Published: 05th February 2019
Huge opportunities for STEM students in USA, not for arts students: Evan Weisenfeld, career coach
Evan Weisenfeld discusses the current trends in education, career prospects and the most frequently asked queries
Admission season is around the corner again and it's that time when students have to take crucial decisions that will end up directing their entire lives. This is also a time when career coaches like Evan Weisenfeld come all the way down to India to encourage budding ambitious youngsters to consider studying in the United States. Weisenfeld is the International Career Coach for US News Global Education and this is his second trip to Chennai. He sat down with Edex to discuss the current trends in education, career prospects and the most frequently asked queries. Excerpts:
Why is it important for students to attend career counselling sessions?
In some countries, if the students have aptitude and test well in that subject then they are obliged to study that subject and then follow a career based on that. In the US, it's very different. It's based on what the student prefers. The career counselling helps students understand the connection between education and having a career. If a student has a subject of interest or expertise and they want to find ways to apply that knowledge and use that in a career, that's where the career counselling comes in. We basically try to open the students' eyes to what the possibilities are and how they can get the most out of their educational experience.
Are these sessions targetted at the parents too?
The idea is to help the students and in some cases the parents play a very important role in influencing the students. This is primarily because they are paying for it. In many cases, we find that the parents come because the students are busy, so the parents or a sibling will come to take back information for the student. The information is very student-specific but it also gives a sense of comfort to the parents. It answers their questions about employability and clears their doubts about whether they will be able to pay back the money if they've taken a loan. And when it comes to the university system, they want to know if it will be safe for them.
Is there a difference in the way that American and Indians students choose their courses?
It's hard for me to know — my exposure is that students want a career that will give them the best life and the best earning potential. I don't know if students from India have an innate aptitude for computer science and technology or if they choose that because it has the highest career growth. So, it's the whole idea of nature versus nurture. My guess is that its nurture — they see this as a way to make good money and hopefully be happy. I would hate to think that somebody is choosing something purely because of the financial opportunity. But the students I interact with do seem to really like it and they're excited by the opportunity.
Career Coach: Evan Weisenfeld has more than 25 years of experience developing and executing successful integrated, multi-channel and digital business programs in ultra-competitive and evolving marketplaces
In India, a lot of students are choosing humanities over-engineering which is a big change. Does that reflect in students applying abroad too?
I think the percentages of people wanting to go abroad for humanities courses are small. Seventy-seven per cent of students who go to the US, go there to get a Masters degree. I do expect that it will change and more people would go there for a Bachelors degree. The vast majority do go for STEM-related topics. But I've met students here in Chennai who are interested in multimedia, video and film production. I think the challenge is that the opportunities to stay and work are different. Students who choose humanities are only given a year and that allows them to stay and work for a year but if you are a STEM student you get two additional years. So the chances to find jobs in the USA is more promising when you have three years than just one year. For a family that has lots of money and can afford to send their children there for the course and who can come back to India to work, its a great opportunity to get that exposure. But if you wish to stay there and pay back the loans then it is better to stay focused on STEM.
What are the top courses that are popular among students these days?
The top courses are computer science, all forms of engineering, business, especially MBA, and the newest one, which is the growing fast in the US is data science. That's a specialty degree, it's a subset of computer science but its much broader. Computer Science is the fastest growing, right now its the number one job in the USA, it has a 28 per cent projected job growth and there is high demand in all industries. Data science applies to everything from pharmaceuticals to finance.
And the top job opportunities?
Data Science is seeing the greatest growth in terms of job opportunity. But computer science as a whole is projected to grow at about 12 per cent annually. The average job growth in the US is only about seven per cent so that means computer science has even more opportunities. In the US, the economy is going where there are computer and engineering skills. But I think even outside the US, there will be the greatest job growth in these areas. Automation, AI, Robotics, these are the areas that have good growth and require specialised skills and more international students have those skill sets. So this means more international students have opportunities. Especially now with the new visa rules, the way potential workers are selected has changed. People with advanced degrees can easily get an H1B visa.
Has politics in the US affected the number of international students applying for courses in the country?
Numbers are down. Numbers of international students applying to the US is down. For some universities, it's up but overall the numbers are low and for Canada, they are way up. The politics and the political situation in the USA do present problems. My personal hope is that in a couple of years when the US elections happen maybe that will change. But what it has uncovered in my mind, is that there are people who are very protectionist, that are very concerned about foreigners stealing jobs. taking away slots in good universities from domestic students and to me, that is very narrow-minded. I think the world is a better place when we are open and collaborative. Some countries are trying to limit opportunities to people in their country, take, for example, UK with its Brexit policy and the USA with Trump's policies. This is because to a certain degree, society has passed them by, they don't have the training, the job skills and so they are fearful for their lives. They can also be racist but that's a whole separate topic. I think we need to look at the policies and the situations for those domestic audiences and find ways for them to grow because we want everybody to live a better life.
Studying Overseas: These career counselling sessions draw increasingly large crowds every year
Can you tell us a little bit about the scholarships available to international students?
Scholarships are a challenging topic when it comes to international students. There are two types of scholarships, there are needs-based scholarships, which means the student cannot afford the tuition. And then there are the merit-based scholarships which mean they are for top performing students. There are very few scholarships for needs-based international students. They would be available at some private universities because they have large endowments. Most universities reserve scholarships for people in their state. Merit-based scholarships are based on their grades. Very rarely do students get a full ride. However, the better the university the lesser scholarships they have because they anyway have lots of students applying. Lower ranked universities will give more money because they want students to go there. There are many other organisations where you can apply for scholarships. There are some for international students, for example, my organization recognizes top students around the world and provides scholarships. Students can go online and search for these scholarships. Some organisations will offer small amounts but then the student can apply to many such small organisations and try to use it to subsidise their education. But overall, most universities in the US are interested in international students for two reasons, one is because they want to diversify their student body and the second reason is they want full paying tuition. That is what international students are known for, giving away scholarships is challenging because they want high paying students.
What are the most common queries prospective students ask you?
Probably the most popular question is 'how do I pick which university to attend'. But this question has no set answer. Choosing to go to university is a very personal decision. Most want to know the ranking of a university because that is what US News is known for but we try to explain that the decision depends on what fits. My clothes would fit you differently than how your clothes fit me. The way a university fits is different on a student to student basis. Some students will do better in the big city universities, some will do well in universities in rural areas, some will do well in a large public university, some will do better in a small private university, some will do better in a warm climate, some in cold. There are many factors, what students will need to evaluate is where they will be most successful. The ranking is one factor because it can have an impact on their career because of the type of degree they are doing and the type of tie-ups the university might have with various industries. The number of international students on campus can also impact the candidate because if you want to have a lot of students from your country and a lot of restaurants that serve your style of food then that is a factor. If you want to go to a place where there are not that many students from your home country because you want to try out different things, then that becomes a different factor. So it really does depend on the individual.
Besides ranking or the population strength from the home country, what are the other things that students need to look out for in a university?
We also encourage students to look at what we call international student friendly universities because they provide a level of support services to international students. Things like dedicated advisors, counsellors that are obligated to help them graduate, to help them get through from the first year to the second. The progression rate right now is very low but these universities actually help improve the progression rate by a lot. So when a family is investing a lot of money in their education, they want to know that after year one the student is going to complete year two. So, there has to be that support.
Do students have questions about the visa application process?
The other question I get asked a lot is 'how do I stay in the US?'. There is a lot of concern about the visa. What I tell students is to be honest and open during the interviews. The officers would want to know how the student is going to pay and why they chose that university. Also, what plans they have after they graduate. For students in India who have a slightly harder time getting visa approval, the officers need to be assured that the student will come back to India after the course. It's a risk for them if a student tries to stay on as an illegal, they don't want to approve those students. The students have to understand that the whole point of going to the US is to get the education and then come home and make their own home a better place. I think there are some students who would hope to immigrate and get permanent status but it is challenging. Maybe that will change in the future. But, I believe if the students have the right expectations going in and they are honest with the officer and have a conversation then they should do well.