Studying in America and Canada


Question: For a typical Indian student, which is more advisable: worst university in the US that would eventually fetch him/her dollars or the best university in India itself?

Answer: A provocative and philosophical question indeed! We wish we could answer this question decisively one way or the other. When multiple choices are presented, one is often tempted to answer the question - intuitively or instinctively or even emotionally - but one should take a moment to think through the analytical rationale for one's response. One is often confronted with such situations in life; the use of some rational criteria for decision-making is liable to lead to superior answers.

Theories for decision-making abound. In management consulting, one often asks what the endgame is; that is, what it is that one wants to achieve or accomplish. In optimization theory, one asks what the optimization function or objective function is; that is, what it is that one wants to optimize. In economics, one asks what the utility function is; that is, what the individual preferences are. All these concepts formulate the problem and produce results by following a similar approach. Depending on what one wishes to optimize - maximize or minimize - an analytical basis is established to produce answers.

To address your question, we need to establish the criteria for the "better" choice. You must keep in mind - whether you agree or disagree - that another person may have a different definition of the "better" choice. That is, your better choice may not be better for someone else. Since the better choice is a choice and not a universal truth, the better choice is personal and not universal.

Reading your question literally, the only criterion you use is "dollars." Obviously, after studying in the US, albeit at the worst university, one can make dollars - that is, more money - in the US. However, this assumes that the international student from India can find a job in the US and can get appropriate employment authorization from the US immigration authorities. While it is possible, and even probable, it is not guaranteed.

One must keep in mind the value of dollars as well. Based on official exchange rate, the Indian Rupee is worth very little relative to the US dollar. But this is not true in terms of Rupee's purchasing power in India (a concept referred to in economics as the Purchasing Power Parity). For example, people earning under $13,000 in the US are below the official poverty line. While this amount may seem huge and would have extraordinary purchasing power in India, it is the amount that officially qualifies you as being poor in the US. As you can see, the cost of living in the US is extremely high relative to India.

To address such profound and provocative questions as yours, we should really explore further the definition of the "better" choice, keeping in mind that the definition would vary across individuals. The definition should account for both rational reasons and emotional reasons. Rational criteria may include: the quality of institutional education, quality of socio-cultural education, earning power, quality of life, and so on. The emotional reasons may include: love for the home country, ability or lack thereof to be among family and friends, and so on.

We have addressed the issue of earning power earlier. Let us consider the institutional education. India boasts, and quite rightly, some of the finest educational institutions in the world. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) - to name a few - are held in highest regard all over the world. Some of the most successful researchers, business executives and entrepreneurs in the US are graduates of these institutes. In fact, Indians in the US are rated the highest among all ethnic groups for level of income and education. Keep in mind that a vast majority of these Indians in the US have had college education in India. Poorly rated colleges and universities in the US are no match for great academic institutions in India.

The minute one leaves for another country - whether from India to the US or from the US to India - the socio-cultural education begins. It is not a form of formal education; nonetheless, it expands one's horizons and the learning is extremely enriching.

The quality of life, in material terms, is superior in the US; however, the judgment on social, emotional and political life is quite personal and can not be declared superior or inferior in a universal sense.

We can go on, but we shall stop here. You get the idea. You must formulate the evaluation criteria before you begin evaluating your choices, whether in this case or in any other situation. You can then formulate your own opinion.

By the way, we have some other similar and philosophical questions for you: Would you want to be the king of Hell or a slave in Heaven? Would you prefer being a taxi driver in the US because of dollars or a school teacher in India because of the difference you can make? Where would you want to live: India or the US because one country is decisively better than the other? Opinions are likely to vary across individuals, and in fact individuals are likely to give different answers.

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