Name: Ayush GharatUniversity: Georgia Institute of Technology / Georgia Tech
Place: Atlanta, Georgia, United States
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science – 2nd year
- Dean’s List + Faculty Honors
- 4.0 GPA
- The importance of choosing a college that fosters personal growth and why your dream college may not be a guaranteed ticket to success.
- Managing finances in a university that does not offer much in terms of scholarships and financial aid to international, undergrad students.
- How staying in a campus dorm can make life easier.
- The challenges of keeping up with the rigorous academic demands and how making good friends can go a long way.
- The importance of connecting with batchmates online before you begin the course.
What is your academic focus?
Georgia Tech has a unique approach to concentrations called “Threads”. These are broad areas of studies that allow students to explore their interests within a field of Computer Science, given how vast the subject can be. Every student is allowed to take two out of the eight available threads, and the two I have chosen are People and Intelligence. People contains classes that teach students how to design, build and evaluate systems that treat humans as the central component facilitating high quality human computer interaction. ‘Intelligence’ is about how to build top-to-bottom models of rational agents and human-level intelligence, encompassing AI, Machine Learning and Neural Networks.
What have been some of your cherished experiences so far?
During my freshman year, I was part of a Living and Learning Community (LLC) called Grand Challenge. All LLC members lived in the same dorm on campus. Its purpose is to develop the mind-set of solving large problems collaboratively and in the process hone leadership, teambuilding, and analytical skills in students which cannot be taught in traditional classes. I led a team of four in creating a hypothetical solution to the energy crisis surrounding cryptocurrency mining and blockchain networks. It taught us valuable frameworks that can be used to identify problems around us and design potential solutions for them.
During this time, I also worked with a start-up called NutriVend growing out of Create-X, Georgia Tech’s start-up accelerator. I was a software developer working on the UI and software for their custom protein-shake dispensing machine. It was a great experience building a real-world solution in a start-up environment, as well as learning from seniors and masters ‘students about the industry.
Experiences of handling roommate dynamics?
Fortunately, I settled in quickly and easily compared to my friends because in eighth grade, I did a summer on-campus program at Yale University and was already accustomed to university life in the US. Over the summer before my first semester, I made effort in socialising online and finding folks who were part of my batch. I even met batchmates from India and Bengaluru, many of whom continue to be my closest friends.
This also helped me find roommates for my freshman year. In most US universities, freshman housing is mandatory in on-campus dorms. Most dorms have two people to a room but my friends and I opted for a quad, so there are four of us and every night feels like a sleepover. Food is provided in the dining halls, which makes adjusting easier and allows us to focus on the rigor and academic pressure that comes with life at Georgia Tech.
Is your life hectic with academics and extra-curriculars?
Academics take up much of my time but I commit around eight hours each week to the Student Association, as well as three to four hours towards my work at Startup Exchange. I also find time to go to the gym, play football with my friends, or sometimes take a break and just watch a movie or play video games.
A lot of time this semester has also gone into internship applications, and finding opportunities for the summer as these can often be more competitive for international students owing to visa restrictions.
Your impressions of the new place and integrating into it?
Atlanta as a city holds a lot of cultural significance in the United States. It was the centre of Martin Luther King Jr’s Black Independence movement and today prides itself on its hip-hop and rap culture. I wasn’t really into rap before but I began to understand, learn and enjoy the culture and music. Atlanta is also the headquarters for various national and international brands, from Coca-Cola to Chick-Fil-A. It also houses the Georgia Aquarium, the largest in the United States.
Georgia Tech has lots of events that keep students busy. The university’s ethnic clubs conduct events, such as Diwali by the India Club and Chinese New Year by the Asian Students Association. There’s always something to look forward to on campus.
The university also has a host of its own funky traditions, from a midnight marathon where each runner is awarded a cupcake, a car called the ‘Rambling Wreck’ which can be spotted around campus, to the mascot, a Yellow Jacket called Buzz. A fun tradition unique to Georgia Tech is one where the letter “T” is stolen off the signboards of all college buildings during the first week of college.
What challenges do you face and how do you handle those?
The main challenges are course-related, involving keeping up with the courses, assignments and projects which tend to be very extensive during the semester. There is more emphasis on the work done during the semester than the final exams when it comes to calculating the final grade for every course at Georgia Tech.
Making friends within the same classes helped, as it gave me opportunities to discuss course topics with them. Whether it was a tough assignment or questions I had in preparation for an exam, these friends were invaluable in being my first point of contact. Helping them and explaining topics that I had understood reinforced my own learning.
What about your extra curriculars?
I am an Executive Coordinator for Startup Exchange, the entrepreneurship club at Georgia Tech, where I coordinate the club membership. We are fostering a community of builders and entrepreneurs through networking events and “Ship-it” Sundays where we bring students entrepreneurs together to build their ideas collaboratively. I also manage our online communities on Discord, where we have over 1000 members not just from Georgia Tech, but from chapters at other colleges like University of Michigan, Stanford, Harvard, Emory and more.
Finally, I am a student lead for the Georgia Tech Alumni Association. Here, I facilitate conversations with members of our extensive alumni network to learn about their experiences studying at Georgia Tech, gaining feedback from them as well as advice for the future.
I also promote Georgia Tech’s Roll Call, an unrestricted fund for excellence managed by the Alumni Association, and have raised $15,000 from the Alumni Network.
How are you managing your finances?
Since Georgia Tech is a public university, there are little to no scholarships or financial aid available for international undergraduate students. While my parents are funding most of the tuitions and living expenses, I also get paid from my work at the Alumni Association. This enables me to pay for a lot of my living expenses, reducing the overall cost of my education. I am hopeful of internships over the summers which will enable me to reduce the overall cost of my education, as most internships in the United States provide competitive pay, especially within the field of software engineering.
Have you been building a professional network on and off campus?
Through my classes I have been able to meet various other students across campus, both within my degree as well as other degrees like mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, aerospace and more. Additionally, my experiences outside the classroom at Startup Exchange enabled me to network with entrepreneurs and VC investors in Atlanta, while my experience working with the alumni association enabled me to tap into the immense network that Georgia Tech has throughout the nation. This network will continue to be of great value to me in the future.
Your insights and experiences in the host country – both pros and cons?
The greatest positives for me have been the independence that comes with living so far away from home, and the social diversity. It has made me more confident to live like an adult, whether it is travelling alone or managing my personal responsibilities like time and finances.
I have been able to meet so many bright individuals from various ethnicities, backgrounds and walks of life. I have gotten to learn more about them, as well as share my own cultural experiences and be proud of them.
The main challenges so far have been getting accustomed to the US’ lifestyle and culture. The mindset here is much more individualistic and people prioritize their own needs first, as compared to India’s strong communal bonds. The fear of gun violence is another thing, so keep that in mind.
Tips for students willing to study abroad?
- Choose a college that fosters personal growth
- Success is not solely determined by attending a dream college
- Don’t fixate on attending the most prestigious college; focus on personal growth and experiences while finding an institution
- Absorb learnings and maximise the quality of your college experience once you are there