You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.

The H-1B is a type of nonimmigrant visa awarded to those who graduate with a bachelor’s degree or higher and end up in specialty occupations in fields such as engineering, medicine, architecture, science, accounting, and more. Every fiscal year, the U.S. makes 85,000 such visas available. However, since the year 2013, the number of applications has exceeded the number of slots,* leading to a lottery system where the chance of your name getting picked is decided by mathematics. In the year 2020, over 275,000 applications were received for the 85,000 slots.

Not exactly. These 85,000 slots are split into 65,000 and 20,000. The advantage for master’s and doctoral candidates is that the 20,000 pool is reserved only for them, and cannot be consumed by those who graduated with a bachelor’s.

One piece of good news came from the Department of Homeland Security on January 31, 2019,* when they announced that the order of the names getting picked would be reversed. Previously, applicants with an advanced degree were picked first for the 20,000 pool and those who did not get picked were added with the rest of the bachelor’s applicants to be picked in the 65,000 pool. Now, everyone is entered into the pool for the 65,000 slots first. Among those not picked, applicants with an advanced degree get a second chance in the 20,000 pool.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) estimates that “reversing the order that the lottery takes place should result in approximately 16 percent more lottery numbers going to eligible candidates with the U.S. master’s degree.”*

Based on a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, we discovered that this increased the chances for an advanced degree candidate to be picked from 51% to 55% in 2019. Not too bad.

Tying all this together, if there was one piece of advice I wish someone had given me before I came to the U.S., it was the following:

Anticipate difficulty and prepare early.

Some students think the hardest part of the journey is over when they get the admit. They delude themselves into the false expectation that as long as they’re studying in a university that is well-recognized, things will fall into place organically. This delusion is broken within the first few months of arriving. We say this from personal experience as well. There is just so much more demand than supply for jobs.

So go abroad with the expectation that it will be a difficult journey before you get to settle down.

But also an equally rewarding one.

Talk to any agricultural expert, and they will tell you how important fertilizer is to the yield of a crop, which in turn yields high returns. Yet, historical data will show you that the usage of fertilizers have always stayed lower in Africa compared to Asia, leading to greater agricultural yields in Asia. The solution seems simple, right? The governments simply need to give away the fertilizer for free, or heavily subsidize its cost, so everyone has access to it.

In fact, Stephen Carr, a former World Bank specialist on sub-Saharan African agriculture, said, “The rest of the world is fed because of the use of good seed and inorganic fertilizer. This technology has not been used in most of Africa. The only way you can help farmers get access to it is give it away for free or subsidize it heavily.” Seems pretty consistent with what one would think is the panacea here. And that’s exactly what many governments did. In India, for example, fertilizer subsidies amounted to 0.75% of GDP between 1999-2000. In Zambia, the subsidies consumed almost 2% of the government’s budget.*

Yet, in western Kenya, simply giving away fertilizer for free or under heavy subsidy did not solve the problem completely, nor was it economically sustainable. Farmers tended to use too much fertilizer, leading to a low yield of the crop. In some cases, they purchased it only to resell and make a profit. Rather, the solution that seemed to work better and also be economically cheaper involved three steps:

  • doling out a small subsidy on fertilizers for a limited time period right after the harvest season

  • delivering it for free

  • educating the farmers on the importance of using fertilizers.

Why did this solution work?

Because it tackled the right problem.

The farmers, to an extent, did understand the value of using fertilizer to improve their yield. They also knew of the subsidies given out by their government. By any rational estimate, one would assume that all the farmers would take advantage of it. However, they did not. The real issue fell in the domain of psychology. It had to do with the fact that they procrastinated purchasing the fertilizer throughout the season, and in the end, when time was limited, the utility cost of going to the store and purchasing it seemed high enough that they became impatient and abandoned the idea altogether. This was exacerbated when they did not have enough money to purchase it at the very end of a post-harvest season and weren’t aware of all the benefits it provided.

The real problem wasn’t just the lack of money. It was a combination of a lack of money, appropriate education, and much-needed motivation. Hence, the limited time subsidies with free delivery and education solved the problem in a manner that was economical in the long term.

More often than not, not liking your job or environment is not the problem itself, but is rather a symptom of a problem that is yet unknown.

Put Your Investigator’s Hat On

Understanding the root cause of unhappiness has been the topic of countless articles around the internet,* so reading a few will begin to give you an idea not of the answer, but rather the questions you can ask yourself to arrive at the right answer. Famous computer scientist Alan Kay said it best: “A change of perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”

The most serious mistakes are not made as a result of wrong answers. Rather, they are a consequence of asking the wrong questions.

One of the more influential books I’ve read in my life is Flow* by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced me-high cheek-sent-me-high), a renowned Hungarian-American psychologist who invented the concept of flow. Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

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