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Top criteria for education abroad

By Archana Masih
November 24, 2005 16:05 IST
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A foreign education in the USA has become an attractive option for Indian students, today.

In an earlier article we explored the various reasons for a surge in this trend. 

imageDr Jamshed Bharucha, provost and vice president, and professor of psychology, spoke to Assistant Managing Editor Archana Masih about the unique courses offered at Boston's Tufts University, a popular education destinations in the US.

A psychologist who studies cognitive neurosciences and music perception, Dr Bharucha spent the first 17 years of his life in Mumbai and went to America on a student scholarship.

He studied at Vassar College, Yale and Harvard and feels that Indian students who go to study in USA should take advantage of the opportunity to study different courses and broaden their horizon by taking courses outside their main area of study.

How many Indian students are there at Tufts?

A couple of hundred throughout the university. We have graduate, under-graduate and professional programmes.

For an Indian student who wants admission in your university, what does she/he require for a seat?

You have to be a good student.

i. There are these tests, SAT for undergraduates and GRE for graduates. 

ii. You also have to get letters of recommendations from teachers. The admission package is a combination of things -- the results of the tests, plus qualitative recommendations that provide more information than the tests.

iii. When applying at the undergraduate level, we look for other interesting things you've done. For example, if you play musical instruments or have been involved in extracurricular, leadership activities, things outside of school work that show you have a breadth of interests and you have really explored your talents whether through writing, arts, community service.

iv. At Tufts, we lay a lot of emphasis on civic engagement. We want our students to feel imperative to give back to society and the earlier they get into the habit and have the information, the better.

A lot of students who come with community projects are encouraged to continue that because whatever their profession later on, we want them as seeing themselves giving back to society.

During applications, we look at the whole picture, not just the exam.

What if you are better at extracurricular activities, have good recommendations but don't fare very well in the academic average?

That's more difficult because Tufts is a very competitive university. But there are lots and lots of colleges and universities. There are lots and lots of options.

I think somebody who's got a wide range of interests and may not be academically that strong will probably find some good place to go to.

Is Tufts only for the bright?

It's a competitive place to get into. We look at more than just your exam scores. The average SAT score is 1400 out of 1600. There are two tests and each has a maximum of 800.

But we do take a risk on a few students if s/he looks really interesting and promising in other ways. We can overlook some of the academic strength but there has to be that fundamental academic excellence.

What are the unique courses you have at Tufts that students in India should know of?

i. Bio-medical engineering is very strong at Tufts.

ii. The school of nutrition.

iii. The veterinary school which is one of the finest.

iv. The Fletcher School is unique. It trains a lot of diplomats and people in government.

It's probably the most unique of all of the schools in that respect. We have a wide range of subjects -- political science, international relations, even at the undergraduate level we have international relations which would not be available here.

In fact, that's the most popular concentration speciality so undergraduates who are studying international relations can take courses in political science, history, economics, a range of disciplines including psychology, the arts, languages to get inter-disciplinary background in international relations.

v. We see ourselves as very strong on the international front. We have seven schools -- arts and sciences; engineering; Fletcher School; dental; medical; nutrition; veterinary.

vi. We also have newly formed college -- University College of Citizenship and public service. It enables students in any of the seven schools to learn skills of leadership and civic engagement.

So whether you become a dentist or diplomat, you have the skills to lead and contribute to society.

For Indian students, how many scholarships or grants does Tufts have?

Maybe about half of our students get some scholarships. At Tufts, we believe it is important to have an international mix among students.

We do give some scholarships to students coming from abroad. We are trying to raise some more money for financial aid for students coming from overseas.

American universities, private universities raise money all the time which is not a wide practice here, so we do a lot of fund raising.

Our top priority for raising funds is to raise funds so we can give scholarships to students, in particular to international students. I myself had a scholarship.

From which countries do most international students come at Tufts?

If you set aside Canada, which is just next-door, then it's China, India, Japan, Brazil -- those are the big ones. Roughly in that order. Both China and India, of course, the numbers are growing very fast. Indians of course have the advantage of knowing English.

So among all the different kinds of foreign students, at least the ones I mentioned, Indians really have the advantage because of the knowledge of English and the number of Chinese and Indians who apply are huge and increase every year.

We see India as extremely important in terms of sending student exchanges and faculty exchanges.

Next year, we go to China to do the same thing. Each year we go to a different place. Last year we went to Mexico, we have a lot of students from there.

So even if half the international students get some scholarship, it must still be competitive to get those scholarships?

At the undergraduate level if you get a scholarship it is based on your financial need. So, once you are admitted, then the greater your financial need, the greater the scholarship.

The competition is mostly in getting admitted. It's a two-stage process, admission and then scholarship. Once people are admitted we try and make it possible for them to come.

We're not always successful but one of our missions is to raise more money for scholarships so that all the international students that are admitted can be provided with scholarships.

At the Master's level?

Let me start at the PhD level because, at the PhD level, usually there are scholarships given. So even if an Indian applies for a postgraduate at the PhD level, you'll typically get your tuition paid for plus a stipend.

You have to teach a little bit in exchange for that, so you see a lot of Indians going for postgraduate work for PhD. It is harder to get scholarships for Masters than for PhD.

You went as a student from India abroad. How can Indian students make the best of their education abroad?

I would say, take advantage of the opportunity to study different things.

Because here you get a lot of speciality even in high school, so if you do go to the States try take some courses outside of your main area to broaden your horizons.

Part I: Studying in the US? Sample different courses


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Archana Masih