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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Parents and JEE Counseling

Today, early morning, I posted on my Facebook wall a message about how parents are asking all the questions and their wards keep quiet. The post has gained huge traction with almost 2000 likes and 350 shares in less than 24 hours. Several comments and lots of emails. And more than 100 new friends requests. One of those emails suggested that I post this as a blog, since blogs have a much longer shelf life. People can read it not just this year but next year and year after that, while facebook posts fade away within a couple of days. And hence this post, which is an edited and expanded version of the FB post.


In the counseling season (which starts on the day of JEE Advanced and continues till the options have to be frozen at the counseling site), I typically get about 10 emails a day, or about 400 emails overall, each seeking advice on what college/program should one prefer. Surprisingly, about 90% of those emails are from parents and not from the boy or girl who is seeking admission. From the language and email address, I have a strong suspicion that even some of the remaining 10 percent are actually from parents.

If you look at the comments on my various blog articles about choosing a college/program, a very large number of them are from parents.

I used to think that part of the reason is that students have their own sources of information. They would rather talk to their seniors from schools who are in college now, or ask questions on social media like quora and FB pages of various colleges, or ask their teachers at coaching places. Parents don't have as many sources, and they perhaps have more respect for an IIT professor.

But this thinking changed a couple of weeks ago. We were having an open house session at IIIT Delhi, and after my presentation, all the questions were from parents. Not even one question from any student. After a while, we said that we will only take questions from students. And something very strange happened. Parents writing questions on a paper, and asking their wards to ask those questions. I couldn't believe this.

Then yesterday, I was invited by IIT Gandhinagar to have a session in the open house that they were organizing. I gave a small talk on how to decide the college/program combination. I explained to them that the confusion is only partly because of lack of complete information, and is largely due to our inability to think logically. Before I invited the questions, I told the parents the following.

"If your son or daughter cannot ask a question even in such a friendly environment where s/he is not competing, s/he is not being judged, and it is about his/her life, then it shows how much freedom they have at home. How much pressure you must have put on them to study for JEE. How much stress must be building inside them. If tomorrow they give up on studying after moving to a hostel or worse, cause self injury, please blame yourself and not IIT."

I reminded them that most of the suicides in Kota as well as many suicides in various IITs have been attributed to pressure from well meaning parents who loved their kids but didn't realize when they crossed the line between advising and taking decisions on their behalf, particularly decisions that their wards did not like but had no courage to tell them so.

These students have achieved remarkable success. And if they are capable of being in the top 10,000 in a country of 1.25 billion they are certainly capable of taking their own decisions on the college/program they want to pursue. Why should parents be afraid that their wards will take a wrong decision. And what is a wrong decision anyway. Will a different program or a different IIT be the end of the world. NO. The only thing that will happen is that if they decide on a less popular program, their bragging rights in their friends' circle may reduce. This should be accepted as a legitimate cost of parenting.

It is not to say that parents should have no role in this decision making. They most certainly do. They are an important stake holder. They have sacrificed many things to ensure success of their wards. So the parents should do their own research. They should ask questions in such forums and anywhere else. And they should advise their wards. But when it becomes so lopsided that only parents ask questions and the ward is silent, that is a strong indication of stress in their relationship. Parents should introspect and make sure that they listen to their wards and give them space to take decisions.

While I was giving this little speech, I was a bit afraid - I am taking this stand that students are not asking questions because they are afraid of their parents, what if they are not asking questions because this is not the forum that they trust for answers. But immediately after the speech, I was inundated with questions from students, and very incisive questions that showed that they had indeed thought a lot about what they want to do, much more than what their parents would give them credit for.


Sundar said...

Very well said sir. This is the actual scenario these days.

P.S: I was present during your session at IIT Gandhinagar.

Raja Pundalik said...

Sir, These are what I call 'hyper parents' (a friend likes to call their parenting style as 'helicopter parenting'! Always howering around their children). I think there are two angles to the issue. Firstly, an obsession to give the child everything the parents could not get in their own student-age (for whatever reason). This obsession makes the parents go to idiotic lengths to try & create 'super-kids' out of their children. Secondly, there is an ever-present fear of failure (not just for the child but also failure as a parent causing substantial loss in social/snob value) that makes the parents keep driving controls firmly in their hands all the time. Not encouraging/allowing a child to take his/her own decisions as he/she grows up, in fact, is the biggest failure a parent can cause in the life of his child. I have seen far too many such examples around us in the society. However, the parents refuse to let go. They, in fact, need more counselling than anyone else.

Siddharth Jain said...

Even they doubt that their ward might do some very big mistake in filling choices and sometimes they hard press that we should fill their counselling form even.

Ajit R. Jadhav said...


The BJP government is here, and, I am about to give you the very last chance. (Else, I can/might upload this message in toto at my blog.

Just what does 4000 likes in a single day mean to you, you idiot? You card-carrying JEE idiot (you know what I mean, here).

As at least your equal (if not a better [and in case you don't run this comment, then explain, you IIT Kanpur Dean, with a private email to me, got it, you? [and if you don't, worse hell than your JPBTI status and your IIT position descends on you. [Want to try?]]),



Dexter said...

@Ajit : Please elaborate what you are saying? How is the BJP govt related to this in any manner whatsoever? What are you trying to say? If you don't have any kind of constructive thing to say (agreeing with Dr. Sanghi or otherwise), please do not post anything and derail others from discussing and deliberating on issues which are of a concern to them.

amit said...

I am a student of IIITD. I follow your Facebook posts regularly and they influence my thought process positively. I often make my friends read them.

This particular answer struck chord with me as I found it amusing how my friends and cousins made career choices. I can't understand rationale in xyz doesn't have scope. I believe if you have talent there's scope for you.

One of my cousin got job right away after ABC degree now 4 others have enrolled for it.

Influence of parents isn't limited to college. Their source of knowledge is limited to newspaper and hearsay. They don't know current job market, difference in product and service company yet make placement decision.

I know parents have our best interest in mind and they just want us not to struggle but even if we fail we will learn, it can't be end of world.

Anxious Parent said...

Which program to choose IIITH CSE or IITH ES-CSE dual major?

My son got provisional admission into IIITH CSE and IITH ES. His goal is to go to US for MS in CSE. IITH offers top ES students to move to CSE in their 3rd and 4th years. For the sake of this discussion the assumption is my son moves to CSE in his 3rd year. I am confused which program to recommend to my son, and appreciate your inputs. Relatives and neighbours want my son to go to IITH ES (this is actually a dual major of ES and CSE) and keep talking about the brand value opening doors in future. They suggest to take summer courses in the first and second year to bridge the gap with CSE students. My son wants to be the best he can in CSE field, and he is inclined towards IIITH CSE program. He likes to compete and believes he will be in a catch-up and defensive mode by taking IITH ES and then transitioning to ES-CSE dual major. IITH ES-CSE dual mjor feels like a band-aid approach of reaching his goals, and IIITH CSE feels like a straight forward and thorough approach? The goal I suppose is to have a best CSE graduate at the end of 4 years (obviously we will leave to educators to define 'best'). Truly appreciate if you can please post your inputs on which under graduate program to take -- IIITH CSE or IITH ES-CSE dual major?

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Anxious Parent, choosing between two great institutions is always going to be tricky. I have tried to go through the ES website, and haven't quite understood how much content one can really cover in the area of specialization in the last 2 years. It is not a dual major, but an ES degree with a specialization in CS (or any other discipline). It seems like a very interesting program for someone who is not decided yet on his/her interest. Have an exposure to all engineering disciplines for 2 years and then decide what to do. But I am not sure of its value if you have already decided what discipline you want to study. Or look at it this way. If you had a JEE rank that could get you CS in IIT-H, would you still be considering IIT-H ES. From your description of your interest, my guess is that that wouldn't have happened.

Also, the website says that only 20% of the batch can choose a specialization. In a very small group, it is difficult to predict whether you will be in top few or not. So there is a risk. And frankly, the advantage of IIT education would be in broad based exposure, lots of facilities for pursuing any interest, etc., it will not necessarily be in the CSE domain itself. So if you want to give higher weight to CSE education and somewhat less weight to all other advantages of an IIT education, then I would tend towards IIIT-H.

But take my views as just another input, and it should really be your decision.

Anxious Parent said...

Thanks much Dr. Sanghi, you are just AWESOME !! We truly appreciate your feedback, and immense contribution to the society at large.

Anxious Parent said...

Thanks much Dr. Sanghi for your earlier response. I truly appreciate it.

I I forgot to mention one important point in my earlier question. IITH Engineering Science (ES) is a multi-disciplinary virtual branch where student take courses from all branches including CSE. It is different thing for different students, and an interesting concept. The CSE part of the *tentative* course structure for ES for first 4 semesters looks as follows (semester credit hours are listed in parenthesis, they have fractal credits):

1st Semester: Intro to Programming (2h); Discrete Structures 1 (1h); free elective (1h)

2nd Semester: Intro to Data Structures (3h); free elective (1h)

Students also take relevant EE courses in the first two semesters, namely, Computer Organization (1h), Digital Systems Design (1h), and Embedded Programming (1h). They also take a related course called Digital Fabrication (2h).

3rd Semester: Data Structure (3h); free elective (1h)

4th Semester: Algorithms (3h); Compilers 1 (1h); free elective (1h)

By far the curriculum is somewhat similar for all branches in IITH for the first two semesters. Things change drastically from 3rd semester (2nd year) on wards.

Please see the following site for rest of my commentary as truncates inputs greater than 4,096 characters. Thank You.

So which is a better choice for 2016 hard working CSE aspirant and a future USA MS bound student, IIITH CSE or IITH ES-CSE? Thanks all, truly appreciate all your inputs.

deepanshu said...


My jee advanced rank is 19913,my jee mains rank is 66000 and i have got 281 marks in bitsat.
Please suggest me sir,a good college for cse

Unknown said...

My daughter has got admission in BITS Hyderabad for MSC Maths and CS at LNMIIT. She wants to pursue CS. She is confused either to go with Maths at Bits and next year take CS as dual or take CS at LNMIIT Jaipur. Your guidance will help in taking the decision

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

What is the probability of getting CS as the second degree next year.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Dilip, Why would you want to take that chance.

Unknown said...

Sir sorry by mistake I had written 20-25 % actually it is 75-80 % chance

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

I think BITS would be better.