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When you are planning to study in America it is important that you know a few basic facts about the system of education and how it compares with the Indian scenario. Some important aspects are the recognition of American degrees, the semester system and the duration of degrees. All these factors are important for they have implications on your decision making. The decision of when you should go & how to broadly select the universities that you apply for.

Accreditation or Recognition: An important term that you will come across when you are reading the university material is `accredited'. In the Indian context the equivalent term would be recognized'. All governments in an effort to ensure certain quality in education have a system in place to ensure that the institutions follow specific standards, principles & guidelines. This mechanism of standardization aids in the process of ensuring quality.

When you are considering the option of studying in another country an important aspect that you need to be sure of is: is the institution you have selected recognized or accredited within America? And is the institution is recognized by the Indian Government (Association of Indian Universities) for further education & jobs? Normally if an institution is recognized by the host country then Association of Indian Universities is likely to accept it as equivalent to an Indian degree. (The only exception being medical & dental degrees where special government to government MOUs have to be signed) There are 1800 recognized or accredited colleges and universities in the US of A. Unlike India, there is no central ministry regulating education in America, they have an excellent self regulating mechanism in the form of non - governmental associations. There are two types of non-governmental accrediting associations: regional and professional. The regional accrediting bodies ascertain whether the university meets a certain basic standard of education. The names of these regional bodies are as follows:

1. Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
2. New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
3. North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
4. Northwest Association of Colleges and Schools.
5. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
6. Western Association of Colleges and Schools.

These accrediting agencies themselves come under review by the US Department of Education. It is imperative that you apply to only those colleges/universities that are accredited by the above mentioned agencies. The information pertaining to this is always mentioned in the institution brochure. If you are ever in doubt you could check with the United States Educational Foundation (USEFI) closest to you. Degrees from colleges/universities which have been accredited by any of these regional bodies are acceptable in India and any where abroad. Professional accreditation is done by specialized accrediting agencies. These agencies evaluate degree programmes given in a specific subject and give their stamp of recognition. Some professional accreditation agencies are as follows:

Many competitive programmes have professional accreditation and if you get admission in a course that has professional accreditation then it is excellent. However programmes that do not have professional accreditation are of good quality as well.

Academic Year & Semester System: The academic year in a US university is divided into two semesters: spring (January - May) and Fall (August - December). Fresh admissions are mainly processed for the Fall semester. However, many universities also accept students for the Spring semester.

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Duration of Courses:

The undergraduate degree in the US of A is for four years. The postgraduate degree is known as the graduate degree and is for two years (Masters) or three to five years (Ph.D.). The term institutions often use in their prospectus is Graduate School i.e. equivalent to our postgraduate departments. So if you think you are already a graduate then you may just miss the boat!

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Once you have decided that you want to explore the possibility of studying in the US then the next step is to look at the application process and start planning. The entire application process takes nine to twelve months. If you start the process 12 months before the semester begins then you can be very organized, thorough & selective about the universities you identify & then finally apply for admission. But if you start the process only six or nine months before the semester begins, then you will have to hasten everything which will increase your costs in terms of courier, telephone, fax and even score reporting.

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The overall health of a country's economy has a great impact on the range of questions that student's have upper - most in their mind. Considering that India is a developing country with a weak currency, it is only natural that Indian students and their parents are concerned about the financial implications of study abroad. When one dollar can be purchased only with forty three rupees, then whatever expense we discuss in dollars gets multiplied forty three times!

The first question that occurs to anybody who is considering the study abroad option is, how much will it cost? Can I afford it? Can I get any financial assistance/scholarship to do the same? Can somebody sponsor my education? What is the procedure to take foreign exchange from India? and so on.

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Average Costs For Tuition & Living:

Depending on the course you choose, the duration of the course and to some extent the country you select, the costs of study abroad can vary. The cost could range from seven lakhs per year to fifteen lakhs per year. This would include the tuition fees and living costs.

Undergraduate Studies in the USA

Ruchita after class twelfth wanted to study in America; she was attracted by the concept of studying architecture after two years of well-rounded education. In her first two years of Bachelor's she will do courses in Psychology, Economics, Philosophy, Physics, etc. and then will gradually start taking courses in architecture from her third year onwards. She and her parents believe that the system of education in America will facilitate her thinking process to be analytical and creative. The general courses she will do in her first two years will increase her level of awareness and result in holistic education.

Let's look at the procedures Ruchita adopted to ensure that right after twelfth she was able to go to America for her education. Ruchita came to me for advice when she was just completing her class eleventh. She seemed like an intelligent and mature student. Her emotional maturity convinced me to encourage her for study abroad.

The application procedure for studying in America takes about nine to twelve months. So you have to start about a year before you plan to enrol in an American college / university.

The American universities take in students twice a year - January and August. It is preferable to plan for the August or Fall semester.

Costs :

Depending on whether the university is a public institution, i.e. funded by the state government, or a private one, an academic year in a US university can cost between 15 and 30 thousand US dollars. Since the cost of studying abroad is so high it is imperative that you and your family weigh the options carefully and then make a decision.

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Financial aid:

It is very difficult to get financial aid or scholarship to cover the entire costs involved. However, partial scholarships or tuition waivers are offered by American universities. When you send in your application to the university, you need to mention that you will be looking for financial aid. If any university or college in its initial literature has mentioned that they do not offer scholarships to international students then do not apply to them if you can go only with the help of a scholarship.

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