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Is It Difficult for a Russian to Study at Harvard?

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Is It Difficult for a Russian to Study at Harvard?


Russia has adopted its Global Education program for students seeking to study abroad. The program will be financed from the state budget. The focus is on natural sciences, medical and civil engineering vocations and high technologies. Russians with Bachelor Degrees will be able to take Master and Ph.D courses at the world's most prestigious universities. Each will be allocated up to 1.5 million rubles that must be used to cover the tuition as well as the purchase of teaching aids and lodging. After completing a course abroad Russian graduates must work at least three years in Russia at certain companies or tertiary institutions. Thus the government will promote its interests. Otherwise the grant recipient will be obliged to return the government's expenses at double if not triple the original amount. For now it is not exactly clear how the program will be implemented. It is only known that applicants must be Russian citizens and have a Bachelor or Specialist's degree with no age limits. Nobody knows how expert tender commissions will be formed, how open and transparent they will be, and in what proportions subsidies will be distributed between different disciplines. Most likely, many bachelors and masters who could not even dream of studying abroad before will want to use the government's help; however, besides the in-house competition, they'll also have to pass the entrance exams at foreign universities. President of the Harvard Graduates Club and head of innovations at one of the biggest machine building companies, Sergey Arkhipov, explains what exams await the candidates, what students can be expelled for, and also dwells about the life in the campus.

— Is entering Harvard or Yale more difficult, than, say, Moscow State University?

The entrance requirements are totally different, but it's equally difficult to enter any good university of the world. At my US universities there were no exams as such, but candidates had to pass the TOEFL test of English and a professional test, such as GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), needed to get enrolled for the MBA program. GMAT testing may last up to 3.5 hours.

— And who conducts the tests? Universities?

No, independent online operators and the tests can even take place in Russia. Candidates are rated in points or per cent. The maximal scoring for GMAT is 800, the minimal is 200. Then you'll have to write an essay: topics are usually posted on the sites in summer.

Entering an US university is like a marathon: you prepare and pass TOEFL, have some rest, prepare and pass GMAT, have a rest and write an essay. Then they'll invite you for an interview: if you pass it you are enrolled... The entering procedure may last up to a year in several waves, so to say. The first wave rolls on you in September, the second – in January-February and the third one – in May.

— What are the topics of the essay?

At Harvard I was asked to write five essays. For example, about the toughest challenge I've ever had to meet at my work. Another topic they like to give is the greatest blunder in your life. They assume that only those who do nothing make no mistakes. And if you write that you've never committed mistakes they will say you are a liar. The topics can be different at engineering or technology schools, but they are always formulated so that you could reveal your world view and the ability to think logically. The usual size for an essay is one page. The longest I happened to write was 3 pages. Essays are usually sent by email and if the university is satisfied with your English you are invited for an interview.

— And if it isn't do they let you know?

No, they just do not invite you. But if you get the invitation, your chance to be enrolled is 50%. Incidentally, an interview is not necessarily conducted in the country where the university is located. For instance, I was invited to Madrid and some of my friends who applied for Harvard - to Turkey. Now many universities conduct interviews in Russia as well.

Every university understands pretty well whom it needs. If this is the master's degree program at MIT then engineers will account for 70% of the class while representatives of other walks of life, sometimes most unusual, will account for the rest 30%. The latter are normally enrolled as part of the "third wave".

— What do you mean by "unusual"?

For example a ballerina can be enrolled for the MBA program, for people of various vocations to be represented in the class. Particularly talented students, in whom the university is much interested, can even be proposed a scholarship or a tuition loan on preferential terms. This can be as much as $60,000 per year.

— When should the tuition payment be made? Immediately after the interview?

The tuition payment is made after you receive an enrollment letter. You will need a student visa which will not be issued without confirmation that you or someone else will pay your tuition fee. Therefore enrollees should quickly get a letter guaranteeing that someone is ready to pay for them, or they'll have to look for $20,000 or 10,000-15,000 – the tuition fee at least for half a year.

— The program promises to cover not only the tuition fees of the future masters, but also their lodging, boarding and textbooks. I wonder, how much is one bed in the dormitory?

A separate room in a comfortable dormitory may cost about $800 monthly, but this lodging can be compared to a four-star hotel. Add about $300 for food. It comes out that the accompanying expenses roughly account for 50% of the tuition fee. Renting an apartment is cheaper than lodging in the dormitory. In downtown Boston, for example, there is an entire house traditionally leased only by MIT students.

— What can a student be expelled for?

Above all for plagiarizing, they check it ruthlessly, even one week before graduation from the master's course. Students from Eastern Europe and Middle East are expelled for this transgression more often. They can also expel for violation of the ethics rules: aggression or public statements that infringe upon the rights of religious, ethnic or sexual minorities. In other words, if a student manifests intolerance.

— The main condition of the government subsidy for the western university enrollee is later work at a Russian company, or triple return expenses or so. It turns out that the graduate can pay the surcharge and stay in the West?

I admit that someone will want to stay in the US or Europe, but in five-six years from now many will return home anyway, since there are better opportunities in Russia to find an interesting job. The competition for talent is going on in the world and our country competes on equal terms, having started a program of supporting its students willing to enter the world's best universities.

Irina Ivoylova
Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta


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