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This is the end of the 20th century, a century that has brought people in different continents a phone call away. You can send a letter to a person across the seven seas in an instant through fax or e-mail. This communication technology has brought people from different parts of the world together. Similarly people can reach across the continents much faster. In the 1960's people could go to America only on ship & it would take months to complete the journey. Today it takes less then 24 hours to reach the USA on an aeroplane. The same time it would take to reach Delhi from Bombay on a train.

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The world as the saying goes has become a global village. The issues & technologies people deal with have become more & more similar. It is no longer people just in developing countries looking westward to study abroad, even in countries like USA study abroad is an exciting concept. Americans want to experience the Asian/European world to gain insights into how the economy runs there. They want to understand the psychology of people in this part of the world to be able to use those insights in their jobs. Companies across the globe are giving preference to people who have experienced other cultures & patterns in society. Because the product the multi-nationals have to market is global. In such a context international education has become very vital.

Since companies are expanding their horizons, with international collaborations, mergers, take-overs and international operations, they are looking at employees who are as comfortable working in their own country as they are abroad. These people are being preferred in the global job market and a superb way of gaining this experience is education abroad. Faculty in most premier institutions of India have had international education. Ms Roopa Shah, a very dynamic lady and the Principal of Mithibai College, a prestigious institution in Mumbai, has studied in London School of Economics. Dr Satish Vitta, a Professor in Indian Institute of Technology has completed his Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Managers in senior positions of large companies & many CEO's of multi-nationals with a base in India have studied abroad.

Our society has since a very long time given importance to international exposure. Earlier, it was mainly because our institutions could not provide comparable education but now it is also because the international experience adds a new dimension to the way a person thinks & responds to the environment. Interdisciplinary Courses: Unlike the Indian institutions, universities abroad offer a very wide range of courses for a student to choose from. You could do extensive courses in Publishing Studies, Consumer Product Management Studies, Change Management, Public policy, Developmental Studies, Global Bio-Diversity, Security Studies, International Business, Health Promotion, Career Counselling, Wild Life Management etc.

Almost all new frontier courses are first started abroad. So if you have a course in mind, but can't find it anywhere else - golf course management for instance - then going & studying abroad could be the answer for you.

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Flexible Entry Criteria:

As you can see the range of courses you can do abroad is very vast. Most of these universities are also flexible about your previous academic background. If after years of being in economics, you want to shift to Psychology it is possible; if after having studied Mechanical engineering you want to shift to computers, you can. Sometimes you might have to do a few prerequisite courses, but you can do it! Dual Degree Option: Many of us have a wide array of interests & in foreign Universities it is possible to do a dual degree or a double major i.e. you can actually specialize in more than one subject. If Psychology & Law are of interest to you, you could do a dual degree or if you want to specialize in both management & engineering then that is also possible. If you want to work in the area of environmental law, you could consider doing a course in Law & Environmental Studies; or a joint degree in Electrical Engineering & Computers.

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Range of Countries:

From the Indian students perspective the situation is very dynamic, a large number of countries today are vying for the Indian students attention. Today a student can choose between going to UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and even South East Asia.

To further enhance the range of choices a large number of foreign universities are collaborating with Indian institutions and offering their degrees/diplomas either completely in India or partially in an Indian campus & partially in their own country. These twinning options are being tried mainly in an attempt to make international education more affordable to an Indian student. But how employers will recognize these degrees only time will tell.

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How do all these options compare? Should you go to one country or the other? Or better still should you go to an institution with a twinning programme. How much does it cost to go abroad? What is the application procedure? These and many like these are questions in every student's mind. These questions are not simple to answer. Because, much depends upon what subject you wish to study abroad, and at which institution. But if your choices are well made, one can say with confidence that a period of studying abroad does help, and in many ways.

Remember, no matter which country you start applying, file your applications in the Indian universities. If due to whatever reason you cannot go abroad, you can always study in India.

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Comparing International Education :

The Indian student has never had a wider range of choices in International Education. University representatives from almost all countries realize the vast market Indian students offer and are willing to invest their time & money to provide information to the students here. The universities are also hopeful that the student will come to their institution - their country & therefore give their economy a boost. Which of the large number of countries wooing you with their Universities should you select. America, Australia or United Kingdom are the three more popular choices? Each of these is an English speaking country - with a difference!

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Pre application Forms

In the previous article we discussed what are the various steps of applying to an American University. Since the application deadlines are six to eight months prior to the enrolment date it is necessary that you start the process a year ahead. The first step of the application process, as we had discussed, is the pre application stage. The pre application form that you send to the university is your first contact with them. Let us look in detail at the aspects you will have to include to fulfil the objective of sending them.

Sumeet has just graduated from an IIT and now has decided that he will apply to American Universities for his Masters in Applied Physics. Currently he is doing a fellowship with TIFR & he hopes he will get atleast one publication out of the experience. When he came to my office he was a little unsure about what to write to the universities & why would the universities bother to reply to his letters.

Applying to American Universities is the same as applying to Indian institution. Just like when you begin applying to an Indian institution you have to write to an American institution directly & request their application form. And along with the application form the institution will send their brochure which contains standard information about the institution & the course. This process of requesting application material from the University is known as the pre application process or `pre-apping'.

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Selection of University Abroad

Selecting a university to study abroad is probably the most confusing stage of the entire application process. The problem is that one has such little first hand information about the individual universities, that per force one has to depend on secondary or tertiary sources of information. Which implies poring over the university catalogues & extracting the maximum information out of them. Of course, you could also choose a school (abroad universities are also referred to as schools - & you thought you had left school far behind you!) on the basis of how it sounds when pronounced correctly, or by the scenic beauty featured in its brochures - the more exotic it sounds & looks the better it is! But on a more serious note, there is a lot of information that is provided in the university brochures. This information can be used to make an informed decision about the university(s). But rather than looking at all the information provided & trying to determine whether it meets your needs, it is best if you develop clear guidelines for yourself with regard to your personal preferences.

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The Ranking of Universities

Choosing a University (University) abroad is a little like going into an ice cream parlour. Just about everything looks so tempting through the glass partition that it is difficult to decide which one to choose, especially if you have not tried any of the flavours before. It is somewhat similar when you read the names of Universities abroad, & look at their brochures. The brochures or catalogues are so attractively designed, pictures of smiling students sunning themselves on the beach or good looking students concentrating in a very posh looking classroom/lab - that just looking at those photographs one wishes for a time machine to instantly take you there amongst all those happy guys & gals! If only dreams were horses... But the practical side of your nature insists that there must be more to it than just fun. For instance the quality of education and the ease with which you could get a job after graduation. After all when you are imagining yourself in those graduation togs - black cape, cap & hood, you are also thinking about the kind of jobs you could walk into & the kind of cash that will eventually flow - hopefully in dollars!

But which of these glossily produced catalogues holds the key to your future success in all directions? Seeking an instant answer to your query of your life you dutifully trudge along to the consulate & put the mega question forward to the student adviser "which of these universities is best for me?" Now if the advisers had a crystal ball all would be well - but since they don't they give you the long winded answer like: " There is no right or wrong university, each university has its own strengths and you have to select the university according to your own criteria & priorities. The catalogues have all the information it is only a matter of reading them well. Look at the staff to students ratio, the availability of financial aid, specialization's offered, faculty research interests, etc.".

"But what about rankings?" you finally manage to ask. You figure somebody must have already done this fact finding & now you just want to use the results of that research. After all who wants to reinvent the wheel! Institutional Rankings: University rankings do exist in some form or the other in each country. In mostly cases rankings of institutions is a private entrepreneurial effort and many times the staff of the institution being ranked are actually involved in the ranking process. However, the validity of rankings is often considered suspect, because the complete details of who conducted the survey, and with what criteria were the institutions ranked is many a time not made public.

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Statement of Purpose

The SOP is probably one of the most important aspects of the application, especially at the postgraduate level. The SOP gives you an opportunity to put a human face (yours) to the application. In this statement you can indicate your inspiration, your goals and your unique strengths. Admission committees the world over look at these carefully & decide your fate. In fact many universities may give maximum importance to the SOP in the final round of screening especially after the basic minimum of academics has been fulfilled. So that might explain why sometimes a seemingly poor student gets in while the brighter ones get left behind. Therefore make sure that you write custom designed SOP's for each university.

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Recommendation Letters

2 or 3 letters of recommendation will be required along with each application form. At the undergraduate level you could ask your class teacher, subject teacher, school/college principal. At the postgraduate level you could ask your head of the department, a professor in whose class you have done particularly well or a professor with whom you have done a project/seminar. If you are working or have worked be sure to include one letter from your employer. Approach those people who have known you and your work over a period of time. Just because you know a famous person or politician personally, do not yield to the temptation of asking them unless they are connected with your field & know your work well.

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