The Fragmented Marketplace for Education Information
A lot of folks from India have been reaching out to me recently regarding admissions in US universities. Their questions usually have to deal with which universities are good or which programs they need to look for. Most of those who’ve reached out to me in the last year or so have been students wishing to continue their graduate studies in the States. I know nothing about graduate admissions. I mean, I do know a few things about graduate admissions but those are mostly based on information from my graduate friends or research on the internet. I don’t have a Masters so I don’t have first-hand personal experience with graduate-level stuff. However, this lack of experience in the person they’re seeking help from doesn’t seem to dissuade people. I suppose the only thing that qualifies me to some extent is that I have done this process (admissions from India, moving, setting up base here, settling here, etc.) before for undergrad. They’ll take that.
What I’m frequently noticing though is that a lot of these people make the same mistake that I made when I was doing this stuff - they reach out too late. I think the best point of reaching out to someone regarding education abroad is not when you’ve applied to universities but when you first start considering an education abroad. What happens in the former case (at least to my experience) is that people have either already applied to universities and thus are limited to discussing their options only in those or they’re about to apply to universities and thus won’t be easily persuaded to dramatically change their list. This doesn’t always happen but sometimes it ought to happen. I’ve seen a lot of really brilliant people apply to sub-par colleges (low endowment, small state university, infrequent research opportunities, etc.) simply because they didn’t have the right resources of information or the time or bandwidth to jump-start their search in the right places.
Which brings me to my main point - why is the market for information related to higher education still so fragmented? In a day and age where you can buy toilet paper at the push of a button we still don’t seem to have reliable sources of information for colleges and their programs. I’ve often had a hard time finding pertinent information about Penn State on their own website, a website with which I’ve been well acquainted for over 4 years now. It’s easy to find information about degrees, funding, faculty members, cost of tuition, etc. but that barely provides a comprehensive feel of what the experience is going to be like for someone new, let alone someone from a different continent. Students here, despite having their heart set on one university, will visit other universities to get a ‘feel’ for the campus, the energy, and the lifestyle. These are all things that matter and often end up mattering more than the quality of a program. This is what people want to know - what is it like to go to this school? Will I get good research opportunities? What are the advantages of a big school vs. a small school? How much money will I be spending? How many people from my country will I find? How much can I rely on the idea that I will fund my education through scholarships? How hard is it to get an assistantship? There ought to be a way to generate this data or, if it’s available, use it on platforms that provide this kind of guidance.
I’ve tried to answer these questions for those who reach out to me but it is often hard to base your experience on only one or two other people’s experience. I’ve often pointed people to sites like collegeboard.com and others that list out detailed information about universities but numbers don’t make up the full picture. Attending school in Massachusetts is quite a ways different than doing the same program in Iowa but there is no way for someone who’s never been to either of those states to know that difference, or to even know the extent of that difference. I’m sure there are people here from other countries who’ve had their peers, friends, and/or relatives question them about ’life’ in the States. I’m certainly getting a lot of requests for information about what life is like and how to proceed forward once you’ve decided you want to come to the States. All of this leads me to believe that this field of education-guidance (for lack of a better term) – of providing information that is more than just numbers – has a lot of demand and not enough quality supply.