By Rajkamal Rao
Take something as basic and crucial as selecting colleges and universities. With the explosion in the use of web searches through smartphones and reliance on social media tools, these habits have become so entrenched that it will be hard to shake them off.
The result is that most students are as confused at the beginning of this journey as they are at its end. And they are not to blame because in some ways, this experience is true about everything these days that requires some research - buying a vehicle for the first time or researching an illness for a loved one.
The net effect is this: Too much information is just as bad as no information, and unless information is filtered down to their individual situations, with real answers, students feel anxious, convinced that they could always have done better. In economics, this is called "Buyer's Remorse".
As you can see in our chart, the first source of students as they research their post Bachelor's options to study is to ask friends, their friends and a few seniors who may have already stepped foot on foreign shores. This is a perfectly natural thing to do. Word-of-mouth is powerful especially if it is based on trust. But excessive reliance on this source is likely to be sub-optimal. Friends are often themselves confused and do not know all the answers.
Then there are generic U.S. government-run websites such as EducationUSA and even their offices in the big Indian cities, including those of the United States Educational Foundation in India. These are good generic resources but other than having a clerk hand you a big fat binder with a lot of generic information about schools, you won't get much additional help. This is changing a bit in recent years. In Chennai, the U.S. consulate has begun to provide one-on-counseling to high school students to attend U.S. colleges at a relatively low fee but this service is not offered to graduate students. Also, not everyone can travel to Chennai, nor would the consulate's consultants be able to provide advice about such key differentiators as Statement of Purpose reviews.
Third come the big commercial ranking sites such as US News.com. These are excellent at providing generic information about a school but excessive reliance on rankings can be dangerous too. Schools are ranked using a methodology decided by the company and this may not make sense to you at all. For example, US News considers such factors as peer assessment, graduation and retention rates; faculty resources (class size, for example); student selectivity (for example, average admissions test scores of incoming students); financial resources and alumni giving to rank schools. But on the most important question for an international student - how much help will the school provide to secure a summer internship and then, a job after graduation - US News is completely silent.
There's also the issue that different ranking sites - Princeton Review, Barrons, College Confidential - all come up with different rankings. Which one should you believe?
The source yielding the most promise here is social media, such as the large Facebook groups. First of all, every individual in the group has the same goal - so this is a big plus to cut out clutter. Second, every student is at a different level of preparation. Some have taken admissions tests; some have begun the shortlisting; others have finalized their applications, including completing their SOPs; still others have received admits and some have already landed in the United States. Hearing personal experiences from such a large number of students is especially soothing because there's a feeling of community in knowing that others sharing a goal are doing things with a sense of purpose. And the large Facebook groups such as MS in US Aspirants, MS in US Fall/Spring 2019, have professional moderators with deep expertise who mentor students on how to shortlist colleges based on profiles. This is a welcome development.
But there are issues here too. When questions are posed to a group, peer answers obtained are not always the best thought-out or based on sound analysis. Also, students who are the most competent to answer may have missed out on seeing the post, so it may go unanswered forever. And there's dissent - when one student contradicts another, confusing the reader even more.
So, students turn to storefront "consultants" in the big Indian cities who claim to know everything - although these so-called consultants themselves never went to the United States to study and work. Or worse yet, students go to recruiting agents who are in it only for the money because they are motivated by commissions.
Resistance to use professional consultants - and our solution!
This section may seem to be self-serving because we are professional consultants and this blog post appears to be a marketing stunt. It is not. Nor is it spam. We speak on behalf of all dedicated professional consultants, including those who professionally moderate Facebook groups, that are passionate student advocates and always do what is in the best interest of their clients. The relationships that professional consultants have with their students are as sacrosanct as that between a lawyer and a client, where every exchange is confidential and privileged.
You can tell professional consultants from others because these are people with real, relevant experience. Most of them have gone to graduate school. Some of them have worked in colleges and universities in the U.S. Others have long experiences working with university academics and share professional relationships with them. Most importantly, professional consultants build what in the business is called a "knowledge repository". Because they have detailed information about past students they know what works and what doesn't - that is, they have a methodology.
Take our case as an example. We have counseled hundreds of students over the years and have a 100% placement record. Using this, we have constantly honed our methodology to shortlist schools. Review our 7-Step approach and you will see how elegant it is. You also see that our approach is free for you to follow.
Remember that our proprietary methodology was developed over 32 years of studying, living and working in the United States serving all the major industry domains and is constantly refined to reflect the real-world. It is based on an intimate understanding of the U.S. economy - the states and regions that are doing well, which industries are growing, which occupations are in demand and which universities are near job clusters - so that students have a better chance at getting that all-important internship, and a post-graduation job. We hardly use commercial school rankings at all!
But why do Indian students resist to pay for professional consultants? Because they don't believe in paying for advice and they feel confident (sometimes too confident) that when there are multiple free sources available, paying for a professional consultant is a waste of money, and they can do this on their own. These students would never perform surgery on themselves, but they are willing to do the equivalent of just that for one of the most important decisions they are likely to make in their lives. They disregard the wise old American saying that in life "you get what you pay for".
To serve students who are hesitant (or unable) to pay the full fees of counseling, we even offer an extremely low-cost professional profile evaluation service where all the heavy lifting about college selection can be outsourced to us. When you hire a professional consultant, this is what you get - expertise that can be used to help your individual case so that you can feel more secure that your final shortlist is closer to the optimal.
Just to be sure, we don't mean to be critical of anyone. Each person has limitations and we respect that. We often get requests to provide professional advice for free. This is something we simply cannot do, just as a restaurant does not allow you to eat breakfast for free. So we simply request that our limitations are respected too.
As always, good luck in your pursuit.
A Note About Rao Advisors Premium Services
Our promise is to empower you with high-quality, ethical and free advice via this website. But parents and students often ask us if they can engage with us for individual counseling sessions.
Individual counseling is part of the Premium Offering of Rao Advisors and involves a fee. Please contact us for more information.
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