Dear Mentor:

Is diploma equivalency adequate for US graduate schools?

I'm a diploma holder in Tool and Die making (a four years Diploma course including 1 year of Industrial training), who has had 14 years of study in total (10 years of schooling and 4 years of Diploma). I have been employed in a leading and reputed engineering company for 4 years. I am doing the AMIE and would like to study MS in mechanical engineering in the US. After completing the AMIE (recognised by UPSC and AICTE as equivalent to the Bachelor of Engineering), am I eligible to take the GRE [Graduate Record Exam]? Since I do not have 16 years of study, I also would like to know if my work experience would be of some help to find a reputed University that offers Master degree admissions? Please reply with details or provide links and addresses where I could contact.

Diploma to Degree, Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Dear Diploma to Degree:

The entrance exams for US colleges are conducted by private organizations, which have nothing to do any college. They do not particularly care whether you have adequate qualifications. All you have to do is to follow the procedure and pay the fee, and then you can take the test. So, yes you can take the GRE, and so can anyone else. You and other candidates are well advised to ensure that you meet academic qualifications for target programs and colleges, before spending the money and effort on taking the entrance exam.

You must understand the difference between eligibility and acceptance. It is not any different in the US than it is in India. Eligibility is not acceptance. The US colleges require that the candidates must have obtained a Bachelor's degree that is equivalent to that in the US. The Bachelor's degree is of 4-year duration in the US, post Grade 12 of high school. A Bachelor's degree in engineering from India is considered equivalent to a Bachelor's degree in the US. Diploma qualifications, in general, are considered to be irrelevant to meeting the academic qualifications in the US, just as they are in India. However, the recognition of equivalency of your qualifications by a government body in India as the Bachelor's level training is valuable. Since the system of education in the US is fairly flexible, the colleges are likely to accept that your qualifications are equivalent to a Bachelor's degree.

Now let us deal with the reality, and the difference between eligibility and acceptance. Tens of thousands of international students - in addition to tens of thousand of local students - apply each year for admission in the US. Most of them have traditional degree qualifications, and not equivalency certificates from a third party. Despite the equivalency, assuming that it is acceptable in the US, your academic performance still matters. Unlike India - where admission decisions are made strictly on the basis of your performance on the entrance exam, provided you meet the eligibility requirements - the US colleges consider your performance on the entrance exam as just one input into the selection criteria. So, you past academic performance matters, and it matters a great deal. Chances are that you went into a diploma program because of your not so good academic performance. However, we may be completely off-mark on this assumption.

It is imperative that you demonstrate an outstanding performance on the GRE, so that you rise above the pool of candidates and the college considers your application seriously. Even then, the college would not ignore your past academic performance.

Unless your GRE performance is extremely compelling, you must manage your expectations of getting admitted to a "reputed" university. Anything short of 90th percentile performance on the GRE, you would be better off targeting average universities.

In the iMahal Education Channel, you can find:

The cost of education is extremely high in the US, ranging from $15,000 to $45,000 per year. Competition for financial aids is fierce. Two key criteria - your academic performance and performance of the entrance exam - determine whether you can secure financial aid.

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