Studying abroad has long been a desire for an Indian, shrouded with myths and magic. But now, with most of the aspirants having direct access to the information superhighway, studying abroad is no longer the mystery it used to be.
So let me give you some tips that you can use in your quest for higher studies. My tips are intended with education in the USA in mind but fear not if you are going elsewhere some of the tips might still apply to you.
Course and College selection
This part needs to be set in motion as early as possible. The ideal time to start would be June of the year before you intend to go study. For a student who intends to start his/her education in Fall, starting right now is very advisable.
Even earlier would be better as it will give you more time to shortlist the prospective schools and mull over the course you want to take. Selecting a course might seem easy, it is indeed so if you keep in mind a few pointers:
It’s easier to get an admit in a course related to your bachelor’s specialization. For example, a BA Economics student will have difficulty getting an admit in a Fashion Technology Masters degree unless he/she can prove a definitive link to the applied field in his undergraduate studies.
An Electronics and Communication graduate might be able to secure an admission in the Computer Science department but he/she will be needed to demonstrate that his/her skills are equivalent to or greater than other CS applicants. The safest route is to apply to a course that is the closest to the one in your undergraduate studies.
Do remember that courses like Nuclear Engineering, Nano
Technology and Artificial Intelligence might raise flags during your visa interview and you might need additional processing[a delay of up to a month], where they run all sorts of background checks against you at DC and make sure everything is kosher.
Note for ECE students: There is no Electronics Engineering course available. You’ll need to choose Electrical Engineering and then specialize in an Electronics/Communication-related course.
College selection is a bit difficult if you’re pressed for time. You’ll need to select colleges based on your degree, specialization, degree value, school value, location and most importantly cost. Make sure you can afford the degree you’re taking and keep in mind that you’ll also need to pay living expenses.
Private universities like MIT or Princeton are expensive while public universities like Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland are cheaper. If you cannot afford the tuition, forget adding the school to your must apply list. Remember, the cost of living in cities like New York City, Los Angeles is pretty high so make sure you factor in the typical living costs into the equation.
The best sources include your college’s higher studies department, seniors, friends, relatives, and the Internet. I recommend getting a subscription at US News as it provides a definitive ranking of schools of almost every discipline in the US. It is definitely worth the $10 or so that you pay there. Internet is your friend if you need any help, google it.
Taking the exams
Book your GRE/TOEFL/IELTS date as early as July to make sure you have time for a second attempt if needed. Do plenty of practice tests online and offline to get a feel of the real thing. Use flashcards to learn when you are waiting at the doctor’s or traveling on a bus.
You most definitely shouldn’t learn by rote, word lists from Barons. There is something elementally wrong about force-feeding 1000s of words in a short span of a month or so.
Try reading books or at the very least newspapers and the online news articles. Watching a few Hollywood movies might be in order if you need to analyze and assimilate that American accent for your TOEFL and watching BBC is very helpful for that delightful English lilt for IELTS. Just don’t go overboard though!
Getting the relevant documents and getting the visa
The worst part is waiting for your decision. Checking your inbox or the school site every morning will become a ritual for a couple of months until you get your admissions decisions. Do not bombard the admissions office or the department with emails asking them about the status of your applications.
Patience is the key here. make sure you send all your application packets via tracked mail so that you can see and confirm delivery. Most international couriers like FedEx or DHL have special rates and benefits for students. Ask for them.
Get yourself the vaccinations that your school requires and make sure you have a record of them. You’ll be needed to produce them later on. Apply for an education loan at the earliest to avoid processing delays at the last minute. And no matter what you do, do NOT forge or fudge your documents for the visa interview.
If you get caught presenting fake documents at the visa interview[trust me, the visa officer will know], you might be disbarred from entering the USA even on a tourist visa and you might be criminally prosecuted by the Indian Government. Just don’t do it.
Though the whole process is sometimes as frustrating as crossing Anna Salai at 10 AM on a Monday morning with a bunch of hyperactive kids with a seeing-eye dog, the satisfaction that you get in the end more than makes up for it. Remember don’t give up, persevere and stay clean.