It's April and a time to celebrate for millions of young Indians who have just finished their school-leaving class XII examinations. The days that follow help them unwind after months of exam preparation. The celebrations, however, are short-lived. The next many weeks and months are consumed preparing for admission tests for entry into a wide variety of disciplines.
It's a tough time as they evaluate options that further their individual interests and make deliberate decisions that will determine what lies ahead of them -- perhaps for the rest of their lives.
For young Indians, making it to any of the country's 40,000 colleges -- or getting a subject of their choice -- is not easy. It is a pity that even though the number of colleges in the country has tripled in the last 17 years, the shortage of seats drives students to choose programmes that do not necessarily fit their aptitude. The marks they get in their school-leaving examination, conducted by the Central or the State Exam Boards or the International Baccalaureate, will determine their choice of subjects.
Just like the students, it is a busy time as well for career counsellors invited by schools and colleges to advise on great careers in demand, worthy institutions to study in, and the best ways to get into a specific programme. Many help students choose between great destinations to study abroad. Should it be Singapore, nearer home, or one of the Ivy League institutions in the US? Or the UK or Australia? Should it be a full-fee programme in a university -- say, in safe and student-friendly Sydney -- or a fully-paid scholarship in an unheard of university in an East European nation?
When I get pulled into advising young nephews and nieces based on the experience of helping our own young ones make their choices, I refer them to career option books by widely travelled counsellors to help them choose between engineering and biotechnology, architecture and law, medicine and pharma, liberal arts, social sciences or business management, journalism and computer science. And the list goes on.
For tough situations like convincing friends to let their loved ones choose streams beyond medicine or engineering, I encourage them to go to a professional career counsellor and careers columnists like Pervin Malhotra, who guided our son and daughter many years ago. These counsellors put the children through an aptitude test, discuss their strengths and suggest a set of options over a series of sessions.
An opportunity to sit through a fireside chat between Indian school students and Blair Slater, a career counsellor at the Sydney-based University of New South Wales (UNSW) recently, was an eye-opener. Blair, a former Hollywood star and now a full-time career counsellor for international students of over 100 nationalities, had an interesting take on careers.
He predicted that in the next 5 to 10 years, there will be plenty of jobs that don't even exist today. In an ever-evolving job market, his advice to students was to prepare for a career by following their passion, pursuing what's important to them while building a strong academic foundation. Problem-solving and adaptability, Blair said, should be the key leitmotifs in their toolkit of skills that will help them shine in a world of fast-changing jobs.
Universities are using innovative social media like Facebook's live discussions with experts to reach wider audiences. A "Study in America" Facebook session by the US embassy in New Delhi last month helped demolish myths associated with admissions and job opportunities in America.
When looking for opportunities to study abroad, students will do well to consider the QS ranking that ranks higher educational institutes globally. The reputed British agency compares top universities in the world based on six performance parameters across sectors like Research, Teaching, Employability and Internationalisation, and the institute's stature.
The best advice on making career choices comes from successful professionals in the field of the student's interest. Insights from alumni shed light on the best practices followed by institutions, especially addressing their quest for knowledge, placement track record and reputation with employers.
Institutions that will flourish in the future will adapt their curriculum to the needs of the fast-changing world with speed, lay emphasis on original research to solve burning issues facing the world, and focus on life-long employability of their alumni.
(The author, who served NIIT as a brand custodian for two decades, is a communications counsel. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>)