United States destination of choice for Indian students to study abroad

Lata Jain

Sixty years after gaining independence, India’s students are flocking abroad for higher education. Today, India is the leader in sending its students overseas for international educational exchange, with over 203,890 students studying outside the country in 2014. More than 102,673 of them have chosen the United States as their academic destination.

The U.S. receives more international students from India than from any other country, a trend that continues to shape and impact the cultural, economic and diplomatic dialogue between the two countries. Vigorous efforts have been undertaken by such U.S. government leaders as Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes to persuade Indian students to study in the U.S. This past March, Hughes carried her campaign to Mumbai and New Delhi.

It seems to have paid off. Six years ago, India surpassed China as the international community’s leading exporter of students to America, and it seems likely to remain so for years to come.

Gaurav Kumar, originally from Bangalore, who for more than a year has been working toward a master’s degree in engineering, says that the United States was the best-suited destination for him simply because it had the best programs for the career path he intended to pursue. “I think it’s true that most Indian students are coming to the U.S. to study when they leave India. I know a lot of people who go to the U.K., Australia and New Zealand as well, but about 80% of the people I know came to the U.S.

Raghav Kumar who applied to 14 schools across the globe, says that bureaucratic processes do not deter Indian students. “It’s not really difficult,” getting the student visa. “It’s become a lot simpler for us to figure out the visa application process in past years due to the high number of Indian students coming to America. There is a lot of advising in India available for students trying to get to the U.S. to study.”

Xavier Augustin, Chief Executive Officer of career consulting firm Y-Axis.com, feels that more Indians will now choose to enter on a student visa. Hyderabad and Mumbai are figured in the Washington-based Brooking Institution’s list of the top-10 global cities that send maximum students to the US.

  • 56,653 F1 student visas were issued in India in the financial year 2014.
  • Indian students contributed 3.3 bn to US economy last year.
  • Number of Indian students in the US was 102,673 last year.
  • 90,000 visa applications for studying in the US from insiders in the last 12 months.

The U.S. was looked at as a land of opportunities. It was seen as a utopia for good students who were confident they would get jobs,” says Bindu Chopra, head of the Bangalore office of N&N Chopra Consultants, which advises students on studying overseas.

There is a popular wisecrack among engineers in India—one leg in India, another in Air India. Most of them graduate and fly off to pursue a master’s. Little wonder then for the US, as many as four Indian cities are among the largest senders of students who want to wrap up their education with an American degree in STEM — short for science, technology, engineering and maths, according to Brookings report.

What makes US a popular destination? First, the US economy is reviving, and job prospects are improving. This is important for advancement students who prefer to remain in the US or work for a few years before returning to India. Second, United States institutions are becoming increasingly aggressive in their outreach to Indian students. Third, the emergence of an undergraduate student pipeline in India is adding more students in the enrollment mix of those seeking to go to the US.

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