Everyday job cuts, a slump in university admissions and a dwindling demand for H1B visas might project a gloomy US scenario to an average student in India but there is light at the end of the tunnel for those who think ahead.
America is still the best and leads the world in top class education. Unmindful of recession, 'serious' students are still applying for much sought-after MBA, engineering and biotechnology courses to gain the all-important competitive and professional edge.
"In all probability, by the time they complete their course in two-three years, the situation could be more supportive in terms of employment not only in the US but all over the world," says India's well-known US student visa consultant, Pushpinder Bhatia of PAC Asia.
Excerpts from the interview:
Has the global economic scenario impacted admissions to US universities?
I would not say there is a 'slump' in admissions to US universities but more of a 'correction' in the market. With an objective of gaining good qualifications, Indian students are still applying to US universities and colleges. I think the only difference now is, earlier the students who were possibly taking education route to jobs in the US have chosen not to apply for now.
What are the students' common concerns when they approach you for guidance?
Admission into the US and getting accepted in a desired university/ institute there is the first big concern for students. Hence, it's always advisable to apply to multiple institutions. It is usually a long waiting period for them to know the final result on their applications, and it's a bit of a cumbersome process, too. The second big concern is always the visa. The US visa application process and online appointment date are always followed with a personal interview. Since there are no defined parameters, the decision is usually based on the assessment made by the visa officer conducting the interview.
Are there certain courses that are still in high demand despite the present economic scenario?
Yes, there are still a few courses that are in demand. While the MBA still tops the charts in the demand list, other areas like engineering, biotechnology and health care management are also quite 'hot'. As I said earlier, it's not really a gloomy scenario for students who are seriously looking at going to the US for studies and not depending on US jobs in the future. These students are still selecting courses to upgrade and enhance their qualifications and not really going by the slowdown in the market.
Of late, university funding has decreased in the US. What role can Indian banks or the government play in helping students in course completion?
Indian nationalised banks have started playing quite an active role in this and education loan facilities have become accessible to students but there is not enough transparency in the requirements of the loan process. Quite often loan grant/ approval is left to the individual assessment of the branch or the officer dealing with the case. Our government or the banks should have more transparency and a well-defined requirement list to help students plan at the initial stage itself. We have also noticed that the loan amount granted to students has been increased to meet their tuition fees and living expenses. This is a positive sign and a proactive approach of nationalised banks. Their education loan services promotion will be quite beneficial to students.
Have H1B visas lost their sheen now?
With the current scenario in the US and the economy being hit and many companies in the country downsizing, yes the H1B visa has certainly lost its sheen. However, I feel there are still good opportunities for students looking for jobs in specialised areas after their course completion in the US.
Does it make sense to opt for a US education when people there are losing their jobs?
The US still has some of the best institutes in the world and I don't think their quality of education or facilities for international students has dropped at all. So, to me it's still one of the best education destinations and has still the 'competitive advantage' in terms of education.
Further, as is the Indian habit, students do like to plan for the future after their course, hence I feel it's a good time to invest in education and gain the 'professional edge'. Possibly, by the time they complete their course in two-three years, the situation could be more supportive in terms of employment in the US, or globally. This is possibly the best time for young working professionals who always wanted to enhance their qualification but could not take time off to opt for higher studies.
How advisable is it to take professional coaching for US entry-level tests like GRE/GMAT?
I think coaching is quite important. A professional trainer will guide and train students to deal with problems/ questions more effectively and competently. Since these scores are an important part of the application process, it is always advisable to get training so as to achieve a higher score. Since many top institutes in the US lay emphasis on GRE/ GMAT scores for their respective courses, it is not advisable to ignore professional training. We have seen students with good academic backgrounds not been accepted in a good university in their desired course due to low scores in the GMAT/ GRE.
What advice would you give to prospective Indian students desiring to pursue their studies in the US?
I advice our students to plan their US studies well in advance as most of the institutes follow a strict cut-off date for accepting applications. It is also important to check the admission criteria of the desired course so as to have a higher chance of acceptance. As said, the US still offers quality education and has some of the best known institutes in the world which will prepare them well for the future. All our PAC Asia (www.pacasia.org) offices have well trained counselors assisting and guiding students for the US so students are encouraged to contact them and get more advice.RMS Atwal is a Ludhiana-based freelance journalist and can be reached at email@example.com.
PAC Asia is a leading international education and student recruitment company with over 18 offices to support students. Having more than 12 years of experience, it assists thousands of students each year in their admission and visa process to achieve 100 per cent success!