Choosing the right option to study abroad – whether going for an undergraduate or a postgraduate program – can be a daunting task for most. With so many countries and institutions to choose from, students and parents alike can get easily confused by information overload. Moreover, with the amount of clatter generated by education fairs, advertisements, institution visits and the likes, making the right choice can seem like a monumental task. If students are able to keep certain basics in mind, the decision process can be made much simpler, and they can be confident that they are making the correct choice.
I will try and highlight the key points which, in my opinion, should be carefully considered by students and their families before they embark on that long journey overseas. Literally as well as metaphorically, these should be considered the ABCDEs of study abroad.
Ordinarily, one would assume that anyone seeking higher studies would look very closely at various institutes, the quality of teaching, as well as the curriculum. However, having interacted with thousands of prospective students over the past many years, I have noticed that a significant percentage of students actually give more weightage to extraneous factors such as part-time work, ease of admission, turnaround times for offer letters etc. While these factors are no doubt important, the SINGLE MOST important factor continues to be the reputation and quality of the institute. Going to a dodgy institution based on factors other than the quality of the institute is a short-sighted tactic which can have disastrous long-term consequences.
The one factor you should never ever compromise on is the quality of the institute. You should try and select the best possible institution based on your academic percentage, work experience etc. While everyone may not be able to get admission in Harvard or Wharton, there are many reputable institutions across the globe to consider, whatever your academic percentage.
But you have to go out and look.
The important thing here is to get the thinking process right – do not consider education as an expense, but instead as an investment. You may find yourself listening to consultants and college representatives telling you that it’s only the degree that matters, and not the college where you get it.
That is as false abroad as it is in India.
Just like students from top notch institutions in India tend to have better career opportunities available to them, the same is the case with international institutes as well.
As a general rule, Government institutes tend to have better infrastructure, better research facilities and better faculty. As such, these should be on everyone’s preferred list. There are a few private institutes also which provide very high quality education, and students should consider them as well. Remember that the name of the institute you study at will be on your resume forever, so try and ensure that it is one of the best. A lot of international placement consultants do not even accept resumes of students from dubious institutes, so one needs to be very careful and not make the wrong decision just to save a few bucks.
Once you have short-listed a few good institutes, the next step is to get an idea of your budget. So talk to your family, and also research what kind of loans you can get. Nowadays, almost all government banks and a lot of private banks offer education loans for overseas study. In most cases, loans are granted at the local branch level (though final approval may come from the Head Office of the bank).So try and meet with the manager of your local bank branch and get some information about your eligibility. Banks will normally need your parents or siblings as guarantors, so the process will be much easier if you have a documented source of income to show them. At times they may also ask for property documents as collateral, but that usually happens only if your loan amount exceeds Rs. 7.5 lakhs.
Another important point to note here is that at the time of applying for visa, you will need to show availability of funds. The amount of funds needed and the instruments they are parked in varies according to the visa policies of each country. As a general rule, you will be required to show enough funds to cover your tuition plus living expenses.
However, what varies from one country to the other are the types of financial instruments that you can use, the kinds of guarantors that are acceptable, and the exact amount of funds that you need. For example, some countries may only require proof of availability of funds just for the first year, while others may require it for the entire program. If you have this information upfront, and have discussed it with your family early enough, then you can save yourself a lot of time, effort and money.
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The education counsellor who advises you is not only a key source of information on various institutes and countries, but can also help remove confusion and bring clarity to the decision making process. So it is imperative that you entrust yourself to a counsellor who has the right experience to guide you.
You should check with counsellors and make sure that they havenot just read about the countries and Universities that they are referring you to in a magazine or in a brochure, but that they have actually visited that country and the Universities. You should also check if they have sent other students there, what their experience has been, and if the counsellor is directly associated with the University. In most countries, institutes have their authorised representatives who are paid by the Universities. Because of this, their services are free of cost to students, although some may charge a token fee towards courier and registration charges.
If a consultant charges more than a token fee, it might be a good idea to stay away.
Also, it is always better to get your application process handled by a consultancy which represents multiple institutes. This ensures much better chances of success, and also gives you a backup plan just in case your first choice does not materialize. And remember, no consultancy can guarantee either an admission or a visa, as these are beyond their control. However, a good consultant can always tell you the probability of both after looking at your resume and your financial documents.
The country that you choose for your higher education has an extremely important bearing on the direction your career takes. Different countries offer different benefits, so the choice must be made with your long term objectives in mind. The fees and living expenses can also vary widely, so it is a good idea to have a clear estimate of your budget before starting the shortlisting process.
As a general rule, one should prefer an English speaking country, as they are much easier to adapt to. One should be wary of programs offered in English in non-English speaking countries, since adapting there can be tough. Unless one is fluent in the local language, finding a job locally is almost impossible. And not just that, simply managing one’s day to day life – from grocery shopping to bus/train schedules, from restaurant menus to local TV channels, from apartment hunting to interacting with locals – can get extremely difficult and frustrating if one does not speak the language.
The choice of country should primarily depend on the objectives and background of an individual. Just because your friends or your cousin from Mumbai have gone to a particular country does not mean that you should go there as well. Their career goals, academic, professional and financial background may be very different from yours, even though you might have studied together in school or lived in the same neighbourhood. Even worse, they might not have made the most informed decision themselves and might have blindly followed someone else – and you might be making the exact same mistake.
So make an independent decision – by all means take inputs from people you know, but decide for yourself by doing thorough research.What works for your cousin or your friend might not work for you. This one decision will have a major impact on your career and you future life, so consider it extremely carefully before reaching a decision.
You should also be very clear about whether you wish to immigrate after you have completed your studies or if you just want to live there for a few years and then return to India. If you are considering immigration, look carefully at the country’s immigration policies and general attitude towards immigrants. Try and gather immigration related information for that country, including statistics on the number of Indian immigrants, number of immigration visas granted annually, the average time it takes to get Permanent Residency etc.
Finally, after giving careful thought to A, B, C and D, one has to get down to the tedious application process. While applications are primarily considered on the basis of your area of study, academic percentages and professional work experience, you may also be required to take an aptitude test such as GRE, GMAT or SAT and / or an English language test such as IELTS or TOEFL. The aptitude tests are normally required by all good institutions in the US (and quite a few in Canada). Most institutions in the other countries do not require an aptitude test. But institutions of all English speaking countries generally do require that students take at least one language test.
Though the amount of preparation required for such exams is very individual dependent, an aptitude test normally takes 3-4 months of intense preparation. Those who have prepared for Indian exams like CAT or MAT may find it easier, whereas others would need to start from scratch. For an aptitude test, it is normally a good idea to take specialised coaching, especially for those who are working and hence cannot devote too much time on their own. Joining a coaching class also brings with it the required discipline, and is generally a positive thing.
Language tests like IELTS and TOEFL on the other hand are very simple. These are basic exams that test only your language skills.They normally test students on four aspects of language, namely, Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. For students who have had their education in English and also use the language frequently in their daily lives, a few days of practice at home is usually more than enough. The best way to decide whether you need specialized coaching for these language exams is by taking a few sample tests (easily available online or in books), and then making your decision based on the results of these sample tests. In most cases, students are simply required to clear the language exam. Any excess points scored do not really have a bearing on your admission decision as long as you have met the minimum criteria.
The right international education has the potential of truly expanding not just your career options but also your global outlook, making you an attractive candidate for multi-national corporations. The right international education can work wonders for your personal growth as well, and be a tremendous asset both personally and professionally.
An incorrect choice on the other hand, can end up costing you dearly in time, money and sweat. It is therefore critical that you work with the right counsellor/consultant and with their help and guidance, make the right decision every step of the way. Think clearly and think long term.Follow the ABCDEs of international education and you will surely come out on top!
NewStrides Consulting Pvt. Ltd.
Bangalore, New Delhi, Pune