Thinking of US education? 

By Manisha Dookhony

No doubt many of you think the same. As students and parents make up their mind here are some thoughts on US education. US universities allow a broad base of rich learning and opportunities to explore one’s intellectual curiosities.

US universities are not a first thought in Mauritius; distance, cost and time differences do not help. My own parents were apprehensive.

‘Trop loin, trop cher,’ they said. Most famous universities are the Ivy Leagues: Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, Dartmouth, Pennsylvania and Brown. Very reputed non-ivy league universities include Stanford and MIT. Together with the Ivy League they form the top tier of universities in the US and worldwide. These institutions are private, rely mostly on donor funding, have a huge budget and are highly selective. Every year Mauritian students are admitted in programs across top-tier universities. Liberal arts colleges are smaller institutions with emphasis on student teacher ratio, are ideal for those faring better in a more nurturing environment. ‘College’ is a generic term used in the US to designate an institution offering post-secondary education. Colleges focus on undergraduate education, are usually smaller and may not offer all subjects. Universities provide both undergraduate and graduate (Master’s & Doctoral) education. There is a myriad of private and public regional and community colleges and state universities. Community colleges (which are much cheaper) is a cost reduction option. One can join a community college for two years and obtain an Associate’s degree, then transfer to a bigger university to finish up their Bachelor Degree, and graduate. However seats for transfers may be limited. 

Bachelor degrees last 4 years (Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior years). Broad based, they allow students explore different fields and develop skills. With an HSC in English, French, and Maths, one can major in Religious studies, take science courses and end up in Medical school. Masters are for 1-2 years and about 4-7 years for a PhD. Research and intellectual creativity is encouraged. In scientific research, US students have a high density of Patents. Specialized schools within universities provide professional Master’s degrees for law, business, public administration, international studies, education, & medicine. In contrast with other countries, these fields of study are not offered at the undergraduate level, although Engineering schools within universities do offer Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD programs of study. Doctoral programs are long, require a two-year residency and mostly prepare for academics (excluding professional doctorates). They also require candidates to teach, work on research projects with their advisors, and complete a thesis. There are moreover vocational and career oriented institutes such as those dedicated to art, technology, design, music, therapy.

Living costs and conditions vary across regions. Universities can be remote and far from main centers. Academic costs are higher for big private institutions, but these institutions offer more financial support. Support in the form of grants, tuition waivers, scholarships, university loans, and work opportunities within the university, bring the cost of education drastically down. Work is permitted for up to 20 hours a week during school session (40 hours a week in the holidays). Scholars may be eligible for a variety of private scholarships, internships and summer travel funds. Students may take US bank loans with the help of a cosigner. Upon graduation, students may apply for practice training which essentially allows work for a limited amount of time, and this may help to repay loans.

Given the variety of institutes, students should carry out research on the reputation of an institution before applying. You may find university rankings online, (US News and World Report database). Before applying to an institution it is good to review career, placement and internship services offered. Students in sciences should also assess the technology licensing offices which manage patents, licenses, and copyright of intellectual property developed within the University. Patents can become a source of income and business venture. IT field scholars become entrepreneurs creating start-ups.

In selecting candidates, universities tend to favor well-rounded students. It is not sufficient to be a straight A-student. Achievement in sport, community work, extra-curricular activities, bravery and other talents are highly valued. Diversity brings greater value to the experience of the student. Hence admissions committees consider elements such as political inclinations, race, sexual preferences, gender, geography and experience (especially for professional degrees).

Admissions applications are due in Nov/Dec and are submitted online. Financial support application is due Jan/Feb. Admission results are announced in April/May. College starts in Aug/Sept (fall) although some offer spring (Jan) admission. Admission is a tedious time consuming process with essays, recommendations, transcripts and other documents to be submitted. Even if parents and teachers proofread essays, it should remain the student’s product. Admissions committees rely on essays to know the student better.

Standardized tests gauge students’ level. TOEFL and IELTS test the student’s command of the English language. Either of them is required for any entry level if native language is not English, or if undergraduate schools were not English medium institutions. SAT assesses analysis and problem solving skills and is a requirement at undergrad entry. Master’s and Doctoral entry require GRE (for arts and sciences and engineering) or GMAT (for Business Schools and certain Arts course). They evaluate verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning/mathematical skills, analytical writing and critical thinking skills. Medical students take MCAT which also tests scientific knowledge. Exam dates and space being limited in Mauritius and results having limited time validity, exams have to be timed ahead.

There is an extremely strong bond created around university network, almost like a social cognitive status. This bond is consolidated with on campus residences and around common activities. Bonds are often reflected in work settings. Reunions and alumni networks are an important part of post university life.

Our Facebook group page nears 200 members (Although the actual community is larger). Mauritian Community clusters are in most main cities. The online and physical presence is a support system for newcomers. We often meet, discuss, and provide advice, share food and celebrations. Independence Day was celebrated on the 12th of March in the Mauritian community. Technologies help reduce the distance. A shared feeling is that US education provides great opportunities both in academic training and beyond. Best of luck in your application!


Manisha Dookhony
in consultation with Radha Pertaub,
Eshwan Ramudu & Nilesh Dosooye

* Published in print edition on 25 March 2011

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