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Factors to consider

Graduate Studies Abroad - Factors to Consider

The decision to pursue higher education, especially if it is outside the country, cannot be taken lightly. It is the culmination of months – even years – of thinking, planning, researching, consulting and calculating.

Here we discuss some of the most important factors that need to be researched and thought through before beginning the application process:

Accreditation: Accreditation (in the context of an engineering institution) is a process of evaluation and certification of an institution’s infrastructure, curriculum, facilities, pedagogy that it meets the standards set by the accrediting body. The equivalent in India would be ‘recognition’, although ‘accreditation’ is gaining ground. While almost all undergraduate programs are accredited, most post-graduate (or simply graduate programs, as they are known in the US) may not be accredited. As a rule, the accreditation of the underlying undergraduate program is indicative of the quality of the graduate offering. Verification of the accreditation of programs offered by US universities may be done here: www.abet.org ABET (Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology) is the gold standard accreditation for engineering institutions in the US and a few other countries

• Cost: The cost of higher education in developed countries can be relatively high and is therefore an important factor to understand. The cost will include tuition fee to be paid to the institution, and living expenses (room and board, health insurance, books and supplies, clothing, travel and miscellaneous expenses. Tuition fees vary widely across countries and can vary within the same country. While several state (public) universities in Germany charge very little as tuition fee, many universities in the US and UK charge international students higher tuition fees than domestic students. In general, European universities cost less than US universities. Costs may be reduced via scholarships, assistantships of various kinds, as well as on-campus employment. The fluctuation of the Indian Rupee vis-à-vis foreign currencies should also be considered. Indian banks have generous education loan packages. It would be prudent to explore the options well before the application cycle begins.

• Deadlines: There are two main intakes in foreign countries for graduate studies – Fall and Spring. While fall semesters start in August-September, the Spring semesters start mid-January. For international students, the Fall semester works best. Applications usually are available online several months before the deadlines. However, it is important to remember that applications are reviewed and decisions taken as and when a viable number are completed. Universities do not wait till the deadline is past in order to assess applicants. Therefore, it is in students’ best interest to apply as early as possible. While hastily completed applications are bound to contain errors, it is advisable to send in meticulously completed applications well before the deadlines. At the leading universities, more than 50% of the spots are filled before the deadlines.

• Competitiveness: The most well-known, prestigious universities are regularly besieged by thousands of applicants, all well-qualified and eager to join them. Universities like Caltech, Stanford and MIT, Oxford and Cambridge, ETH and the TUM, and several dozens of others around the world receive many times more applications from qualified applicants than they can host. Acceptance rates into their graduate programs is sometimes in the low twenties or even single digit percentages. It would be a good idea to try and identify universities where students make a good fit in all ways. It is also important to spread the chances by applying to a range of universities rather than similar types of universities. A judicious mix would include about 8-12 universities - from the more competitive to the less competitive.

• Size of the university and program: Large universities typically have better resources than smaller ones. In this case, bigger usually is better! Large programs will also have better faculty, libraries and related resources. Big universities also benefit from being able to offer inter-disciplinary programs and collaborations, so vital in today’s world.

• Research Activity: The level of research activity at universities is indicative of the caliber of the institution. The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education is published periodically by the Carnegie Foundation. An examination of the classification is useful in assessing the level of research activity at different US research institutions. For the latest classification, go to https://carnegieclassifications.iu.edu/ The higher the research activity, especially if it is in the area of interest, the higher the likelihood of securing research assistantships and other work, apart from the pure excitement of working with pioneers in the field.

• Internships/Job Opportunities: One of the add-on benefits of higher education in other countries is the possibility of internship and job opportunities during and on the completion of studies. It is important to understand the rules and regulations governing such opportunities in different countries. Most countries allow students to do part-time work on campus during the semesters, with proper authorization. While 20 hour/week assistantships - research and teaching – waive tuition fees and provide a decent living allowance in most US universities, it can be different in other countries. Best to check with the official websites of the universities and countries themselves.

Areas with high density of industries and populations typically offer more opportunities for internships and jobs. Rural, sparsely populated areas may be cheaper for living, but offer fewer such opportunities. Another factor to consider is that many European countries prefer people fluent in the local language for internships and jobs. For job opportunities after completion of studies, most countries allow students to work for different time periods. The US is most generous with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) students allowed three years of work on the student visa itself. Explore https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/students/work/working-in-the-united-states to learn more.