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Seven things to look at before you walk into a college

Sunday June 19, 2011 10:09:30 AM, Sanjiv Kataria, IANS

Natasha, my 17-year-old niece, sounded worried when she called me. The reason, I guessed, had something to do with the AIEEE result (although she secured 87 percent in Class 12 boards). She was unlikely to make the grade in one of the good engineering schools.

Being one among nearly 10 million of successful school pass outs is no consolation for Natasha. I asked her to explore college education in a range of subjects instead of following her father's education route of a degree in Civil Engineering.

Fortunately, plenty of information is available with career counsellors in schools and media. Today we may be facing shortage of seats in colleges in our own cities but nationally seats in engineering, medical and business schools are empty, as students are less keen than before to get into third rate institutions that have mushroomed across the country. These schools are engaged in high decibel advertising, making it impossible for a 17-year-old to find out how to sift the truth from the claims.

Here are some guidelines to help choose the right institution once you have chosen a stream that is of interest to you.

1. Distinguish between a degree and a vocational course.
For a degree course, make sure that your institution has been created by an act of parliament or a state legislature or been granted the status of a Deemed-to-be-University.

Vocational programmes in computers, mass media, advertising, sales training, fashion technology, banking, customer care, call centre management, aviation and hospitality do not lead to grant of degrees, but only a diploma certificate. Find out exactly what will be offered to you.

2. Fake universities
Despite a series of statutory professional councils responsible for recognition of courses, promotion of professional institutions and providing grants to undergraduate programmes and various awards - such as the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), Distance Education Council (DEC), State Councils of Higher Education and so on - a large number of fake universities operate in the country.

University Grants Commission (UGC) prepares a list of Fake Universities. Check it out on the UGC and Ministry of Human Resource Development website or

Fourteen of the 20 fake universities operate in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Ask questions to identify real institutions.

3. Tenuous foreign connections mean nothing.
Many private universities flaunt descriptors like "International faculty"... "curricula" and "foreign tie ups", "internships" and "foreign degree" in their ads. Ask for evidence to back these claims.

4. Learn to identify adjectives and superlatives in claims.
Look for adjectives and superlatives like "reputation for excellence", "centres for excellence", "exceptional faculty", "sprawling 100 acres amid lush surroundings" that do not add value to education delivery and your academic performance.

Find out the educational qualifications and experience of current faculty as they play a critical role in helping you understand tough concepts and keeping up your motivation. Check out if the college prospectus and web site list names of faculty members.

5. Consider placement record of the college
Some universities insist on getting their affiliated colleges to post placement track record on their website making them vulnerable. Ask for evidence of claims like "100% placement", "placement guarantee". Ask for names and contact numbers of some past students from your school or city.

6. Don't fall for high decibel campaigns
Slick advertisements in media do not assure good academic standards. An institute that uses larger size advertisements, uses too many adjectives, charges high fees but has an unimpressive placement track record may be a place you can ill afford. Unless you have the family business to fall back on. Don't follow college rankings by media blindly.

Don't get taken in by offers like 'a free laptop', 'a BlackBerry phone', 'a business suit' or a visit to a university in a foreign country. Beware of college counsellors who get paid a fat cut for each admission that they secure.

7. Consider the lineage of the institute
Find out who are the founders of the academic institution. Who are the promoters? For instance, the first five IITs are no doubt good. While the record of the new IITs coming up is not known you can be certain that they will follow standard process. At the same time why would you join a 25-year old institution that has dismal placement record to boast of?


Sanjiv Kataria, a Strategic Communications and PR Counsel, was Brand Custodian for NIIT Limited until 2006. He can reached at







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