Should I Study in the United States?

It is that time of year when thousands of aspiring international students anxiously wait to hear from their “dream universities” in the United States to know if they if they have made the cut and to know whether they will be “Coming to America” to study in cities  they have only heard of on the TV and seen in the movies.  While they wait for offers of admission, most of them have a question lingering in the back of their minds. “Is it worth studying in the US right now, Sid?” a question I often get these days. “It’s Trump’s America. It is scary!” they tell me. I want to say “Not, it’s not!” but I understand the apprehension.

“America First!” seems to have stirred things up among prospective students and of course, the cost of tuition and cost of living has gradually gone up over the years. Some universities have seen a drop in international enrollment to the extent that it has begun to adversely affect the revenue. The United States issued a total of 393,573 F-1 visas in fiscal 2017, down from 471,728 in 2016. A tougher stance on the H1B has had a significant role to play in the dip in these numbers. People have begun evaluating their R.O.I. in the United States vs that elsewhere. The question still remains, “Is it worth it!? Is it worth the investment, the effort, and the blood-sweat-and-tears, to study in the United States right now?” The answer in my opinion, something that a lot of people don’t like to hear, is “it depends.”

It depends on what you want from life in the United States. Notice that I didn’t say “it depends on what you want from your education in the United States”, they are two different things. It depends on what you’re hoping to study, how badly you want to study what you hope to study and how determined you are to make things happen. It depends on what your overall priorities in life are. A gentleman I was talking to, who came to the United States to study in the 1970’s and has worked here since said, “Sid, you people have it tough. Things were comparatively easier back then. People from my time won’t have been able to make the cut in these times. And it is only going to get tougher, by the looks of it.”

Given the current political scenario and the uncertainty that might follow over the next few years, if any of the following applies to you, give your decision to study in the United States an extra thought or two:

  1. You just want to study abroad; where, it doesn’t matter. You picked the US because that’s what everyone around you seems to be doing, because that’s what your cousins did.
  2. You just want to have a better standard of living and foreign degree would help.
  3. If you think any American degree commands more value all over the world vs one from some of the other countries.
  4. You just want to live outside your home country because your area of expertise doesn’t have a whole lot of prospects there.
  5. The field you want to work in post-graduation is not H1B friendly.
  6. The program that you want to study is considered “Non-STEM” in the US.
  7. Your girlfriend/boyfriend is moving to study in the United States and you just want to move to be with them – consider if this is surely something you want to do. If yes, *thumbs up*.

I can go on and on, but it really comes down to what you want in life and if you can get it only in the United States. America has been a country of innovation for a long time and continues to be one. They don’t call it the “Land of opportunities” for nothing.  It’s still the melting pot of the world, the diversity and the scope for personal development that exists here is, arguably, nowhere else. Whenever you hear about new “cool technology”, chances of it being based out of United States are pretty high. While Silicon Valley has seemingly lost its charm in the world, it still remains to be this mythical place where “cutting edge work” is done.

So, the question you should really be asking yourself isn’t “Is studying in the US worth it?” it should be “If I choose to study in the United States, where does all of the above fit into what I want in life?”, since you’re paying for access to all of the above and not just some quality education. If advanced degree is all you’re looking for, given the uncertainty, you’re better off studying someplace else, maybe even in your own home country.

As the gentleman said, it has gotten tough over the years, and it is likely going to get tougher. Don’t be the person who moves to the America five years from now and wishes you had done it earlier. It’s easier in Canada, Australia, etc. for the international students to become a part of their workforce.  In the US, times are tough, no arguments to that! Sure, there are various factors that determine your success in the US that you have no control over, but if you’re the kind of person who likes the challenge, there’s surely an upside to still move to America to study. The United States doesn’t reward mediocrity so do not be afraid of taking risks, in fact, get better at managing them. I encourage you all to tell yourself that the American dream is still well and truly alive if you can tap into the potential that you’re yet to realize.

Sid Thatham graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017 with a Master’s in Chemical Engineering and an MBA. Since graduation, he’s been teaching at the university as Associate Professor – Adjunct and is a Public Affairs officer for Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.


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