Every year, there are thousands of Indian students who dream of going to the US for higher education in the hope of securing a better future. However, according to the latest Open Doors report, while the number of students who enrolled for higher education in the US rose marginally at 5.4% for financial year 2018, those seeking graduate or Masters degree saw a decline by 8.8%. Even the previous year, there was a 3% decrease in this segment. Stricter visa norms coupled with not so favourable job prospects are said to be the reasons for this decline, and students are now looking at other options such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Germany.
Despite this trend, Evan Weisenfeld, who is an International Career Coach for US News Global Education, believes that one reason why the US still holds sway as far as higher education is concerned, is the flexibility it offers for students to change courses mid-stream. Evan counsels international students on admissions to US varsities aligned with their career interests.
Evan was in India recently to conduct workshops in Chennai, Bengaluru and Mumbai. The agenda of these workshops was to inform students about different courses they can apply for in the international universities, career opportunities, visa formalities, and future growth.
In an email interaction, Evan discussed various aspects of higher education and what students should look out for while applying to US universities.
Counselling sessions and how important are these for students
These sessions can be useful for students who have questions or are unclear as to how to pursue higher education and a career. Getting information directly from a counsellor can be a big help. But for students who feel confident they already know everything, they may find the sessions repetitive.
Courses and program options that Indian students can opt for in the US to fulfil their higher education dream
The benefit of a US higher education is that a student can choose any Major they want and can even change Majors once they are in university. Students are not limited by their test scores or where they are placed. The most popular programs for students from India include Computer Science, Engineering, and Business.
New career streams and job opportunities that Indian students should look out for
Across the globe, jobs in Technology will be the dominant area of growth. Computer Science majors will benefit from the growth in Cybersecurity as a field that becomes more and more important. There is already high demand in the US as well as in India. According to the US Department of Labor and Statistics, employment of Computer and Information Systems managers is projected to grow at 12% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.
Scholarship opportunities available for Indian students to get an affordable global education
The challenge for international students when pursuing education in another country is the general lack of scholarships. Financial need is often not taken into consideration. Generally only merit-based scholarships based on the grades and test results of students is considered by universities and usually only for the very top students. Some universities do offer small merit scholarships but students will be expected to pay the bulk of the cost. They can do this through the support of their parents and by taking out loans. Students should balance the return on investment in their education with their future earnings potential to determine how much they should be willing to spend.
How will the proposed visa norms affect students wishing to pursue higher education in the US?
The limits proposed on international student visas are very concerning for everyone but it should not stop a student from applying. As long as the student is prepared for their visa interview, and has done all the preparation work in advance to demonstrate their goals to the consular office, students shouldn’t be concerned. We advise students to answer all questions truthfully, not to memorise a speech and prepare answers that sound rehearsed. Have a conversation with the interviewer but know what to expect from the questions. Why did you select the university? How will you pay for your education? What will you do when you graduate? If your goal is to get an education and return to India to work, you should have no problems.
Which certifications are most important? What exams should students be focusing on?
A good score in an English-language exam like the IELTS or TOEFL is most important. That is followed by the SAT or ACT for undergraduate degrees or the GRE or GMAT for advanced degrees. Some international-friendly universities in the US don’t require these exams (other than the English exam) to help international students get into a top university.
With the steep costs involved, what financing options are available?
Students should look for an affordable school, apply for various international scholarships that exist, and if necessary take out loans which they would re-pay once they start working. But students should be very careful not to over-extend themselves and their family if they cannot afford the education.
What does it take to get into the Ivy League colleges in the US?
Admission to Ivy League schools is very competitive because these schools admit such small total numbers of students. Only those students that have achieved exceptional results in school and have perfect scores on entrance exams should expect admission. And even then, it is pretty rare as these schools only accept a few students from each country. We believe students should consider the fact that the top 200 universities in the US represent the top 5% of schools in the country and that going to one of these top 200 should be considered a huge success.
Where does the US score over other destinations like Canada, Australia or Europe?
The system of US education is very different than the other countries mentioned for a few key reasons. First, the general education at the core of the system creates well-rounded students that have experience beyond only their Major and courses of study. The ability to communicate verbally and in writing, to think critically, and to interact with their peers are all important soft skills that global employers want in their employees. In addition, the US allows a student to choose their course of study or to change at any time. The flexibility the US offers sets it apart. In addition, more of the top global universities are in the US than anywhere else and the US offers over 3,000 four-year universities to give students more choice than anywhere else.
How should students deal with the ‘culture shock’ which is inevitable when they land in a foreign country?
Culture shock is something one can expect but for which they can also prepare. Many of our international-friendly university partners offer programs specifically for international students to acclimatise to the US to feel more comfortable and help with the transition. We also encourage students to interact with other international students as well as American students to get the full benefit of their study-abroad experience. Get involved in the university, attend activities, and participate. But if a student is feeling homesick, the key is to speak to a counsellor or a friend.