Is it Better to Pursue Your Undergraduate Degree in Indonesia or the United States?


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 (FYI: What I mean by college is 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 United States 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?


I. Are you 100% 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, being required to take classes outside of their area of interest can be a huge 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 United States that do not offer strict liberal arts requirements, such as Brown University.

Despite the challenges offered by a liberal arts education, however, it does encourage students to become more intellectually curious.  I personally find that the system is actually more of a blessing than a curse.  As a Finance & Public Policy major, for example, 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.

More info on the term ‘liberal arts’  can be found here

Examples of liberal arts curriculum requirements:
Georgetown University (known to be very social science oriented)
University of Chicago (known to be very strict in all areas)

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 United Kingdom, and other countries outside of North America, the majority of undergraduate institutions in the United States 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 of courses exceptions, such as 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.


II. You want to become a lawyer, a doctor, or a 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 United States 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 United States. Instead of studying these subjects, undergraduate students in the United States informally enroll in what is called as ‘Pre-Professional’ programs.

Pre-Professional Programs

Law school, Medical school, and Business school are often referred to as 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.  For the purpose of this post, I will be focusing on elaborating on Law & Medicine (since most people are less familiar with these two fields as opposed to business).


In most countries around the world, students can directly enroll in Bachelor of Law degrees or LLB upon graduation from high school.  In the United States, however, you cannot.  American students instead have to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in something else before continuing on to Law School.  What exactly is ‘something else’?  Literally anything, as long as you earn a Bachelor’s Degree with it (Yes, the Law School admissions process is quite complicated for those who are not familiar).

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 United States are only allowed to apply to the 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.

More info on Pre-Law here
Law School rankings and admissions standards here


The admissions process to Medical schools in the United States is a lot more complicated than that for law school.  Pre-Medicine students or ‘Pre-Meds’ 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 (  As an example, 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 United States 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 a MD , spend time doing ‘residency’, and then become a Doctor.  This does justify the better quality of doctors in the country (perhaps), but the requirements can be considered as quite excessive.  As a pre-law student, I am less familiar with this program.  So I included helpful links to checkout more info on the program.

Info on Pre-Med requirements here


Moral of this post?  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 United States is actually best for those who have no clue what they would like to study.

Photo Credit: Find out what does liberal arts mean via Fastweb