[This article originally appeared in Indonesia Mengglobal, a site where Indonesian students and alumni from US top schools share their study-abroad tips and experience. Indonesia Mengglobal aspires to make high-quality global education more accessible for Indonesian students]
The chance to pursue an undergraduate degree in the United States is one of the greatest blessings in my life. I love having the autonomy to decide my courses of study, being taught by passionate professors, meeting highly intelligent and inspirational peers from various locations around the world, and the outstanding support for career opportunities. Despite the overwhelming privileges offered by American colleges, however, I do believe that some Indonesian students need to think twice before deciding to come to the United States for college (The term ‘college’ used in this post refers to a four-year undergraduate program, as opposed to ‘junior college’ or ‘community college’).
While time and financial factors are often the most detrimental factors in the decision-making process, there are two additional questions that need to be considered by Indonesian students when thinking about studying in the US for college:
1. Are you certain with what you would like to study?
2. Are you interested in becoming a lawyer, a doctor or a dentist in Indonesia?
Are You 100 Percent Certain With What You Would Like to Study?
While many Indonesian students often neglect this question, I do personally believe that this is an important question to ask before deciding to come to the United States. Why? This is because American colleges are mostly liberal arts institutions, in which students are required to take courses from a wide variety of academic areas outside of the students’ choice of concentration. These academic areas usually include: mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and foreign language.
To some students, being required to take classes outside of their area of interest can be a burden. If you are certain with what you would like to study and prefer a highly focused curriculum, it might be a better option for you to study at another country. At schools in the United Kingdom, for example, you can graduate a year sooner while taking solely courses in your field of concentration. Another option is to select schools in the US that do not offer strict liberal arts requirements, e.g. Brown University.
Studying in the US, despite the challenges offered by a liberal arts education, does encourage students to become more intellectually curious. I personally find the system is more of a blessing than a curse. As a Finance & Public Policy major, I have been required to take courses outside of my major, such as philosophy, English, environmental science and foreign language. While I was quite reluctant to take certain courses at first, I have found it to be truly rewarding to pursue these courses in the undergraduate level. The liberal arts education, therefore, gives you the opportunity to be a well-rounded scholar.
Then, how does this affect the admissions process? The interesting implications of the liberal arts program are the factors included in the admissions process of American colleges. Unlike universities in Indonesia, the UK and other countries outside of North America, the majority of undergraduate institutions in the US do not admit students based on the majors that students put on their applications. The majors that applicants put on the applications simply show their interest at the time of the application, which in the assumption of the admissions officers may somewhat change during their time at their school. This is because the majority of American universities, due to the liberal arts nature of these institutions, allow their students to decide their major/concentration until the end of their second year.
There are some exceptions when you apply directly to a specific school, such as The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania or the Engineering School at Berkeley, where you have to know for sure that you would like to obtain an engineering/business degree. But even at these schools, you can decide your concentration later on. For example, you do not have to know whether you would like to study Finance or Economics at Wharton when you first applied. There are also exceptions at schools, such as the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, in which your choice of major on the application does matter. In most schools that are not concentrated in specific fields, however, it does not.
Do You Want to Become a Lawyer, Doctor or Dentist in Indonesia?
It is common knowledge that if you would like to become a doctor or a lawyer in Indonesia, you should not leave the country to pursue degrees in both areas. This is why I believe it is deeply important for Indonesian students who would like to study in the US to think hard about what they would like to pursue.
The bigger challenge with pursuing degrees in these two areas, however, is the fact that it is not possible to obtain an undergraduate degree in law or medicine in the US. Instead of studying these subjects, undergraduate students in the US informally enroll in what is called as ‘pre-professional’ programs.
Law school, med school and business school are often referred to professional degrees as opposed to just graduate degrees – Graduate degrees include PhD and Masters programs in subjects such as economics, political science and others). Undergraduate students who are interested in obtaining degrees from these programs often refer to themselves as pre-professional students. The most popular pre-professional programs are pre-law, pre-med and pre-business. Since most people are less familiar with law and medicine as opposed to business, I will be focusing on elaborating these two fields.
In most countries around the world, students can directly enroll in Bachelor of Law degrees or LLB upon graduation from high school. In the US, however, you cannot. Instead, American students have to obtain a bachelor degree in another major before continuing on to law school. What exactly is ‘another major’? It’s literally anything, as long as you earn a bachelor degree with it. For those who are not familiar with it, law school admission process is quite complicated indeed.
While foreign students have the opportunity to pursue masters degrees in law in the United States (LLM), students who spend their undergraduate studies in the US are only allowed to apply for Doctorate program, or what they call as JD (Doctor of Jurisprudence). JD programs last for three years and are incredibly expensive. The program offers a wide variety of courses in various fields, such as administrative, corporate, international and constitutional laws, among others. Most law schools offer the opportunity for their students to obtain a second degree in something else, such as MBA (Master of Business Administration), MPA (Master of Public Administration), MD (Doctor of Medicine), and even PhD programs.
The admission process to medical schools in the US is a lot more complicated than that for law school. Pre-Medicine students, or ‘Pre-Med,’ have to take a wide variety of course requirements during their undergraduate years, which include: chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics and statistics. Other than the required courses, however, Pre-Meds have the freedom to pursue anything they would like during college. In fact, medical schools do like to see diversity in their students’ academic backgrounds. For instance, I know someone who majored in Music and got accepted to a Top Ten Medical School.
One of the disadvantages of pursuing a medical degree in the US is the time and money required to become a doctor. Unlike in Indonesia where you can go straight to ‘Program Kedokteran’ and then become a doctor, American students have to obtain an MD, spend time doing “residency,” and then become a doctor. Perhaps this does justify the better quality of doctors in the country, but the requirements can be considered as quite excessive. As a pre-law student, I am less familiar with this program. Hence, I included helpful links to check out more info on the program which you can check on http://premedfaq.com/
Having said all that, what is the moral of this post, you ask? Think carefully before deciding to study in the United States. Know your needs and understand the challenges placed upon those who are interested in pursuing certain fields. Due to the liberal arts nature of most American colleges, however, studying in the US is actually best for those who have no clue what they would like to study.
Marsha Sugana is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University, majoring in Finance & Public Policy. She has won numerous awards in debating competitions & Model United Nations conferences in the United States and is the Indonesian delegate to the Finance Committee of the 2012 G20 Youth Summit in Washington, DC. She is particularly passionate in the intersection between law, business and finance.