This is an updated blog article on engineering admissions to colleges other than the top few like IITs. I wrote one with exactly the same title in 2015 and another one in 2009. This one has a large overlap with the article I wrote in 2015. After all what parameters indicate a college to be providing quality education hasn't changed all these years. But my learning and experience in the last one decade, particularly working with IIIT Delhi, PEC Chandigarh and now at JKLU Jaipur has given me insights into what are the typical questions students and parents have at the time of admission.
The reason I wrote this in 2009 and again in 2015 is rather simple. I
get lots of emails on my views on different engineering colleges, and
request to compare this with that. I am not in the habit of comparing
things based on what I have read on social media or what I have heard in
the corridors. And hence in most cases, I have to decline any comments.
And I thought instead of just saying that I have no opinion, I could
give them an algorithm to make some progress in coming to a decision.
And hence this article.
First of all, which is a good college. Yes, I know. The highest package.
Sorry, I disagree.
Let me suggest an alternative. It prepares you to achieve your goals.
And, of course, your goal could be to be rich. But you don't become rich
by having large paycheck in the first month. You become rich by having a
long paying career. The first job is no guarantee of a successful
career. And placement statistics anyway are most unreliable. So may be
you should be looking at how alumni are doing 5-10 year hence rather
than how final year students are doing. But then that statistics is even
harder to get. (But don't worry, I will talk about how placement statistics can give you limited insights regarding quality little later in the article.)
So let us look at factors that are most likely going to lead to a successful career. These factors are:
- Your passion and interest in the
area you are working in
- Your preparedness as far as knowledge and skills are concerned (this is why the quality of
education is so important)
- Your ability to keep learning lifelong
as most things a college will teach you will be outdated over the next 5-10-20 years and your career is 50 years (this is why good faculty is absolutely important - to
not just teach you some technical stuff, but mentor you to learn how
to learn yourself)
- Your soft skills, attitude, ethics, etc. (this is best learnt at
school, but a good college would improve upon this, particularly a
residential campus where you learn many things from hostel activities)
- Your network of friends (this is where a good college which attracts more good students will help), and
- A huge amount of luck.
This article is not about choosing a branch, though I would like to add
that if you do not have a particular interest in a discipline (and most
12th class students don't - it is ok), then prefer a good college over a
And this article is not about luck. I can just wish you all a huge amount of luck.
So let us focus on the other factors.
The most important factor is the quality of faculty
. It not only
helps you in learning how to learn lifelong, but also ensures that you
pick up adequate knowledge and skills from the program. How do we know
which college has a better faculty than the other.
Well, visit their website, and look for
the following information:
- Number of full-time faculty members. Please make sure that
you read the details, and find out who is a full-time faculty
member, and who is a part-time or adjunct faculty member.
Try to see the full time equivalent (FTE) like two part-time faculty teaching one course in every semester together will be one FTE. Also check the number of students. The important parameter is faculty to student ratio.
- Their qualifications. How many are PhDs.
- Where did the faculty members study. If they did one of their degrees from IITs/BITS and other fine institutions in India or abroad, they are more likely to have achieved academic excellence early in their lives, and at the very least, they have been exposed to quality systems and education and they will more likely pass on that quality experience to their students.
- If a significant portion of faculty received their
highest degree (whether PhD, MTech, or BTech) from
the same college, then that should raise some alarms.
On the other hand, faculty members having a lower
degree from the same college but a higher degree from a different institution, implies that they value
the place enough that they returned back to the same
place after getting a higher degree from elsewhere.
- If the highest qualification for any faculty member
is BTech or MCA, then be alarmed. Top places will only
higher PhDs. Good places may have some MTechs. But if
colleges are hiring BTechs and MCAs for teaching courses,
it means that they are not able to attract enough
good faculty, and that should be a cause for concern.
- What are faculty doing. Are they teaching three courses
a semester or two. Are they doing at least some bit of
Of course, people will argue how important it is to be a PhD to be a
good teacher. And I have no doubt that there are some excellent teachers
who are not PhDs, and there are some lousy teachers who are PhDs.
However, there is no doubt that places which have a lot of non-PhD
teachers have them because they failed to attract PhD faculty, not
because they just hired great teachers, and it so happened that many of
them were MTechs. And if you look at the background of those MTechs, it
is quite unlikely that you will find many of those MTechs from IITs,
IISc, and other top institutions. And, in general, PhD from a good
university would have a higher chance of being a good teacher than an
MTech from a tier two college.
Another factor that gives an indication of the quality of faculty is the research output
of the institution. I believe that there are good researchers who are
not good teachers, and similarly, there are good teachers who are not
good researcher. However, in general, faculty members who are actively
pursuing some research interests would be current on the subject and
would have a deeper understanding of the topics. But more importantly,
research flourishes when
there is an institutional support for it. If faculty
members are doing research, then it shows that the college
management is serious about the quality of education.
Research can be measured by the following parameters.
The problem in checking research output is that it is very difficult for a layman to even get an idea. It is very difficult to know which journals and conferences are good and which are paid ones. In any case, most of the Tier 3 and Tier 2 institutions aren't doing great on this parameter. But if you have a friend in academia, a faculty member, they may be able to advise you on this parameter.
Now, let us look at the second factor for a successful career. That is,
level of preparedness or the knowledge and skills learned. This will,
of course, depend on quality of faculty, which we have already
discussed. But it requires a couple of other parameters as well. Most
important of them is the curriculum. Some of the things to look for in the curriculum are:
- How many courses do they teach. Unlike the conventional
wisdom in India, I believe that the college that teaches you
less is a better college. It means that they do less spoon
feeding, and give you more space to grow and learn. There are surely
exceptions to this general
trend, but by and large colleges will try to teach you more,
if they know that they are doing a poor job of teaching,
and hope that if they try teaching you lots, then perhaps
in some courses they will be able to teach you something.A good college
may have 40-45 courses in the curriculum, while a poor quality college
may have more than 50 courses.
- How many electives are there in the curriculum, giving
flexibility to the students to learn what they are interested
in. Many colleges may have slots for electives, but they
treat that slot as their choice to offer a course. So they
won't offer three courses, and ask students to choose one.
But instead they will offer one course of their own choice
(basically for whatever course they can find a faculty).
Elective slots are important since a student will develop interest in some topics more than the others and may want to build his/her career in that sub-field.
- Also, the electives should not just be in the discipline area but there should also be open electives. If someone wants to study maths or design or business studies along with Computer Science, it should be possible to do so. The more diverse your courses are, easier it will be for you in the future to keep learning new things and remember, you have to keep learning for at least 50 years.
- Do they have enough number of humanities and social
science courses (at least 10 percent courses). One cannot
be a complete engineer without understanding economics,
sociology, psychology, etc. These courses also develop important skills like Critical Thinking. And come to think of it. No college can teach you anything which will not become obsolete in the next 10 years. But if they can give you skills like Critical Thinking, you will go far in your career.
- Overall, curriculum should be multi-disciplinary whether through some compulsory core or through a large set of electives. Most problems that you will face in your life will require inputs from multiple domains. So if you are doing BTech in Computer Science and the college teaches you 20-25 courses in CS, they are not doing justice to your future growth. It ought to be much less with a lot of components from other fields.
A lot of learning happens outside the classroom, and hence a residential institute
should be preferred over a place where all are day scholars. If there
is a mixed system (that is, some live in hostel, and some are day
scholars), it is still better than fully day scholar since even if there
are some students on campus 24x7, it would have facilities that even
day scholars can use when necessary. You won't have all labs close at 5
or 6pm. The library is likely to be open late. Indeed, one of the
parameters to look at while understanding the quality of an institute is
whether they allow access to their facilities for long hours, or are
they only from 9 to 5 on weekdays.
Another important criteria is the autonomy of the institute. Can they
decide their own curriculum. Typically, universities (including
deemed-to-be-universities) can decide their own curriculum, and in
general I would strongly recommend universities over affiliated colleges.
Teaching someone else's curriculum is demotivating for teachers. If
they do not have much stake in the curriculum, it would also invariably
mean that exams are also conducted by someone else (by the universities,
except for some "autonomous" colleges), and that means students don't
care for the classes and teachers. This can not be conducive for
lifelong learning, not even for immediate learning. But, of course, a
vast majority of engineering education happens in such affiliated
colleges, and most of it is poor quality. This is
generalization, and certainly there are some affiliated colleges which
are doing a decent job.
Fancy infrastructure is not something that impresses me, but yes,
they should have all the necessary labs, good Internet bandwith, WiFi
access so that you can use your own laptops and other devices anywhere, a
good library with lots of reading spaces, lecture rooms without a
projector is like living in dark ages, adequate sports facilities, etc.
(Caution: Some of the engineering colleges would have all of this and
more, but would not have faculty. Look at infrastructure only after you
are convinced about the faculty and curriculum, etc.)
To ensure that your peer group is strong (since so much of learning will
happen outside the class room, and your career will be helped by a good
peer group), one may want to look at data such as what was the median performance of the admitted students in 10th board, 12th board, competitive exams like JEE, CUET, etc. Of course, it is extremely difficult to get this data and even more difficult to verify this data. An indication could be available through the minimum eligibility announced by the university. For example, if I am allowed to do some marketing for JKLU, we have announced a minimum eligibility of 70% in 10th and 70% in 12th (counting only 5 subjects in 10th and PCME in 12th, so your additional subjects with 98-100 marks are not counted) for BTech/CSE program. I am not aware of any other private institution that has such high eligibility requirement. As a result, our median 12th class marks are more than 85%, one of the highest in our peer group. But, if you can't get this data from other colleges, you may ignore this parameter.
Now, let me come back to the all important question of placement. Why do I say that one should not look at placement data.
Well, if you want to look at placement data from the perspective of return-on-investment, then you should be looking at the incomes over at least 10-15 years, if not 50 years. The first month salary has no correlation with long term success in career. Second, you have no idea about the placement statistics. Most of the time, even the students who are going through the placement in a college and talking to all their friends on a regular basis about where they have got placed usually have no clue about aggregate statistics. (Very surprising, I know, but I can give you many examples and explain why this happens later.) The colleges exaggerate. Are you sure you will be the one to get that highest package. No one can predict what will happen 4 years from now.
On the other hand, if you are looking at placement as a proxy for quality and saying that if top companies are coming here, they must have done a survey and decided that this college is good, then what should be the parameter to look at. Let me give you two examples to compare. Both colleges have 100 graduating students in the same discipline. First college, two students get a package of Rs 1 crore, and 98 students get a package of Rs 3 lakhs each. In the other college, everyone gets a package of Rs 5 lakhs. Which one is better. In my opinion, the second one is better quality. If the first one was good, how much that goodness reflected in just 2 jobs. Most probably, those two worked hard on their own despite college and not because of college. And hence quality is reflected not in highest package but in median package, which is the package that the middle or average student got. Most colleges will only talk about highest and average (since few getting high packages will lift the average). No one talks about median since that is usually the lower number. So, if you can find median number reliably (very difficult), you may think of using that as a proxy for quality. Otherwise, ignore the placement data.
What else you should not look at. Well MoUs can be signed a dime a dozen with foreign universities, with companies and so on. Please look at how many of them are effectively being worked on. Rankings are usually gamed. There is no verification process.
Then there are things which do not really matter in terms of quality,
but could be important for you. Feel free to factor them in, and indeed
they are important. One is Geographical location. Many people have
preference to stay close to home or away from home, in a similar
cultural environment or in a similar weather condition, etc. This is
fine. The other is finances. If the two places you are considering have
very different costs, then one has to look at whether those differences
are worth the extra cost. And it is never going to be easy to take a
call on that.
The last point I will make is that this is one of the most important decision of your life. Invest your time, effort, and even money into this decision making. Don't be lazy and just look at last year's closing ranks, or just looking at some lists on some sites. Do primary research. First visit the website and note down as much relevant information as possible. Then talk to people who may give you insider's information. Make a shortlist of colleges you are interested in. Then plan a visit even if the college is not in your city. This is very important and this is what I meant when I said above invest your money in decision making.
When you visit a place, you will know many things about the place which are difficult to judge otherwise. Many institutions have some special things which may appeal to you or may not be in line with what you desire. Talk to random students and faculty on the campus to get the real picture and not just the admissions team. For example, and again, marketing alert for JKLU, here the way we do Project based learning is completely different from everyone else in the country, our semester away program in IITs, IIITs, and fine institutions abroad, our Center for Communication and Critical Thinking, our Design thinking courses, and many more things are so unique but you won't be able to really understand their import just by looking at the website.
Best wishes for a great career ahead.