How to Chose An Engineering College

(Last update: Apr, 2011)

Since I write about IITs and JEE Counseling on my website as well as my blog, a lot of people assume that I would have opinions on engineering colleges as well. Since I get so many emails, I once decided to write about how all of you could yourself decide which institute would provide quality education to you. I try to update this document once a year, but there is not much in this document which gets dated.

I cannot claim to have known a lot of colleges. I travel a lot, and must have visited more than 100 colleges all across country during my career so far, talked to thousands of students, and I can claim to have some understanding of the higher technical education in the country. However, all these visits and browsing the website cannot really tell you everything about any particular college. So I am going to do two things here.

One, I have prepared a small list of colleges, who have made a significant positive impression on me. This may be due to my visits to that college, or my interactions with faculty or students there, or sometimes just visiting the website of that college. So, if a particular college is not listed, it is most likely because I don't know enough about them, and not because I don't consider them as a good college. Also, please note that I do not claim to know anything about programs other than Computer Science. When I visit a college, it is usually only the CS (or related) department. And, if I visit their website, it is usually the CS department website. So, when I recommend a college, I am really recommending it for CS and related areas only.

Here is the list of Recommended Colleges (for CS/IT only)

Two, I am writing below how one should go about ranking them oneself. If I had infinite time, I would have followed this approach myself to rank these colleges. In my opinion, the ranking should depend on the factors that I list below. You should check whether the department has a website or not. If the department does not have a website, or does not provide all the information on the website, then don't rank it very high. The assumption here is that in today's age, if a department in CS/IT area does not provide information for potential students, then it can only be because they don't have any meaningful information to provide. Besides, a lot of information that I ask you to check is mandatory information as per AICTE guidelines.

If you go through the following details, you are bound to find it a very time consuming process. (You will be right, and that is exactly the reason I am giving the process, and not doing the exercise myself.) But choosing a college will have a huge impact on your future, and you should be willing to spend a lot of time in doing this exercise. Of course, you always have an option of looking at the last year's closing ranks in all the exams like AIEEE and use that as the basis of making your choices. But then you didn't need to read even this much.

Before I talk about what are the important criteria for selecting college, let me add that the eventual goal is to do well in career, and be happy in life. Success in career depends on a lot of factor: your passion and interest in the area you are working in, your preparedness (this is where education comes in), your ability to keep learning lifelong (this is why good faculty is absolutely important - to not just teach you some technical stuff, but tell you how to learn yourself), your network of friends (this is where brand name of college will help), and a huge amount of luck.

In today's society, almost all students and parents take the value of the first paycheck as the only measure of success. So, if you visit the forums where students discuss which college to join, the most important questions are: how is the placement, how many companie came, what was the highest salary offered, and so on. People don't want to know whether students of that college are going for higher studies, to just give an example.

Even if money is important to you, shouldn't the career earnings be more important that the first paycheck. The career earnings will depend on a whole lot of factors, but two factors will depend on the institute that you select. One, how good is your understanding of the discipline. Not just how good you are as a programmer, but do you have a feel for data structures and algorithms. Do you think algorithmically. Do you understand the functioning of operating systems, compilers, database management systems, etc. (I am giving examples from Computer Science, since I am more familiar with this part of IT.) The second factor is whether you are excited about learning all the new stuff that you will come across during your career.

A whole lot of colleges will prepare you for the first job. They will teach you less basics but more of technology. They will focus on preparing you for the interview for the first job, including teaching you how to dress up for the occasion. They will also have a suave placement incharge who can charm all companies to come to campus for placement interviews. He will also be smart enough to give out doctored placement statistics to lure fresh students to his/her institute. And sadly, most parents and students will join such places.

So, if you consider money to be important, you should be joining an institute whose alumni are earning a lot more after 5-10 years (and later) into the industry, and not those where an odd graduating student is earning a lot more in the first one month after the graduation. And there are many good institutes whose alumni are doing very well or are likely to do very well (in case of relatively new institutes), but there immediate placement record may not be that great.

But in the absence of any scientific survey of alumni with 5-10 years of experience, how do you know which institutes are likely to give you that push. Well, as I said above. You need two things: good quality education, and developing an interest for life long learning. Both these will depend primarily on the quality of faculty. And the latter (interest in life long learning) can be guessed by the number of students who are going for higher technical education, be is MS or MTech or PhD. So check for two primary pieces of information: quality of faculty, and percentage of students going for higher technical education.

When I look at the lists prepared by students of the order in which they will seek admission, I am sometimes shocked. I visit the website of the two colleges, and at the outset it is absolutely clear as to where the faculty is far superior in every respect, and one still goes for the other place because the closing rank last year was better, or because someone said that a company offered a huge amount of salary to one student.

Some people talk about brand names. The big universities spend a huge amount of money on advertising, and that obviously creates a brand recall. (Today, education sector has one of the largest budget for marketing in India.) In this game, the small universities are ignored by students and parents. But a lot of small universities provide excellent education. The brand name also means that corporate HR guys have heard the names, and they too come to those campuses. But as I said above, campus placement should be only one of the many criteria for deciding the college. The main criteria has to be quality of education, which primarily depends on the quality of faculty.

Another bias that I notice on these forums is that government colleges are better than private colleges. I can understand (and myself advocate to an extent) joining an IIT even if the faculty size is very small, compared to a non-IIT with good faculty, because the brand value is just too high, and that does help in one's career, but I notice that the closing ranks in some of the NITs, IIITs, etc., are very good, even though few private places (like BITS, IIITH, DA-IICT, and LNMIIT - the last one isn't exactly private but a partnership between Rajasthan Government and Mr. Lakshmi Mittal) may have superior faculty. Some NITs are excellent, no doubt. But many of them really suffer badly from lack of faculty.

Enough ramblings. Now the parameters:

If you feel that the information provided on the college website is incomplete, or you think that there might be exaggerations, you should send emails to some faculty members and students. Hopefully, the website would have email addresses of faculty, and at least some students (like those who organize events, etc.).

If you have any comments, you can send me email at: sanghi[AT]