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Getting ready for America

education Updated: Jul 13, 2011 11:11 IST

Approximately 14% of international students in the United States are Indians. This year too, several students are preparing to leave for the US in pursuit of an international education. Some of them gathered at the American Centre in the Capital last week to receive guidance from experts such as Diya Dutt, deputy director, United States India Education Foundation (USIEF); Renuka Raja Rao, country coordinator, Education USA; and Sameer Pathak, an alumnus of the University of Wyoming, US.

With the large variety of colleges and universities in the US, you are certain to find one that matches your needs and interests, the experts said. Here are some FAQs about studying in the US.

Why go to the US for higher studies?
The US offers many choices of courses, which are not yet available in India. Also, some of the best universities in the world are in the US, and studying there definitely gives a student a boost in his/her chosen field. You will find that a US higher education adds considerable value to your professional development. Along with the brand quotient that the US has, an added advantage is that the course structure is designed to suit the needs of students. It can broaden your horizons, expose you to a variety of perspectives, the latest technology, and state-of-the-art research and training. Students get to study in an environment that promotes independent and inquisitive learning. Compared to classroom environments in some other countries, in the US classes tend to be informal.

What is the academic structure of universities in the US and how is it different from the Indian structure?
The American system works on credit hours system, which defines the level and difficulty for each course. There are some mandatory courses while there are others you can opt for. The choice of direction of education lies in the hand of the student and is figured out with the help of an advisor.

How can one qualify for admission to a US university?
Each university has an application form that lists the basic criteria for admission. Some common criteria are TOEFL scores, letters of recommendation, essays and scores of common exams such as GRE/GMAT. However, each department, college and university will have its own list of requirements and eligibility criteria.

How should you prepare before leaving for the US?
Book your tickets well in advance to get the best deal. Ensure all your paperwork is in order. Do this by preparing a worksheet including details of tickets, accommodation, travel and health insurance. Check with the airline about baggage and weight allowances. Make a note of the essential items you will buy after reaching there. Carry contact information of your friends/relatives in the US, if any, as well as contact details of your family back home. Remember to carry the following on-board: passport, I-20 form, evidence of financial resources, original degree certificates and mark sheets, medical documents, important information sent by the US university, and any other ID such as an international student card etc. Arrive on campus a few days to a week before orientation and registration. Check with the university about health insurance. Network with students of the university to check for additional requirements.

What are the things to plan on arrival?
Housing tends to be the biggest concern upon arrival and needs to be planned in advance. Also, ensure that all relevant coursework is understood and the process to enrol is clearly understood. The other concern is related to getting a social security number, a bank account and driver licence.

What are the modes of commuting within universities?
Many universities tend be spread out across acres of space. Bicycle and university bus tend to be the best and most inexpensive options for commuting in and around the campus.

What are the most sought-after courses and universities?
Indians tend to gravitate towards management- and engineering-related courses. However, there is a significant interest now in other disciplines, such as law, arts, and psychology. Engineering and biotechnology and other research-related subjects are also popular. The most prestigious US universities include Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Cornell, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among public institutions, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are well-known to students, educators, and business leaders everywhere.

What are the pros and cons of studying in the US?
US universities tend to offer a great learning experience, if the student is willing to put in the effort. For students used to spoon-feeding and taught in a unidirectional manner, this can be quite a challenging experience. Overall, the environment and methodology enables learning rather than stressing on memorising. Other advantages include having a variety of options to choose from among reputable and well-resourced private and public universities; streamlined online admissions processes; generally high-quality campus-support services for international students; strong employment opportunities; and scholarships and financial aid.

How to choose the institution?
You should gather information from at least 10 institutions. College admissions are competitive for international students and you must apply to several institutions to stand a good chance of being admitted to a few. Some international students apply to as many as 15 institutions, especially if they are in highly competitive fields such as engineering, business, or computer science. At least one-third of your applications should be to schools that are less selective. You can get a good idea of a school’s selectivity by the scores they require for academic admissions tests. Do not limit your options to only the most famous and internationally-known institutions.

Which fellowships are available for Indian nationals?
Fellowship options include Fulbright-Nehru Master’s Fellowships for Leadership Development, International Fulbright Science and Technology Award for Outstanding

Foreign Students, and the East-West Centre Graduate Degree Fellowship Programme.

How is the campus life?
Campus life tends to be very vibrant. Students have lots of opportunities to engage in different pursuits, including sports, cultural, religious to leadership, social-work related activities. Various clubs and cultural activities on campus are a big hit among students.

What academic and cultural adjustments need to be made?
Education needs to move from rote learning to learning by absorption. The more effort you put in, the more you will get out of it. Culturally, lots of adjustments need to be made. Culture shock is normal. Recognising it is the most important step in preparing yourself for it.

What scholarships are available?
There are competitive graduate assistantships for Indians, for which they will have to apply and compete with students from around the world. For other scholarships, one can apply based on eligibility. Several boards and trusts in India grant scholarships for students to study specific disciplines.

List some important websites for reference

All Set to take it on

After clearing the GRE and TOEFL, my next step was to apply to Columbia University in the US. Studying there was my first preference because it’s a prestigious place to study and it’s also an Ivy League institution. I hold a BTech in electronics and communication from Manipal Institute of Technology and will go to the US to pursue

MS in electrical engineering. Once I complete the MS programme, I plan to pursue a PhD there. I have worked on several projects at the Indian Institute of Science and IIT Delhi –Ayushi Rajeev

I am going to pursue my masters in law to Ohio State University. There are only 10 students from outside the US at Ohio and I’m the only Indian. Having completed a bachelors-level degree from IP University, I thought of heading to the US for further studies. The LLM programme at Ohio is of nine-month duration and there are also on-campus job opportunities after that –Rhea Munjal

With the increasing trend of high cut-off marks at Delhi University in the last few years, I started looking for study options outside India and zeroed in on Columbia University in the US. I was a science student in Class 12 and scored 95.75%. Had I applied to colleges such as SRCC, St Stephen’s and LSR for BA economics (hons), I would not have got through. I was lucky to have got a visa and get enrolled into the liberal arts programme there. I plan to major in economics after my graduation. I chose US because the academic curriculum is more flexible and involves more holistic application of what we learn. I can try different subjects such as philosophy, literature, computer science and psychology and then choose one, which is not the case in the Indian academic set-up. I want to return to India for my post graduation and work in the development sector here –Tanvi Bikhchandani