Dear Mentor:

Should I study electrical engineering or get an MBA?

I am in the final [senior] year of completing my first [undergraduate] degree in Electrical Engineering from a regarded College. My academic performance is quite good, near the top of my class. I would like to go to the USA or Canada for further education. I am considering doing a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering or an MBA. I feel that I have a good chance of getting admitted into either of these programs. But there is no way I can afford to do this on my own. I will most definitely need financial support. Availability of financial aid would determine which university and program I choose. I would like your guidance on which program is most likely to offer me financial aid. Thank you.

Budget Minded, New Delhi, India

Dear Budget Minded:

Given that each admissions application requires a fee, it is important to narrow the list of target schools (generic reference to colleges and universities in the US and Canada) and programs to manage the initial costs of admission. Your performance to-date does give you a reasonable idea of where you can get admitted.

Availability of financial aid for international students for graduate programs (Master's or PhD degree), while being better than for undergraduate programs (Bachelor's degree), is extremely limited and thus highly competitive. Within these limits, financial aid is more readily available for Engineering and Computer Science programs than it is for MBA. In fact virtually no financial aid is available to international students for MBA programs.

If financial aid were the only criterion, we would suggest that you pursue a Master's program in Electrical Engineering, or in Computer Science if you have interest in this field. The Master's programs in Computer Science typically only require a Bachelor's degree in any discipline. In either case, your academic performance and your performance on entrance exams (such as Graduate Record Exam), along with recommendations, determine your chances of acceptance.

There is another reason why pursuing an MBA at this stage may not be the appropriate course for you. Top MBA schools prefer candidates who have had 2 to 4 years of work experience. For more details on improving your chances of getting into a top MBA program, please refer to an earlier Dear Mentor: column. But keep in mind, whether now or later, you probably will not get financial support for an MBA program in the US or Canada.

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