Abhishek Singhal is the lead mentor at UnivAdmitHelp. A graduate of MIT Sloan, and IIT Delhi, Abhishek’s primary focus is on building deep and actionable skills in addition to mainstream education, which will help young learners carve out a focused pathway for professional success and academic growth. A strong proponent of result-based education, Abhishek has mentored hundreds of students to gun for top schools in the world and dial into aspirational academic outcomes. He has helped students get into top schools such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge, etc. Previously he has worked at global firms such as PepsiCo, Mars, Accenture and Philips in a slew of management and leadership roles. He now works independently and helps learners across elite MBA and undergraduate programs.
We often get this question from anxious parents and students alike – when is it a good time to go abroad for further studies? Is it good to pursue an undergraduate degree? Or is it better to go and study at Master’s level? The answer, while straightforward, has interesting nuances that need to be accounted for. We shall explore them in some detail as under.
Finances: Often, the most important consideration, most students prefer a Master’s over an Undergraduate course when thinking of overseas education purely from a financial perspective. A four-year program at an undergraduate level can cost double of a 2-year program at master level. On the other hand, MS can also offer rich opportunities for paid TAship (Teaching Assistant) and RAship (Research Assistant) along with other financial aid packages. No wonder that graduate admission applications outnumber undergrad admission application by a factor of 3:1. (Please note that we are not talking about MBA programs here). There are a few caveats though. Many great universities like MIT, Harvard, and few more offer need-blind scholarships to all its students which means financing up to 100% of your tuition is possible, and in fact over 90% of students there do receive some kind of financial aid. Other good universities also allow you to reduce your expenses to the tune of 40-50% through various aid mechanisms and need-based scholarships. Often the successful recipients of financial aid are persistent individuals who are able to convincingly demonstrate their financial need through the first semester/ year of their education. Once inside, usually you are able to find your way through.
Anxiety: Mostly driven by over-concerned parents, many students choose to forego options to study at an undergraduate level despite wanting to do so. I have seen many parents come to me with the request that I look for great universities which are not very far from their hometown. Though a valid point, it loses its relevance in the international context. In our opinion, it hardly makes any difference whether the child goes to Singapore or to Hong Kong or to the USA. The child shall be on his/ her own and would lead a fairly independent life. Irrespective of whether she is in Singapore or in the USA, she would be similarly accessible (or not) to you.
Other options: You need to compare your options with various other domestic opportunities that you are able to generate. A lot of students, for instance, compare going abroad for studies against possible admissions at IITs. (Or medicine, or top-notch colleges of Delhi University, University of Mumbai or local domestic private colleges like Ashoka, Symbiosis, NMIMS etc.) In general, it seems that options are numerous and more competitive at undergraduate level. At Master’s level it also seems that students do not have many interesting education pathways to pursue. Most people end up preparing for domestic MBA programs at IIMs or few other private colleges. There are only few colleges to go for Masters in specific subjects like IISc, Delhi College of Economics, etc.
Educational Objective: The quality of education at top institutes outside India is phenomenal. In the words of many of their alumni, it is ‘life changing.’ My own experience of studying at MIT and Harvard testifies to this. An undergraduate study is foundational and offers you much more liberty in terms of picking multiple minors and majors. In many ways, it makes you the person that you could be. MS on the other hand can be specialized and often people choose a discipline in which they have been already initiated. While both postgraduate and undergraduate studies are phenomenal, usually an undergraduate study has a far greater impact on you. At this point, you are far more open to learning and build solid grounding. Further, given that it might be a first major experience away from home, you also cultivate deeper relationships and, in a true sense, become part of the educational and societal fabric of the place that you would go to.
Job options: Truth be told, India is the fastest growing large economy in the world. These days as many as 70-80% of graduates come back home after studying at top universities. This is not because they do not have options in the place they went to. But rather, because they find more interesting opportunities at home which offer them reasonable pay and a better lifestyle. In the country (outside your home base) where you study, your employability is many notches higher if you are an undergraduate student as well. First and foremost, your options go up, you can potentially either take up a job or pursue further studies. And second, your ability to be immersed in a particular ecosystem and the law of the land help you more as an undergraduate student in a particular place.
So long as students for UG has clarity in their career goals, certain level of maturity and openness to handle the complexity and embrace cultural change then only one should think of pursing undergraduate studies. However, the final decision is unique to you and should only be specific to your situation. It doesn’t matter if you go for undergraduate or postgraduate program, please make a point that you gun for the top institutes and extend the list to top 50 institutes and not beyond. Remember that you would be spending a huge amount of money so why not focus on quality education.