Consider a course that suits you

informed choices

Consider a course that suits you

When I was completing my school, our Scout Master had once asked everyone in class to think of the loftiest and highest long- term goal we can visualise. While most of my classmates could not come out with anything innovative, on an impulse I said, “I want to be the President of India, sir!” My classmates burst into laughter, but my teacher came up to me and actually congratulated me for aiming for the highest position.

Then he told me, and all others in class, “Have very lofty and idealistic long-term goals, but always back them with realistic and attainable short-term goals.” To prove the point, he encouraged and guided me over the next one year to become a ‘President’s Scout’, which is a unique honour for a school child.

When I became a President’s Scout at the age of 15, I gained confidence that some day I will attain my other dreams too. While I haven’t yet become the President of India, my journey in life has always been fulfilling and progressive. And this is what I exhort young people when they are selecting their career goals. Aim for the best, but be prepared for, if not the worst, but something that is acceptable.

I am very happy whenever a student says that he aims to get into Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). But what pains me is to see many students going through the grindstone, giving up all their other activities, with the dream of becoming an IITian. Of all the students who start off in high school with the IIT dream, less than 1% finally make it to the coveted institutes. But today, IIT does not remain a unique ivory tower. There are many other reputed institutions offering exciting courses in engineering, technology and a wide range of sciences and other related fields that can give as good an education as an IIT.

Choose your interests

It is far more important that the student set his goals regarding the career that he is going to pursue rather than the college he is going to study in. Studies will be over in 4-6 years, but the working life of an individual of the current generation will probably last 40-50 years or even more.  With healthcare and longevity improving rapidly, many youngsters will be actively working at the ripe age of 70 or even 80! It is absolutely essential that a student should choose a career where he not only has interest and talent, but which he will be able to enjoy and progress smoothly in.

Unlike earlier years, several careers have now become financially rewarding and stable. Excellent institutions have come up which are the ‘IITs’ of various fields like Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) and National Institute of Science Education and Research (NISER) for pure sciences, National Law Schools for legal studies, Indian/International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) for information technology, Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IISST) for space technology and Institute of Hotel Management (IHM) for hospitality among others.

A detailed introspection, preferably with some knowledgeable elder to help in the analysis, or an assessment by a psychologist, can help a student find out his or her aptitude based on his or her multiple intelligences, personality traits, commercial acumen, left and right-brain characteristics, social skills, attitude and aspirations. This can then be matched to interest – which also should be based on deep understanding and exploration not only about courses, but what life would be in that particular profession. With financially rewarding careers available in just about every field, a person who chooses for the right reason backed up by the necessary skills, can do as extremely well, including engineering.

Those who are absolutely keen on engineering can take solace from the fact that many colleges have built up infrastructure, reputation and academic standards that are competing with the IITs. To take a representative list, there are over 20 National Institutes of Technology (NITs), and institutes like BITS-Pilani, Vellore Institute of Technology, SRM University, Chennai, Amity Noida, Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI), Mumbai, Rashtreeya Vidyalaya College of Engineering (RVCE) and BVB College of Engineering and Technology in Karnataka that have made a name for themselves. And of course, since the time Satya Nadella became the CEO of Microsoft, people woke up to the fact that a student from a college in a remote area (Manipal Institute of Technology) can also compete globally.

Another career one can consider is the Military. Those who wish to get into Military Service through NDA face very heavy competition, and get extremely disappointed if they miss out. They can go ahead with their education, and get into Military Service (army, navy or air force) through university entry scheme, or graduate entry through Common Defence Services Exam (CDSE), or opt for Short Service Commission. Outstanding NCC cadets have a special entry, and so do people from legal, education, accounts fields. Challenging careers can also be pursued in various paramilitary forces like Border Security Force, Central Industrial Security Force, Central Reserve Police etc.

Civil Services

Another career that innumerable young people dream about is to get into the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) or Indian Police Service (IPS). The adventurous ones who wish to ‘wield the lathi’ and who have been watching with envy the power that the cops appear to have, get enamoured with Police Service, and similarly those who have watched the ‘red light’ cars of commissioners and directors would love to get into one of those VIP cars. Here, again, the fact remains that barely a couple of 100 candidates are chosen into the most in-demand services, which include Indian Foreign Service (IFS), IAS and IPS. And there are many who are striving relentlessly to make it to the coveted services, who appear for the exams year after year. What most people do not know is that there are equally good Class I Services of the Government where entry is not as highly competitive.

Science or Engineering students who love nature can aspire for IFS, those with financial bent of mind can get into a number of services such as Indian Audits & Accounts Service, Indian Revenue Service, Indian Defence Accounts Service, Indian Economic Service etc.  Equally fascinating are the different fields of Railways, Information, Defence Estates and Frontier Administrative Services.  At a slightly lower level the Staff Selection Commission recruits thousands of candidates for Class II government services, and with a good track record, they too can aspire for higher promotions.

There are many instances of lower level officials being conferred into IAS or IPS, non-commissioned military personnel becoming Commissioned Officers, and students who pursued their undergraduate degree from second level institutions finding seats in the top ones like IITs for postgraduate studies. One needs to have the resilience, rationality and balance to look at all the options and take whatever is the best available at that time. As many aspirants have noted with distress, rules and regulations regarding entrance exams keep changing at short notice, and one has to be prepared for any eventuality. A sudden change in the dates, methodology, marking system or number of seats can upset the dreams of even the most deserving student. Hence, one needs to prepare systematically on the fundamentals and then be open to accepting the best option that comes one’s way.

The bottom line is that one needs to be realistic in the highly competitive scenario of our country. With a large population, better educational opportunities even for deprived sections, higher aspirations of the lower and middle class, everyone wants to make it to the topmost institutions or services. Unfortunately, many of them spend huge sums of money, time and effort with coaching centres without any introspection of their chances. Those who focus on only one institution or service may have to face disappointment, and may even lose the motivation to then move into something that could be a good second option. Hence, having a Plan ‘B’ as an alternative career path, will ensure that the person can be successful.

(The author is chairman, Banjara Academy, Bengaluru)

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