More than ever before, Indians are going abroad for higher studies. To take just one indicator, while the number of international students taking the GRE exam grew 11% in 2014-15, that rate for Indians was 20%. Incomes are rising, and so are young people's aspirations. And with so many students wanting to study abroad -- many of them the first in their family to do so -- there is a growing need for reliable information and competent guidance.
Just being able to afford to study abroad is no reason to enroll in a course.
It is true that information about higher studies abroad is available more easily today than it was, say, 20 years ago. But disinformation is also more easily available, and sometimes it's hard to tell it apart from the real thing. So unfortunately, we sometimes see stories of innocent students getting deported because they were bound either for a fraudulent university, or enrolled in a genuine university based on fudged applications that did not reflect their actual abilities. Here are some common basic mistakes that lead to such tragedies.
1. Not doing your own research
It seems daunting to identify a school and program when there are literally thousands of options. Use a good college search engine. Read up about accreditation. If the country you want to study in offers student services in your city, use them as much as possible. Check out the Facebook pages of programs you are interested in. Ask questions. Remember, basic research skills are crucial to your success as an international student, so you may as well practice! When you've done your homework, you will have identified a few programs that you are excited about. Not only that, your own fraud alert will go off when you see something that looks too good to be true!
2. Believing money is a shortcut to everything
Many people start calculating how much they can pay or borrow, even before they've identified a course that they're excited about. Just being able to afford to study abroad is no reason to enroll in a course. The important thing is to first find something you really want to do, and then work out your budget.
3. Thinking you'll breeze through your course once you're in
In India, we tend to cram before exams, and take it easy through the rest of the year. Exams are important, but this approach will not get you very far in a system that places a high value on individual participation, lab and library research, original and independent writing, frequent assignments, and continuous assessment. Be prepared to work hard throughout the term. And for this reason, choose to study what you're excited about – signing up for something you don't really care about is a guarantee of misery. Expensive misery.
Signing up for something you don't really care about is a guarantee of misery. Expensive misery.
4. Relying excessively on rankings and reputation
Rankings give an idea of the overall quality of the institution, but not of a particular program or specialization. This is especially true at the postgraduate level, where you should look to work with faculty members whose academic interests align with yours. Are there enough experienced and tenured faculty members, and relevant course offerings, in your specialization to see you through a master's or PhD?
5. Not knowing who you are and what you want
At both undergraduate and graduate levels, it is important to be honest with yourself, and the school you're applying to, about why you fit into their program. So for example, as an aspiring undergrad, you may not even be sure what you want to major in, but you should be able to articulate your strengths, weaknesses and interests, and your application -- especially the personal essay -- must come off as authentic.
Young Indians are in an unprecedented and exciting situation, with access to the best of global education and the opportunities of economic growth at home. The rewards of studying abroad have never looked better.