Centres of learning
A first-hand experience of an Indian undergraduate student in the USA
Every year, American universities draw a huge number of youngsters from across the world to pursue higher studies. But before you make the choice, you must weigh the pros and cons. I studied in India for 18 years, and am currently pursuing my undergraduate degree in the USA. The education system in both the countries have their advantages and disadvantages. While India encourages its students to take a rational approach that helps them to prepare for some of the world’s toughest competitive exams, the US education system is more flexible allowing students to choose from an array of options.
I feel the education system in India offers limited options and is restricted to mainstream fields. This is one of the reasons new research and information is added late to the Indian curriculum. Moreover, students are always advised to refer to past research, sometimes limiting their thoughts.
The USA allows students to choose more flexible career options, where they are encouraged to pick up a range of majors. Besides, they also are able to make their own timetables, choose their own subjects, professors and switch majors if they change their field of interest; such pliability has not yet been introduced to the Indian education system.
When it comes to learning, India takes a more theoretical approach and the USA takes a more practical approach that also leads to the application of concepts. That said, India prepares students for highly competitive exams like IIT, CAT and NEET and international students come here to pursue education in institutes like IIT, ISI and IIM.
In India, your subjects and your professors are assigned to you according to the major you pursue. But in the USA, you are given the option to choose your own subjects, and in that process there are a range of professors you can opt from. There is a site called Rate My Professors where students can compare all the different options they have. This site informs you of the percentage of students that would retake the class, the quality, difficulty and reviews written by students. The professors also encourage students to visit them during their office hours or email them if they have any queries, and tend to get back within 24 hours.
Additionally they have TAs (Teachers Assistants) that conduct Supplemental Instructions that redo the topics taught in class and handout worksheets to help them get a better understanding of the concept. Moreover, there are online quizzes at least twice a week so that the students understand how the concepts work. It is difficult to miss out any work given by the professor as all of it contribute to the final grade.
Both the education systems in India and US put a lot of emphasis on attendance. In India, 75 per cent attendance is compulsory to appear for final exams and in the USA, 80 per cent attendance is required, which is also part of the final grade. While Indians use registers to get the attendance, Americans use a device called iClicker that asks them to answer questions in class, that determines if they are present or absent.
The exams that are conducted in an academic year hold the highest weightage when calculating the final grade, and the exam schedule in India and the USA is similar. Both education systems tend to give three-four exams per semester with a plethora of assignments. However, there are a few details that separate the process.
In India, students are not aware of some of the exams that are conducted and if they are going to be counted. A lot of times they don’t get their marks and directly get their final grade, making it difficult for them to decipher how each paper was. In the USA for any subject on the first day of class, an exam schedule is given to students, the grading system is described and they are informed about future quizzes. After every exam, the papers and grades are handed to the student within a week. They also have a grading system online which calculates exams, assignments, quizzes that keep updating to reveal the score.
When students leave their home to study in a different city, state or country, they tend to stay in hostels, PG’s or dorms. Indian hostels are not known for their amenities, however, in the past few years they have been trying to improve.
Dorm rooms in the US are well furnished with a great deal of amenities. The dining halls tend to provide a range of options for everyone, according to their taste, making hostel life a little simple.