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“Is this the right time to go to the USA for higher education?”; “Will the recession affect my education and will I get a job after graduation?” As study abroad counselors, off late these are the questions we get asked most frequently by students. We understand the dilemma that students (and their parents) are going through. The significant investment required for US Education, current recession in the US economy, reports of job cuts all over the media, H1B visa restrictions; all these can make one really nervous. But before jumping to conclusions on whether it’s advisable to go to the US or not, let’s take an objective look at the situation, its impact on you as a student, and what’s your best way to combat it.
As a student about to finish your bachelor’s degree (or currently working and planning for higher education), you generally have three options. First, take up or continue your job in India, second, pursue higher education in India, and third, to study abroad. At a broad level I cannot advocate which of these options is the best choice, because it would vary based on each student’s individual backgrounds, career preferences, capabilities etc, However what I would definitely like to emphasize is that if you have already chalked out your plans and made up your mind about pursuing your master’s abroad, and have the financial capability to afford it, let not recession be the reason for change in plans. You need to understand that education is not a momentary fling, but an investment for lifetime. The returns are not just your ‘job after graduation’ but instead the benefits of your education would continue for life; throughout your career and even otherwise. So be careful before you shelve your plans for higher education; let them not be shelved forever. You can maybe, and that’s not recommended either, postpone your plans by a year, but make sure that you don’t procrastinate and completely miss out on the opportunity to pursue your higher degree. If you think that this is the right time for you to pursue higher studies, then just go for it. Let not fear of the recession stop you. After all the economy will improve in a year or two, and you don’t want to regret later for having missed out on an opportunity.
Having said this, let’s take a look at how the recession would impact an Indian graduate student in the USA. To begin with let’s consider how things were in a good economic scenario (say for instance, the case of students who went to the US in 2005 and graduated in 2007). On an average 60% of these students got some form of graduate assistantships (RA/TA) that included at least a partial tuition waiver and a monthly stipend. 30% of the students got a student job, which paid them enough to cover their living expenses (they still had to pay full tuition), and the remaining 10% of the students got no financial assistance (so they had to bear the cost of their entire education and living). Given the current economic scenario, of the students going to pursue their MS in Fall 2009, about 20% will get graduate assistantships, 30% will manage to find student jobs and the rest 50% will have to pay for their entire education. (The numbers would vary from university to university, but these are just rough estimates). What it means is that the competition is going to be tougher, and you will need to work hard (your luck counts too) to find a job on campus. You have to be on the lookout for opportunities, pursue them aggressively, meet professors and demonstrate (through class participation, through your projects and assignments, and of course your exam grades) that you can add value to the department as graduate assistant. Not trying is not going to get you anything.
When it comes to finding a full time job after graduation, you need to understand that recruitment in the US works differently than it works in India. Recruitment is an elaborate process which starts with companies collecting resumes, followed by a telephonic interview, followed by several rounds of personal interviews. Your first step is to understand how the system works, and prepare yourself to excel in it. Here are some guidelines for job search in the US.
The most vital step in your job search process is to have a presentable resume. For some strange reason, most Indian students have extremely unprofessional resumes, and are unwilling to improve it. A resume is like an opportunity to make your first impression with the employer, and if your resume isn’t impressive enough, you may never get a second chance to make that impression, however smart and qualified you may be. Understand how a professional resume should look like. There are enough samples and lessons on resume writing available on the web that you can refer to. You may also consider taking professional help in preparing your resume. Most universities have career centers where they offer resume critiquing/editing services. Use their services.
‘Job Search’: Your full time job
For about three months before you graduate, make job search your full time job. What it means is that dedicate at least 4 hours a day (and maybe more on weekends) towards job search. Search for jobs on various job portals and company job sites and apply to every job that meets your requirement.
Yes it works. Talk to your faculty, friends, acquaintances and make them aware that you are on the lookout for job. Ask them if they could refer you to someone who might help you find a job. Ask for help. Most people you know will be willing to help you out if you ask. But at the same time don’t be too pushy and irritate them. And most important - ask with a smile. Don’t sound desperate, pessimistic, suicidal, or threatening
Improve your communication skills. Learn how to face an interview. Again, there is ample material on these topics over the net. Read it. At the same time many universities offer courses on improving your communication skills. Enroll yourself in them. They generally aren’t very expensive and it’s really worth the investment.
And finally the MOST IMPORTANT thing to remember is
Don’t Give Up
A lot of your friends and colleagues will try to scare you and demoralize you, saying that the situation is bad and getting a job is an impossible thing. Remember that it’s not true. Your key to success is to have faith in yourself and keep trying. Getting a job is not at all difficult if you give it a sincere try.
In short, Be Positive and Be Proactive
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Jothsna Rege -jothsna [at]academyone.net
Jay Rege - jayrege[at]academyone.net