Rahul Subramaniam, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Athena Education

Rahul is an education coach and a Start-up co-founder devoted to building creative organizations that impact and uplift societies. His primary venture, Athena Education, helps students become the best versions of themselves and receive admission to top universities around the world. Rahul went to high school in Fremont, California. He received perfect SAT scores and got into every Ivy-League college he applied to, finally choosing Princeton over Harvard. At Princeton, he studied Politics with a certificate in Political Economy. Post his graduation, Rahul served as a Director of College Counselling at a prestigious college counseling and test prep company in California.


Let’s face it: the prospect of studying abroad can be both inspiring and intimidating. The road from initially considering a program to actually setting foot on a campus halfway around the world may seem lengthy and full of dead ends. To top it all off, there is an abundance of inaccurate information at every turn, taking the form of rumors and misconceived notions. One cannot afford to leave such a life-changing decision to be guided by a faulty compass.

Together, let’s attempt to bust the myths and establish a map to match the territory.

Myth 1: It’s inaccessible to most social strata

Almost a decade back, the study abroad option was realistic for only a few, given the prohibitive financial investment. Cut to now, and the demographics are shifting. Access to education loans, the spread of edtech, awareness about scholarships, and a greater appreciation of the benefits of international education inspire Indian students from diverse backgrounds to consider studying abroad. Notably, there has been a significant surge in applications from Tier II and Tier III cities. And these students don’t just hail from super-affluent homes; many come from middle-class families too. A Redseer report found that 43% of Indian students plan to self-finance, 28% will seek scholarships, and 9% prefer an educational loan for their foreign education. Recently, through Athena, five underprivileged students from rural northwestern India—children of farmers, barbers, and auto-rickshaw drivers—earned acceptances to the top 50 colleges in the US.

Myth 2: The ROI is low

Undergraduate tuition fees at elite universities abroad, which range between USD $16,000 and $65,000 per year, raise understandable questions about value. Supplementing the education, however, is the brand name of these colleges and the extensive alumni network. A survey by the British council indicates that students who have traveled abroad to study are thought to have more experience, a stronger capacity for critical thought, and a better grasp of business concepts.

These factors hold considerable weightage among global employers, who are more inclined to hire students from a background in international education. While much depends on the course and university you opt for, Indian students have a better shot of landing a job in a country of their choice if they study there. Employment overseas—especially in countries such as the USA, Canada, UK, and Australia—usually translates to higher salary packages and better standards of living, allowing students to recoup their investment. The US Optional Training Program (OPT), Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP), and Britain’s New Graduate Pathway (GR) offer excellent work opportunities to international students who graduate from a university in the respective country. Indian candidates have a notable track record of getting work permits approved quickly. In Canada, there has been a PGWPP approval rate of more than 95% in the last 5 years.

Many countries recognize that working overseas is an important influencer in students’ decisions and offer post-study visa options that enable students to live and work abroad for at least several years post-graduation.

Myth 3: Making the cut is nearly impossible

A perfect SAT score is advantageous but not mandatory. American-style universities value  holistically compelling profiles, not just academic achievers. Among the Ivy Leagues and other highly selective institutions, excellence in athletics and performing arts are given a higher weightage. A quick visit to the Harvard admissions website provides a glimpse of what the admission committee seeks in an incoming applicant. Both “academic” and “personal” factors are considered. As an aspiring student, your focus should be on creating a holistic profile: your passion projects depicting your empathy, leadership, and other social skills are nearly as important as academic performance.

(And even for the UK system, which focus more on academic caliber, international applicants can fare well if they simply study hard, write impressively, prepare for the interviews, and choose the right schools. The Complete University Guide and US News feature extensive lists of highly ranked colleges, some with surprising acceptance rates and value. Openness is key to the process: a lack of name recognition among your limited social circle may not equate to the level prestige an institution has garnered on the global scale.)

Myth 4: The academic system is complex 

Ubiquitous in the US and many Western environments, the liberal arts education system is actually quite simple. You’re given the freedom to study a range of subjects (breadth)—natural sciences, engineering, humanities, social sciences, business, and more—while simultaneously achieving depth into the field of your major. You may graduate with a Bachelor of Art or Science, depending on your subject, but either designation is considered qualified and lucrative in most fields (even technical ones). Also, changing one’s major is welcome; many schools don’t even require declaration until the end of one’s sophomore year. Hence, almost 80% of US students change their college major at least once. Additionally, students can pair their majors with minors that bolster their interdisciplinary growth. For example, one may pursue a STEM major with a  minor in the humanities or social sciences and vice-versa—perhaps physics with philosophy or linguistics with math.

Unlike the US, the UK and other European countries run three-year undergraduate programs tailored toward a particular academic field. However, some universities are now offering dual degree programs too. Canada offers a four-year full-time bachelor’s degree, including curriculums that allow students to combine their majors with minors. You can also opt for a specialization or certificate course with your bachelor’s for greater exposure.

The academic system abroad is hardly complex, just different. It provides room for academic flexibility and adds depth to both kinds of students: those certain of what to pursue and those indecisive about their career path.

Myth 5: It lacks academic rigor

Yes, you will be making new friends, attending college dorm parties, and exploring your college town, but all that comprises merely one aspect of the “study abroad” experience. Pursuing a foreign education demands intensity. Irrespective of the country you choose, universities abroad teach via experiential learning. You will be juggling assignments, multiple classes, group projects, even an internship—all at the same time. In fact, UK and US coursework is research-heavy, which high schools don’t necessarily prepare you for.

The Truth

To sum it all up, the “study abroad” experience is about appreciating cultural diversity, intellectual growth, and excellent growth opportunities while living thousands of miles away from home. As we busted these popular myths for you, always remember, just like any other journey, your time abroad will be what you make of it!

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