What sets apart US universities from the rest of the world?

posted Mar 23, 2017, 11:40 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated May 23, 2017, 5:24 AM ]

My experience with the American university system is limited: I did an undergraduate internship at a research lab under the University System of Georgia, worked for a couple of years as a college hire at Microsoft in Redmond when I tried to observe the traits of US educated peers. I also did a ton of online Coursera courses. A significant chunk of my friends though, attended grad school or even undergrad programs in the United States. The picture above, is one clicked over a decade ago, in the lab I mentioned. 

  • The brightest minds from across the world. A Silicon Valley in India or Japan will have only Indians or Japanese. SV in the United States has talent from across the world. The rise of other cosmopolitan hubs notwithstanding, the United States has almost no competition in this space.
  • A liberal curriculum. American undergrad and MS programs are exceptionally flexible. Undergraduates can decide their major even in their senior year, at places like Stanford. The ability to explore across diverse majors and experience a liberal arts curriculum is something unique about the Western model of education, but the US is still way ahead in this. The UK 3-year programs do not offer anywhere close to this level of academic flexibility in their course structure. 
  • Access to internships and jobs. Seattle, San Francisco, Bay Area, Portland, Austin, New York - all of these are global centers of finance and technology. A degree from a top American university is a gateway to blue chip firms in these towns. 
  • Faculty Quality. You have Nobel laureates from across the world. Hiring bars in US academia are exceptionally high. US research in all sorts of fields - from finance, to Computer Science to Bio-Technology - has stolen the march by a mile. 
  • Recent political changes in the United States notwithstanding, it still remains a ton notch destination for global talent. 
  • Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Yale and Carnegie Mellon are universities quite unmatched in most parts of the world. 
  • There's something about the openness and efficiency of the entire system in the US which clicks efficiently and brings out the best in people. Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Tesla - it is not without reason that these came into being in the United States despite the founders or their parents often being from other countries. It is a mix of the education system, a capitalist and meritocratic society and also the strong legal system and law enforcement because of which strangers quickly enter contracts and normally don't assume a breach of trust or honor.