By Sanjiv Kataria
It's April and time to celebrate for millions of young Indians (and South Asians) who have just finished their school-leaving class XII examination. The days that follow help unwind after months of exam preparation. The celebrations, however, are short-lived. The next many weeks and months get consumed preparing for admission tests for entry into a wide variety of disciplines.
It's a tough time for evaluating options that further their individual interest and making deliberate decisions that will determine what lies ahead of them for the rest of their lives.
For young Indians, betting their chances of making to any of the country's 40,000 colleges or a subject of their choice, the options are not easy. It is a pity that even though the number of colleges in India has tripled in the last 17 years, the shortage of seats in colleges drives students to choose programmes that do not necessarily fit their aptitude. The marks they get in their school-leaving examination conducted by the Central or the State Exam Boards or the International Baccalaureate will determine their choice of subjects.
Just like the students, it is a busy time for career counsellors invited by schools and colleges to advise students on great careers in demand, worthy institutions to study, best ways to get into a programme of their choice. Many go all the way in helping students choose between great destinations to study abroad. Should it be Singapore nearer home or one of the Ivy League institutions in the US? Or study in the UK or Australia? Guiding hundreds of students over the years lets them offer pros and cons of choosing between a full-fee programme in a university, say in a safe and student-friendly like Sydney, or a fully-paid scholarship in an unheard of university in an East European nation.
When I get pulled into advising young nephews and nieces based on anecdotal experience of helping our own young ones make their choices, I refer them to the career option books by widely travelled counsellors to help them choose between engineering and biotechnology, architecture and law, medicine and pharma, liberal arts, social sciences or business management, journalism and computer science. And the list goes on.
For tough situations like convincing friends to let their loved ones choose streams beyond medicine or engineering, I encourage them to go to a professional career counsellor and careers columnists like Pervin Malhotra, who guided our son and daughter many years ago. These counsellors put the children through an aptitude test, discuss their strengths and suggest a set of options over a series of sessions.
An opportunity to sit through a fireside chat between Indian school students and a Blair Slater, a career counsellor at Sydney-based University of New South Wales (UNSW) recently, was an eye opener. Blair, a former Hollywood star and now a full-time career counsellor for international students of over 100 nationalities, had an interesting take on careers.
He predicted that in the next 5 to 10 years, there will be plenty of jobs that don't even exist today. In an ever-evolving job market, his advice to students was to prepare for a career by following their passion, pursuing what's important to them while building a strong academic foundation. Problem solving and adaptability, Blair said, should be the key leitmotifs in their tool kit of skills that will help them shine in a world of fast-changing jobs.
Universities are using innovative social media like Facebook's live discussions with experts to reach wider audiences. A 'Study in America' Facebook session by the US embassy last month targeted at Indian school leaving students, helped demolish myths associated with admissions and job opportunities in America.
When looking for opportunities to study abroad, the students will do well to consider the QS ranking that ranks higher educational institutes globally. The reputed British agency compares top universities in the world based on six performance parameters across sectors like Research, Teaching, Employability and Internationalisation, and the institute's stature.
The best advice on making career choices comes from successful professionals in the field of a student's preferred choice. Insights from alumni shed light on the best practices followed by institutions, especially addressing their quest for knowledge, placement track record and reputation with employers.
Institutions in India and South Asia that will flourish in the future will adapt their curriculum to the needs of the fast changing world with speed, lay emphasis on original research to solve burning issues facing the world and single-minded focus on life-long employability of their alumni.
(The author is a New Delhi-based educator and strategic communications counsel. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)