I have always advised that students and parents should not look at the placement records of different colleges or programs before deciding their choices. And I get asked many times, don't I like money. Why do I want everyone to be a professor. Apparently, professors are satisfied with less money.
The truth is that I love money too. When 6th pay commission almost doubled my salary, I did not protest. And if 7th pay commission doubles it again, I will not be protesting at that time.
And I don't ever say you should not worry about money. I only say that you should not be bothered about placement information.
But this question has been raised so many times, that I thought I will write my views on it in some detail, though you will find parts of it in some of my earlier blog articles.
First of all, placement information is so unreliable, that in most cases it cannot be relied upon. Some colleges will tell you the top salary, which only one student would have got. If you know a bit of statistics, you would know that a single sample cannot be used to deduce a general principle (of ordering programs in this context). The most reliable barometer of the current employability and the economic value of a program, is the median salary of that program. But only if the program has large enough number of students, say at least 40-50, who are interested in taking up a job, and indeed get one. Hardly any institute will give you median salaries. And a large number of programs have much fewer students graduating, or having an interest in placement. If colleges give you median income, they will not tell you how many people did not even get a job. Sometimes, they will remove weak students from the list, and then give you placement statistics. Sometimes, they will tell you the number of jobs and number of students, but will count two jobs to a student as two - so you can't figure out how many people don't have jobs. In top places, sometimes students would not go for placement but for higher studies. That is not captured by the placement statistics. Then there is a huge fudge factor that both companies and colleges introduce in terms of what constitutes salary - is it take home income, is it pre-tax salary, is it the cost-to-company, etc.
Second, the placement is only an indication of how a group was valued by those wanted to recruit that sort of talent. The individual differences are lost in the statistics. May be the guys who got good jobs are those who also had good soft skills, something that the program did nothing to add value to. I have no doubt that there is a difference in the market value of different academic programs. But that difference cannot be judged by placement figures, since they get biased by the presence or absence of certain categories of students. For example, if we assume that CS education adds more market value than Chemistry education, the degree of the difference cannot be judged by placement figures alone. The difference in median value of salaries offered will be partly due to CS versus Chemistry, but also partly due to the fact that CS program attracted much higher ranked individuals to begin with. So some difference is due to the set of individuals who are joining the program. (If you believe that 100 percent of the difference is because of the discipline, then essentially you are admitting that you bring no value as an individual to your recruiter. Your recruiters should be careful with that attitude.)
Third, placement data is for last year's batch. You will be graduating 4-5 years from now. What will be the market valuation of your discipline/program, we don't know. Things may change in the interim period. Need to take that into account as well.
Fourth, you are looking at last year's placement data because you want to be rich. Fair enough. But there is no study done looking at the correlation between the first month salary, and the career earnings. If you want to be rich (and why not), you should be looking at a decent living immediately after the graduation, but most importantly, a hefty salary after 30-40 years. Your work life is going to be 50 years. Too bad, but you will be working till the age of 75. (Even today most people retire between 65 and 70 years of age, and with the rapid advances in medical science and technologies, it would be at least 75 for you.) Today's placement data gives you absolutely no indication of what your salary will be 30-40 years from now. In fact, I just did a small informal check up on my batchmates. We entered IIT Kanpur about 30 years ago. I guessed the incomes of people by their designation/company/location, etc. For some people, I knew. And based on this very crude, unreliable, statistically insignificant experiment, I can still confidently say that the median income of Computer Science graduates of our batch is nothing to write home about compared to many other programs.
Fifth, the emails that I have been getting, they only ask for "scope" of two programs whose perceived economic value is very similar. Nobody has ever asked me for an opinion between English literature in Delhi University versus Computer Science at IIT Kanpur. The perceived economic value of the two programs are so vastly different, after all. And if you consider money in such a situation, you are being normal. Almost everyone will prefer 10 lakhs over 2 lakhs, even if one has to give up one's interest. But in India, we are worrying about very small amounts of money. I never get asked to compare Computer Science with Mining. I only get asked comparison between EE and CS, or between Mechanical and Chemical, etc. And the reason for all the confusion, all the stress is that between these two programs, the difference in the median salary last year would not be more than 5 percent, and people are really trying to figure out whether this difference of 5 percent will stay for 4-5 more years, and indeed 40-50 more years. When the difference is 50 percent, then people automatically assume that the difference may come down or go up, but it will never be erased. So they are sure in such circumstances which program they want to put ahead of the other.
Now, if the economic value of a degree program differs from the other one by only 5 percent, you should know that your interest and passion in a program can at least cover up that 5 percent difference. In fact, the interest and passion can often compensate very significantly in a job/career, much more than the 5 percent.
Across the length and breadth of this country, parents and students are not even attempting to know their interests, their passions, their aspirations, in the hope of getting that 5 percent extra money. Worse, many people will directly, shamelessly, tell me, that they are interested in one discipline, but will like to get admission in the other, because of a possibility (not even a guarantee) that they might get slightly better placement. And that bothers me.
And what I feel is that if so many of our youth at an age where they should be most idealistic are willing to give up their interest and passion for 5 percent, when they grow up and become less idealistic (and more "practical"), would they not be willing to give up a principle or two for 10 percent. Wouldn't such students in an academic institution be willing to do plagiarism, copy an assignment, and cheat in the exam.
And what would they be willing to do for 100 percent, just the imagination of it fills me with horror.
I don't think Anna Hazare will be successful.