Why Studying in a Top College or University Matters

HTCampus Expert updated on : 19 Jan 2017

The quality of institution at all levels starting from high school matters a lot in not only shaping up one’s personality but also in signalling one’s strengths and credentials.

Top college, top university

Most students go by rankings, reviews and peer feedback while aspiring and choosing college to study for a degree. The rankings, conducted by various agencies, assess colleges and Universities on different parameters such as quality of teaching, research, infrastructure, placements, teacher-student ratio, Net Promoter Scores (NPS) etc. Each agency has its focus area (private colleges, public universities, deemed universities etc) and hence rankings could vary from agency to agency and also basis the college’s interest to disclose details and participate. 

Most students tend to get carried away with the placement compensation figures and names of hiring companies listed out by colleges. Placement figures, even if accurate, should not be the yard stick to decide because of the following reasons:

1. Growth in Compensation: While the initial compensation sometimes looks lucrative, one tends to overlook the growth prospects and how this compensation could change over the years if one takes up a particular type of job.

2. Type of Job: The nature of job is critical as this enhances one’s employability prospects in future. Candidates who work on areas requiring deep expertise will always be in demand as the supply is generally lesser. Most people tend to pick up plain vanilla jobs where there is an abundant supply of both jobs and people. Most attrition happens here while real salary growth is difficult as employers don’t find a reason to pay hefty increments. Training new resources is also simple and there are no difficult skill sets to acquire. So, an engineer working on robotics may increase his value over years while a back end tech support personnel may not have much to offer despite years of experience on his resume.

3. Brand Name: A brand name can have a tremendous positive impact in the long run even if the college does not place the candidate. Of course, the chances of such a reputed college not being able to place a candidate could be rare. Or in another instance, even if the compensation happens to be initially on the lower side, opportunities would come in more easily to candidates from better known colleges. 

4. Placement Track Record: Sometimes recruiters tend to hire from any college when there is a spur in demand due to economic boom or sudden increase in number of projects. But these colleges are skipped during normal recruiting seasons. So, it is advisable to check track record of past few years rather than go by only the latest figures

5. Ignore Statistics: God is in the details. Check number of students who have been placed, number of students placed against each salary bracket and type of roles they have been hired for. Avoid seeing the top salary or even the average. If 50% of the students were not allowed (for whatever reason) to participate in placements, the infographics shown to you will pertain only to the other half. So, statistics can be shown as needed!!

6. CTC: A salary can mean different things to different people. Understand the break down. What you get is not what is shown. Cost to Company (CTC) is what is shown on the offer letter and can include variable pay, Employee Stock Options (ESOPs), encashable leaves, etc., which imply a lesser actual take home salary. 

Engineering colleges in India can be categorized into 3 tiers, albeit this is not a statutory classification, namely, Tier I, Tier II and Tier III. Tier I colleges are the crème-de-la-crème and constitute the best institutions in the country and some of these also feature in the Asian and Global rankings. These temples of learning are in almost everyone’s wish list as these are considered passports to success. So, why the hullabaloo over these 'top' colleges? Don’t they teach from the same text books? Some key differentiators:

1. Pedagogy: Most top institutions have adopted the best teaching learning practices. Open book examinations that focus on applications of concepts rather than rote learning, continuous evaluation that gives weightage to assignments, group projects, classroom participation etc encourage holistic learning.

2. Signalling Theory: If the Bansals of Flipkart fame had not been from IITs (or say the top notch colleges), would they have been capable to rope in investors and nurture their venture? The brand creates a perception that gives people a headstart.

The same also helps in job interviews where there is a positive perception from time zero when the candidate has good academic credentials and has worked for famed organizations. It is human nature to play safe as there is a feeling of security when one hires a proven candidate. 

3. Peer Group: As one progresses from school to college, one notices that the peer group normalizes i.e. say, if Ramesh was a topper in his school, when he joins IIT, most of his batchmates there would be as brilliant as him as they are also 'Ramesh' from their respective schools. This is a far better scenario as this creates higher benchmarks for all individuals. The group, as a whole, starts doing better.

4. Alumni Group: Students who graduate from top schools and Universities have the added advantage of an already successful alumni network.  Most of these alumni have associations that take up lot of initiatives for their alma mater and recent graduates. A successful alumni network further signals stronger brand perception besides the underlying hiring opportunities in organizations where these alumni are working.

5. Type of Job: Blue Chip multinationals visit different college campuses for recruitment. Logos of these companies are prominently displayed on college websites and notice boards. In some cases, the companies would have come only a couple of times in last several years. However, the perception of quality placement (irrespective of college) is already created. 

It is factually correct that these companies visit these campuses for their manpower requirement, but the type of work roles that they hire for, vary greatly from college to college and campus to campus. In engineering, coveted jobs in data science, research & development, modern electronics etc go to the best college campuses whereas maintenance jobs, tech support etc land up in Tier II and Tier III colleges. 

Ditto for management where IIMs, ISB and top B-Schools rule the book when it comes to managerial hiring, consulting, analytics etc whereas frontline jobs in operations and sales go to the mediocre campuses.

6. Common Link in Success Stories: All success stories have somethings in common. Their qualifications and profession do not have a direct link-especially later in their careers. But their qualifications are definitely from Tier-I institutions. Chetan Bhagat graduated from IIT and worked as an investment banker but ultimately became famous as an author.  Had he planned to become an author instead of joining IIT, would he have been equally successful? No one knows for sure.  Ditto for Sri Madhupandit Dasa who is the President of ISKCON Bangalore. He studied in IIT and worked in the corporate world before joining the Hare Krishna movement and spearheading the world-renowned Akshayapatra project. Our defence minister Manohar Parrikar may not have planned to either become a politician or a minister someday. Some things evolve over time. 

It then makes sense to aspire to study at the best possible college in the country. It is, obviously, not possible for everyone to make it to the IITs/NITs as the demand outstrips supply but one should not settle down for anything less than what is practically possible. Of course, there are other challenges, the magnitude of which could vary from individual to individual.

A few pointers that can help in effective decision making:

1. Managing Finances: There are a plethora of private, state-run and aided-institutions in India and abroad. Fees vary from institution to institution and from location to location. How much budget can you set aside for your studies? You may want to go West and acquire an international qualification but do you have the financial bandwidth?  Bank loans are offered subject to availability of collateral and has an upper cap in most cases. 

2. Availability of courses in the city: Is the course of your choice available in your city? If not, are you willing to move out? Is it worth moving out? 

3. Quality of Institution: The quality of the institution matters a lot in this era of hyper-competition. Don’t you feel IIT-drop outs get much more recognition as compared to the millions of others who drop out of tier-3 colleges? Good academic credentials signal brilliance and acceptance is faster. Investors are willing to fund start-up ideas of IITians more quickly as compared to those of others even though the probability of failure can be equal.  

Trust plays an important role in healthcare where the doctors’ alma mater plays a crucial role. No one wants to risk his life in the hands of a doctor who has studied medicine in some unknown country!

4. Career Prospects: While it is good to train to be a guitarist and quote examples of successful guitarists, it is more important to compare compensation of the average guitarist with that of an average engineer/banker/manager. Most people look at only the most successful examples in each arena. But most candidates will statistically not be in the top end of the spectrum. So, it is better to become an average banker rather than become an average guitarist. 

5. Broad foundations: At 10+2 or undergraduate level, there are certain areas/streams that are broad and allow you to change course at a later stage.  For example, if you choose science in 10+2, you can still hop on to a BBM/BCom but the other way round is not possible. Similarly, you can study mechanical engineering and then decide to become an interior designer, wildlife photographer, statistician, guitarist and so on, but if you hop on to photography after Class XII and 10 years down the line feel like becoming a mechanical engineer, the road ahead could be tough if not impossible. Firstly, Universities may have age restrictions and if that is not an hurdle, organizations may not want a 30-35 year old fresh graduate working on the shop floor in a nation that has no shortage of young manpower. So, in a nutshell, broader the first-level qualification, better it is-especially for those in dilemma. 

6. Psychometric Tests: There are standardized tests available that focus on objective measurement of skills and knowledge, abilities, attitudes, personality traits, and educational achievement. Needless to say, the test results should not be used in isolation but rather a holistic view of all factors is essential.

To summarize, the quality of institution at all levels starting from high school matters a lot in not only shaping up one’s personality but also in signalling one’s strengths and credentials. Career choices should be made basis logical analysis and not out of emotional attachments to certain passions. True calling and self-actualization happens as we evolve as human beings and not at the sharp age of 18 or when one is in class XII.  Science, commerce, engineering, management and medicine will continue to be top and well-paying careers even in the coming few decades as it will offer sustainable careers for the vast majority as compared to niche career options where only a select few excel and the rest keep struggling to make ends meet.

Contributed by Siddarth Baliga

The author, Siddarth Baliga, an alumnus of MIT Manipal and IIM Kozhikode, heads public relations at People Combine Group for Brand Vikas Vidyaniketan, a CBSE affiliated residential school at Visakhapatnam, offering integrated programs in CBSE+IIT-JEE/PMT/NEET/CA-CPT. He can be reached on siddarth.baliga@peoplecombine.com  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author's personal views and have nothing to do with HTCampus.com.

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