The Road to Academic Heaven for Indian Students

CHOICE! That is something of a challenge for Indian students when they’re looking for universities to apply in the U.S.A. Learn more from our guest columnist on how you can find the right fit.

Short listing universities –a unique challenge for Indian students

Indian students come from a background where their academic future gets decided based only on the rank they get in various qualifying tests that they need to take. It takes a lot of research for them to realise the incredible choices that universities in the U.S. offer in terms of location, academic culture, personality and character. It is a challenge to find the right fit.

Matching career path to programs

The path to finding the right fit begins at finding the right program; the journey to identify the right program starts at answering that difficult question: what do you wish to do in life.

Most Indian students are so focussed on getting admitted in competitive programs and colleges that very few of them have had the luxury to ponder over what they wish to do in their life. This is particularly relevant for students applying to master’s programs. For example, as computer science is popular among Indian students, there is a wide choice available for them. Software engineering, computer engineering, computer science, MIS as an MBA or MS, networking, databases, graphics and animation, management of technology are some of the options.

It is of great help to take a personality evaluation. Anyone with work experience will agree that the personality of a person determines how far you will go in your career apart from talent and ability. For instance, someone who is hyperactive will find it hard to work as a network engineer as the work is erratic and when everything is running smoothly, there is not much to do.  An evaluation helps in identifying your strengths and choosing career paths that build on these strengths is advisable as they leverage resources.

Once a career path is chosen, it is easier to indentify the program. If you don’t want to go into the field of research, then a program with course content designed to start working right away would be preferable. If you wish to specialise in a niche area, then students can look at particular professors working in the area of interest to short list universities, rather than the university.

Also, universities tend to accumulate a lot of valuable knowledge, expertise and focus in certain departments as an individual has taken keen interest in it and that has led to that department being able to attract best talent.

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

University’s discretion, freedom

Indian students are also unaware that universities in the US have a lot of discretion when they ‘short list’ students for admitting. There have been times when the student’s profile on paper should not have gotten him admission in top schools but it has; and instances where the student has a great profile and yet hasn’t succeeded in securing admission in top schools. Is it just luck? Of course not.  Universities look at the potential of the student along with the background. How well students can convey their career dreams through their statement of purpose, through their initial contact with the department helps in standing out from thousands of applicants.

Investing in the resume and SOP (statement of purpose)

This is where the quality of statement of purpose (SOP) becomes significant. It is known that some universities do not lay stress on SOPs. But if all things are equal in the academic profile, then the SOP makes a difference, particularly for management programs. Indians students need to understand that even when they copy and paste SOPs of their seniors, friends, the ubiquitous Google, customizing the document is a must. There are instances when students do not even change the gender in the SOP. That would be hara-kiri of the worst kind.

Resume is another document that Indian students feel is too premature to write when applying to universities. Their logic is, we have hardly done anything, hardly achieved anything, so what is the point in spending any time on it. It is in the resumes of Indian students, under the heading career objectives that you will find the most useless words strung together as sentences. Very often they are copied from a collection that the DTP operator who is ‘dressing up’ the resume offers to them.


Contacting universities

Another obstacle in finding the right school is Indian students have a lot of reluctance in contacting universities, writing to professors for information. They feel that such communication may not be welcome. It takes a lot of persuasion from advisors to encourage students to write to universities.

Finding out information about financial aid is another challenge. Indian students tend to ask a direct question to which they are not likely to get a positive answer: will I get financial aid?

Rounded profile

There are many students who have the ability to do exceedingly well when admitted to the program. But they do not have any strong elements in their profile like extra curricular activities. This is true, especially when they are considering top universities. The idea of academic pursuit in India is to focus entirely on studies, to the exclusion of any other passions, interests and hobbies. Parents at home and administration where they study strongly discourage students from getting ‘distracted’ by other activities. It is only when they are working on their applications and the resume that the students realize the value of such activities. However, there is not much they can do at that stage.

Apart from what has been mentioned, there are the usual parameters to look for when short listing universities for any program — GPA requirement, GRE, TOEFL, SAT, ACT scores, fees, deadlines, financial aid options.

  • The last and not the least challenge is how to approach this whole process. On one side you have resources offered by the State Department through it website and advising centres that necessitate reading and comprehending a lot of their own and on the other you have the ‘agents’ who make the whole process faster and easier at a steep fee. The Indian student is caught between these alternatives. The ideal situation would be a middle path. Even if you take help, every Indian student ‘must’ whatever is happening with regard to his program, universities being short listed and so on.

Dos and Don’ts while applying

  • Let your name be consistently spelled, on your birth certificate, on your passport, when you register for standardized tests, on the mark sheets, in the visa application form. If there is any discrepancy in any of these documents, it is better to get it fixed than face a lifetime of pain;
  • While contacting universities, do not ask for information that can be easily accessed from the website; you will come across as a student who doesn’t his home work well;
  • When applying online, avoid applying to multiple schools simultaneously. The chances of you mixing up SOPs, resumes and university names are high;
  • When sending emails to universities, make sure you do it through emails that you check regularly and that you manage all these responses; else some crucial emails are likely to get lost in hundreds of other emails;
  • Please get the spellings right when addressing individuals and their gender, it is aggravating to be referred to as he when you are a she. If not sure, ask.

Educational Adviser
UNITI Foundation
Hyderabad, India

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