Navigating Applications to International Universities

Navigation college applications

Originally published in The Hindu Edge on April 6, 2019

Studying abroad is not such a daunting idea anymore and if you are in school or college, you have probably counted your chances and pennies many times already.

Here is a quick guide to your options and how to weigh them:

United States

Forgive my bias, but more than a quarter of Fortune’s Global 500 companies are headquartered in the US. Home to almost all the world-changing start-ups in the last 10 years, the US leads technology, scientific research, music, movies and college rankings across all disciplines. Tuition fees for top colleges are tough half a crore rupees annually, but there are over 4000 colleges and universities with options for all budgets.

Visa and Job prospects

“Optional Practical Training” (OPT) allows STEM students up to 3 years and non-STEM students 1 year to work. After OPT, students can apply for H1B, other immigrant visas or green card. One can apply for citizenship after 5 years on a green card though the whole process is highly competitive and can take between 10 and 15 years.


Canada hosts three of the world’s top-ranked universities across disciplines (McGill, Toronto and British Columbia). Canada offers great value for money with tuition and cost of living is about half that in the US. Consistently Ranked #1 in the US News Best Countries Quality of Life rankings, Canada is a friendly (though rather cold) place to study in. Indians form almost 4% of the population and Punjabi is the fourth most popular language.

Visa and job prospects

Students can stay back for as many years as the degree they graduate in. Lately however, fears of economic stagnation have made many students opt for “co-op” or co-operative education courses that include a year of working. Engineering, IT, BioScience and Finance jobs are relatively easier to find. You can apply for Permanent Residency (PR) after two years of working and citizenship after three years. A Canadian passport makes it easier to visit your friendly neighbourhood US as well as to work under H1B, TN1 or L1 visas.

United Kingdom

UK universities need little selling. Oxford and Cambridge are top-ranked across all disciplines, with LSE and UCL are not far behind. An OxBridge education often guarantees students higher starting salaries as well as lifetime earnings. New medical colleges in the UK offer high-quality medicine education to international students.

Visa and job prospects

Graduates have only 4 month to look for a ‘skilled-job offer” from an employer with a tier-II sponsorship license (not easy to obtain). On the brighter side, several colleges offer “co-op” options. Post Brexit – if it happens – visa norms and job competition could ease out a bit for Indians.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong hosts over a third of regional headquarters for MNCs, next only to Singapore. Though English is an official language, learning Mandarin or Cantonese further opens the door to working and doing business in China – the world’s second largest economy. A highly affordable destination, Hong Kong is home to top-ranked universities, Hong Kong University (HKU) offering Liberal Arts education and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) for STEM, Business and Finance.

Visa and job prospects

Visa norms are friendly and students can stay back for a year after graduation. Jobs for English speaking students are not difficult to come by and you can apply for PR after 7 years of living in Hong Kong.


A Finance and Technology hub, the Lion City accounts for almost half the MNC regional headquarters. Though tuition fees are competitive, top-ranked institutions Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU) are highly selective with single-digit acceptance rates.

Visa and job prospects

Once you have an employment pass, you can apply for PR which takes four to six months and it is two years from PR to citizenship – though the high demand from Indians and other Asians has made this process slower and even competitive. However, male citizens need three years of mandatory army service to get citizenship. A Singapore passport is the second most powerful passport in the world with visa-free access or visa-on-arrival for 188 countries.


The fourth largest economy in the world, Germany offers free undergraduate education for international students. Combined with low cost of living, this makes it a leading destination for STEM and Finance courses. Students are allowed 120 days of work in a year while studying and can travel to 56 European countries (do I need to elaborate on this).

More than 1000 courses are taught in English at the postgraduate level, and about 150 at the undergraduate level. However, you have to know German to socialize and survive and a language test is a mandatory part of the application.

Visa and job prospects

A Residence Permit of 18 months allows students to look for a job commensurate with their qualification. Job opportunities are attractive for Engineering, IT, Medicine, Nursing or Scientific Research. One can apply for a PR after 3 years and for citizenship after another 5 years.


Consistently ranked among Top 10 Countries to Live In by US News, Australia presents pristine environments with about 3 people per sq km (compared to India’s 455!). High participation in local and international sporting offers a fun and healthy lifestyle.

Annual tuition is almost as high as the US but the three-year format makes it more affordable. Australian universities are ranked high internationally, but the best value you get is within Australia itself. Students do not see significant financial advantages in returning to India with an Australian degree.

Visa and job prospects

Australia encourages immigration and Indians comprise about 2% of the population. Their 5-year Skilled Migration Program – like PR – favours software engineers, doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, web developers, and salespeople. You can apply for citizenship after 4 years of PR.

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