Visit a few IITs within the next 10 days.If you can afford it, that is. Today itself, you should shortlist your options to a few IITs. This shouldn't really be difficult, at least for men, since they know their rank and last year's closing ranks. While the closing ranks will change from year to year, they will not change drastically in most cases (but be aware that they can change and fill up choices accordingly). So start with programs which closed just ahead of your rank and take the next 20 programs in the order of closing ranks. Despite whatever I or anyone else is going to tell you, the bottomline is that you are likely to consider these 20 programs more seriously than anything else. If there are some programs in this list, which you will certainly not join, remove that. If you indeed have a strong preference for any other program, since you have read about it somewhere, or someone has encouraged you to consider this, add that too to your list of serious programs. In this list, all the programs may belong to 5-10 IITs. Some IITs may be too far to travel or there may be logistics issues (no reservation in trains, flights too expensive). Don't travel to them (but read about them as much as possible, connect to them and ask if there is anyone in your city who can answer your questions). But whichever IIT you can travel, do that immediately.
Almost all IITs have people willing to talk to potential students and parents and even show them around if they come to campus. Many IITs are doing open houses, specific event to answer queries of students/parents together. All this information should be there on their website. If an IIT does not have any link for potential student, seriously consider removing all their programs from your list. If they don't care to attract students, they are not likely to treat you well for four years. (Treat you well, not in terms of physical assault, I can assure you, but in terms of flexibility in curriculum, rules of the hostels, and so on.) If they do have contact persons mentioned on the website, write to them your program, which department you would like to visit, and what you would like to do. When you go to the IIT, visit the hostel where you may be staying in the first year, talk to students, preferably more than one from different years and preferably at least one from the programs you are considering, talk to at least one faculty in each program that you are considering. This can give you huge insights into the IIT that you would not get through second hand accounts on quora.
I am emphasizing it this year because last year my daughter was in the same situation. We decided that we will go to all those colleges which were the top choices of my daughter. About one week of India tour, and this gave us so much greater insight and comparative information from our perspective that we could not have got by reading all about them. What is the importance of flexibility in curriculum. What kind of freedom you would enjoy in the hostels. What is the quality of infrastructure on campus, particularly your likely hostel. You would assume that these are minor questions compared to what kind of placement a program has. But if you visit a few IITs, you would know why they are very important questions. And even as far as placement is concerned, you would get a better perspective on that by personally visiting the place.
Previous blogs:The following older blogs by me will help as well.
A Guide to JEE Counseling 2015
A Non-Guide to JEE Counseling 2016
What would I do if I had JEE Rank 1 (2017)
A blog by Prashant Bhattacharji on Computer Science options is an excellent read too.
Conflicts of Interest Disclosures:I am an alum of IIT Kanpur and a Professor of IIT Kanpur and hence would have a natural interest in promoting IIT Kanpur.
I have been a Guest Professor of IIT Gandhinagar (similar to adjunct faculty elsewhere) and I visit them very frequently (more than 50 visits so far, many of them paid for by them). And I am mighty impressed by them.
There is very little ongoing relationship with any other IIT. But in the past, I have taught at IIT Bombay, I have had research collaboration and joint papers with IIT Delhi faculty. I have co-guided students with Directors of IIT Roorkee, IIT Bhilai and IIT Jammu, with many joint publications. And in general, I have friends in most IITs. I doubt if any of this has affected my views, but it is for the reader to take any bias into account. In any case, take all my views as just another input to your decision making process, and ensure that the final decision is yours alone. Don't blame me a few years later when things don't work out. (Though I won't mind an email of appreciation if things do work out as projected.)
Now back to questions.
Should we prefer a program or an IIT?It depends. Are you interested in a particular discipline or may be two disciplines. If yes, go for those disciplines. If there is no specific discipline interest, then choose an IIT. For example, people around a rank of 100 ask me whether they should prefer CS at IITD, or EE at IITB. I don't want to answer this directly (since I don't want to be held responsible for any of your decisions). So I ask the student to tell me what s/he would have done if the rank was 1 and not 100. Of course, they would have chosen IITB/CSE. I ask them to reflect on why they would have chosen IITB/CSE without any doubt. Is it because they have heard IITB is a great place, IITB has Mood Indigo, IITB has maximum number of companies coming up for placement and other stuff like that, then they should choose IITB/EE over IITD/CSE. On the other hand, if they want to join that since it is the most prestigious program (based on last year's closing ranks), most toppers choose this, etc., then look at which program has the second best closing rank. If they say, they want to study CSE and within CSE departments, they feel IITB is the best, then I say, choose IITD/CSE. Most students have a clear idea of what should be the order of choice for the first few programs, but when they come to those programs which they are more likely to get admitted to, they are confused. The only thing you need to do is to think about why you were sure of the ordering of top choices. That will tell you what to do next, if you are honest with yourself.
IITs versus other institutions (both abroad and at home)!Abroad: In the past I have been reluctant to recommend that after a good JEE rank, you consider a university abroad, mainly on account of cost-benefit ratio and culture shock to an 18-year old. While the issue of affordability and cultural differences remain, I am increasingly getting convinced that cost-benefit ratio is in favor of top universities of the world. The flexibility that you have in good universities of changing your major, of combining two very diverse set of majors, broad based education, number of projects and the quality of projects, emphasis on other attributes like team work, a greater emphasis on ethics and professionalism, there is a big difference between IITs and the top universities in the world. So, if you can afford it, and you are confident of handling cultural differences, consider those options seriously.
Science (IISc/IISERs): In the past, I have suggested that if you are interested in science, consider IISc seriously, and then IISERs. But I am going to change that order. IISERs are more tuned to working with under-graduate students and that makes a big difference.
Non-STEM universities: I did mention Ashoka university in one of the blogs earlier. Computer Science without a broader education in areas like Maths, Design, and Social Sciences is incomplete. IITs will certainly give you enough and more Maths, but only a sprinkling of social science (and that too sometimes courses only meant to complete the requirements on a transcript). CS at a place like Ashoka is an option worth considering, even though they haven't been able to build a strong CS department yet. And I think it is definitely worth considering a non-STEM education in entirety, if engineering (or IIT) is only a way to success in career and not a passion. I had visited other places like FLAME (Pune), and Premji University last year and was suitably impressed by what they are offering. Also the five year integrated program at IIM Indore is a great option to explore, particularly for those who are keen on management as a career.
NITs/IIITs: In the past, my stand has been that if you are passionate about a discipline which is not available in IITs, take it up in the next best institute. I am going to change that stand a little bit. Take it up in the next best institute, only if that place is really good. Otherwise, take up something closer in an IIT. For Computer Science for example, I will strongly recommend IIITs at Hyderabad and Delhi. They have disadvantage of small campus with less diversity, but CS is great. So, after the old 5 IITs, may be you want to consider them seriously. And particularly at IIIT Delhi, there are so many interesting combinations which are likely to be so important in future. Think about them seriously. For most engineering disciplines, BITS Pilani is a good option. But I would be reluctant to recommend NITs even for lower ranked students who are not getting their top choices in IITs. What has changed in recent times is the ability to study on one's own through online courses. So if you can't get your favorite discipline in IITs or any really good university, take up something else (hopefully with some overlap) and study some basic subjects online, give GATE/GRE and go for MS/MTech in your favorite discipline after a quality education at the under-graduate level.
Comparison within IITs:In earlier years, I had suggested a small difference between the old IITs with IITB as my favorite, then IITD and IITK, and finally IITKGP and IITM. But the difference was always small. Last year, I had suggested that perhaps IIT Gandhinagar would be my top favorite. This year, I would like to suggest that there is not much difference between these six IITs. IITB has had a good fortune of having a series of good leadership. But that leadership deficit in other IITs has reduced with Directors of all these institutes doing quite well in the last few years (and we have a new Director at IITK, who happens to be from IITB).
People have asked me about IITH as that seems to be the favorite (along with Gandhinagar) among the new IITs. Unfortunately, I have never visited them. I am aware of some very interesting curriculum innovations that are taking place there, and I have a lot of respect for its Director. But without seeing things on the ground, I wouldn't put them in the same group. (But knowing the reason for not putting them in the same group, you could appropriately handle information about them.)
I would put the other older IITs next. These include IIT Roorkee, IIT BHU, and IIT Guwahaty. Then the remaining so-called 2nd generation IITs. And finally, the so-called 3rd generation IITs. I have no idea where to place IIT (ISM). I think it is a very unique institute with some very strong departments, but at the same time some rather ordinary departments. So, difficult to put it in a group.
Of course, any ordering is simplifying things a lot (and that has been my problem with NIRF or any other ranking). What may be right for me, may not be right for you. So do your own research. Decide factors that you would like to base your decision on, and then decide what should be the ranking of different IITs. The above grouping should be used only if you are totally clueless about what you want and like.
Metro versus non-Metro IIT: This is a non-question, only asked by students who have already decided to stay in IITD or IITB, and are looking for confirmation of their bias. If the answer is "Metro" would you prefer IIT Madras over IIT Kanpur. Would you prefer IIT Hyderabad over IIT Kanpur. If the answer to these questions is a No, then Metro is hardly a factor in your mind and you are only using this to convince your mind that you should be studying at IITB or IITD. I, of course, run a lonely battle over social media trying to convince everyone that location is immaterial in today's world, even less so for an undergraduate student.
Which discipline to prefer?Assuming that you have no keen interest in any discipline since if you do have some interest, follow that interest.
First of all, all disciplines can lead to a great career, or could lead to a poor career. That in the previous years, students from certain disciplines had received a higher average "package" in the campus placement, is no proof or even an indication that people choosing that discipline to study today will be earning the maximum 50 years from now. In fact, people earning the maximum 50 years from now will be those who learn just one skill, how to keep learning throughout your life. The best jobs today couldn't be predicted 20 years ago, and we can't predict today the best jobs of 20 years from now, let alone 50 years. So, don't even attempt to find out placement statistics, since they will strongly influence your choice, whether you want it or not.
Second, if you are sure that you don't want to follow a science or engineering career, take up a discipline which is least competitive in the IIT of your choice. Of course, avoid disciplines that you would hate. And perhaps, choose an IIT which is less competitive. (By less competitive, I mean programs where lower ranked students are more likely to join.) Take part in extra-curricular activities. Enjoy your stay. Take advantage of huge learning opportunities outside the classroom. Make friends. This network will help you a lot in future.
Third, if you are not sure of what discipline to prefer, join an IIT with a lot more flexibility in curriculum in terms of ability to do second major, ability to do minor programs, etc. So, if after a semester or two, you want to study different things, there is a greater likelihood of your being able to do. Do not depend on branch change. Very few students will be able to do that in any IIT. I would not be able to tell you which IIT is more flexible than the other. But the Counselling brochure will have some information about them - the rules for branch change and existence of second major/minor, etc. Talk to people in those IITs to get more details. A bit of research now will help you a great deal. And as I suggested above, visiting the IIT before freezing the choice list will be the best way to get a feel for such issues.
Fourth, if nothing else works for you, but you do want to choose a discipline and not an IIT first, choose Computer Science or a related discipline (like Maths and Computing). May be, it is my bias since I am in Computer Science department, but it seems to me that the skills we help you build are useful in all other disciplines today. But this is also the most sought after discipline. So this may mean that you end up with an IIT which does not have its own campus right now.
Programs (4/5 year, BS/BTech, etc.):
Single degree versus Dual degree: I used to be a strong supporter of dual-degree programs. I am no longer sure about that stance. I have started to think that to force a student to make a choice of discipline of an under-graduate program is bad enough but to force him/her to make a choice of discipline for a graduate program when s/he hardly knows about anything is not good. Even earlier, I discouraged students from joining programs which are very narrow (so you decide not just a broad discipline for MTech, but a narrow sub-discipline for MTech). But now, I think, unless you are very sure about your interests and passion, avoid dual-degree programs.
Does Nomenclature matter? BS/MSc/BTech for Maths and Computing, for example: There are similar programs in different IITs with vastly different nomenclature for the degree given at the end. Maths and Computing combination is perhaps the most significant example of this. The nomenclature makes no difference to private sector. (Don't sue me if tomorrow if you find one company that prefers some nomenclature. I would advise you to avoid that company anyway.) Similarly, it is very unlikely that any quality educational institute will worry about the nomenclature (they may bother about whether you have a 4-year bachelors or a 5-year masters). But government entities and those regulated by government entities will worry about the nomenclature. If there is a job opening for BTech in Computer Science, they would be very reluctant to accept someone who has a BS in Maths and Computing even though the latter may satisfy all requirements what the skills and knowledge that one should have for the job. Similarly, if AICTE allows an MTech to teach, they may not allow an MSc in the same discipline with same number of years to teach. But most IIT graduates do not consider technical jobs in the government anyway. So in general, you can ignore the nomenclature issues.
Should you drop a year and try again?
The answer is an unequivocal no, unless you can identify a specific reason for your poor performance that is unlikely to repeat next year, something like an illness during the exam. Just saying that I couldn't prepare along with 12th, and now that I will be preparing exclusively for IIT, will be able to do better, does not work.
I am sure you have asked people on social media this question, and you have heard from lots of people that dropping a year helps. But remember, that answer is there because anyone who has improved his/her performance wants to tell the world how smart their decision was. And anyone who has not improved his/her performance would not want to tell the world how unhappy they feel at having wasted a year for no gains. So you are hearing from a small set of students, and you are not hearing from a representative set of students.
Studying in the drop year is not easy. All your friends are gone. You don't feel like socializing with anyone, and your motivation levels are generally low because you thinking about your poor performance of the last year. Of course, some overcome all this, and perform well, and they are the ones who are telling everyone how great their decision was to drop a year. At the beginning of the year, it is very attractive to think that I too will be like these super-motivated folks, and if you indeed can work like them, you too will be rewarded. But most people lose their motivation during the year and even perform poorly in the second attempt.
Impact of Women Reservation
Difficult to predict as this is the first year of reservation. But I would guess that the closing ranks of all programs except the top few most popular programs will slide as the women candidates take up the reserved seats in the more popular programs. I would also expect the closing ranks to slide a bit because every year a few more students are taking up options outside the IIT system (including universities abroad, or places like IIIT Hyderabad/Delhi, BITS, Ashoka, etc.) But let it not be a factor in your choice. Fill up as many options as you would not mind studying. Don't save on typing. But do not fill up any option that you will regret studying later on.
This is the end for now. I may add more information, if there are questions that I have not addressed. Please feel free to send me an email at sanghi on gmail.com.