For Engineering senior Divyang Arora, the last two years of high school in India consisted of six-hour coaching classes for college entrance exams and weekends consumed by individual study sessions. Students in India “don’t like to waste one second in 11th and 12th grade,” Arora said.
In his senior year, Arora applied to study engineering at four American universities — but these were just backup options.
“I always knew I wanted to go to school in India,” said Arora, who enrolled in Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India. He ultimately transferred to Penn for his sophomore year because the Indian school was too “unidimensional” and would not allow him to take interdisciplinary courses.
For engineering students, “there is a perception that Indian universities give much more background in the basics,” he said, adding that he found the engineering at the Birla Institute “much harder” than at Penn.
Like Arora, many students in India strive to go to Indian universities over American universities.
India has roughly 600 millions citizens under the age of 25. As a result, the country’s universities have become overwhelmed with applicants, The New York Times reported last week.
At some schools, such as the College of Engineering at Delhi University, students need to score 100 percent on their standardized test to be admitted.
“The cutoffs are crazy,” said College sophomore Meghna Mann, who is from New Delhi. The “competition is cutthroat.”
Admission to a top-tier Indian university “all depends on your entrance exam score,” Mann explained. “It’s not a very holistic application process.”
“There are people who don’t get into their first choice school, and then apply to American universities,” she added.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said Penn has seen an increase in applications from India. He added that “Penn has been committed in India” in terms of recruitment efforts.
Over the past few months, admissions officers travelled to India to recruit students, he explained. Furda added that he will soon be “going back for [his] second visit in four years.”
Despite the focus on Indian universities, many students who attend international schools in India, such as Engineering senior Aditya Khosla, were steered towards British and American universities.
Out of 80 students in his grade, about 70 went overseas for college, Khosla said.
However, prestigious American universities are also visiting Indian high schools — 2011 College and Wharton graduate Kabir Bedi explained that representatives from Yale and Columbia universities visited his school in New Delhi.
With India’s “booming” economy, “more people can afford to go abroad,” Bedi said.
Mann said she wanted to go to a school in the United States, where she could integrate all her different interests. “India’s schools are great if you know exactly what you want to do at an early age,” Mann said, explaining that all applicants must declare what they want to study before they enroll in a university.
There’s more “flexibility” and “intellectual freedom” in American universities, said Bedi, who attended the Institute of Technology and Management for a year before coming to Penn.
Although she hopes to return to India at some point, Mann said she “definitely wants to work in America after college.”
Other Indian students at Penn plan on returning to India for their careers.
“It’s very logical,” said Bedi, explaining that, “if you graduate from a top Ivy League, you’re highly regarded in India.”
“The U.S. is good for getting jobs to get you started,” Bedi, who is working in finance in Washington, added. “But it’s not sure what the economy will be like here in the future. It’s a bit of a gamble if you want to stay here.”
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