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3 year Indian undergraduate degree recognised in the US?

Admission to a Graduate Programme in the US

Indian students with a three-year undergraduate degree aspiring to graduate school in the US have long been vexed by the issue of their educational qualifications’ equivalency to American undergraduate degrees. While students with a four-year engineering degree and other four-year+ degrees find it easy to gain admission to US graduate programmes, students with a three-year BA, BSc and BCom degrees find the going tougher. They have either been completing one year of a Master’s programme, or even going for a Master’s programme in the US after completing a Master’s programme in India. Many students fret that they have ‘lost’ time in the process. Recent news items saying that American universities are willing to accept three-year degrees from India for graduate admissions have raised students’ hopes. While there are no rigid rules regarding the treatment of the three-year degree from India, there are certain programmes and circumstances under which students can apply to grad programmes with three-year degrees. Before getting too optimistic, students need to understand the admissions process in US grad schools and gain clarity on their own chances. The American undergraduate degree generally requires the accumulation of 120 credits, normally spanning four years of study. In order to be considered for admission to graduate programmes of study, students from other countries are expected to have the equivalent of a US Bachelor’s degree. The British undergraduate degree is of three years, and the same is true of several other countries. Most American universities accept undergraduate degrees from accredited British schools as equivalent to an American undergraduate degree. American universities enjoy a degree of freedom and autonomy that can only be dreamt of in most other countries. The result is that the same credentials may be viewed differently at different universities, and for different programmes. A couple of examples may help illuminate the point. India’s former minister of state for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor, gained admission to Tufts University immediately after a three-year Bachelor’s degree in Arts from St Stephen’s College. He was exceptional as a student, a topper from St Stephen’s, with a brilliant academic record, and presumably had great standardised test scores and strong recommendations and essays. Since then, several other students have gained admission to Ivy League and top universities with three-year degrees from India. A student from India with a three-year degree in maths and physics from Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) applying to an MBA programme may gain admission to Harvard, provided she has good GMAT scores, relevant work experience, crafts brilliant essays and presents a compelling application, in fact, Naina Lal Kidwai did just that, back in the ’80s. The same student may be denied admission by the maths department, or the physics department, on the grounds that her educational qualifications fall short of the requirements. American universities have been admitting students with three-year degrees for a long time — it’s nothing new. The bottom line is that every application is reviewed on a case by case basis. Graduate programmes in the humanities may be a little more open to considering students with three-year degrees, provided the student is from one of the top schools in their home country, and has an outstanding academic record, standardised test scores and so on. For professional programmes such as the MBA, the three-year degree is usually accepted, assuming the student is outstanding in all other respects. In fact, several American universities have formulated MBA programmes that include ‘prerequisite’ study of one academic year, or a ‘bridge’ programme, which is essentially the same thing. However, students considering such programmes should be aware of the added cost, and read the fine print about admission to the graduate programmes. Students should check whether there are pre-conditions that may be stumbling blocks. Students of the physical sciences — physics, biology, chemistry and maths — are usually required to have four years of study after high school (class XII) in order to be considered for admission to graduate programmes of study in the US. Diversity in the student body is a goal of most American universities and they welcome applications from all kinds of backgrounds. US universities are also cognisant of the value of work experience, research experience and originality. Students should make proper enquiries, directly with the US universities in case they wish to find out whether their educational qualifications meet the requirement. Credentials evaluation by WES (www.wes.org) or ECE (www.ece.org) may help US schools in making a decision. Having said that, students should also be aware that American universities encourage applications from more students, so students should not construe a response that seems positive to mean that they are better placed for admission. RENUKA RAJA RAO,COUNTRY CO-ORDINATOR, UNITED STATES-INDIA EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION (USIEF)