Finishing high school and moving on to college is an exciting time for any young student. But it is also a time of uncertainty and confusion for many as you try to decide what is the best college or university for you. So, what should you look for in a college or university while trying to make the important decision of where to pursue your higher education?
Before we discuss where to go to college, let me share a few words on deciding what programme you should pursue. Many students decide on their programme of study – computer engineering, medicine, law, biotechnology, BBA, etc. – based on what they believe provides the highest earning potential after graduation. But this should NOT be the sole criterion or even the most important criterion for selecting a programme of study. Have you noticed that many students leave engineering and pursue some other career after their Bachelor of Technology or Engineering degree? This indicates they have realised that they probably made an error in choosing engineering after Class 12. Make sure you avoid such errors and identify the most appropriate programme of study for you.
So how should you choose your programme of study?
To start off, ask yourself:
What am I interested in?
What subjects do I enjoy studying?
What topics do I wish to learn more about?
What occupation seems interesting and exciting to me?
Once you have identified the corresponding programme of study ask yourself
Do I have the aptitude for this programme of study?
What are my strengths and weaknesses?
For example, if you enjoy reading literature and if you find that you are also good at writing essays or expressing yourself in words, then a degree in Literature may be appropriate for you. On the other hand, you may be fascinated by planes and rockets and greatly wish to be an aeronautical engineering but if you are weak in mathematics you may wish to reconsider pursuing aeronautical engineering. (Do note that sometimes students do develop an aptitude for a subject after leaving school, possibly due to a more suitable pedagogy or academic environment in college.)
There are many disciplines and professions that you may not be aware of. This could be because you were not exposed to it in school or because you have not met anyone from that profession. A science or commerce student may not have studied psychology in Class 11 and 12 and so may not be aware of interesting topics of study in that discipline. A humanities student may not have met many people in the corporate world and so not recognize possibilities associated with a BBA degree. When making an important decision such as your programme of study in college you should be well informed. So talk to college faculty in many different subjects to understand what it would be like to study these subjects. Talk to professionals who pursued these subjects in college to find out about the nature of their work, ease of finding employment, earning potential in their profession, etc. If possible, spend time at their workplace (or even do an internship) to get an understanding of their professional life. If you are considering law, spend time at a court watching lawyers present their arguments and at a law firm to see how they prepare their cases and engage with clients. Remember, you should talk to multiple persons in a subject or profession so that you get a range of views from others before forming an opinion for yourself.
Once you have identified a programme of study in which you have an interest and for which you have an aptitude, and understood the job prospects and earning potential associated with that subject then, and only then, should you decide on your programme of study. Do not follow the herd and pursue what many others are pursuing. Do not be swayed by stories about the success of your cousin’s friend or your neighbour’s neice in a particular profession. What is good for someone else is not necessarily good for you and you must put in the effort to identify the programme of study that is most appropriate for you.
Remember that you are more likely to be successful in a profession for which you have an interest and an aptitude. While different professions have different earning capabilities, most professions will give you a reasonable level of income, if you are fairly good at it. Let me reiterate – choose based on interest and aptitude. If you enjoy an area of study and work, you will be happier in it. If you have the aptitude for it, you will be more successful in it and the earnings will follow.
Some undergraduate programmes of study are professional in nature – engineering, medicine, business administration, etc. and one can often get a job after completing a Bachelors degree. Others may require additional degrees or qualifications before one can get certain jobs related to the discipline, such as in the sciences, which often require a PhD or a Masters degree for many jobs.
Sometimes you may not wish to seek a job directly related to your programme of study. Or it may be difficult to do so. However if you have studied at a good college that has taught you how to think well and apply your mind, and you have also availed of various academic and extra-curricular opportunities at the college, you will discover that your education has provided you with certain valuable marketable skills, such as analytical and critical thinking skills, communication skills particularly writing skills, organisational skills, etc. that you can leverage to obtain employment. But in such cases, you will have to search for these employment opportunities – they could be as diverse as event management to content writing to working for a bank to joining the civil services, and will not necessarily be advertised as linked to a particular programme of study.
Thus, most programmes of study will provide avenues for employment with reasonable remuneration, if you are competent in it and use your college years to pick up valuable skills. For some programmes of study, employment opportunities may be easier to avail of while for others it will require more searching. In either case, do not seek out only traditional jobs but be willing to consider other unconventional but fulfilling careers.
So how should you choose your college?
Once you have selected your programme of study you should then address the issue of where to go to college. College is a time when you grow intellectually, emotionally and physically. The college you choose should be one that supports you best in that journey. Below we provide some suggestions of identifying the best college for you.
Your college should provide you with a sound training in the discipline of your choice. Make sure that the college has sufficient faculty to offer all the courses that one needs to cover at the Bachelors level. But quantity is not the only relevant factor. The quality of the faculty is very important. Check the college website for the academic credentials of the faculty. See where they have studied – that is an indication of how well they have been trained as part of their education.
Faculty at most academic institutions at the undergraduate level do not carry out research. However if you can attend a college where faculty are also researchers that would be very beneficial to you. Firstly, such faculty bring to the classroom their passion for the subject. Secondly, they are aware of latest developments in the field and can share some of these developments while teaching which will make the lectures more interesting and relevant for you. Finally, you can work on research projects with them which gives you an experience of doing research. Most colleges do not have faculty doing research, but if you can study at an institution that promotes and values research by its faculty then that would be a better choice for you.
To grow intellectually you must be exposed to not only courses (or papers) in your discipline but also to courses (papers) outside of your discipline. Most of us have multiple interests. Use courses outside your discipline to explore them. These will be a lot of fun for you and will also provide some change and distraction from the many courses that you take in your discipline. As an engineering student it is enjoyable to study literature. As a literature student it is enjoyable to know above the cosmos in a survey course on astronomy. As a psychology student treat yourself to some philosophy and art.
Courses in your discipline provide with you the fundamental understanding of the topics relevant to a job or further studies. But courses outside your discipline help you perform better at a job or in your further education. For example, a BBA student who takes a course on gender studies will find it useful in the future since as a manager in a company one must know how men and women and those of other genders face different issues in the workplace. A civil engineer who takes a course on social issues may be able to design a better dam that optimises water storage and utility while decreasing hardships due to displacement of people.
Many institutions now offer a few courses (papers) in areas outside the discipline of your programme. It is better to identify institutions that offer you a choice of such courses – usually these are bigger institutions with programmes in multiple disciplines and hence there are many courses in different disciplines that you can then choose from.
Will multidisciplinary education help you get a better job?
When you apply for your first job many employers are looking for certain core skills related to your discipline. Ensure that your college provides that. But the selection process at good companies usually involves more than an evaluation of your core skills. A better understanding of the world around you will help you create a more favourable impression during, for example, the interview.
Furthermore, you will not remain at an entry level position forever. When it comes time for promotions to positions such as team leaders and managers, employers would like to select for positions of responsibility those with a broader perspective as they are better suited to identify new areas for growth or suggest new products or to engage with issues within the company. An engineer who knows about social issues may be better placed to recognise needs of people of different strata of society and create new products that have a wide appeal. A biologist who has been exposed to some courses on psychology is better suited to motivate others in a team.
Today interdisciplinarity is a buzzword in the world of education. It is an approach to learning that integrates more than one discipline together in a single course or programme of study. Most real-life problems require one to apply knowledge and methods of analysis of different disciplines in an integrated way. If you think about the pandemic, it requires one to consider aspects of biology, behaviour (psychology), economics, and politics simultaneously. Interdisciplinary courses prepare you for such challenges at your job or higher studies after you graduate. Not all courses in a programme of study will be interdisciplinary, but even a few will give you a very valuable perspective on problem solving.
Does exposure to interdisciplinarity help in the workplace?
Interdisciplinary courses teach you how to apply your knowledge and analytical skills in an integrated way to address issues. This ability is rare to find and will be noticed and recognised within a company. It will help to propel you to positions of leadership in the workplace, particularly in later stages of your career.
As we mentioned earlier, you should try to get a degree in a discipline in which you are interested and for which you have an aptitude. It may not be easy to identify such a discipline. What if you end up selecting a programme that you subsequently find uninteresting or inappropriate for you? An institution that allows you to choose courses outside of your principal discipline will allow you to explore other subjects, and in some cases obtain a Minor in a subject of your choice. You can then further pursue it in the next degree. Some institutions are flexible enough to allow you to make changes even during your college years. They allow you to move from BA to BSc, or BBA to BA, or BSc to BCom, etc. without losing any time or credits. These institutions are worth considering as they allow a student the flexibility to discover the most appropriate programme of study even after joining college.
Internships are a good way of enhancing learning and experiencing a professional or research environment. A good institution will help students find valuable internships and projects either on or off campus.
There are many life lessons and professionally relevant lessons learned and skills acquired by participating in extra-curricular activities, including sports, in college. These are also fun and a great way to meet new people. Check out the opportunities to participate in such activities at the college you are considering.
Placements and alumni:
Find out how those graduating from a college have done. Check how many have gone on for further studies in India or abroad, and how those who opted for a job have done in terms of companies where they got jobs and starting salaries. This gives you an appreciation of how students of that college do immediately after graduation. But also check the achievements of alumni many years after graduation to obtain a more complete picture.
Talk to students, visit the campus:
Speak to current students at the college to learn about the culture of the institution, and the academic and non-academic aspects of the college. Once again, talk to many students as different students can have very different experiences. If possible, visit the college and spend some time on the campus to see if you would enjoy studying there.
Funding your education:
Good education costs good money. Reputed faculty across multiple disciplines, research facilities, and good infrastructure requires significant expenditure by the college. This can translate into high fees (though not all institutions charging high fees provide all of the above). You will have to decide how much you would like to pay for your college education. It is an investment in your future as it provides the foundation on which you build your future. But you have to balance that against how much your family can afford. Find out about scholarships from the government, private trusts and agencies, and the college of your choice. Some colleges do provide merit-based and need-based scholarships that can cover part or all of your educational costs.
Selecting your college is one of the most important decisions of your life. Make sure you make an informed choice both about your programme of study and the college at which you study. Seek advice from many but in the end make your own decision, to the extent possible. If you do not get the programme of study or college of your choice do not despair. Make the best out of whatever you finally select and remember that life will offer up many more opportunities in the future. Your first degree need not be your last degree and you may still explore and discover other academic and professional possibilities of interest to you in the future.
All the best as you embark on this wonderful journey known as college!