Is studying in US for everybody?

Humanities majors have notoriously low returns on investment and job prospects are projected to remain poor for the coming years. Medicine is a professional post-graduate course in the US.

October 28, 2013 3:45 IST | India Infoline News Service
So, who exactly should go to the US for higher studies?
Right at the outset, it must be stated that an education in the US isn’t of utility to everyone. At the undergraduate level, a student interested in subjects like English Literature, History, Medicine, and Law might be better off here in India. Humanities majors have notoriously low returns on investment and job prospects are projected to remain poor for the coming years. Medicine is a professional post-graduate course in the US. The extra four years coupled with the prohibitively high costs for Medical schools (no scholarships) in the US makes India and possibly the UK more viable options. Similarly with law, tuition is high and in the past decade the law industry has been on a steep decline. An undergraduate education in law in India followed by post-graduate law degree in the US might make more sense.

An undergraduate education in the US would be a great option for those looking at the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), quality undergraduate business programs, social science programs with research opportunities and unique interdisciplinary options unavailable in India. Additionally, US Immigration policy implicitly favors STEM majors when it comes to work permits since they improve the economy’s innovation and productivity levels. Over the course of a typical four year undergraduate education, a student would get unparalleled access to research facilities, internship opportunities, personal interactions with professors, a global alumni network and most importantly, a holistic education.

For post-graduate and MBA applicants, the options are wider. MBA students obviously stand to benefit from the unique pedagogical experience, global exposure and long term brand value of a top US MBA. Post-graduate students get an opportunity to work with world renowned professors and have access to cutting-edge labs and facilities, something that can prove invaluable to aspiring researchers and academics. Students pursuing subjects like International Relations get access to top international organizations.

What the periods for applying to universities abroad?

Undergraduate: Undergrad admissions usually have two rounds of admissions—the Early round in October-November and the Regular round in January. On occasions, there is also an Early Decision II round in January. November applicants receive their decisions by Christmas and January (Early)applicants by mid-February. Regular decision applicants receive decisions by March-April.

Graduate School:  Applications for most PhD programs are due in December or January while the applications for master’s programs tend to be spread over the months of January, February and March. Many programs have ‘rolling admissions’ i.e. applications are evaluated on a first come first serve basis as they ‘roll’ in so chances of acceptance are higher if you apply earlier.

MBA Programmes: MBA Applications generally have three rounds of applications: Round 1(October-November), Round 2(December- February) and Round 3(March- April). The Fulbright House recommends Round 2 for a majority of candidates.

What should one keep in mind before applying?
Admissions in the US are not as straight forward as they are in India. Decisions are not made purely on academic records and standardized tests play a limited role. If one wants to consider studying in the US, it is recommended that serious thought and planning be put into the process well in advance. For undergraduate applicants, the process should begin no later than September of Class XI to leave ample time for multiple test attempts and well written application essays. Since universities evaluate records from class IX to XII, top applicants have been known to start building their profiles from grades IX and X itself. For graduate school and MBA applicants, to keep options open, one should ideally work to maintain a respectable curricular and co-curricular profile from the first year of college itself. Work on the nitty-gritties of the application process should begin at least 12-18 months before the deadlines.  What must be remembered is that top universities in the US are looking for passionate, driven and committed individuals so applicants, at all levels, should work towards making these qualities emerge in their profiles and essays. The essays and statements of purpose serve a very important purpose so time should set aside to write multiple drafts. Most MBA programs look for applicants with atleast 2-3 years of work experience.

What are the testing requirements?
Undergraduate applicants are in most cases required to take the SAT Reasoning and Subject Tests. The SAT Reasoning Test evaluates a student’s reasoning and critical thinking skills. It has three sections of 800 points each on Math (Class X level), Critical Reading and Writing (Essay and grammar questions). The Subject Tests are out of 800 points and are offered on a wide range of subjects. For more details on can visit the administering company, CollegeBoard’s, website. www.collegeboard.org

Graduate School applicants are required to take the GRE General and Subject tests. The General Test, evaluated on a 170 point scale, tests verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and writing skills. The Subject Test, evaluated on a 200-990 point scale, is offered in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, Biology, Chemistry, Literature in English, Mathematics, Physics and Psychology. Further details can be found here: http://www.ets.org/gre .

MBA applicants are required to take the GMAT. It is evaluated on a 200-800 point scale and has sections on Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, Internal Reasoning and Analytical writing. Further details can be found here: http://www.mba.com/

Living half way across the world, how does one cope?
Contrary to popular perception, adjustment to the new social environment and culture is not that difficult. For students who do suffer from homesickness, American universities offer a variety of support services and in-house counselors to help address and overcome issues. One is likely to find an active Indian diaspora in almost every top university. They regularly meet and organize cultural and social events. With the spread of the Indian diaspora, Indian restaurants have spawned in all major cities so food shouldn’t be much of a problem either. Americans are known to be straight forward and friendly so social integration isn’t as difficult as one might fear it to be. 

How does one finance a US education?
Good things often come at a price and such is the case with a US education. A degree at any level has a sticker price upwards of $100,000. For most Indian families this would be enough to shelve all plans but the good news is that meritorious students have a number of scholarships up for grabs. At the undergraduate level, not many external scholarships are available, so students usually seek the ‘financial aid’ offered by their universities. Financial aid is given on the basis of a student’s financial need and admissions do become tougher if one applies for it. For post-graduate and MBA students, a number of external scholarships are available in addition to university funding. Most students take up campus jobs to manage living expenses and post-graduate students also have the opportunity to work as paid teaching and research assistants. Getting a loan is not easy. Indian banks have caps on their loan amounts and American banks require a co-signer residing in the US. Despite all of this, it must be stated that the return on investment on a degree from a top university is quite good in the long run. For example, the mean starting salary of a Stanford Computer Science graduate is $93,850 and the median starting salary of a Harvard MBA before bonuses and benefits is $120,000. So, even with the falling rupee, a US degree would still be worth it for top students.

The author is the Co- founder of Collegify

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