanks to the total breakdown of courier services and flights. Shashi Ciddarth struggled with another aspect – city-wide power and network outages that meant she could not go online to complete her applications.

Helping hands

Help arrived from an unexpected quarter – graduate students already enrolled in American universities, who were more empathetic to the plight of the aspirants than most. Arun Bhagoji, Vaishnava Nagarajan and Niveditha Kalavakondawere were among the earliest such to start addressing the issue – they set up a blog and created a spreadsheet to help applicants detail their specific difficulties.

Armed with this data, Indian student representatives from various institutes put forward the case for extending application deadlines. Shafee Mohammed, a University of California Irvine representative submitted a petition projecting the number of prospective applicants, based on surveys conducted via Facebook and WhatsApp, to the graduate dean of the university.

Niveditha says that while some universities were receptive, a few of the premier ones were initially unwilling to accommodate an extension, and agreed only after repeated representations.

Linda Gentile of the Office of International Education at Carnegie Mellon Universitycondoled, via email, with those who had suffered thanks to the floods, and said CMU had extended its application deadline by two weeks. Student services manager Jodie Turnbull at UNC Chapel Hill, and officials of the University of Maryland’s admission department, also said that late applications submitted by students from flood-affected areas would be considered.

Indian make up a significant number of those seeking admission to graduate studies in the US.According to the Student Exchange and Visitor Program, the US has seen a 32% increase in students from India since 2014. Chennai, per this 2012 report, contributes close to one-tenth of the 1.10 lakh students who appeared for their GRE.