Scenario: You have completed all your degree requirements and can't wait to leave Huntsville. You start wondering if there's something you should have done which you have forgotten...
This page is a reminder of the trivialities that are a crucial part of the graduating process.
Why is this list in existence?
As an eye-opener to the half baked morons graduating from school, possessing a feeling that this was their last and final encounter with school and that their need for the school cease to exist for any purposes whatsoever after this point in time.
Who made this checklist?
One such fool like you cherishing a similar dream. To be precise, it was made by a senior of yours who held a F-1 visa, graduated from the Computer Science Dept. with Non-Thesis option and opted for Optional Practical Training after completing all the course requirements for his Masters degree.
Who should use this checklist?
Anybody who feels that a pinch of advice from a graduating senior might come in handy is welcome to use this as a guiding document in addition to his / her personal checklist. In my opinion this checklist should prove to be invaluable for somebody who is leaving the school in a hurry and may not have the time to think and foresee all that he / she would need from the school at a later point in time. Conformance with this checklist will ensure the user from avoiding a few sleepless nights and panic attacks from trying to get important things done just in time.
Is this THE list?
Like everything else in this world (other than your parent’s love for you), this checklist is not 100% fault tolerant. There are quite a few omissions, which are inherently present due to the author’s naïve approach of looking into his own future, due to his inexperience in the process of undergoing though a thesis track but most importantly due to the infinite directions in which life can take us, each having its own unique demands that may be quite a challenge to figure out, just after leaving school. I know, I know … there are not too many things a student can do after graduating from UAH – You need not remind me of my own mundane life.
Anything else? Are you done? Can we now see this great list of yours?
It would be a great service to your juniors as this list is a service to you if you can add at least one more checkpoint to this list, which you feel, would ease the transition of a graduating student from school to his / her professional life.
"CATCH ME IF YOU CAN"
Being on the correct side of the law and in the good books of the USCIS (previously known as INS) is something you may not like to neglect. So, go to the International student advisor and explain to him / her that you are leaving town. Ask him / her what you need to do.
You can save yourself one trip if you read this document before going to International student advisor’s office. The Immigration and Nationality Act states that you have to submit Form AR-11 if you change your residence for more than a month. For the part of the law concerning reporting of your address change and the penalties if you do not comply, please see INA § 265 and 266. For more information, check out the website related to reporting the change of address to USCIS.
Download the most recently updated Form AR-11 from the USCIS website. Fill out two copies of it. Take one copy to the International student advisor’s office and submit it. Send the other one by mail (demanding a confirmation receipt from USPS) to the address mentioned at the bottom of the form. Make sure that you mail it with a confirmation receipt. There is no other way that you can track whether they received the hard copy of the form or not. Mind you, it is not only important that your new address is in the system but the law demands that USCIS should also receive a paper copy of the AR-11 form and the penalty for not receiving one could be as harsh as a rejected H-1B petition. So beware – Do not take this lightly!
"TICKET TO HEAVEN"
Make sure you have collected the payment confirmation receipt sent by USCIS for your OPT (I-765) from the International students office and you have your src number written on that. This is only if you haven’t already received your OPT card already. You can always check the status of your I-765 (Application you had submitted requesting for a PT / EAD card) online using the src number.
"The postman never rings twice"
Change the current mailing address in the UAH system: update it in the student self services just before leaving Huntsville.
Make sure that the following few people from the school have your new contact phone number:
International Students Office
Your department secretary
Your supervisor under whom you used to work in school
Payroll: If you haven’t collected your W2 form for the current year yet, then you should ensure that payroll mails your W2 form to the correct address. Let them know that you are shifting your residence and ensure that they have your current address and contact phone number.
If you cannot give it to them before leaving, make it a point to mail it to them as soon as you reach your destination. If you have a cell phone, please do not hesitate to give your cell phone number – time would be ultimate concern once you leave school.
Other important places (Other than the school) to be notified of change of address:
Credit card companies (If you want them to know)
"May it please your honor"
You have already completed all your degree requirements but there is no way of proving it in pen and paper cause you will be getting your degree only during the commencement ceremony in May. To get things on pen and paper, you should meet Sylvia Petrella (Graduate degree auditor) and ensure two things. Tell her to give you a letter stating that you have completed all your degree requirements – this document is as good as your degree itself. Immigrations / Employers would be happy enough with this. Do not forget to take this letter. Possessing this letter may decide under which category they are going to file your green card and the immigrations office / your immigrations lawyer may ask you to get this letter from school when you plan to file your application for H-1B if you do not have your degree certificate yet.
Let me go one step further and explain why this is important. Depending on the flow of events, you are going to apply for your greencard. At that point in time, your application would be filed under a certain category based on whether you have enough evidence to prove that you had successfully completed all your degree requirements before joining your first job (In case, your first employer files your green card labor certification).
"Do what you want - Walk on the podium wearing a sweaty gown and a clown’s hat or go drink beer on a Sunday afternoon – It’s a free country and beer tastes better than sweat"
Whether you plan to travel back to Huntsville or not during the commencement ceremony is up to you but in case you decide not to walk before the crowd, you should submit a letter to the degree auditor mentioning your name, SID, contact phone number and your current mailing address stating that you would not be able to make it to the commencement ceremony and you would like to get the degree document by mail as soon as possible. Submit it to her and let her know that in case you are not able to make it to the ceremony, she should have no trouble in mailing you the document. In case you want to change your address, you can always call her up later or mail her. In case you want her to send it to you by express delivery, you can always provide her with your credit card number and ask her to charge it on your behalf.
"A stitch in time saves a load of money"
Get a couple of copies of your official transcript from UAH. Remember, every copy of the official transcript takes $4.00 to be mailed to you and much more if you want it faxed. You can get it from the University center. They will come in handy later.
"Free lunch – what, where, when?"
Whether you were a GTA or a GRA or worked for somebody at an hourly rate, always remember that in this country every hour you work as an immigrant would count towards your labor certification at a much latter point in time when you apply for your green card, only if it is in the same trade as that of what you would be doing while you are applying for your green card. But in order to prove that you had worked as a grad student you would need some sort of a document stating the same. You should ask your supervisor / boss / manager / mentor / department secretary to provide you with a letter stating your full name, the number of hours per week you worked, your start date and end date of work and the nature of your job. I have copied one of my work experience letters as a sample for your benefit. It should be on the company / school / organization letterhead, should be dated and should have the signing authority’s name clearly printed on it.
"Who is John Doe?"
Most chances are that once you leave school, you would be searching for a job. Every potential employer wants to get some feedback from a past employer about your performance and merit before he / she decides to offer you a job. You would require on the average 3 references. Though your references may not have to be your teachers, but it is advisable to keep at least one from amongst your teachers as you would be looked upon as a fresh graduate. Your references could be your supervisor, a colleague, any person who knew you from your past work experience in this country, your department chairman or even somebody from the industry whom you may have taught as a part of your GTA work. Whoever you want to pose as your reference, make sure that you have met him / her in person and have spoken in detail regarding that. Also, let them know what sort of job you are searching for and make a note of their contact numbers, email addresses and mailing addresses. Do not take it for granted that he / she knows everything about you. They are your teachers and your well-wishers but they have the moral responsibility to tell the truth no matter what be your relation. Give them pointers as to what would be conceived as a strong point as seen by him / her or what he / she would say when asked by your could-be employers about what your weaknesses were.
"Not a penny more, not a penny less"
You may think that all your degree requirements are complete but the school may not. Spend some time with your advisor figuring out if there are any hidden agendas / fine print you / your advisor did not notice. To cross check, speak with Kathy Biggs in Graduate Admissions and with Sylvia Petrella who is the graduate degree auditor.
"How many roads must a man walk down?"
If you are amongst one of those candidates who have appeared for the comprehensive examination once but haven’t cleared it, my sympathies are totally with you. At the same time, you should be extra careful. Make sure that you submit the application to write the comps again to your department secretary. Call him / her up at a latter point in time to verify whether your name is there on the list. You can always drop it whenever you please.
"Thou shall not pass without paying a fine"
Make sure that you have returned all the UAH library books you had issued under your name. A trip to the Solomon library would be time well spent. In case you haven’t, do not try to run away and hide cause you would have to pay a large amount of money as penalty later. They would simply put your account and degree on hold. Settle the matter at your earliest convenience. Actually, this should be the last of your headaches; you should be having much bigger headaches.
"Rahul, maine kahan tha na – paani chala jayega"
This one is not related to the school. Though you should have done this a long time before, but you still have the time to do it. Get your driving license. If you don’t have a car, beg / coax your friends to help you learn driving. There are three reasons why I am insisting on this. The first one is obvious: you may need to drive to work wherever you go to work. I have seen a senior of mine spend money to take driving lessons from the driving school instructor. It is simply a matter of convenience if you know driving. As a part of relocation your company might let you rent a car (There are downsides to it too – mail me to know what they could be) and you may still have to use public transport / carpool with your colleagues simply because you don’t know driving. Secondly, it is much less risk to learn driving in a small city like Huntsville and hence DMV personnel are much more lenient in a small city like Huntsville in contrast to a big city. On the average an experienced Asian driver fails thrice before getting his driver’s license in San Francisco. This average figure of failure is embarrassingly large for female drivers in big cities and hence getting a driving license while staying in school should be a very high priority for boys and girls alike. The third reason is simply one of logistics. The longer you have possessed a driver’s license; chances are higher that your driving history would be better. After all people don’t get too many speeding tickets in Huntsville (You may have heard of a kewl dude by the name Jatin who tried a stunning 90 degree turn at 60 miles / hr on his newly acquired Nissan 200SX, left permanent tire marks on the road, a small hole is his wallet to replace the broken front axle of his car and yet managed to avoid a speeding ticket; but I am sure you are not that cool). In a nutshell, when you buy a new car later, you will have to pay less insurance than somebody with a shorter driving history.