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Indian students to face fierce competition for graduate programmes in the US in 2021: How to manage

Updated: May 14, 2022

Credit: (reprint)

2021 will be an increasingly competitive year for Indian students planning to pursue graduate studies in the US. Thanks to friendlier visa and immigration policies, Covid vaccine rollouts, and a growing need for STEM graduates in the world’s largest economy, we expect to see a significant increase in international applications at top universities in the US for Fall 2021.

This increase is also due to students who deferred their 2020 plans due to the pandemic. Students applying to the US will thus need to make their application stand out to get noticed.

Favourable US visa and immigration policies

The incoming Biden administration is expected to roll out more favourable work and visa immigration policies. Overall, this is good for aspiring international students.

But for Indians, this pro-immigrant approach also means competing with a higher number of applicants from China.

The main reason for increased applications is the attractive US job market for STEM graduates. Most technology giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and more, are all US-based.

While under the Trump administration, students began to prefer countries like Canada due to friendlier immigration policies, this will change.

Canada’s much-smaller economy cannot match the US in the number of STEM jobs.

With the new administration’s more welcoming approach and a growing job market, we expect at least 20-30% of the applications to divert back to the US.

2021 Covid management

A deciding factor for applications is, of course, how we control Covid-19 and its new variant, SARS-CoV-2.

For the former, multiple vaccines are being approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Countries are planning for an aggressive vaccine rollout, so we can expect better control.

For the latter, tests are still underway but industry experts have stated that while they expect existing vaccines to work, they are confident of rolling out a new one in six weeks if needed.

As a result, we continue to expect a spike in Fall 2021 applications to US universities.

Tips to plan to study in the US during the competitive Fall 2021

Here are some pointers to help set a student’s application apart from the rest:

1. Shortlist more ‘safe’ universities

Applicants generally classify their universities as ambitious, moderate, and safe. Safe universities are ones where students can assume an 80% or higher chance of getting admitted based on their profiles and test scores.

Pre-pandemic, students had the luxury of shortlisting an equal number of ambitious, moderate, and safe universities.

But for Fall 2021, we recommend that the final shortlist has up to 50% safe university applications. If budget permits, applying to a few more universities than originally planned can help.

2. Develop a persuasive Statement of Purpose (SOP)

Many students begin their SOP right before they need to submit their application. This is a mistake as a persuasive SOP can help make your case to the admissions team about why you are the right choice for their university.

But an effective SOP takes time. It should bring out an applicant’s strengths and passion for the field, highlight academic achievements, relevant internships, and external certifications.

If done well, it is can be a great differentiator among the applicant pool. Students can seek help from experts in the field to help them bring out their stories.

3. Take standardized tests (even if optional)

Due to the pandemic, some universities made GRE requirements optional for Fall 2021. But we recommend taking the exam anyway since it is a powerful factor.

For decades now, GRE scores have served as an equalizer to help compare international student applications where there may be great variance based on their home countries.

Any students unsatisfied with their score can always choose not to report it to universities where the GRE is waived.

But with good scores, students can demonstrate a strong aptitude for graduate studies abroad. The exam can be even taken from the comfort of one’s home, so all the more reason to take it.

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