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Destination ‘top favourite’

India remains the top sending country to the US, with a 9 per cent rise in numbers in 2008-09. That comes as no surprise, given the quality, choices, and flexibility of US education

education Updated: Sep 15, 2010 09:39 IST
HT Horizons Correspondent

The United States as a study destination – or even otherwise – needs no introduction. It’s a choice of hundreds of thousands of international students the world over. As of 2009, 1,03,260 Indian students were enrolled in US institutions, according to the US-India Educational Foundation (USIEF). This is 15.4 per cent of the total 6,71,616 international students in the US, as per the IIE Open Doors report. These are enrolment figures and not the number of new Indian students in 2009.

Why the US
According to the USIEF, the quality, choices, value and flexibility are some of the factors that make students choose the US over other countries. “The strict and rigorous accreditation systems ensure outstanding facilities, resources and faculty,” says Shevanti Narayan, regional officer, Kolkata, USIEF, who was earlier at its Delhi office.

“A student can design his or her own programme, collaborate and network with other departments. An international student in the US has the opportunity to be exposed to a diverse student body and a multi-cultural society. Most importantly, there is a worldwide recognition of US degrees, equipping the student to take up a job in any country of his/her choice,” she says, adding that the education system equips students better for their careers. “The long-term career prospects of a student are enhanced as the method of teaching is designed to apply theoretical knowledge and develop self-confidence, independent thinking and cross-cultural communication skills,” she says.

A large number of scholarships, fellowships and assistantships are also available to aspiring international students.

“Most universities in the US have an office for international students and services, which can provide a variety of services from campus orientation to assistance in resume preparation,” says Narayan. Personal and career counselling services are also available.

“A US education helps the student emerge stronger in leadership, independent thinking, innovation, creativity, communication skills, networking and in realising their potential,” said Narayan.

Programmes popular among Indian students
According to the USIEF, business and management, and engineering continue to be the top fields of study. Other popular disciplines include life sciences, computer science, economics, and health sciences. In recent years, there has been a growing demand for career-oriented areas such as environmental science/ studies, biotechnology, media and communication, art and design studies and law, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. USIEF reports an interest in US undergraduate studies and transfer admissions. However, this has not yet translated into sizeable numbers.

Session commences
Entry dates vary from one institution to another and from one department to another. The standard intake is for the fall session, which starts in August/September. Optional entry can be in January/ February (spring). Occasionally, there are some programmes for which candidates are admitted in the winter quarter (November/ December) and in summer (May/June).

When to apply
For the fall 2011 session, apply anytime from November 2010 to March 2011, depending on deadlines at individual departments and university.

How to apply and to/ through whom
Send your application along with required documents, such as academic credentials, writing samples, recommendation letters, professional resume, if applicable, and interest essay to the selected institutions. Prospective UG students may apply to 10-to-12 institutions and Master’s aspirants from eight-to-10 and doctoral candidates between six and eight. Note that the number of universities that an aspirant applies to varies as per his/her field of study or specialisation.

Deadlines for UG and PG programmes
For the fall semester, application deadlines are usually from November of the preceding year to February 1 of the year in which entry is sought. For spring admissions, application deadlines range from July to October of the previous calendar year.

What is required as part of the application
US universities usually provide a checklist of all the documents required with applications. Include a cover note detailing the enclosures and order. If a specific, necessary document is not attached, explain why it is not there and by what date you will dispatch it.

General requirements include a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score. For UG aspirants, SAT General is more or less mandatory. Selective schools and programmes require SAT subject tests scores, which are also useful while applying for financial aid. Graduate aspirants are required to take the GRE General (Graduate Record Examinations) and GRE Subject Tests, and the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) for B-schools. For the fall entry, take the tests anytime from May to October of the previous year.

Annual tuition fees
One typically requires $16,000 for a nine-month academic year. The tuition and fees range between $10,000 and $70,000 per academic year.

Accommodation options
Students have several accommodation choices to live on or near the campus. “The international programmes office generally sends the information,” said Narayan. Apartments, renting rooms in a home, home stays, and dormitories are some of the options.

“Living on campus is usually the best for most international students at least for a semester or the first year. Most undergraduates have to do so in any case because there is at least a one-year on-campus residency requirement,” she pointed out.

The food
“Moving to the US is a big cultural experience and food is a big part of it,” says Manali Desai, an MBA candidate at Wharton. “There are plenty of options to eat out and explore various cuisines. You have to be open to explore new experiences. However, it is expensive to eat out and most students cook on their own.” You can easily fetch Indian food ingredients and other staples such as roti, daal and rice in most towns around universities. “All in all, it is a great learning process where one learns to adjust to new food or cooks by themselves and understand the value of home-cooked food,” says Desai.

Scholarships/ financial support
Colleges and universities offer fellowships, scholarships and tuition fee waivers. Besides, assistantships and internships are available. The USIEF facilitates the administration of the Fulbright fellowship programme for students, researchers, lecturers, teachers and professionals. More details are available at www.usief.org.in.

Part-time jobs policy
International students are allowed to work for 20 hours a week on campus.

Student visa
Visas can be issued up to 120 days before the scheduled date of departure. To make sure that you have your visa before the first day of classes, apply as soon as possible and provide enough lead time to wait for processing, as well as for the interview.

Job opportunities in the US after graduation
Non-immigrant students completing degree programmes can go for Optional Practical Training (OPT) for 12 months. The US raised the length of OPT from 12 to 29 months for qualified F-1 non-immigrant students in the field of science, technology, engineering and maths.

A higher qualification gives you more mileage in the job market.
“An advanced degree provides with additional credentials to leverage advancement in a particular field,” said Narayan. “Or, it could allow switching occupations and even careers. A Master’s degree in a specific field usually gives access to advanced career opportunities in that field, although many graduate-degree holders make good use of their new credentials into positions in related fields or even some fields that are quite different from the degree itself. Certainly a professional degree is more specifically targeted towards advancement along a particular career track.”

Top US universities

QS World University Institution
Rankings ’10

2 Harvard University, www.harvard.edu
3 Yale University, www.yale.edu
5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology,web.mit.edu
8 University of Chicago, www.uchicago.edu
9 California Institute of Technology, www.caltech.edu
10 Princeton University, www.princeton.edu
11 Columbia University, www.columbia.edu
12 University of Pennsylvania, www.upenn.edu
13 Stanford University, www.stanford.edu
14 Duke University, www.duke.edu

Five steps to your US visa

Once you’ve received an official Certificate of Eligibility issued by your school (Form I-20 for the F-1 student visa), follow these steps while applying for the student visa

STEP 1
.
Pay application and VFS fees at selected branches of HDFC Bank

STEP 2
.
Pay the $200 SEVIS fee (www.fmjfee.com)

STEP 3
.
Schedule an appointment and complete application forms at http://www.vfs-usa.co.in. Click on ‘Apply for a new Non-Immigrant Visa’. Follow the process and enter Barcode Sticker Code on visa receipt when asked. After successfully logging in, four items are visible, complete them and take out the prints for the same:
1) DS- 160
4) SEVIS Information

STEP 4
.
Appear for your interview at the appointed time.
Bring the printed Appointment Letter, the Visa Application Forms, the SEVIS payment receipt, a recent photograph, and the original bank fee receipt and
barcode stickers.

STEP 5
. If approved, VFS courier delivers the visa. For more information, log on to http://newdelhi.usembassy.gov