Many Indian engineering students who are currently leaving the country to pursue studies in American universities in the Fall of 2011 obtained information about academic programmes and processes through social media sites instead of the U.S. university academic counsellors and educational consultants.
The American counsellors or “graduate coordinators” guide students for no fees on various topics related to academics, while Indian metros have educational consultants who provide similar information for a price.
Senior students who advise freshers on social media sites (such as Facebook) and on websites (such as Edulix) have, in the past two years, substantially supplemented, if not replaced, counsellors and consultants, say some students poised to fly to U.S. colleges in the current week.
For a student, the process is full of questions requiring answers.
It begins with “how to” on compiling scores of various exams, and getting a “profile evaluation” done in order to get admission into an appropriate university. Then comes applying correctly to the university and writing the resume and the statement of purpose. The process continues till the post-admission stage, including facing the visa interview.
Instead of asking the counsellors, students now ask their seniors through social media. “Approaching the counsellor requires e-mails, phone calls, and procedure, while Facebook forums are easy, quick and free,” said one student. Some even think that counsellors are redundant.
“Counsellors are no longer required. Hardly any of my friends went to a counsellor,” says Nishanth Coontoor, a student, who is all set to join the North Carolina University for an MS. A query to the counsellor needs e-mails, phone calls, resumes and processes to follow. “Who has time for all those formalities? I post a query on Facebook where 300 people are waiting to reply instantly,” he says.
Conventionally, counsellors or consultants would advise students on which specific college would suit a student. Now, senior students do the “tedious job” of assessing applicants' forms to find the right university, say students. This happens over Facebook and Edulix, the latter describing itself as a “crowd-sourced” one-stop resource providing free information to aspiring undergraduate and graduate students. A majority of its members are from India.
“Seniors are very active on these sites,” says a student. The student tells the seniors his scores in B.E., GRE and TOEFL. They shortlist 20 colleges, reducing the number progressively to finalise the college appropriate to the student. The seniors also grade the colleges for the student as ‘Ambitious' (the student has 10 per cent chance of getting into that university), ‘Moderate' (70 per cent chance of getting admission) and ‘Safe' (100 per cent admission assured). Seniors also tell students how they can get into preferred colleges despite some academic handicap such as a low GRE score or ‘backs' (exams pending clearance) in an otherwise good profile. “They tell you which college accepts low GRE scores,” he says.
Another student says, “Of course Facebook has replaced counsellors. However, the profile evaluation done by people on Facebook is not as rigorous as that done on Edulix.” Facebook has no forum on profile evaluation. Each person replies with whatever he knows. For the question, “Which university should I get into?,” Edulix is the best forum, it is managed by seniors and they charge you no money, he says.
One student consulted educational consultants and Edulix, and paid Rs. 14,000 to the consultant (low, he said, when compared to those who charge Rs. 45,000). He said that the consultants are “worth it as they do everything” from sourcing the right e-mail ID to couriering documents to the university.
Another student from Bangalore said, “I don't want to put down the counsellors but they have not been useful. I get better, faster and more detailed information from my seniors about colleges.” Besides, not every college has a counsellor. The Facebook forums offer details of several processes. One forum has the entire text of the visa interview faced. A student said, “Before I went to the interview, I read every visa experience (on social media sites). Finally, it was like telling about your plans to a stranger. The counsellor just scares you (about the visa interview).”
Besides, the seniors reply to each question patiently, and create documents to frequently asked questions (FAQs). So, documents titled “Immunisations,” “Useful Terms to Know” and “Travel Guide” are all available on the Facebook pages. They tell students which academic certificates to bring to the U.S., what medical checks to get, what American English to use, which things to carry, and even words (American English) to get by in the U.S., says Nishanth a student. A student who spent three hours each day over the past month on Facebook for information, said, “There is no need for a counsellor. Facebook is informal, easy to use”.
Students from Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune and Chennai are joining American universities such as North Carolina State University, SUNY Buffalo, Purdue University, and Arizona State University. While they share information online, they have had offline meets based on the Facebook groups.
The websites are http://www.edulix.com/Edulix, www.msinus.com, and on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/
The handholding of freshers by the seniors goes on beyond the admission stage. On social media sites, the seniors address every query that the students, going abroad for the first time, have. They receive freshers at the airport and offer tips on which airlines will accept excess baggage. “Seniors are ready to give their furniture to the freshers in exchange for Indian sweets,” said one student.
Choosing roommates is also done over social media, especially Facebook forums. One Bangalore student found a roommate (he wanted a non-smoking, non-drinking companion) from Hyderabad.
He said that for such queries, he would rather use Facebook than ask the counsellor. “I can ask her about courses at the college but not about help on finding a roommate,” he said. One can be lucky and get a good roommate. “But I don't want to take a chance and I wouldn't want to talk about that with the counsellor,” he said.