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For most of the students in India, getting into a foreign university is a big deal. I get it because I come from that very section of people who have dreams of graduating from a foreign university right from a very tender age. I get it because I had a friend, Arjun, who had dreams identical to mine. Except, he was very late and laid back with his planning.

I just finished my MBA from USC Marshall. Arjun got his student visa cancelled in the first semester he landed in a university in southern Europe. He was deported the very next day. I know about the grave details of this matter because, for a large part of it, he was calling me and giving me every single minutes’ update. It was heartbreaking.

Mind well – Arjun is a really smart guy. We went to the same IIT. He got into the same consulting firm as I did. In fact, in some areas, he was much smarter than I ever will be. He also came from a well to do family and hence the fees that he had paid to the program before getting deported, was not a big deal for him. He came back and joined his dad’s business. Life got back to normal for him.

From what I got to know – this is not the case for every Indian student. So, whenever I get a chance, I like to talk about what happened with Arjun as a cautionary tale. Just by doing a little more homework and conducting some background checks, you can save yourself from all the troubles that Arjun had to go through – simply because he went to a university that was not recognized and attended a program that had no market value.Here are the filters and checks Arjun and I strongly recommend to everyone who is preparing to go abroad for studying.

Is the university you are going to, allowed to give the degree you are seeking?

This is the very first evaluation you have to perform and it is non-negotiable. Go to the education department’s website in the country where your target university is located. Every country has some form of a list where every authorized university’s name is enlisted. If you are unable to understand where to look for this information, call the target university’s admissions team and ask them for the authorization the university has.

Once you have the authorization copy or statement saying that the university is permitted to grant degrees, you can get in touch with a student consulting firm to see whether the authorizations seem legitimate. Most consultants who help students get settled abroad have a list of data points to check whether a university is legitimate or not. Some consultants won’t even charge you for this service if you go in for a consultation.

Arjun did not perform this check and landed in a university that was not even permitted to grant degrees. Arjun did not check that his visa consultant had forged papers to get him the required student visa. Thanks to the email trail he had kept, no criminal charges were filed against Arjun since he was able to prove that his visa consultant had fooled him. Yet, he got deported and was banned from the country for the next few years.

Is the degree provided by the university accredited by the right authorities?

In India, we have a school called ISB. Their post-graduate program is not recognized by UGC or other state accreditation bodies. ISB is open about it and its students know it. Companies like McKinsey and Goldman Sachs still hire from ISB. You have to understand that ISB is an exception. Most of the time, if you are going to a foreign country, it will make sense to check for the legitimacy of the degree once you have checked the legitimacy of the institution granting it.

Some institutions also grant post-graduate diplomas and certificates. A good way to see whether it is legitimate or not is to check with a few visa consultants and see whether you can get a student visa for these programs. If you cannot get one, it is usually advised that you stay away from the program.

Is there anything peculiar or off-putting about the university you are targeting?

When Arjun was paying the fees for his attendance, his university asked him to sign an NDA and asked him to pay the fees using only an international card. He was also asked to deposit the fees in the Admissions Director’s account. He did not consider this as a big deal but such red flags are big signs.

Every single legitimate university has a standardized process in place to accept your fees. This is usually via a bank account deposit or a wire transfer, both of which will keep a trail in place. Some lenders even provide the service of depositing the amount straight into the university’s account. If your prospective university is asking for some very unique way to pay the fees, it is usually a sign of misappropriation.

It will also help if you run a background check on the university’s name. You can go to the news websites of the country you will be visiting and search for the university you are going to. If the news has flagged anything about your prospective university, you should look deeper.

Lastly – does the industry take your university seriously?

In a totally different case, one of my cousins went to a no-name university in Belgium to get a degree in finance. Belgium in itself is a great country with a ton of well-known educational institutions. The college she went to had all the legitimate checks in place. The only problem with it was – the financial industry in Europe and Belgium did not look at that college as a target school of potential hires. My cousin is bright; but since her college was not on the hiring list of the industry she wanted to work in, she had to come back to India and work at a KPO after having spent over ₹30 lakhs in fees.

In short – look for a university that is generally preferred by the industry for hiring talent. You can check the profiles of people who already work in your target industry and see where did they go to school.

In Conclusion

Dreaming about a foreign education is a great fuel for motivation and imagination. That said, don’t get blinded by the dream. Perform all the due diligence on the university’s accreditation, the degree’s recognition and the program’s industry connect before you make the wire transfer for the fees.

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