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.
There are many reasons to pursue graduate studies abroad. You might want to earn a lot of money, learn new concepts, settle down over there, or just meet a diverse set of people. Whatever the reason might be, it all comes down to the following question: are you prepared to face the other side of the coin?
We’ll go through a few reasons where it’s worth pointing out the other side, and make you think harder about your decision.
We all seek prosperity in our career; for good reason. There are various studies* that draw the correlation between money and happiness. A study conducted at Princeton University* broke happiness down into two parts: emotional well-being and life evaluation. The former refers to the quality of someone’s daily life—a measure of how often one experienced joy, anger, stress, and affection the previous day. The latter alludes to a more zoomed out perspective of how one evaluates their whole life when asked how satisfied they were. The results found a strong correlation between money and emotional well-being until a threshold of US$75,000* is hit. Beyond that, more annual income did not necessarily equate to more day-to-day happiness. However, there was still a correlation between money and overall life satisfaction.
While wanting to earn is a natural human instinct, let’s look at the cost you are putting in to get to this goal. The average tuition fee of a master’s degree could range from $30,000 all the way to $120,000,* if you plan on pursuing an MBA. The range is so wide because it depends on numerous factors concerning the university: public vs. private, in-state vs. out-of-state, location, and so on. (Taking the average to be $50,000, that amounts to a little over 35,00,000 INR using the average exchange rate from 2019.*) Now, let’s add to this the cost for housing, healthcare, food, books, travel, and other activities. Assuming all of this comes to $800 per month, that amounts to almost $20,000 for 24 months. Finally, there are the pre-admit costs involved including fees for the GRE ($205) and TOEFL ($180) exams, applications, and visas (~$350)* which could amount to $1500, assuming you submit eight applications with a $75 application fee per university.
statsAdding it all up, the average cost for pursuing a master’s degree abroad ends up at $71,000 (almost 52,00,000 INR).
Another critical piece of information commonly discounted by students is the opportunity cost in pursuing a master’s degree. Apart from spending thousands of dollars, you also forego income that you would have otherwise earned by working in the two years you pursued your master’s degree, which could add another 10,00,000 INR to the estimate above.*
It’s not all bad news, though. Pursuing your graduate school abroad will help you secure jobs with a higher salary compared to a student with a bachelor’s degree. In fact, the data shows that the jump in your market value as a potential employee increases proportionately to give you a great potential return on your investment. The more qualified (by level of education, such as bachelor’s or master’s) you are, the higher the increase in your expected salary.
statsBased on the 2018 salary data from the U.S. Department of Labor, a worker with a bachelor’s degree earned a median weekly salary of $1,198 whereas someone with a master’s degree earned $1,434, an almost 20% increase.
This percentage increase also seemed to vary greatly between majors, ranging from a mere 2.5% for a degree in journalism all the way to 24% for a degree in computer science.* For someone with a doctoral degree, the median weekly salary was $1,825, a 52% increase over the bachelor’s salary.
You can also offset the cost through scholarships, part-time jobs, and assistantships (which we’ll get to in a later chapter).
Pursuing higher education abroad clearly has its merits. It improves your market value without a doubt. What we don’t want you to forget are the costs involved in the process of getting there. Assuming you earn $80,000 after graduating with a master’s degree, it might take you between three and ten years to pay back your education loan, depending on how much you manage to save every year.
dangerWhen you calculate expected salary, don’t forget to take into account the taxes you would incur at the federal and state level, which can add up to a sizable amount, between 15% to 25%,* pretty quickly.
Fair enough. We can resonate with that sentiment. However, there is an important bridge that connects your dream of studying in a country to settling down over there.
That bridge is called jobs.
Only a handful of universities in the U.S. boast a close to 100% placement rate. Even the ones that have high numbers have them because of the way they calculate it. Rather than looking at the percentage of students who got a job before the end of their graduate school, they might calculate the percentage of students who got one within three months after graduating,* since that is the buffer period you get before you have to leave the country. A survey of over 1000 international alumni by the World Education Services (WES)* found that only 33% were employed before completing their graduation, but this increased to 87% within six months of graduation.
dangerThe National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2018 Job Outlook report* found that only 23.4% of employers who responded mentioned that they’re open to hiring international students, a 4.1% decrease from the previous year.
The good news is that most of the top tech firms you hear about do recruit international students, which makes up a sizable portion.
One of the biggest—and less cited—challenges in finding a job is the lack of contextual cultural knowledge that one needs to form connections in a foreign country. In India, it is a common occurrence to see companies visiting universities to recruit a predetermined number of students. The student’s task here is to prepare for the interview and show up on time on the day. In the U.S., it’s a little more complicated. There is a heavier weight placed on networking with employees and attending career fairs to first secure an interview, before you can prepare for it.
Until I came here, I never cared to actively reach out to people on LinkedIn to request time for a coffee chat. I didn’t have to walk up to strangers in events and ask about their job, hoping to get their email address. Or worse, stand in a room of 500 people during a career fair and wonder anxiously how to make myself stand out. In the end, all those experiences helped tremendously. I just wish I had known about the culture shock.*
Finally, even if you end up getting an offer and your employer is willing to sponsor your H-1B visa, your name needs to be picked in the lottery. The WES reports that, “Across the board, from enrollment to professional contexts after graduation, international respondents still in the U.S. reported that work authorization was, alongside the effort to forge professional connections, their biggest challenge.”
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.
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