Factors to keep in mind while applying for study abroad

Rohan Ganeriwala

Study abroad programmes are becoming increasingly attractive as more and more college students seek meaningful ways to spend college breaks or explore true diversity of cultures. As a result, not only has a great international programme become more expensive, but also a lot more competitive to get accepted into.

First and foremost step–Talk to parents, teachers, current students abroad as well as alumni to evaluate if you would be interested in studying abroad. Contact an education consultant who is looking into study abroad applications to understand what’s best for you, how you should plan your timeline of standardized tests and applications to colleges abroad. Remember to study hard for your standardized tests (SAT, SAT Subject Tests, ACT, TOEFL, IELTS among others) and register well in advance. Plan your test dates well so you have time to retake if required.

It is important to build your student profile with project work, summer internships, extra-curricular activities and volunteer work.If you know the industry you’re looking to get into, network with people in this industry to understand job trends and skill set required to enter the industry as it well help you in selecting programs and schools for applications.

Shortlist universities with your education consultant and carefully evaluate the available options criteria such as offered programmes, rankings, location, campus life, eligibility, scholarship and financial aid opportunities.

Some destinations like the US and the UK are well known to international students but the picture is changing and new study abroad destinations are making head way.

 Factors to keep in mind while applying for study abroad

While researching for a college, it is imperative that you do not make rankings your foremost criterion. You need to get started early and make the official college website your Bible. Spend time in figuring out how the information you have garnered from websites/ brochures becomes significant to your academic goals and personal growth.

Here is a short list of criteria to keep in mind while researching colleges:

Courses and majors offered: Invest time in looking at the different kinds of majors the college offers,core requirements aka core curriculum, the combination of majors and minors and opportunities to gain practical exposure by means of study abroad or student exchange programmes.

Campus size and life:  College is your oyster and its diversity and size are important factors as well. Large colleges usually have more resources like, academic concentrations and majors, research facilities, faculty, culture, entertainment, etc. Small colleges mostly specialize in liberal arts education and the overall experience is usually more intimate.Smaller classes really do tend to weave a closer-knit community, but large classes bring with them diversity and a larger set of niche opportunities.

Location and Weather: Though college is a great time to explore the new and unknown, a drastically different environment can be sometimes jarring. Do you want to live in a big city or somewhere little quieter? It is also important to consider how different the weather will be from what you’re used to. For example, if you’re the kind of person who wants beaches and sunshine the year round and a cocoon of pulsating city life, UCLA or NYU would be the ideal college for you. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of snow and a contained campus far away from the city, look at Middlebury College or even Vassar College.

College Rankings: More important than the overall rankings would be the reputation(s) of the department(s) in which you might choose to major. You can also get an idea of the SAT/ACT range of most of the schools on the ranking list to determine whether a college/university would be a realistic choice for you based on your own scores.

Career prospects and Alumnus: Alumni give you a glimpse into the ethos a college fosters and allows you to judge which college resonates more with you and your career goals.If a school has enthusiastic alumni, they can help students find internships or even jobs. One way that school choice can affect a person’s career path is through career planning opportunities offered by the college.

Overall Cost: Other factors may be more important to you personally, but in the end, cost may trump them all. Private schools are usually more expensive than public colleges and state universities. However, private schools tend to have larger endowments and offer more grants and scholarships.

You’ve probably heard it many times before, but remember that what you’re looking for will be the best ‘fit’ for you, and that’s an individual choice.

Talk to students, alumni and possibly professors from the institutions you are considering to acquire an understanding of what you might be getting yourself into. Accordingly, gauge whether you would be interested in pursuing the option further. Next, talk to your parents and make your goals and plans clear to them while explaining to them the details, merits and demerits of the programs. You and your family need to take a hard look at yourselves financially and ascertain whether you will require external financial assistance or not.

Now that you’re firm on studying abroad, you need to strategize. For this, find an educational consultant who understands you and your goals and is committed to helping you realise them. The ideal counselor will give you a comprehensive understanding of the application process, help you identify the best institutions for you, and assist you with the preparation of a timeline for standardized tests (SATs, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, TOEFL, IELTS, etc.) and essays. Prepare well for the standardized tests but account for time that may be required for a second or third attempt (with high costs, you should look to avoid them as much as possible). Essays are a crucial component of the application and you will need time to write and perfect multiple drafts.

Universities abroad seek holistically developed individuals, so you’re going to need a lot more than just good test scores and recommendations. You will need to start building your profile from a young age by pursuing your strengths and interests. A typical profile includes project work, summer internships, extra-curricular activities and volunteer work. If you already know where you want to go professionally, you could also start networking with individuals in the industry to understand the skill set required to succeed and begin working on developing those skills.

(The writer is co-founder, Collegify, a college consulting firm for study abroad.)

If You Care About Small Business, Keep the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction

President Obama’s budget reform commission proposed eliminating the home mortgage interest deduction. This idea has analysts scurrying to estimate the proposal’s economic impact.

Unfortunately, our lawmakers often forget the law of unintended consequences when offering up changes to policies. In this case, our elected officials need to consider how making mortgage interest non-tax deductable will impact small business credit markets.

While policy makers might not see the connection, the mortgage interest deduction is linked to small business credit. That’s because the deduction helps to prop up housing prices. With 25 percent of those running small companies using home equity to fund their businesses, a drop in housing prices would mean that small business loans and lines of credit would be harder to come by.

Mortgage Interest Deduction

Getting rid of the mortgage interest tax deduction will have a sizeable effect on small business credit markets. Analysis by the National Association of Realtors indicates that home prices would drop 15 percent in the absence of this deduction. A study I conducted with Mark Schweitzer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland shows that each one percent decline in housing prices lowers the value of home equity loans (HELOCS) by 1.33 percent. Combined with the estimate of the home price decline from no longer being able to deduct mortgage interest from your taxes, this shift would mean a 20 percent drop in the value of HELOCS.

That’s a lot less small business credit. A report by the New York Fed put the dollar value of outstanding HELOCs at $700 billion in the beginning of 2010. Thus, we should expect to see a $140 billion decline in outstanding HELOCs if the home mortgage interest deduction were eliminated.

A sizeable chunk of this decline would be borne by small business owners. Analysis of the Federal Reserve’s consumer finance survey shows that business owners accounted for one quarter of home equity loans in 2007, the latest year for which data are available. Thus, dropping the deductability of mortgage interest would shave $35 billion from small business owners’ home equity loans.

While we don’t know for sure how much of small business owners’ home equity borrowing is financing business operations, the amount is sizeable. Analysis of Fed consumer finance survey data indicates that households with businesses had median home equity debt that was 50 percent more than that of households without businesses in 2007. If the difference in debt levels between the two types of households represents the portion of home equity borrowing the business owners are using to finance their companies, then one third of the small business owning households’ home equity borrowing is being used to support business operations.

The reduction in housing prices estimated to come from dropping the deductability of mortgage interest would lead to a projected $11.7 billion decline in home equity borrowing by small business owners for business purposes. That’s about 16 percent of the $71.8 billion in loan originations made to small companies (businesses with less than $1 million in annual sales) in 2009, the latest year for which data are available.

And that’s just the effect of eliminating the mortgage interest deduction on small business owners use of home equity loans to finance their companies. Any effect of the eliminated deduction on other types of loans used to tap home equity for business purposes would be on top of this.

Our elected officials need to consider the law of unintended consequences when they debate eliminating the mortgage interest deduction. Doing so will cause a contraction in the small business credit market that could lead small businesses to cut back on capital investment and hiring.