Be realistic while applying to study abroad: Kanika Marwah, University Options
Updated on Feb 27, 2015 - 4:07 p.m. IST by None

According to official estimates, around three lakh Indian students go to various countries for higher education every year. In a candid conversation with Careers360, Ms. Kanika Marwah, Director of University Options, a leading education counseling service, talks about the current and future trends and the mistakes students and parents commit while looking for the best study destination abroad. Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What are the advantages of a higher degree from abroad?
A: One of the major aspects that makes higher education in other countries different from India is the whole spectrum of application based learning. India’s education system is still dependent on rote learning. This is not to say that professional courses do not have application based learning but a number of the academic taught programs have a limited relevance to the real world.  Secondly, the availability of quality education in India is very limited. India has failed to replicate institutes like St. Stephen’s or the IITs. Given the fact that more than 40% of India’s population is between the age of 19-25, we are not focusing on higher education. Finally most of Indian education fails to reinforce the relationship of the course with the job. Whereas, the foreign universities focus on providing a skill set to the students. For example, there is a course at the University of Warwick called MORSE (Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics, and Economics). It prepares the students in four different disciplines thereby increasing the employability of the student because of the skills the course has provided.

Q: What are the common mistakes the study abroad aspirants make when they start the process of getting admitted to a foreign university?
A: The most common mistake the study abroad aspirants make is the lack of planning. If you want to apply overseas, you must work backward i.e. if a Class 12 student wants to join an undergraduate course in the US in August 2015, he should start the planning in Class 9 in order to have a profile that helps him to get admission to a competitive university. Secondly there should be realism while applying to universities as every student cannot be a Harvard graduate! The best ‘fit’ university for a student is the one where the student profile fits with the demands of the university.  Finally, use your time carefully as every application is demanding and therefore make an informed choice on the number of countries you are planning to apply to and within the same the number of colleges. Recommended: Not more than two countries and eight colleges.

Q: How does university options help the students prepare for studying abroad?
A: Our counselling is very child centric and we believe in personal attention. We help the child plan their life rather than just applying to a university.

Q: What are the recent trends among Indian students when it comes to study abroad?
A: There are many new countries such as Canada, New Zealand and the European Union such as Germany, Spain and Ireland that are emerging as major study abroad destinations.  The Indian contingent on German campuses also has grown in 2013/2014; a jump of over 2,000 from the previous year and over the past five years, the number has more than doubled. Further, they comprise the second largest section among foreign students on Master's and PhDs in Germany.   As far as the Indian students are concerned, they look for new frontiers due to easier visa norms such as the Foreign PhD students in New Zealand pay domestic fees and now have the right to work full-time.  It is likely that a cheaper study option may also drive that decision. But the traditional destinations still remain popular….the United States and UK.  US states host more than 4.5 million students globally, more than double hosted by the UK, and of these India along with countries like Brazil, Iran and Kuwait together accounting for an additional growth in numbers.

Q: What are the major study abroad destinations in terms of affordability and getting a job after studies?
A: The major study abroad destinations on the basis of affordability are Canada and European countries like France and Germany. Singapore and Hong Kong are the hot study abroad destinations in Asia because of the geographical proximity and safety. For job opportunities after studies, one of the best countries is the US, especially for the students who do STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses. While one in ten management students get a job in the UK, four in every ten engineering students find a job after their program.

Q: As an educationist with much experience, what are the major issues students face while planning to study abroad and being in a foreign country pursuing their studies?
A: Develop Coping Skills: Students pursuing a program at a university overseas have to cope with a way of learning different from the one they are used to. This is especially true of students from the two national boards: CBSE and ISC. Possible areas of new learning are plagiarism and essay writing.  Learn to multitask: In a new country you have to learn to not only cope with the academic rigor but at the same time learn to manage a variety of normal chores like groceries, cooking, cleaning etc.  Therefore, equip yourself with skills that can help you cope and not overwhelm you. Homesickness: Being away from your familiar environment will lead to certain amount of homesickness. Accept it and reach out to your peers or any student support services on hand. Have realistic expectations: Most students look at education as a stepping stone to immigration. The Indian student needs to review this expectation. A good education provides them with the tools to compete in the global market. However a university is only a facilitator is getting a job and cannot be held accountable for not getting a job

Q: Do you provide counselling to parents as well? If so, what are their major concerns?
A: The Indian parent is a very important and integral part of the counselling process. We encourage sessions both with parents and students.Parents are overly concerned with the Ivy League tag. They need to be realistic when it comes to the education of their children. They should be able to match the university with the capabilities of their child.

Q: What do you think would be the major trends in studying abroad in the coming years?
In terms of subjects, the future trends are likely to move towards specialist programs as these are going to be market driven. It may be likely that generalist programs will be replaced by niche courses.

The more sought after programs are: business, law, art and design and engineering. However there is a definite trend of looking at joint programs across departments e.g. PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics), Engineering with Business Studies, Law with another social science etc.

Other courses, keeping in mind our country’s ever-increasing demands, could be energy managers who can effectively manage energy distribution and consumption, hospitality industry managers and animation industry.


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