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Monday, July 23, 2018

Tyranny of the last year's closing ranks

Finally, the IIT admissions are over. For the entire month of June, we had thousands of parents and students asking a million questions about various institutes and programs, how good they are, how good is the placement, what is the scope of these programs, and so on. After a massive amount of research, most parents have come to the conclusion that parents in the previous year were very intelligent, they had done all the due diligence, and therefore, it is best to create an option list in the same order as the last year's closing ranks. Of course, there are exceptions, and hence you would see that the order in which various programs close this year is slightly different compared with the order in which programs closed last year.

If we look at IIT Kanpur (and for illustration purposes, let us just look at unreserved seats and their closing ranks), last year (2017) its programs closed in the following order:

Computer Science (CSE), Electrical (EE), Maths and Computing (MTH), Mechanical (ME), Chemical (CHE), Economics (ECO), Aerospace (AE), Civil (CE), Physics (PHY), Material Science (MSE), Bio Sciences and Bio Engg. (BSBE), Chemistry (CHM) and Earth Science (ES).

The 2018 ordering of the programs in terms of their closing ranks is: CSE, EE, MTH, ME, ECO, CHE, AE, PHY, CE, MSE, BSBE, CHM, and ES.

If you notice Economics and Chemical Engineering have exchanged places and so have Physics and Civil Engineering. These are minor changes as the closing ranks for both Economics and Chemical Engineering were very similar both last year and this year. It is just a matter of a couple of students preferring one over the other. The same is true for the closing ranks of Physics and Civil Engineering.

What is rather interesting is that while those who got a rank in JEE 2018 were thinking of the order in which they should write their options, those who got a rank in JEE 2017 were also doing exactly the same. IIT Kanpur has one of the most liberal policy on change of under-graduate program, which is based on the first year's performance. At the end of first year, students apply for change and can give options in the order of preference.

The order in which 2017 rankers gave options for various programs at IITK in 2018 is: CSE, EE, ECO, MTH, ME, CHE, AE, CE, PHY, MSE, BSBE, ES, and CHM.

There are minor changes in the two list: Civil and Physics have exchanged places, and also Chemistry and Earth Science have exchanged places. But the big story is about Economics. Not a single Economics student has applied for change to another program and only students with a CPI of 9.0 (out of 10) have been able to get Economics. If we look closely, 2018 students have considered Economics, Chemical and Aerospace very similarly, with closing ranks of 2718, 3171, and 3174. But the 2017 students' preference for these three programs is vastly different with transfer closing at a CPI of 9.0 for Economics, 8.4 for Chemical and only 7.7 for Aerospace (with Mechanical in-between at 8.8).

Also, while the 2018 closing ranks for Physics, Material Science, BSBE, and Earth Science are vastly different at 3586, 4549, 5537 and 8104 respectively, they are almost same for 2017 batch. Indeed, any student from any of these four programs could have taken a transfer (and can still take) to any other program within this group.

Also note that students who have finished their first year in IIT are the most active responders on social media regarding counseling information. So what they are thinking in terms of which program is better, they are saying it loud and clear to everyone else. So what is happening. Why is there substantial difference in the two batches.

My hunch is that 2017 batch students are more independent of their parents, while 2018 batch students are very much dependent on their parents for the decision. And hence, when they realize that the perception of placement is very different from reality of placement, they can take action based on this new information. Also, some of them become confident of doing what they like.

The parents are more likely to be affected by the tyranny of the closing ranks.You may write whatever you wish in your blogs, FaceBook, quora answers, websites, but all that will convert the thinking of only a small number of people. As I had mentioned in another blog a couple of months ago, many institutes don't do any "marketing" because they realize that in the short term, it won't work. But, of course, they are wrong. A small impact every year will result in major change over a decade. And that is why it is important to keep giving the right information to all potential students and their parents every year.

Note on Program Change at IITK: This year we have allowed change of program to 87 students in a batch of 821 students. Also, we allow program changes even after 3rd and 4th semester. I am quite sure that at least 25-30 students will get their programs changed in the next two semesters. This means that almost 15 percent of the batch would have their programs changed. That is a very large number.

Since there is a request to make public more details of program change at IITK, here is the article on this.


Unknown said...

I am assuming that economics had the required branch strength to allow branch change. In our times Aerospace used to have maximum applicants but minimun transfers due to low branch strength

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Ubika, We now allow the final strength of the program to be 2 higher than what was decided at the JEE admission time. So every program has a minimum of 2 vacancies.

Unknown said...

Sir, is reservation policy to be enforced even after branch change?

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Vineet Garg, Once a student is admitted to IITK, we don't have any distinction in any policy/rule based on caste.

Sanket said...

Sir, I have heard that in MIT students select their branch only after the 1st year. Can such a policy be implemented in the IITs? What are some of the drawbacks in implementing this policy?

Unknown said...

Sir, I am not sure if this question is relevant for this forum, still I am posting it here seeking your valuable guidance: BS students are eligible for INSPIRE scholarship (under few conditions). However INSPIRE scholarship is not awarded to the B.Tech. students. If BS students get the scholarship for the first year, will they be eligible to change the branch to B.Tech. after first year in IITK? If the branch changes, will they have to return the scholarship amount?

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Sanket, most US universities would give you flexibility in changing your major during your course of study. There may be some restrictions on some of the most popular programs, but by and large, one can study what one wants. I tried doing that in LNMIIT, when I was Director there. The problem in India is that faculty members have no interest in attracting students to their discipline. In the absence of any passion shown by faculty for their disciplines, students and parents get into a herd mentality. Everyone wants to do just a small set of disciplines. And that becomes difficult to handle. You will have to do things like the department budgets be affected by smaller enrollment to push faculty members to be more proactive in recruiting students. On the other hand, faculty members teaching larger classes should have some incentives to do so, again not very easy to do in a government setup.

Also, if we were to ask everyone to choose program after one year, and we are the only institute doing so, then most students will prefer places which are guaranteeing a "good" discipline now.

So we need to have something in-between, which is essentially a liberal program change scheme. People like me will keep fighting for allowing changes after 1-2 years more liberally than what is done today.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Vineet, BS students are eligible for change of program. If you have signed an agreement with an external agency (like DST in this case), that is between you and them. If they say you have to return the money, you deal with that directly.

Saswata said...
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