RishabhJain, 17, has written his CBSE XII boards this year. A student of science stream at DPS, RKPuram in Delhi,Jain has already made it to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Purdue University, and Rutgers University, in the US.Jain has accepted the electrical engineering course at the University of Illinois. Not that the US universities he has made it to were the first options for him. Jain’s preference order read: IIT, Delhi Technical University and BITSPilani.
Jain says: “Competition is tough in India. You don’t know whether you will get in at an institute of your choice.” However, for Jain and other science students in his batch, there is even more uncertainty about the future due to the new avatar of engineering entrance exams. Jain is writing the computer-based IIT Mains, but says “you can never be sure of making it through.”
Radhika Agarwal, Jain’s batchmate at DPS RK Puram and a student of humanities stream, has already made it to UC Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon. For Agarwal too, the first choices were top colleges at the University of Delhi. But with the university deciding to increase the number of years for the undergraduate programme to four years from this batch, Agarwal decided to give the US her best shot. “I’m exercising the US option because of the uncertainty.
No one knows anything about the new four-year undergraduate system at the University of Delhi. Plus, there are very few seats in the general category and very high cut-offs to deal with.”
For Reuben Datta, a student of Delhi’s Modern School, Barakhamba Road, Indian colleges were not an option when he started his research in class XI. “DU has changed the system and the first year of a new system is the year of chaos. Even if I get 97% in the boards, I won’t get through to an SRCC. I want to do economics with a minor in music. Do I have that option in India?” Datta asks. He has made it to four colleges in the US.
Here’s the dichotomy. The bright, young future talent like Jain, Agarwal and Datta is taking flight from India though they do not want to. The growing category of students can afford to go abroad for an undergraduate degree, but would be the happiest studying at the creme de la creme institutes here.
This year, amidst uncertainty around admissions to the University of Delhi and engineering colleges, more students seem to be heading abroad.
Of every 10 students who come to Mrinalini Batra, Founder & CEO, International Educational Exchange, a Delhi-based firm that counsels students on going abroad, eight are undergrads and only two are graduates. Batra has been sending students abroad for the last 18 years and has seen the trend change 180 degrees.
She says: “I see a lot of parents apply to the US as a back-up to top notch institutes in India. They are looking for better quality, better experience.” SAT, the key examinations for admission to undergraduate courses in the US, has seen the number of test-takers reach highest-ever levels. While The College Board that conducts SAT does not have a break-up of data from different parts of the world, it confirms: “More Indian students than ever are taking the SAT.”
The SAT is administered at nearly 7,000 testcentres in more than 180 countries. Worldwide, nearly 3 million students take the SAT during an academic year. In India, the SAT is administered six times a year. There are 35 SAT test centres throughout India.
“Relative to the 2010-2011 school year, this has grown 25%,” says Leslie Sepuka, director, regional communications, The College Board. Though she adds that test centre growth and test taker growth are not necessarily proportionate because the number of seats across test centres varies. Some like Urvashi Malik, director and senior career counsellor, CollegeCore Education, a firm that helps send students abroad, say that the increase in applications from India this year has been upwards of 30% for a university like Yale. “This has been the upward trend and has gained momentum.” While the uncertainty around DU admissions and engineering exams may have contributed to the numbers, the trend is not limited to just Delhi or Mumbai.
Malik has just helped send a girl from Dehradun to the University of Chicago on full scholarship. Batra gets applicants from Agra, Indore, Jaipur and Bhopal and these students are equally well-informed about their choices, she says.
Top universities corroborate the increase in the numbers of applications from undergrads from India in the recent years. At Yale, the number of undergrads from India is increasing faster than the number of graduate students. “We have seen an increase in the number of undergraduates from India. Our enrollment of undergraduate students from India has more than doubled from a decade ago. Our enrollment of all students from India has grown nearly 50% from a decade ago,” says Shana N Schneider, director of communications, Yale Office of International Affairs. According to Yale University, the numbers of undergrads from India for the last three years are: 40 in 2012; 39 in 2011 and 37 in 2010.
“We can not, however, disclose application numbers. We can confirm that the number of applications to Yale has gone up each of the last three years,” Schneider adds.
At Princeton University, for instance, the number of undergraduate students has more than doubled in the last five years. This is even when the numbers of graduate students decreased from 84 in 2008-09 to 71 in 2012-13. A total of 59 undergrad students enrolled at the university in 2012-13 academic year as against 50 the previous year and 25 in 2008-09. Its spokesperson Martin Mbugua attributes this to the no-loan financial aid programme, which is available to international and domestic students.
Princeton became the first University in the US to remove loans from financial aid packages and instead replace them with need-based grants that do not have to be repaid. All of Princeton scholarships are need-based (Princeton does not award merit-based scholarships to any students).
“This system makes it possible for our undergraduates to graduate without debt. The University’s admission process is need-blind for both domestic and international students, which means that students are not at any disadvantage if they need financial aid,” says Mbugua.
That makes it easier for parents like Sahima Datta, an alumna of University of Delhi and mother of Reuben, to back her son’s decision to go abroad. “US offers a much larger canvas and with scholarships, it’s better to opt to go out,” she says