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Many dream of studying overseas. However, it is important to make an informed decision about the courses to apply for and the colleges/universities to apply to, among other factors. NT KURIOCITY met up with some education consultants to get a clearer picture

Study abroad – Have you done your homework?

MARIA FERNANDES | NT KURIOCITY

The opportunities for Indian students to study abroad are becoming vast and easy to access, with foreign countries and universities wooing with offers of unique education facilities and scholarships as well as quality of life while staying on their campuses. USA is the country most preferred by Indians, but today the number of countries of choice to include other countries like UK, Germany, Australia and even smaller European countries.

 

University rankings

Overseas education does not come cheap and sometimes parents have to take a loan at a high rate or sell/mortgage their land/assets to fund it. Hence, it is imperative that one should have clear goals and learning objectives in mind, says migration agent and director of Yes Migration Solutions based in Australia and Goa, Rashmi Patil. “Choosing a course as per aptitude and exclusivity is very important besides choosing an institution that is recognised by the local government,” she says.

Ranking also plays a major part while choosing an institution, she adds, and there are many sites that give you an indication of the quality of teaching, research, innovation, and the global outlook of the best universities in the world. “So choose a university that is highly ranked, has a great reputation for your desired subject or meets other criteria that are important to you. You can also single out the best universities in your chosen subject by using the relevant subject ranking,” she states.

Ranking however should not be the sole basis of your decision, says Samyak Rajanala who is presently pursuing his Masters in Statistics at Stanford University, Calfornia. “There are many “rankings” available which rank the universities, but you should not follow them blindly because they do not necessarily reflect how good the particular programme at the university is,” he says. What helps, he says, is getting in touch with others who have been in similar programmes or maybe other programmes in the same university as they are likely to give a much better picture. “You must also be pragmatic about applying to universities depending on your scores. What you should look for in universities is a mix of how good (in terms of curriculum) the programme you are applying to is, how good the peer group will be, what opportunities are usually available after, what the funding opportunities (if any) are, and even other factors like the weather,” he says.

Managing director of Maxxcell Institute of Professional Studies, Shyam Manavat agrees that university ranking is important but more preference should be given to the course structure of the programme you are looking for. “Divide your chosen universities into three areas -ambitious choice, realistic choice, and safe choice. All these bifurcations should be as per your profile,” he says. “Do not apply for any university only because your friends, relatives or any known person to you are applying. Their profile and intention to apply for the university and programme might be completely different than you. Some universities might fall in the ambitious category for them and the same might be in realistic for you or vice versa. “

 

Standarised tests

For international students, proficiency in the English language is a vital prerequisite for studying abroad. Language testing such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic), Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), and Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE) has a score validity period of 2 years and assess academic skills in the areas of listening, reading, writing, and speaking.

In addition to language assessments, universities, specifically from USA, may also require other entrance level examinations in the form of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) which measures a candidate’s verbal and quantitative reasoning skills, and analytical skills; Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), and Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) which evaluates a student’s readiness for a bachelors programme by measuring the literacy, numeracy and written skills of a candidate in accordance to the degree a candidate chooses to pursue. The validity for all three test scores is 5 years.

“The admissions processes for US universities usually start around September-October, and ideally you would like to get these tests done with as early as possible. You can take the tests more than once if you wish to improve your score. They can take a few weeks for the results to come out. So you would like to get these tests done a few months earlier at the least,” recommends Samyak.

 

Eligibility

For any application to an English-speaking university you will have to demonstrate academic merit and language skills. The acceptance rate however varies depending on how competitive a university is (how many applications it gets for each place) and the academic status of the institution. Generally speaking, the top universities are harder to get into. Some universities also have policies about the number of international students they can accept for different courses. There is no hard and fast rule for maximising your chance of getting into a university abroad, but it is worth looking into acceptance rates for international students and considering any entry requirements you will have to fulfill.

“Most universities require students from India to have either a 4-year bachelor’s degree, or a 3-year bachelor’s degree along with a master’s degree. There are a very small number of universities who make an exception and allow students to come directly after a 3-year bachelor’s degree,” says Samyak. Every university usually has its own rules regarding this, and they are not uniform, she adds. “So the first step will be to identify the potential universities to apply to and confirm that you meet their eligibility requirements. There are exceptions to most rules, so one has to go through their websites carefully,” she says.

Besides these tests, the main part of the admission process is usually your essays, resume, any previous body of work, and letters of recommendation. This again varies by programme. “If you have any work experience or research experience that is usually a big plus. You usually require letters of recommendation from people you have interacted with closely, which are usually sent via email directly – so you need to be able to trust the letter writers,” says Samyak. You will also be required to write essays, the most important being the ‘Statement of Purpose’ (aka motivation letter) which asks why you want to join the programme, and a good SOP is very essential, adds Samyak. He also cautions that one should not ask copy or ask someone else to write, because the admissions committees can usually see through it, and may also occasionally use anti-plagiarism software. “It needs to be personalised to suit your character and skill set. Universities have varying criteria for length and subject, and so the essay must be tailored to each programme. This should also be done fairly early in the process,” says Samyak.

 

Research

As a parent whose child is studying abroad, general manager of Human Resorces – Dempo Group of Companies, Krishna Gopal Rajanala, has been through the entire process of research and application and believes that research is imperative. “Today with the internet at one’s finger tips, getting information is easy. However, one should take the time to read through everything on the college/university website and if there is doubt, one can even write directly to the institution and request for more information. Making an informed decision is very crucial,” he says.

Visiting official government websites and study councils to check if you can apply for student’s visa in that particular country is also highly recommended. It is important to pay attention to the deadlines to make sure that you don’t miss the admission or entrance exam deadlines.

 

Costs

You’ll need to consider that applying to schools abroad will have costs relating to the school’s entrance exam, translating documents, booking the English language test, tuition fees, and visa application fees. Don’t let this discourage you as many students study internationally on a budget, but do make a plan for your likely costs so that you can budget appropriately. Tuition fees, living expenses, and funding opportunities vary immensely across different countries, universities, and course subjects.

After the main application is done, it can usually take many weeks or months for the results. Some universities may also have interviews via videoconferencing or telephone. However, there is not much to do after that, before the results come. If you are selected, then there is another long process with applying for a visa, etc. The main applications are usually finished by November-December (though it varies, sometimes as late as February), and the results are usually out by March-April. The term usually begins in July-August-September, depending on the university.

Finally, take overseas studies as a lifetime investment; a decision should be taken after comprehensive research and thought. Most importantly, go for it only if there is something on offer that the country of your origin does not offer.

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