Love the US: why it’s such a big draw for Indian students

  • Gauri Kohli, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 18, 2016 19:06 IST
India is the second leading place of origin for students coming to the US, comprising 13.6% of the total international student population in that country. (Imagesbazaar)

Among the international students studying in the United States, the largest numbers come from first China and then India. For Indians, the hottest draws are STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programmes.

The number of Indian students joining US universities is also increasing. The Open Doors, an annual report on international students in the US compiled by the Institute of International Education, says – from 96,754 in 2013 the number of students grew to 1,02,673 in 2014 and 1,32,888 in 2015. The figure for 2015 was up by 30% from the previous year and more than double of what it was 15 years ago in 1999-2000. India is the second leading place of origin for students coming to the US, comprising 13.6% of the total international student population in that country.

STEM courses most popular

As per the United States India Educational Foundation (USIEF), an overwhelming number of Indian students in the US study at the graduate level (78%) and about 15% are at the undergraduate level. The rest 7% are in post-doctoral courses, certificate or non-degree programmes. There are more than 2,000 four-year universities and colleges in the US offering more than 200 majors and subject choices.

Deepika Rawat, EducationUSA associate at USIEF, says about 79% of Indian students in the US are in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. The number of Indian students in business is 12%. “Every other field of study tracked by Open Doors clocks in at 3% or less for Indian students the social sciences - 2.7%; fine arts - 1.4%; and humanities - 0.5%.”

Historically, Indian students have sought admissions to US and other international universities for graduate programmes – master’s and MBA. According to Kimberly Dixit, co-founder and president, The Red Pen, an overseas education consultancy based in Mumbai, the majority of Indian students in the US, about 60%, study at the graduate level. The number of students who pursue a doctorate degree is a little over 1%.

“What is interesting is that in 2014-15, there was a sizeable jump of 30% among students pursuing undergraduate studies in the US,” she says.

Undergraduate outbound mobility to the US increased by 30.30% this year, according to the Indian Students Mobility Report. ”This makes 2015 one of only three years since 2005 that undergraduate numbers to the US have increased, and there are now over 140,000 Indian students (both undergraduate and postgraduate) in the US. However, postgraduate outbound mobility to the US has increased by an even larger proportion over the last one year– up by 39.3%,” says Jack Moran, who is associated with the QS Intelligence Unit.

Indian students are most likely to study engineering, with 37.5% of Indian students in the US taking this subject, says Moran. The second-most-popular subjects are mathematics and computer science, with 31.4% of Indian students taking these subjects. The next-most-popular subject among Indian students, business and management, are taken by only 10.7% of students. In total, STEM subject choices are taken by nearly 88% of Indian students in the US.

Opportunities galore

Students are drawn by factors such as financial resources, breadth and depth of higher education in the US, industry-academia links, internship and research opportunities, hospitality to international students and experiences off-campus, among other things. Approximately $300 billion is invested in the US higher education system annually.

“This helps in hiring excellent faculty, building modern facilities, procuring the best equipment for labs and books for libraries as well as for funding research and graduate students. US university campuses are generally sprawling and expansive, with infrastructure that is conducive to the pursuit of research, knowledge and learning. Over 1,700 American universities offer programmes at the graduate level. The flexible interdisciplinary programmes on American campuses are another major attraction for Indian students. Many programmes are unique to the US, and are not offered at any other universities anywhere in the world,” says Rawat.

For a large number of international students, research and internship opportunities afforded by their universities offer a good learning experience. “The opportunities to work and conduct research alongside Nobel and other prize winners and experts from every field is another reason why students choose this country,” she says.

The US universities also boast of the fact that companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and several others originated either on the campuses, classrooms or labs. Large research universities have incubation units that fund commercial ideas of students and provide a cushion in case the idea does not take off.

Dixit says the other main reasons drawing students to the US are flexibility that allows them to change their major course of study and even transfer colleges after enrolling during undergraduate studies and a holistic curriculum where students get to explore interdisciplinary curriculum in innovative research and scholarly environments.

US universities have also seen a considerable increase in the number of Indian students. George Joseph, deputy director, The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University, says, “The university has approximately 200 students from India, of which 25% are at the undergraduate level and 75% at the graduate or professional level. The number of students from India at Yale has more than doubled over the last 10 years.”

Undergraduate, management, engineering, and biological and physical sciences are popular courses among students from India, says Joseph.

Cost of living and study

The US is a huge, diverse country and costs can vary widely. For both undergraduate and graduate degrees, total cost of attendance (including tuition fee to the school, living expenses, health insurance and personal expenses) ranges from $20,000 to $70,000 per year.

Tuition fees range from about Rs 20 lakh to Rs 40 lakh with living costs anywhere from Rs 8 to Rs 12 lakh, says Dixit.

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