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After Class 12: Navigating through the Maze of options. BA-BSc-BCom-BTech: Selecting a college and a program! 

Here's where might be of immense value to you.

One of the most complex junctures in the life of an Indian student, is at 17 or 18 years of age; when (s)he leaves high school and tries to find a suitable program in a suitable college. The complexity of this stage is primarily a manifestation of "suitable" being too vague a term, and the severe constraints faced by the student in terms of availability of seats in high-quality undergraduate programs. Let there be no misconception: there is no shortage of seats. What is however, woefully inadequate, is the presence of undergraduate seats in colleges which do maintain some standards. It won't be hyperbole to suggest that 90% of our young college students, are trapped in substandard colleges, and might have been better off if they had pursued vocational training, or even picked up skills after high-school, by taking up a job in a factory or an organization. 

Many youngsters, oblivious to the realities of the competitive times we live in, are simply socializing and partying while in college, and are destined to encounter a rude shock at age 21 or 22, after they graduate with their meaningless degrees, and search for jobs which befit a degree-holder. Even those who have slogged hard in their high school years, performed well in board examinations or entrance tests, and are admitted to some of the country's top institutions for tertiary education, often make hasty decisions while selecting colleges or courses, only to find themselves disenchanted once trapped inside a program which is not aligned with their personal aptitude, interests and goals. 

If your heart lies in medicine or chemistry, even a seat in the B.Tech. Computer Science program at IIT Bombay might not necessarily provide you with a satisfying academic or professional career. If your interest is in literature or social sciences, a seat in medicine might be a poor choice for you, even if it is a prized MBBS seat at AIIMS in Delhi. Often, students might not even realize that a nondescript college might offer a reasonably okay degree program in an area of your interest and that it might put them in good stead for a postgraduate degree in that field. An undergraduate degree is just the very first stepping stone and doesn't have to be the last degree completed. 

There is a lot of counselling for those who have cleared entrance examinations such as the IIT JEE or the NEET, but the information available to students who aspire to join our traditional universities and degree programs, is woefully inadequate. There is very little effort put in from the side of schools or teachers or parents, in explaining to 16-17 year olds, the options they have within the traditional university system - and the career options which open or close once you exercise choices within these. This portal attempts to present before you, information related to almost 30,000 colleges from across the country. A lot of thinking and brainstorming needs to be done by students in the 15 to 17 age group, while they are in class 11 or 12. Unfortunately, given the understandable pressure on students in high school, they devote every single minute of their time to their academics, studies or exam-prep, without taking a much needed break to educate themselves about the matrix of options which they will need to choose from once their class 12 results are declared. There are only a few hundred students all over the country, who will be lucky enough to get their most preferred course of study in their most preferred campus or college of choice. 

We're going to start with a slightly unusual criteria; something which many academic minded people might even frown upon. Do give sufficient consideration to the location where you're willing to study. Some campuses such as those of IITs and BITS offer a micro-township kind of cordoned-off zone, so the location matters relatively little in those cases. In many other cases, where the campus is not sufficiently self-sufficient or large, the surrounding neighborhood or town or city, will dramatically affect your quality of life. You cannot study well in a place where you are not comfortable. 

If you are used to frequent trips to restaurants, malls and multiplexes, it might be unwise to opt for a college in a small town which will require you to make significant adjustments to your way of life. If you are living in Delhi or Mumbai then you are likely to feel most at home, if you enroll in a course at Delhi University or Mumbai University. Of course: this varies from person to person and someone might very well want to live in a new place, to experience life in a new place. Some might want to actually escape from the pollution of Delhi or the humidity of Mumbai. 

The overall point here is not to suggest that one place is better than the other. It is only to make you think about the places where you will feel reasonably comfortable while studying. Weather, language, vibrancy of city life, distance from home, safety, pollution: all of these are factors which will influence your overall comfort and quality of life, if you move to a new place for your college years. Some might not want to move away from the comforts of home, especially if they happen to get into a good college in a city like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Madras - and also happen to live there. The location of colleges also often determines the quality of internships you'll have access to, the companies which visit your campus for recruiting and placement, the students you get to interact with outside the boundaries of your college campus. 

The availability of internships is something which can dramatically change your stay in college. You gain experience, build a network, get a sense of what you enjoy doing or don't enjoy doing. A college experience in universities like those of Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata or Chennai often has far more to offer because of the availability of a spectrum of internship opportunities which are scarce in smaller towns. Spend a summer working as a marketing intern - take up a winter internship related to analytics or programming if you don't enjoy marketing or advertising. Or, do an internship in the R&D division of a technology company or a research lab of a university. Internships also help you make more informed decisions about what you feel you can make a career out of eventually. It might teach you that the corporate world is not for you. It might lead you to the job you love. It might also expose you to a great company and give you insights into how different organizations are structured to keep ticking. Internship advisors and managers might also offer to write you a letter of recommendation in case you choose to take the GRE to pursue higher studies in the United States, after graduating in India. 

The section above, exposes you to a variety of angles from which you could scrutinize the location of a college, to explore if it could be a good fit for you. To each his own: some might yearn for the cold and peace of the northern hills and might thrive in a college in the Himalayas.

Now comes the program itself. By Class 11, you have already decided to opt for a stream such as humanities or commerce or science. By the end of Class 12 you should be thinking deeply about what you feel about the spectrum of subjects to which you have been exposed so far. Unfortunately, in the Indian system, unlike countries like the US, there is very little flexibility and you need to decide your undergraduate major even before you step into the campus. This makes it imperative for you to spend a fair bit of time doing a self-review and self-diagnosis about your interests, inclinations and aptitude. 

Do you have a flair for languages or creative writing? Undergraduate programs in literature or foreign languages might be a great choice if that is the case. Are you a commerce student with an interest in the world of business? Programs in economics, commerce or accounting (CA) are likely to be of interest to you. Did you enjoy economics and psychology in high school? Majors in social sciences might be worth aspiring for. Similarly, if you're a science student, aspiring for higher studies in the natural sciences, by grade 12 you'll be able to identify which of the subjects you feel truly passionate about - physics, chemistry, biology or mathematics. 

One also needs to be realistic about the kind of career options available after various majors. For instance, there is a surplus of English Literature graduates in the country at this point of time. There is a small pool of jobs available for them after they graduate; the competition is understandably intense. On the other hand there is a serious dearth of candidates who are fluent in foreign languages, particularly those in which vital trade and business links exist - European languages, Mandarin etc. 

Often, one might need to make a judicious trade-off. For those interested in working after their undergrad degree, the plan of action should be to shortlist about three to five majors in which you might be interested out of which target the one which also have a variety of employment opportunities at the end of the tunnel. Choosing majors purely based on interest or passion might not work for a lot of people who feel dejected when they need to switch to work in a field which isn't of interest to them, after completing their undergraduate degree. It can sometimes be better to opt for a major which you're only slightly less passionate about, but see a greater certainty in finding employment which is more closely related to the major itself. There is a different kind of satisfaction involved in making a career out of what you studied in college. It goes without saying, that everyone has their own way of prioritizing these factors and there is no clear right or wrong way to decide on a program or major! 

The namesake "Honors" degree is another source of confusion in India. A lot of students don't realize that a general degree giving a broad exposure to two or three subjects, might often be better than a degree which goes very deep into one particular area - the former is often better suited for those who aren't entirely sure about what they want to pursue. Some might benefit with more depth while some benefit more from a non-Honors program which offers more breadth. There are no hard and fast rules about honors programs being better than those without this tag. For IAS and UPSC aspirants in particular, an honors degree might leave them with significantly less time than a general or pass course.  

Some colleges allow you to pick a minor program of your choice. Private universities often offer a lot more flexibility and allow you to pick from a large bucket of electives. Understandably, these universities are on the pricier side. However, the investment is often well worth it. 

Selecting the college itself, will be the last stage of this challenging phase. To get a good idea about the college, one needs to scan their recent rankings and ratings. Try to get an idea of their infrastructure and hostel conditions. Speak to their current students, or those who have graduated. What kind of careers do they have? Did the college cater to their academic aspirations? Did the college have a placement cell which helped them find meaningful internships and jobs? It is also of immense importance to look up the faculty listing of a college. Try to find out if the college faculty mostly comprises of PhD holders. Try to look up the qualifications and see which universities the PhDs are from. The quality of faculty is of paramount importance. Good professors will also be able to give you recommendations should you choose to pursue higher studies abroad. 

A major mistake is made by many of those who blindly follow the cut-offs for previous years, and choose whatever people with their score had chosen in previous years. What is a great program for someone else might be a terrible pick for you. This is a critical decision and needs to be taken at a highly personalized level. This is a decision which ultimately has to be taken by the student alone. These choices are too important to be made under the influence of parental pressure or peer pressure.