Whats Your Choice
An estimated 1,80,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students from across India fly abroad every year to pursue higher education. A majority (over 54 per cent) of them enrol at American universities while 11 per cent still prefer to enrol at British universities. With xenophobia on the rise after the June 23 Brexit referendum, and the difficulties caused by the current student visa system in the U.K., the flow of Indian students, which has been falling steadily in recent years, is likely to ebb further. Despite this new development, the U.K. remains the third most favoured destination for undergraduate and postgraduate students who are ready — given the astonishingly high cut-offs demanded by the few top-ranked colleges and universities in India — to pay an arm and leg for higher education abroad.
For adventurous students prepared to invest their family’s fortunes in higher education abroad, the first point to note is that the higher education system in the U.S. is markedly different from that in Britain. Before you choose your university or higher education institution, you should decide upon the country in which you want to study. The higher education system you opt for should be able to fulfil your academic objectives and enhance your skill-set. It may be useful to get an overview of the higher education systems of the U.S. and the U.K. to aid the decision-making process in this regard.
The concept of interdisciplinary learning is a common thread in the curriculum of America’s colleges and universities. The flexible U.S. higher education system encourages students to customise study programmes to suit their individual interests. For instance, you could combine religious studies with sociology, or pursue your love of music alongside your penchant for mathematics, or even learn art history and business management studies simultaneously. Moreover, in addition to the primary curriculum, you are free to attend lectures, study, write examinations and obtain credits in other subjects of your choice in wholly unrelated disciplines. For instance, the late Steve Jobs, legendary Apple Inc. co-founder, studied calligraphy conterminously with his major in science at Reed College, a combination which ultimately translated into the sleek designs of Apple products. Similarly, for students inclined toward research, the extensive lab facilities which are a standard feature of universities abroad are easily accessible and professors will welcome offers of assistance with their work and research studies. In short, in America’s universities, students have unparalleled opportunities to customise their education to fulfil all their interests in order to widen their horizons and acquire a well-rounded academic experience. Furthermore, the insistence of almost all universities that foreign students reside on campus for at least the first two years enables them to acclimatise to life in the U.S. and optimally leverage their academic experience when searching for employment opportunities.
The admissions process for U.S. colleges/universities is thorough and extensive. For prospective undergraduate students, writing prescribed tests — SAT/ACT and language tests such as TOEFL / IELTS — is mandatory. In addition, application essays, letters of recommendation from school principals, class teachers and respected academics, a well-rounded profile furnishing proof of community service, internships and extracurricular activities are also required to be submitted to colleges/universities. It is recommended that aspirants start working on applications a year in advance. Once the admissions committee of your chosen undergraduation college reviews your application and finds you suitable for admission, you will receive a letter of acceptance even before you receive your Class XII board exam results.
Graduates of Indian universities applying for admission into postgraduate programmes of the U.S. universities will need to write the GRE or GMAT exams plus an English proficiency test (TOEFL / IELTS). Admission applications are judged on the basis of academics, professional exam scores and co-curricular and extra-curricular records of applicants during their undergraduate education and work experience. Besides, it is important to demonstrate a strong interest in the chosen field of study through a well-crafted resume and Statement of Purpose. After submitting your application, you may also receive an interview call. The decision on your admission is made after evaluating all these factors.
On the other hand, unlike the longer four-year bachelor’s and two-year master’s programmes offered by the U.S. universities, the shorter three-year undergraduate and 10 or 12-month master’s programmes of British universities provide a much more focused system of education, while offering arts, science and commerce and professional degree programmes. As in India, courses at British universities focus on a single discipline.
There are also similarities between the British and Indian school systems, both of which encourage early division into streams, making it easier for Indian students to adapt to the British tertiary education system. The shorter duration of British degree programmes is also a great advantage because of the lower overall cost of higher education, while the quality of education dispensed by the U.K.’s reputed universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, LSE and Imperial College, which routinely rank among the Top 10 in the annual World University Rankings league tables published by QS and Times Higher Education, is on par with the very best U.S. universities.
The application procedure for British universities is simpler than the usual American process. For undergraduate admissions, writing standardised tests such as SAT and ACT is not required, although IELTS scores for proof of English competency are often mandatory. Moreover, applications to all British universities is centralised through UCAS (University and Colleges Admissions Service) which requires only one letter of recommendation and a single Statement of Purpose for all U.K. applications (there is a limit of 5 universities one can apply to). Of course, a strong profile with good academic scores and a record of co-curricular and/or extra-curricular activities is very helpful here as well.
For graduate students, GRE or GMAT scores are optional for specific universities and courses. Applications are judged on the basis of school and college academic performance and experience in the professional and extracurricular realms. Essays, Statements of Purpose, references and a well-drafted resume along with a standard IELTS score are sufficient for applications to graduate programmes in the U.K. Students can apply to as many universities as they wish, unlike the undergraduate system, and the applications are not centralised: the universities tend to handle graduate admissions directly.
Although scholarships for overseas students are rare and less generous than in the U.S., and admissions are fiercely competitive, the chances of students from Indian schools offering CIE and IB curriculums getting offers are very favourable. Top-ranked Oxbridge and other universities apart, the U.K. has numerous other universities spread across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland that provide high quality, globally respected education. Unlike the U.S. where Class XII exam results are not of great importance, U.K. universities give conditional offers dependent upon securing a certain score in Board exams to secure a place.
The writer is co-founder, Collegify.