International Student Alert: Is elite university aspiration and experience a sham?

The ‘summer of frenzy’ will culminate in a ‘winter of discontent’ for high school students (and parents) seeking admissions in ‘western’ elite universities. Students who are applying to selective colleges are currently in a state of hopeful/less anxiety and by the time its winter they will be in a state of dejection – well a vast majority of them.

Most international applicants to elite universities have odds stacked heavily against them. They may have great SAT scores, awesome predicted grades but many will be inexplicably rejected.

While most elite schools publish lofty admission philosophies with words like ‘excellence’, ‘character’, ‘well-rounded’, ‘diversity’ the reality is that international students start with a serious handicap.

Here are the 3 top reasons why (according to me).

US oligarchs’ wards have a ‘Express Entry’

Most elite universities would express outrage as such a suggestion but it takes a couple of million dollars of endowment and you are straight in. In a comprehensive study (I will cite once I relook and find the study) of corporate America and top political families – basically where American power resides – it was found that upward of 50% is populated by ‘legacy’ individuals i.e. they are sons and daughters of wealthy WASPs. The Ivy League and Elite university admission system is rigged. You are not unworthy – they are biased. Designed to perpetuate the social hierarchy – a system by the ‘people’, of the ‘people’, for the ‘people’ – tongue firmly in cheek.

(Fun exercise Please do find out what the full form of WASP is. I have a personal account of being passed over during my corporate career by WASPs but that story is for another day).

International student are a ‘export market’ and the university program is a ‘product’

Okay before you shake your head violently consider this:

International students pay a tuition fees 2-3 times that of a domestic student for exactly the same experience. Why?

International students in western universities have a smaller paying capacity (on average), no access to student loans in either country. Most often it is parents who get into debt or sacrifice their savings. Yet, they are ‘milked’ and in some ways ‘pay’ for domestic students who are subsidized. Isn’t this pernicious?

All western governments and universities proclaim: Attracting foreign students is to add diversity, leverage universities as a source of innovative and qualified talent and to benefit the economic competitiveness. Aren’t these hollow and false words?

With the hardening of the post-study visa rules in UK, US highly educated and talented students have no option but to go to their home country. They get a short end of the stick back there too. They are overqualified for the type of jobs in their home country, they have built higher expectations of their career and job quality and I know that many of them are sitting at home – not even looking for a job or starting a business. Has elite education rendered them rudderless?

Elite universities are guilty of half truths –

No elite university goes only by the numeric/quantitative criteria. They consider many other aspects like extra curricular, essay/statement of purpose, high school grades and interview. Noble process indeed provided it is meant to spot the diamonds – blazing intelligence with irreverence or non-conformist talent with style. At least that is what was intended.

In practice elite university prep is a global cottage industry – parents, college counsellors, consultants, of all shades of grey, who will write essays for you, make you go through a drill of social projects or non-curricular activities to boost your ‘portfolio’, prepare you for top university interviews where almost all applicants have the phony parroting of the same inane stuff that admissions officers want to hear.

Off topic – but when was the last time admissions officers at these elite universities got a push back from a candidate – “cut the cr@p. Ask me some real questions”. Such is the ‘pearly gates of heaven’ position of reverence elite university admission has created that it can actually curb liberal thinking.

The noble purpose of the all round assessment has been abused and needs to be discarded. It has decayed enough.

This one has to be my favorite half-truth: Ever increasing applicant volume is just a ‘increase the denominator’ game for universities so that they can seem even more selective year on year. That SAT/GRE/GMAT scores not the sole criteria, “we look at many other factors” leads to a large swathe of applicants who nurture some hope that they will be considered. They are just a number.

This is why elite western university education for international students is a sham.

Firstly, its well-nigh impossible to make it due to ‘reservation for the local elites’.

Secondly, you are just an ‘export customer’ – the ‘after sales service’ system is broken. If you don’t get a job that gets you a work visa (within an unreasonable period) off you go back to your country. The university has no safety net or career placement service to speak of for international students or the intellectual conviction/political clout to lobby protest and change the student visa/work policies.

Thirdly, you are just a cog in the wheel for self-serving interests of elite universities to seem more selective and a statistic to claim that they attract a wide spectrum of international students and applicant.

As an acquaintance, in UK, said to me recently – “You have a better chance of living and a track to residency and citizenship if you land in a rubber dingy than if you graduate from an elite university from this country, paying top dollar or pound. We don’t want you. We only want your fees”. I thought the comparison was cruel and discriminatory but there is a point to be pondered upon.


Dr Ajay Shukla

I am the Owner of this educational search portal to facilitate the students to pick up the desired programs.

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