Palak: Hey, I'm going to the States in August 2014.
Gutthi: Waah! Which university?
P: BeVry University.
G: Haven't heard of it, babe?
P: Kuch bhi.. It's one of the best in the USA.
G: Achcha.. Good Luck yaa! Keep in touch.
And there you see another brick in the wall. err.. broken wall.Almost every Indian student dreams of studying overseas. While the fat pay package, luxurious lifestyle and 'set' career is what they (and parents) see, it's the wrong university selection which acts as a roadblock in 'setting' the career.
There are thousands of universities around the globe. United States of America, itself, boasts of 3500 universities. Moreover, other countries like United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia and Singapore have quite well penetrated the brains of the Indian students with scholarship offering. So, it's no joke to select your 5,8,10 universities from this colossal pool unless you've done your homework very well.
Coming from a country where learning is always tertiary, quality is secondary and 'kitna milega' is primary, the top 75-100 universities are always going to be the eye candy for any student. If you browse the internet and spend a couple of hours on various educational websites, you'll realise that only around 100 universities in the States are well known. Oh! So, the selection is much simpler now, isn't it? Not really!
Selection of universities is a long process and it should be done very meticulously. The more you research, better is the outcome. Most students work on various parts of the Application Process - arranging documents, buttering the recommenders and preparing the 'purpose' - but they fail to select the right set of universities because they don't give enough time for the same. In the end, they rely on a couple of classmates/seniors, copy paste their 'top 10' list and complete the application. Some lucky folks do shine well using this 'couch potato' strategy but as they say, "half knowledge is bad knowledge".
So, you mean I should check each and every page of those 75 universities and take a call? It's almost impossible. I need something to help me get going with the initial pool. If that's the concern then, you can always start with the Grad School Finder (GSF) which will help you generate a pool of universities based on your profile. It's a tool (and you can't rely on it completely, of course) but the fact that it pops up with various universities and their chances is sufficient enough to take that big lazy step of finding universities. Your 75 choices now cutshorts to 35. Thanks to the GSF.
What next? How do I narrow down the list further? The entire selection process is very subjective. A formula that worked for your senior may be redundant in your case. Every applicant must realise their needs, wants and situation.
Still, how do I get going? What parameters should be primary? Even though there is no foolproof answer to it, your primary factors should always be - Course Interest (subjects and curriculum), University Brand, Job Opportunities, Fee and Living Expenses and Research Work but not necessarily in the same order. The aforementioned parameters have always been very important for any applicant. As mentioned before, for an outsider, every course in the US looks brilliant. So, once you know your Courses & Universities, you can straight away look for the chances to get into that particular university.
You've the Previous Years Student Profiles that will help you narrow down the list. Those are some fresh experiences where students have shared all their admits, rejects and reasons to select the particular university. Oh, that's what I exactly want.
So, I'm now around 10-15 universities and have to compare the pros and cons of each to bolster my selection. University Comparer will serve the purpose. It's an ideal tool that will help you understand the Reputation of the university, it's Popularity amongst Indian Community, essentials like Placements and Preferable Course, conditions like Location and Weather and Tuition Fee & Living Expenses. So using the comparer, you'll be able to eliminate similar options and choose the best one.
Studying in the US is no joke. It makes a $50,000 (atleast) hole in your pocket. So, it is very important to understand your finances. Talk to your parents, know their spending power, and do the math. Depending on your financial potential, you might discard a few more universities where the tuition fees are exorbitant.
But going through the various forums, past profiles and talking to my seniors, I feel I've a good chance at the university. Should I discard it because I'm falling short of a couple of thousand dollars? When it comes to MS applications, compromise is the last thing you want. If you've done your homework very well and calculated all the expenses, you should still take a chance because graduating from a top notch university is directly proportional to a fat pay package plus brand of the university plus myriad of opportunities. Last but not the least, education loan will always serve the purpose though you need to understand all their terms and conditions well in advance.
Another important factor that comes into play is the Location. Just like many others, if your intentions to study in the US are purely to make $100,000 per annum or more, then ensure that you're going to the best location, if not the best university. Okay, so how do I weigh these two options - Decent (but not top) university in North Carolina versus Average university in California? The second option is always more attractive because a better location means breathtaking opportunities, plethora of MNCs for easy job switching and fantastic lifestyle. Even if you don't get campus recruitment after completion of the course, the location of the university will play a vital role in landing you a good job.
Above all, the most important factor that should be considered while selecting the universities is GUT. Since, there is no cap when it comes to application, you can apply to as many as you want. So, make sure your final choices are balanced in such a way that you've a lot of ambitious choices and a couple of dream universities. Even if you fall short by some numbers as mentioned on the university requirement page, do not step back. Go ahead and apply simply because you've liked it. Evaluations are made on complete profile and not on a single parameter. More ambitious and less safe choices will always work in your favour.
In the end, smart selection and categorisation always wins.
Image Credits – fastweb.com