The high quality of education, flexibility in curriculum and networking opportunities make U.S. higher education a unique value proposition.
Photograph courtesy San Diego State University
Every year, thousands of Indian students seeking a high-quality education choose to attend a college or university in the United States. In fact, for the 2020-2021 academic year, almost one in every five international students in the United States was from India, according to the Open Doors report produced annually by the Institute of International Education.
A high-quality education has many components, including a flexible curriculum that enables and encourages students to select majors and classes that meet their individual needs, top-notch research facilities, dedicated mentors, co-op programs that provide real-world experience, accessible financial aid and scholarships, an emphasis on critical thinking, and research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. On the personal side, international students benefit from specific services that facilitate cultural assimilation, provide volunteering opportunities, look after their physical and mental health, and help students build professional networks before they even graduate. It’s a tall order, but one that U.S. universities and colleges fulfill every year.
A world of options
Part of the reason students choose to study in the United States is the large number of schools available to international students—there were 3,982 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States as of the 2019-2020 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“Students have vast options from which they can choose,” says Aditi Lele, an EducationUSA Adviser in Mumbai with the United States-India Educational Foundation who received her Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas.
“There are small, medium and large universities, some in cities and some in more rural settings,” she says. “There are public and private universities. There are community colleges, where you study for two years, get an associate’s degree and then go on to a four-year university. You can also choose universities that offer more financial aid to international students. It all depends on what your academic requirements and personal preferences are.”
Arsh Thaker, who began his higher education at Foothill College, a community college in the Silicon Valley town of Los Altos Hills in California, found that starting small made adjusting to life in the United States easier.
“Studying at Foothill College made me independent and taught me to adapt,” said Thaker, who later transferred to San Diego State University, a four-year school. “I experienced high-quality teaching and support even though I was at a community college, and this made my transition to the United States easier. Access to counselors and the STEM center has enhanced my educational experience. The small class size allowed me to work closer with my professors, which was helpful.”
For Vaibhav Arora, who is studying computer science engineering at the University of Notre Dame, located in South Bend, Indiana, meeting professionals in his field was an extra bonus.
“I not only had resources to apply what I learnt in the classrooms to the real world but there were also a lot of opportunities to meet people in the industry and bounce ideas off a lot of senior, knowledgeable professionals, allowing me to explore multiple perspectives and learn a lot more about problem solving in the industry,” Arora says.
Ananya Potlapalli, a business major on the pre-law track at Ohio State University, found opportunities from a variety of sources.
“Studying in the United States can be a great opportunity to broaden your horizons and get a very unique college experience,” says Potlapalli . “You have opportunities to learn so much in and out of the classroom through classes, student organizations, internship opportunities and more. When you arrive on campus you have the freedom and flexibility to get involved in the things you are interested in and create incredible communities and experiences.”
Nirmita Roy, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of South Florida (USF), hopes to be an example for other women.
“Always believing that more women are needed as engineers, I took up the opportunity to engage in research and graduate with a (master’s) thesis under the guidance of my supervisor,” says Roy. “Since graduation, I worked with Renesas Electronics America for two-and-a-half years and decided to come back to USF to enhance my research and skills with a Ph.D. I want to inspire more girls and women to become engineers to break the stereotype.”
Lele stresses that U.S. universities help international students look ahead to their careers after graduation while also working to ensure that they are comfortable during their time on campus.
“U.S. universities put a lot of resources into helping students prepare for success,” she says. “They have state-of-the-art career management centers, alumni networks and additional resources like mental and physical health support services. They care about their students’ emotional well-being.”
International students will find a tolerant and welcoming environment at U.S. universities, Lele says, with many opportunities to broaden their horizons. “U.S. universities promote diversity, both in the student body and in the faculty,” she says. “They are a great place to meet people from other parts of the world.”
Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.