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What kind of criteria should one use to pick a college?


You are a class 12 student, of a parent of one. Or, you have just completed Class 12. The number of seats in any good college or university in India, is extremely limited. However, there are a large number of old and new universities. Regardless of whether you are a student aspiring for a program in arts, commerce, science, engineering or design - What are the primary criteria which you should consider? This is just my personal opinion.
Which college should you choose? Which course is the best? You have just written your Class 12 CBSE or ISC or State board exam, and you have a very complex and critical decision to make. A large number of people are under the mistaken impression that getting into a good college or program is enough. It is not. It is just the beginning, and you have to pick something which you'll be able to do reasonably well in.


(A) Location

Some might want to be close to home, some might want to be at a safe distance from home.
Some might want the thrills of a big city (Mumbai, Delhi) others might not care so much. Small town campuses have their own benefits, for some folk. Many thrive in the isolation, though many wither away.

(B) Placements, Jobs and Starting Salaries

Do NOT make this too big a criteria. Placement statistics are both unreliable and misleading. Plus, they often speak more about the individual who got the job, rather than the institute or the program. Campus placement is not the only way to get a job. In this highly interconnected world, recruiters are constantly on the prowl, looking out for potential hires. While the name of a reputed college on your resume, definitely sets you apart, so can many other accomplishments and achievements.
The 100% placement advertised by even the shadiest of colleges, really mean very little.
No one can verify this data. Plus, even if it happened to be true, it tells you very little about the nature of the jobs the undergraduates ended up with.

(C) Curriculum structure
Feel less comfortable with programs which have too many courses. There is a lot of unnecessary stress of rote learning involved in such programs and they do little to prepare you for the real world. Is the curriculum structured in a way which has space for a large number of elective subjects of your choice? Can you opt for courses from different streams? Is there a provision for a major-minor degree? Is there a provision to do a second major?
Such flexibility is extremely important. Over your 3-5 year stay, your interests and curiosity might change direction and gears several time. You might be an English major wanting to learn something about Economics. Or a Mathematics major wanting to learn something about Design. Or a Computer Science major wanting to study a bit of Biology. You can't predict your interests at the age of 16 or 18. You will get to know once you enter college. Which is why, such flexibility is very important.

(D) Faculty
Do check the faculty profile of your target departments. If you see a very small group of professors (less than say, 5 or 7) that should be a red flag. It is unlikely that such a department can offer a variety of subjects.
If you see departments where quite a few professors don't have a PhD, that is also a red flag. Such a department is unlikely to offer any kind of academic excellence.
Departments which have a noticeable number of PhDs from US, UK etc. should inspire confidence. In all likelihood, they will offer advanced and specialized courses and be very competent in providing you with an environment which could lead to you to a career in research. Their letters of recommendation will carry a lot of weight if you choose to apply for graduate study abroad, after your under graduate program.

(E) Brand Names
Many of the older names (Xavier's etc.) still have a legacy, but just that. The teaching methods and curriculum are outdated. Such places might still offer the benefit of a more competent and capable peer group, so that should be weighed in.
Newer destinations like Ashoka, Shiv Nadar are actively working on programs which significantly surpass those offered by Delhi and Mumbai University. Even among the IITs, some of them are more flexible and dynamic with the courses and curriculum they offer.
Don't get too carried away by the brand name of a college. It has limited utility and a shelf life.

(D) Course of choice
Try to strike the right balance between what interests you, what you're comfortable with (don't like programming => please don't take CS, don't like Chemistry => please don't take Chemical Engineering/Bio-Tech/Chemistry). Naturally, some fields are "hotter" than other when it comes to the job market. For engineers, Computer, Electrical, Mathematics and Computing graduates do have a wider variety of careers available on graduation than say, Metallurgical Engineers. Similarly an Economics graduate is better equipped for various jobs, than a History graduate. But there are no hard and fast rules around this.

(E) Extra-Curriculars and Campus facilities
This is extremely important. Are you a sports-person? Does the campus have courts or fields of your interest?
Does the campus have clubs and societies which cater to your interest?
Delhi University North Campus colleges might have outlived their time, but that area still has a lot of interesting activities which keep it going.