Want to study in US? But is an American degree worth it?

Published: May 1, 2017 1:30 AM

Studying in the US is not just about getting an American degree stamp, it’s more about personal and professional development.

Study in US, Indians studying in US, Indian students, education, American degree stamp, MBA from US, studying abroad, H1-B visa applicantsStudying in the US is not just about getting an American degree stamp, it’s more about personal and professional development. (Source: Reuters)

Ajay Singh

Thousands of Indian students want to live the American dream. But studying in the US depends on a number of factors—the degree you want to pursue, the college you want to study at, and your desired aspirations post graduation. One must also keep in mind that studying in the US is not just about getting an American degree stamp, it’s more about personal and professional development.

As the same time, think over the fact that there are a number of excellent institutes such as the IITs, IIMs, IISc, regional engineering colleges and an increasing number of new-age universities like ISB and Ashoka in India. Not only are these among the best, they are also far less expensive compared to a US education that can cost anywhere from $25,000-60,000 per year, unless you have been awarded full scholarship. Yet if you want to study in the US, here are a few facts.

The US has about 4,000 colleges and universities offering education in hundreds of programmes and majors. Not all colleges are equal when it comes to brand reputation, alumni network, quality of education, research facilities, quality of faculty, student diversity and post-graduation placement.

There are three kinds of values you get studying at any college: (1) Knowledge and skills gained from lectures, labs, projects and fellow students; (2) soft and intangible values you get from the college brand and alumni network; and (3) clear, quantifiable values you get from the placement and earnings throughout your life.

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However, the real return on investment is calculated in terms of placement—measured by the average salary and average placement success rate of a college. If you are pursuing an MBA from an Ivy League institute, the return on investment is very high, since in all probability you will get a high-paying job. A recent survey by US News found that 95-100% of graduates from top 15 business schools got employed within three months of graduation and had an average compensation package that exceeded $150,000.

If you are pursuing an MS in Engineering or a STEM major from a good college, you could get a high-paying job, with salaries in excess of $85,000. If you are an undergraduate, pursuing a technical degree or liberal arts major from a reputed college, you could get salaries over $60,000 per year. In 2016, engineers from top-rated institutes earned an average of $64,891 just out of school.

Another factor to consider is lifetime earnings vis-a-vis investment in education. The lifetime earning of an engineer in the US with a bachelor’s degree can safely be assumed to be around $2 million, and it increases if you have a higher level of education such as MS, MBA and PhD. So, on paper, an investment of, say, $200,000 on American education makes sense. But job prospects have a huge dependency on an economy and its prospects. The good news is that the US economy continues to grow and the unemployment rate hasn’t risen above 5-6%, so Indian students, if they graduate from a good institute, are expected to find good jobs—immigrants have always played a significant role in American growth and innovation.

The most important current issue is how will the Donald Trump presidency impact future job opportunities for Indian students? In fact, there is negative sentiment all around. However, many fail to realise that President Trump recently also talked about a merit-based immigration system, which could be a positive for Indian students. Under this, students who graduate from top American universities are expected to get a priority over H1-B visa applicants, instead of being put into a random lottery system with thousands of other qualified and non-qualified pool of applicant. This approach to attract the best and the brightest is not going to change in the near future.

The author is founder & CEO of Stoodnt, the Palo Alto, California-based ed-tech start-up. Views are personal

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