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An Informal Counselling guide: Admission to IITs, IIITs, BITs - Branches, Placements and "Scope"

This post is targeted at PCM students in Class 12, or those who have just completed Class 12.  If you are a Class 12 student and targeting to enter IITs or BITs or NITs or IIITs, your immediate task is to focus on the two phases of the JEE and nothing else.  The board exam will be a blip on the radar, but don't let that weigh you down - the score doesn't really count for anything. If your preparations for the entrance exam are on track, you will be able to score 85 or even 90 percent without doing anything else.
However, it is essential for you to be aware of the variety of options and opportunities. Not everyone is going to find a spot they like in the merit lists of the JEE. There are a finite number of seats so you should be careful not to place all your eggs in one basket. But you should definitely be aware of the multitude of options that lie before you. Unlike the early 2000s when options were indeed limited, there are (relatively) far more options available now.

While it is indeed true that people are obsessed with the "IIT tag" this obsession becomes a problem when they opt for certain courses, not because they are interested in the program, but because the program is offered by an IIT.

In general, I'd club the following institutes into the same tier when it comes to the recognition of the academic brand.
Old IITs + Specific campuses among new IITs (Hyderabad, Gandhinagar) + BITs Pilani (Main Campus) + IIIT-Delhi (Indraprastha) + IIIT-Hyderabad (for IT and CS programs)

(a) Selecting an Institute


NITs (National Institutes of Technology) are the largest group among the ones I discuss. They collectively have 30k seats or more, for each undergraduate batch. They were formerly the Regional Engineering Colleges. Surathkal, Warangal and Trichy have indeed made quite a bit of a name for themselves. Specially when it comes to their Computer Science students - many have been placed in well-respected companies (Microsoft, Google, Amazon) and many have gone to reputed universities in the United States for higher education.

The main problem with the NITs is that their funding is far lesser than that of the IITs. So, in general, their faculty and curriculum quality suffers.

Admission is based on the results of the first round of the JEE. From 2017, board examination scores will not matter provided you attain a certain minimum threshold (75% or so). You might want to avoid taking less popular courses (non-CS,non-EE) courses in lesser known NITs, given a choice. Make sure to talk to alumni or reading relevant information on social media (Quora) before finalizing on a branch in an NIT.

BITS Pilani (Birla Institute of Technological Sciences)

BITS is extremely well regarded, and BITS Pilani has campuses in Pilani, Goa, Hyderabad, Dubai. All of them receive degrees from "BITS Pilani", so there is no differentiation between the campuses when it comes to the degree.

BIT Mesra is NOT the same as BITS Pilani.

The older campus (Pilani) is still seen as "The Original" BITS. Faculty, curriculum, availability of different course areas is maximum over there. Their curriculum structure was based on that of MIT. At one point they far surpassed the IITs in terms of flexibility, and offered double majors. So you could do an MSc in Economics and another degree in Computer Science. With IITs becoming more flexible and offering double majors and minors, this has changed.

Between the Goa and Hyderabad campus - Goa is slightly older and has "matured a bit". However, Hyderabad is a better location. If you'd like to venture a bit into the city, Hyderabad is a bustling technology hub with better avenues for internships, entrepreneurship, part-time jobs and projects. However, both BITS Goa and Hyderabad will take some more time to mature and establish themselves.

BITS has a special 'Practice School' program that lets its students secure a semester-long internship in some of the top companies(Amazon, Microsoft, Citrix, ebay, Intel, Nvidia, Texas Instruments etc). This is something quite unique to BITs. It gives real world exposure to students. And some students manage to get placed in the same company where they intern.

The route to get into BITS is the BITSAT. The syllabus is quite well aligned with standard PCM syllabus for Class 11 and 12. The exam is not as tough as the IIT JEE. There is also a section testing your English language and logical reasoning skills. The paper does require far greater speed than the IIT JEE, where questions are tricky and require time.

In general, the BITs brand is very well regarded, and definitely much better known than that of the NIT chain.

Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs)

IIIT Hyderabad and IIIT Delhi (Indraprastha Institute) are top institutes for Computer Science education. Their faculty hold PhDs from top universities, both in India, and abroad. They have a very hands on curriculum, and go head first into CS, right from the very first year.

IIIT-Hyderabad has some great faculty in AI related fields like Computer Vision and Natural Language Processing. It has been around for nearly 2 decades, so it does have a head-start advantage over some of its newer peers.

IIIT-Delhi has a very well regarded research group in networking. It is a new institute, but is quickly making a mark. They are also making an attempt to offer a variety of courses in Economics, Biology, Mathematics, Electronics.

Graduates of both universities have been recruited by top companies and many have been admitted to competitive MS/PhD programs abroad. 

I believe there is a significant gap between these two IIITs and the others. The next in line in perhaps the one at Allahabad. 

IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology)

There are so many IITs now. However, with this sudden proliferation of the IIT system, some are IITs only in name as of now.

The good ones are:

The 5 older ones: Bombay, Delhi, Kanpur. Madras, Kharagpur

The converted ones: Roorkee, BHU (both were universities with a rich legacy)

The ambitious new ones: Gandhinagar and Hyderabad. Both have recruited some amazing faculty. They have tried to be very innovative with the curriculum. Both are in bustling and well-connected cities. Hyderabad is a huge tech hub for software, bio-sciences and semiconductor companies.

Things to check for before picking on an IIT -

How flexible is the academic program? Some of the IITs offer a double major (if you are in Chemical Engineering you might be able to do 8-10 EE courses and get a double major in Electrical Engineering). Many of the IITs offer a minor (if you are in Mechanical Engineering, you might be able to do 3-6 courses in Computer Science and get a minor in that). As of now, Kanpur, Madras, Gandhinagar and Hyderabad offer a double major. Most of the campuses offer some sort of a minor program (not sure about BHU or Roorkee).

IIT Madras in particular, has a new and flexible curriculum where a student can choose upto 40% of his/her courses. This is an amazing degree of flexibility in the traditional Indian setup. The other older IITs are a tad lower - around 30%. Do remember, that only a handful of people can manage to get a second major or minor they like.

Too many compulsory courses in the program structure, should be treated as a red flag. Over time, your interests will change. And your course curriculum should have enough space in the form of elective subjects, to help cater to your academic aspirations.

What if you want a lighter BTech?

Some people prefer a reduced academic load. So a few of the IITs like Madras and Bombay, give an option to complete only a vanilla BTech (versus the more loaded BTech Hons. offered by some IITs). This could give some students more time for their own side-projects or hobbies. Or they might just appreciate the free time!

What is the faculty profile like?

You should go through the faculty pages. Departments with a larger number of professors and full-time faculty are better able to offer a variety of elective subjects. A large number of PhDs from top US universities, or other top Indian institutes like IISc, ISI, IITs - these are great indicators that the department offers a strong undergraduate BTech program.

Further Studies

A large number of people study after their undergraduate years. A good chunk do their MBA at ISB or IIM, but many head to the United States for MS and PhD programs. The older IITs are definitely better recognized by admission committees in US universities. Off late, Gandhinagar and Hyderabad have been quite successful in sending their students to top American universities.  

Placements and Jobs

Apart from the usual technology and techno-managerial jobs, the older IITs also have many of their graduates recruited by reputed management and finance firms like McKinsey, Boston Consulting, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley. This is definitely something which is not so readily available to students of other universities and colleges.

(b) Selecting a Course

This is tricky. This completely depends on your interest and aptitude.

I'd largely group courses into 4 categories, mostly based on the extent of overlap they have with each other.

(a) The circuit branches. These are mostly courses related to Electrical Engineering, Circuits and Computing.

Computer Science and Engineering, Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Instrumentation Engineering (program offered by EE), Mathematics and Computing.

All of these have a fair bit of Mathematics, Circuit and CS-related coursework at the core. You can always tweak your electives to pick courses in the area you prefer. Graduates of these courses definitely have a much wider variety of careers when they graduate, and better paid ones as well (on an average). Software Engineers at Google or Amazon or Microsoft, Data Scientists, Circuit and Chip designers at AMD/Intel/Texas Instruments, Quantitative analysts at Investment Banks. All these coveted roles recruit graduates of these programs in a much higher proportion than those with other degrees. I have written a more comprehensive course on computing over here.

(b) The Mechanical world.

Mechanical Engineering, Manufacturing Engineering, Civil Engineering and Industrial Engineering.

Are you fascinated by what happens under the hood of cars? Do you like large engines or machines or motors?

Industrial Engineering programs are typically the lightest of the bunch with a variety of general management and operations research courses thrown in. A great way to get an IIT degree with a light mix of technical and management world subjects.

The other three have a fair bit of focus on mechanics, fluid mechanics, solid mechanics and workshop processes. A lot of stuff to "get your hands dirty". Some people like those kind of courses but many do not. 

(c) Chemical, Biotech and Metallurgy and Material Science

All these courses have a fair bit of bio and chemistry based stuff. There is a lot to memorize, specially in Bio-Tech and Bio-Chemical Engineering. Metallurgical and Materials Engineering courses do open up a lot of doors for research in this age of nano-technology. However, undergrads with Metallurgy degrees have far fewer opportunities for employment which utilize their knowledge. Iron and steel companies such as Tata have recruited metallurgy graduates. But the variety of jobs, specially in India, is limited.

Biotech is seeing traction in India as well as the US. There is some exciting stuff happening out there in the world of Bio-informatics. However, the field requires higher studies (MS/PhD) for one to be able to gain meaningful employment in the field. There is a lot of research going on in the bio-related world.

Chemical Engineering graduates often find employment in energy or hydrocarbon related companies (oil and gas etc.). Or companies like Proctor And Gamble which make consumer goods (Textiles, Perfumes). It does have quite a bit of direct application in the real world.

(d) Pure Sciences degrees (Physics, Chemistry, Geology)

These are best suited for those who are genuinely looking forward to a career in research or academia. This also means, that you should be prepared to study for another 5-6 years and to complete an MS or a PhD.

However, in such cases, a better option is often the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. Or the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta and Bangalore. Those places are better for theoretical studies.

Engineering Physics offered at IIT Delhi, Mumbai and Madras is actually a great mix of Physics and real world engineering. Many students of those programs have gone on to do their higher studies in various areas of Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Aerospace etc.

(e) Non-conventional programs in Economics and Design

IITs are great places to study economics. Unlike the traditional BA courses in Delhi or Mumbai University, these economics programs cover a substantial bit of science, technology, mathematics, statistics and computing. Economics is increasingly been seen as a form of applied science. Graduates of these programs are well respected and are often recruited either by management or finance companies, or for management-focused roles in technology companies. These are also great programs for people wanting exposure to technical education and coursework, without going too deep into technical courses.

The B.Design program at Guwahati and (now)IIT Mumbai - People with design and product design skills are in great demand nowadays, specially in the computing and internet industry. All major technology companies have UX and Design related roles. For people wanting to apply their creative skills in a technical context, these are great courses. The IDC at IIT Mumbai has an excellent reputation. For several years, it ran a post-graduate design program. The well-known Pranav Mistry of Sixth Sense fame, is an alum of IDC at IIT Mumbai.