Making the right choice

STUDYING ABROAD

Making the right choice

Three months ago, on a train from New York to Washington DC, I sat next to an exceptionally smart young woman. As we got talking, I found out that she was going to be a lawyer and was pursuing her last semester at a law school. “Which law school?” I asked. “University of Colorado,” she said. I was shocked. With her LSAT score and the background, I was sure she would have made it to one of the Ivy-leagues. She must have sensed what was on my mind, for she continued, “I got into both Harvard and Yale, but chose Colorado. It was a better fit.”

We always believe that the best way to choose a graduate school is on the basis of the institution's academic ranking. While education is undoubtedly the most important factor, there are several issues which one should take into consideration before deciding on a particular university. In my friend’s case, she chose the University of Colorado because of her love for skiing and the University’s proximity to the world’s best ski slopes. This, combined with the school’s exceptionally strong Environmental Law programme, made it a far more enticing option than a general Law degree in a higher ranked school. But, choosing the right school can sometimes be as complex as choosing the right partner, and in order to do so effectively, it is important to have your expectations and goals clearly chalked out.

Are you looking at a research-driven career or one which is more practical? What facilities are available in the school to help you achieve maximum success in your academic career? If you are interested in a niche field, it always helps to look through research papers published in that area and evaluate which school will be able to offer the most support for your interest.

If financial aid is of prime importance, it is always better to look at a good State school, where not only are the tuition fees lower, but also, in most cases, there is more scholarship money available for inter-national students. Looking through private scholarships  and endowments available in private schools also help.

It is important to be clear of your future plans. If you intend to stay on in the UK or USA after your education, it is always easier to pick a school close to a city. If not anything else, it makes the sheer logistics of attending several interviews much easier. Also, networking opportunities and transport to other cities are easier, expanding your ‘employment base’. Abhay Mirza, an investment banker, plans to go back to the United States to get his Masters in Finance. “I go by the 3C method — course ranking, college ranking and city ranking. Since I am specifically looking at finance, I want to make sure that every school I apply to has a strong finance programme. Then I look at the school’s overall ranking and finally the city, where the school is located. As a banker, I would prefer a second rung school within and around New York to a higher ranked school in the mid-west,” he says.

But, each person has a different list of priorities. For Sai Phanikumar, who hails from interior Andhra Pradesh, “It is important that any university I go to has a sizeable Indian student population. While the new experience of studying abroad is exciting, it is important for me to be able to connect with my peers.” A good strategy to follow is to look up the cities where your potential universities are located, in advance. Make sure you check the weather conditions for the entire year as the average temperate varies greatly depending on the season.

Other important factors to consider is the cost of living, ambience of the city, demographics of the area, etc. For example, Boston, home to Harvard, MIT, has over 30 institutions of higher education crammed into the city, making it a predominantly student city, while Miami, the city known for its beaches and night life, is home to a large retired population.

Once you have found a course you like, in a university which is suitable to you, in a city which you would like to live in, you are all set to start your application process. But, remember to always check the accreditation of the University and make sure that your degree is valid after graduation.

Validity check always helps

With every street corner now playing host to an ‘overseas education consultant’, it is easy to get carried away and let someone else do your homework for you. While renowned education services are legitimate, be aware of promises to ‘get professional degrees’ in universities which do not require any standardised test scores (i.e., TOFEL, IELTS, GRE, GMAT).

*Always google the university's name and click on the website. Most renowned universities also have Wikipedia pages.

*If you are looking at an American university, always check to see if the web url ends with .edu. It is essential to check the accreditation of the university on the United States Education Department’s website: www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation.

*Most European countries have web portals where you can check the accreditation of institutions. For the UK, www.dcsf.gov.uk/recognisedukdegrees is a good reference website.

*While it is important to find the right fit, always first consider universities, ranked among the top 50 or top 100 in the world. USnews.com, provides valuable information about various schools in the United States. Other than this, The Financial Times, Newsweek and the QS World university rankings are quite popular.

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