f you have plan to graduate high school in April next year, you have probably already started thinking ahead of university study.
The last year of school in India is becoming increasingly similar to a year in prison. Prison, that is, if you have committed a particularly foul murder, with long stretches in solitary confinement alternating with bouts of hard labour.
The rigorous and increasingly two-dimensional demands of colleges here are perhaps why foreign colleges are starting to look more and more attractive to students and parents alike.
If you are thinking of applying to the United States or United Kingdom, the process should start much earlier than usual, with Scholastic Aptitude Tests (for the US) and the process of researching universities, finding out which have the courses you find most interesting, and are located in an area you will find convivial.
Given that (unless you are doing engineering) you won't have to declare your major until your third (junior) year, the other courses available should be of interest.
Now that an academic year is winding down, it is the perfect time to start planning.
It all begins with the SATs, which should probably already be taken if you are planning to apply for admission for the Fall of 2006. But it is still not too late, especially if you are confident that you only need to take it once to get a good score.
You can register to take the SAT (at least two months before you plan to take the test so you don't miss the registration deadline), either by writing in to the College Entrance Exam Board at Princeton in the US, or online at www.collegeboard.com
The College Board has recently introduced a new SAT, which has a new writing section and is graded on a 2,400 point scale, as opposed to the current 1,600. Be sure to check that the colleges you apply to accept old SAT scores if you have already taken it, or if you will be required to sit for the new one.
Registering costs $41.50 (Rs 1,802). It is more if you apply late.
Some universities will also require some SAT subject tests in at least two subjects (this is a requirement for colleges at Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton. Well, most colleges), and also perhaps the TOEFL, which most students in India can do in the dark, on their heads, with their hands tied behind their backs.
Most colleges will have guidelines for the kind of SAT grade you need to apply. But don't imagine that if you get 2,350, you are guaranteed a spot at Yale or Harvard (although it will probably increase your chances).
Concentrate on the rest of your application, especially your personal statement. Universities will always look at what you -- as an international student -- can add in terms of your experience, personality and diversity to the class you enter.
Each university will have an application fee of approximately $60 (Rs 2,605) to $65 (Rs 2,823). Under extenuating circumstances, you can waive this fee -- you will have to look on the university's web site for each case. But usually, you must demonstrate good financial circumstances.
Application deadlines are generally in late December or early January. But since admissions are rolling, it would probably be wise to apply as early as possible.
Since pre-boards are in January anyway, most Indian students would probably like to get their foreign applications out of the way from well before this date.
If there is a university you know you will definitely go to if you are offered a spot, you can apply to their Early Decision Program, which will have the same requirements and fees, but an earlier deadline, usually in early November.
The cost of tuition at American universities is usually quite high.
For one year at Princeton, their brochure suggests this breakup of finances for each academic year:
- $29,910 for tuition
- $8,387 for room and board
- $3,083 for 'miscellaneous expenses', like books and supplies.
This gives an estimated total of $41,380 (approximately Rs 17,90,000 or Rs 1.7 million).
This, however, is Princeton, and the Ivy League colleges will cost far more than state universities. A year at the State University of New York, for example, will cost $10,610 (Rs 460,818).
Most universities are need-blind, which means they will look at your application without taking into account your finances.
If you need financial aid, therefore, you can apply separately. Most American universities have generous aid programmes. If you are applying to England, the University and College Admission Service makes life a lot easier by making it possible to use only one form to apply to all your universities.
The difference between going to school in the UK and the US in terms of price is great. A year at what many of us with deep-rooted colonial hangovers consider the best university in the world, Oxford, will cost £10,890 (around Rs 879,000) for a science subject, and less £8,170 (Rs 659,000) for an arts degree.
This is the norm in England, even at Oxford Brookes University, voted 51 on the recent Guardian University Guide. Check it out at www.guardian.co.uk. For the US equivalent, US News Magazine is a pretty safe bet).
The tuition is £8,020 (Rs 639,735) on average. There are also various domestic scholarships you can apply for via the British Council, given that British universities are slightly more cagey than American ones about financial aid.