For Indians and other Asians, America is by far the best place to go for higher studies. The reason is simple. The US offers the most dynamic and adaptable education system responsive to the needs of a vast, multi-cultural student community from all over the world.
Be it engineering or Arts, or any other field for that matter, American degrees are perhaps the most state-of-the-art besides being practical in orientation.
When you complete your studies in America and go out into the world, you are likely to be equipped with more than sufficient knowledge and confidence to work in any country anywhere in the world. The emphasis on practical implementation of a subject in real life is a major plus point of American college and university education.
After all, there is little point in learning the theory of mass communication for three years if on passing out you can't even design an advertisement for a magazine! Or, if like countless others, you are foxed when you see a slightly different motor controller after spending four years on a course in electrical engineering!
The chief factor, however, although to a somewhat lesser extent as compared to a decade ago is that colleges in the US offer generous financial assistance by way of providing part time work in keeping with a student's field of study or, at times, even of a general nature, which not only helps ease the financial burden of acquiring a degree, but also in more cases than not, provides the student a lot of work experience in his or her field.
Besides, the reputation that an American degree carries is possibly the biggest lure of all. No wonder there are close to half-a-million international students studying in America, of whom forty per cent were from the Indian subcontinent and Asia, comprising India, Pakistan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia.
How other countries compare
Australia has lately emerged as a much publicised destination for foreign study. If the quality of education is not a primary concern, you could perhaps consider heading 'down under'. And, if the only consideration is studying abroad, then you may as well consider Greece, or even Africa!
But if your reason for studying abroad is to learn something useful, gain some enriching experience in an international community and at the cutting-edge of technology, then America is the only choice you really have. Of course, there are some other countries which can boast of high level of advancement, like France for instance. While your living expenditure in France would be somewhat lower than it would be in the US, you are bound to have a major problem with the language.
Since France is mainly a French-speaking country, you've got to be really good at the language. Let's suppose you are enrolled in a technical course, and may God help you if it's at the Master's level. Now, unless you can instantly correlate what an 'Axel' for instance, means in English along with its equivalent in French, and so on, you won't stand too bright a chance of success there.
Moreover, there is not much financial assistance available in France though the living expenses (in many cities) and tuition fees are comparatively lower and it is also possible to get admission into French colleges without too much of a bother.
England, in contrast, has no financial aid program of any significance whatsoever for international students at large (an ordinary student) and neither is the application procedure that simple.
As for Australia, you can definitely do better in this world than fork out $20,000 to a travel agent-turned-admission agent (the swelling tribe which now abounds in Asian metros), only to end up in an underdeveloped college. Instead, stick to the tricks in this book, and you ought to end up securing admission in a respected American university and incurring far lower expenditure than you would in paying your own way even at a cheaper Australian university.
Why, if Australian colleges were all that good, would Australians flock to American universities in tens of thousands, like they do?
No Japanese, no Japan!
In contrast to many other countries, Japanese schools of art and technology can boast of a reputation comparable with that of some average American colleges. Though financial aid also abounds and the Japanese Department of Education provides a whole lot of material if you write to them in Tokyo, the necessary condition is that you must be fluent in Japanese, which is the language of instruction and which is by no means an easy one to learn so far as languages go.
So, practically speaking, unless you are one of those few tenacious ones who have managed to learn as well as master the several hundred alphabets of Japanese, going in for higher education in Japan is out of the question.
American education is not just for the elite
In the sixties and early seventies, the term study abroad almost exclusively meant studying in England. From the Nehrus and Gandhis to Khushwant Singh and President Shankar Dayal Sharma, all sailed the seven seas to study in good old England.
Studying there was a really costly affair, which even in those days could add up to lakhs of rupees. The sixties saw the emerging popularity of American education which rapidly built up a reputation for its extensive and innovative research achievements. The US soon developed the archetypal image of an academic environment where nearly everyone participated in on-going research not just in science and technology, but also in art, culture, performing arts, drama, business and finance.
Think of virtually any ticklish problem, and the Yanks would bet it is being researched in America. And they are probably right. Especially when they can give you complete statistics on what percentage of the population gets psychologically disturbed by listening to a clock tick throughout the day to a detailed thesis on the sex life of a scorpion!
The point is that so much research is carried out in America that, more often than not, an international student can find financial assistance in an American university by offering to help in its research projects which always need more and more assistants.
The pastures were, however, greenest in the early and mid-eighties when almost anyone with decent scores who applied had a good chance of receiving financial aid for studying in the US. The situation is, however, getting increasingly saturated which means that a smart strategy is now called for to get at the funds.
An American degree, however, is not merely meant for the more privileged but is within the reach of just about any student even from a middle class background with a consistency fair academic record, i.e. an average of about sixty per cent in technical degrees, about sixty-five per cent in Arts for graduate programs and around eighty per cent in the case of high school scores for admission into bachelor's courses.
On the whole, while you can't now expect to study in America entirely free as was possible in the early eighties you can get somewhere close to that. The trick is to avoid the mistakes people most often make while applying, mistakes which can prevent you from tapping the full potential of support in terms of financial backing which is built into the American educational system.
An international culture
The best part of American education, whether graduate or undergraduate (they mean different things in the US than they do in India and several other Asian countries as we shall see in a later chapter!) is that you live and study with people of diverse backgrounds and nationalities.
If you were at Harvard, for instance, it wouldn't be uncommon to find yourself sitting next to the son of the President of Namibia or the daughter of the Prime Minister of Georgia (hey, did we hear a whistle there!). At MIT or Tufts, on the other hand, you must not be surprised if a celebrated Nobel Prize winner takes your class.
It is the level of interaction with students and academicians from the world over that makes America such a stimulating meeting ground for all cultures and thought. Such an interaction raises your mental level somewhere closer to its true potential where you may be able to understand a Japanese businessman's mind or a German's love for his country.
It is this environment and interaction that will do more to further your professional goals than anything you may ever study from books, besides, of course, the stress on practical application of all theory.
Research in the field of technology is the most innovative, with people working from all over the globe. It is commonly said that even if you send a donkey to MIT he will emerge waving three new patents and will possibly be an Astronautics expert by the time he passes out (some Irishman's idea of a joke!).