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The College Admission Quagmire

The College Admission Quagmire

June 25, 2012

Colleges are in the business of selling dreams but admission can be a nightmare.

Recently I underwent the stressful ordeal of admitting my child to college. The reason I say ‘stressful’ is manifold. Thankfully all ended well, but I had quite a learning experience and grew up a notch on the parenting ladder. I am sharing the experience with you. 

With ambition soaring amongst youngsters nowadays most kids are unwilling to settle for anything that is ‘local’ or does not figure on some dubious ‘list’ or the other published on the internet. And there are lists galore: the India Today list, the Times of India list, the Business World list to name a few. As such the internet tends to be a boon and a bane at the same time. So the hapless parent has little choice other than going through these myriad lists and trying to figure out the source of these rankings of colleges and not appear skeptical about their authenticity. How do we, parents from my generation that is, do this? We do it in our old fashioned way. We call up family members and friends and talk to them, ask about the reputation of the institution and then draw our conclusions.

The next thing to do is start the online application process. My first reaction to this was thrill. Wow I thought, life has become such a cake-walk! You needn’t go anywhere to pick up forms; everything is super easily available at the touch of a mouse from your own desktop. Think again, I was told with a jolt. “Online” is a very fashionable word in India, therefore no institution wants to be called ‘retro’ in outlook, and has a website. Creating a website is easy but maintaining it is another story. To my dismay I found out that generic mail boxes are unattended as they only throw up automated responses saying “Your query has been received. We will get back to you shortly” with no real intent of anybody ever getting back. Next you try calling some of the numbers on those sites and as expected you find some numbers have gone defunct and have never been replaced. If you are lucky enough to get through to a human at the other end, it is most probably a clueless worker who tells you that he has only joined recently and therefore is not able to help you out! Online forms ask you to select from a dropdown of options [of test centers, for example] where the number of ‘options’ is only ‘one’, believe it or not! Therefore bottom line, the old-fashioned way of collecting paper forms from the college offices is the safest bet. We call family members and friends and request them to collect a form for us if the institution happens to be in their city/ locality.

Then comes the much anticipated acceptance of admission notice for which one again has to go online. With trepidation you discover that your ward has been accepted but in two minds about whether to believe the online status as at such times the media is rife with stories of how institutes deny such things saying it was a computer-related error (case in point, Sardar Mukhtar Tabish’s petition in the Mumbai High Court against a Pune insititute, the Vassar College admission fiasco). Anyway after it sinks in, you heave a sigh of relief and get on with the admission process.

One aspect where college education has really made progress seems to be in the aspect of collecting fees.
While in our college days, even the most prestigious of institutions did not charge more than a few hundred rupees, thousand something at best, today’s dream-merchants have discovered ingenious ways of collecting fees under diverse heads (infrastructure fund, development fund, add-on course and what not) and coming up with an astronomical figure sometimes running to several lakhs. Yes, believe it or not, since college education in India has built a reputation, institutes are escalating prices with a no-holds-barred attitude. Cough up the amount or make way for another is the tacit message. Here comes the role of the various banks who are also deploying their representatives to try and make a fast buck by offering loans to parents who didn't see this coming and are therefore now at their mercy to bail them out, irrespective of the rates of interest being charged. To my utter dismay, I was told of parents who are availing loans not only for fees etc. but also to ensure that their ward goes to college equipped with the latest gadgets available at a price. This because apparently, this generation does not study from books any more...all study material is shared as 'soft copies' sent via mail! So libraries, although not yet disappeared, are becoming less frequented places.

So you see, at this point in time things seem to be in a state of hotchpotch. The point I am trying to make or rather trying to figure out is whether, with all this, higher education in India is moving in the right direction. During the admission process, my kid was asked to make a micro-presentation and the topic given was ‘Students nowadays no longer pursue education for the sake of knowledge but for the sake of money’. She came out and declared without a shred of doubt in her mind, ‘I totally agreed with the tenet and provided many examples to prove that that is actually true’. To this I did not know how to respond. So I simply said, in Coleridge’s words, that I was ‘wiser and sadder still’.

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  • Khadija
    15.07.12 06:45 PM
    I totally agree with the part about websites. On a somewhat related note, I was made aware a few days ago of this disaster on the home page no less of the BJ Medical College ('We Save Life's') in Ahmedabad, Gujarat:

    "In the top left and bottom right corners are the Cock of Gujarat and Serpent intertwined on a dragger of the Aesculapius respectively. The cock as a sign on the imperial banner of Gujarat appeared in the time of Bhimdev the first. Siddharaj Jaysinh raised that banner high and mighty the flag of Gujarat was called."

    I mean, SERIOUSLY!
  • megha
    29.06.12 07:59 PM
    I have 2 year olds, when i read about the cut offs and such, it makes me shudder to think what will happen in the next 16 years.
  • hendi Prasetyo
    hendi Prasetyo
    28.06.12 08:37 AM
    it's seems that on line wassubject that we must learn a lot,
  • Apurva Malewar
    Apurva Malewar
    27.06.12 12:31 AM
    I would say, that nothing in our country is streamlined, very few places are pretty much 99% up to the mark, The agony, pain and misery arises with the the half-half attitude of doing things, procrastinating and then the cost issue. So yeah we do have a mix of the old and new, and in a few ways its good, unless you see the brighter side of this one will never learn, Students now days have it all pampered, smothered by the love of parents and what not, most of them fail to survive the basics of living and fall back on their mommies and daddies to bail them out, we need to blame ourselves for being so callous and complaining about the system, we need to adapt, and blend in, we need to find a way of doing it. think about it..... there is always a way
  • Shalu Sharma
    Shalu Sharma
    26.06.12 02:11 PM
    Actually its getting tougher and tougher by the day. Its going to get more tough if Kapil Sibal has his way.
  • Supratik Sen
    Supratik Sen
    25.06.12 08:10 PM
    That it came directly from your experience was quite clear! Real education happens outside the class, after your college. There is nothing wrong in getting a degree for the sake of earning money. This has been the trend or the objective of students even 59 years ago...otherwise you'd have Einsteins churning out from the IITs. So the micro-presentation is not about aajkal ki students. Good writing. I enjoyed reading as a parent.
  • Britul
    25.06.12 07:44 PM
    I graduated from an engineering college in 2007. I have gone through a mixed experience "HI-Tech" and "Old Fashioned" admission and teaching processes. Technology is good if used properly. it can enhance efficiency and reduce time. But in most of the cases it seems to be a glamor factor, not only in education but almost everywhere.

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