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Before Applying to U.S. Colleges, Indian Students Should Be Able to Answer ‘Why?’


Before Applying to U.S. Colleges, Indian Students Should Be Able to Answer ‘Why?’


Today, with more than 170 universities and 6,000 affiliated colleges, the number of universities in India offering undergraduate and graduate degrees has grown, and continues to do so. Despite this, the average Indian teenager applying to college now continues (in the absence of financial and other constraints), to list the United States as the destination of first choice. While the Indian brain drain of the ’70s was confined to students from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) arriving on U.S. shores in search of master’s and doctoral degrees in engineering and business, today’s brain drain would include younger students seeking to earn undergraduate degrees.

Why do you want to come here?

This tends to be the first question I like to ask. Certainly, the pursuit of knowledge is an end in itself, and degrees never hurt. It is useful, however, to think about a longer-term goal even before you decide to apply. Are you coming here “just because”? Or are you coming with the goal of returning to India so you can put your skills to work in an emerging economy? Perhaps you are coming here with the goal of settling down in the U.S. because your cousins live here and everything you hear about making the country your home is wonderful. The answer to these questions will and must have an impact on the colleges to which you choose to apply.

Are you comfortable with the idea of a new home for the next four years?

While the degree may be your end goal, it is important to remember that you are moving to a different country where the protection afforded by your parents, your friends and all the domestic help you may have received growing up, may not be available. This can be a big regime shift, especially for students coming from economically advantaged backgrounds where the Indian lifestyle with a chauffeur, cook and maids is light-years away from dorm-room reality. That this is not an idle concern is borne out by the fact that more students from India are coming to earn an undergraduate degree, for which the possibility of receiving financial aid or scholarships for non-residents is very slim when compared with graduate school, where research and teaching assistantships are more common. I have seen students, unprepared to deal with this reality, having to return to India after their first semester. Unless you know what your long-term goal is, the sacrifice may not be worthwhile.

Have you considered “the livability index” of the university you are applying to?

What is the climate like? “Cold” and “chilly” might mean 60 degrees Fahrenheit for a student from Bangalore, but cold in Boston or Chicago means something else. While most large cities have good Indian restaurants, smaller towns may not. Food choices may seem secondary compared to the application form. But we are creatures of habit, and having an affordable local Indian restaurant can substantially impact what I call “the happiness index.” This index varies directly, in my opinion, with grades on quizzes and end-of-semester exams. Does the city offer public transportation? How can you get around campus without a car? Do you have friends or family that can drive you to the grocery store or the clinic should an emergency arise? Some universities like the University of Houston set up an “India Desk” at certain times of the year so students applying for admission can “chat” with other Indian students that are currently on campus. The service is free except for the cost of the call and is definitely worth it. If you know your long-term goal, you can evaluate the pros and cons before you decide where to apply.

Ask yourself, why do you want to be here? If you do not have a clear answer to that question, delay sending in that application form.


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