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.).
- The most important component that goes into making
a good institution is a good faculty. So
when you visit the website of a department, look for
the following information:
- Number of full-time faculty members. Please make sure that
you read the details, and find out who is a full-time faculty
member, and who is a part-time or adjunct faculty member.
The important parameter is faculty to student ratio.
- Their qualificiations. How many are PhDs. Where did they do
their PhDs. Similarly, how many faculty members are having
MTech qualification. Where did they do their MTech.
- If a significant portion of faculty received their
highest degree (whether PhD, MTech, or BTech) from
the same college, then that should raise some alarms.
On the other hand, faculty members having a lower
degree from the same college, implies that they value
the place enough that they returned back to the same
place after getting a higher degree from elsewhere.
- If the highest qualification for any faculty member
is BTech or MCA, then be alarmed. Top places will only
higher PhDs. Good places may have some MTechs. But if
colleges are hiring BTechs and MCAs for teaching courses,
it means that they are not able to attract enough
good faculty, and that should be a cause for concern.
- What are faculty doing. Are they teaching three courses
a semester or two. Are they doing at least some bit of
- Research output of a department is another factor
to look at. This will also add to your judgment about the
quality of faculty. The better the faculty, the better
should be the research output. One might argue that research
is not that important for undergraduate education. Firstly,
I do not agree with that statement. Doing research keeps a
teacher uptodate on the area, and makes his/her understanding
of the subject better. This can only help the quality of
teaching. But more importantly, research flourishes when
there is an institutional support for it. If faculty
members are doing research, then it shows that the college
management is serious about the quality of education.
Research can be measured by the following parameters.
(You may need help from someone in the academic community
to really understand these parameters. Go ahead and ask
whoever you know.)
- Publication by faculty members. Higher preference
should be given to peer-reviewed journals and
conferences of high quality and reputation. Then
one should also look at local conferences. At least
someone is putting some effort in the right direction.
- Sponsored research projects by various funding
agencies like Department of Science and Technology
(DST), AICTE, Dept of Information Technology, etc.
- Any industry interaction in terms of research
projects or consultancy.
- Do they invite several researchers to give seminars.
- Do they organize workshops and conferences.
- Does college management have any scheme to reward good research.
- How is the Infrastructure at the college.
In CS/IT areas, what you really need is a bunch of PCs
with some standard softwares, something that increasingly
students are anyway affording on their own. But still
there are pieces of infrastructure that the college has
to provide. Also, how good is their support staff to
manage that infrastructure. Here is what you can check.
(For many of these things, website may not be good enough
source. You may need to ask a student there.)
- What is their Internet bandwidth. (Consider the
per capita bandwidth.)
- How good is the library both in terms of books as well
subscription to journals.
- How good are hostels. Do they have cooling (other than fans),
very important in most parts of the country.
- Do they have sports facilities on campus. (This
also reflects my bias that residential campuses
are generally better for quality of education
than campuses where students are day scholars.)
- Look at the Curriculum of the college. If the
college is a university or a deemed university, only then
it has the flexibility of deciding its own curriculum.
Otherwise, it has to follow what the university prescribes.
Some of the things to look for in the curriculum are:
- How many courses do they teach. Unlike the conventional
wisdom in India, I believe that the college that teaches you
less is a better college. It means that they do less spoon
feeding, and give you more space to grow and learn. If you
look at international examples, MIT and other top universities
have as low as 32 courses as the requirement for undergraduate
degree. The next level universities in US require upto 36
courses for the undergraduate program. In India, IITs and
the other top departments usually have 40-42 courses in the
undergraduate curriculum. Some of the deemed universities
require around 45 courses, and many of the technical
universities require even 60 courses in the undergraduate
curriculum. There are surely exceptions to this general
trend, but by and large colleges will try to teach you more,
if they know that they are doing a poor job of teaching,
and hope that if they try teaching you lots, then perhaps
in some courses they will be able to teach you something.
- How many electives are there in the curriculum, giving
flexibility to the students to learn what they are interested
in. Many colleges may have slots for electives, but they
treat that slot as their choice to offer a course. So they
won't offer three courses, and ask students to chose one.
But instead they will offer one course of their own choice
(basically for whatever course they can find a faculty).
Also, in most colleges, the curriculum will only contain
professional electives, but no open electives.
- Do they have enough number of humanities and social
science courses (at least 10 percent courses). One cannot
be a complete engineer without understanding economics,
sociology, psychology, etc.
- Another parameter in determining a good college is to
look at what happens to their students after they
graduate. After all, you want to study there because
you feel that the education will result in a good career
for you. But, the problem in this parameter is that you
really want to understand what happens to alumni after say,
5 years, when they have stabilized in the life. But getting
that data is extremely difficult. And second, there is a
danger that the college may have deteriorated in the last
few years. So, unfortunately, you will have to just see what
students are doing immediately after graduation. Because
of this, do not over-emphasize this parameter.
So look for the information on the following:
- How many people are going for higher studies, whether
in India or abroad, whether for doing MS/MTech or for
doing MBA. This is much more important than placement
statistics, since today, higher education is the key
to success. So, if a larger percentage of students
are going for higher education, it means that a larger
percentage of students are going to do well in their
respective careers a few years down the road. Also, as
far as higher education in technical field is concerned,
it is a reflection of how much passion for studies the
faculty has been able to imbibe amongst the students.
- Do look at the campus placement statistics, but take
everything with a pinch of salt. People lie so much, or do
not explain what they mean by the statistics that they share.
I have seen claims of more than 100 percent placement, for
example (which basically means that number of jobs is
more than number of students, but it does not tell you how
many students are still without a job). But some of the
things one could look at include:
- What all companies did they attract for campus
placement. Do they attract only those companies who
have local offices, or companies with no presence
in the local town also come to the college.
- What percentage of their students have at least one job offer.
- What is the median salary offer. (Maximum salaries
are attractive but very deceptive. Beware of colleges
which only talk about the highest salaries.)
- Do these students care about the college after they graduate.
In particular, does college have an associated Alumni
Association. Is there any interaction (not necessarily
donations, may be just visits) between alumni and the college.
- What do others say about this college.
- Have they been ranked by any major survey like India
Today, Data Quest, etc. Note that most of these surveys
are only about perceptions and not realities. And it is not
that easy to get all the comparable information any way.
So take the ranking information with a HUGE pinch of salt.
- Has the college gone through any formal accreditation
by AICTE (NBA) or NAAC, etc. If yes, what is the result.
- Is it a univeristy or deemed to be university.
- I wouldn't be swayed by the number of MoUs or exchange
programs that a college may have with so-called foreign
- On a couple of occasions above, I have referred to the
status of Deemed University. In my opinion, it is very
important to have a university status. With this status,
you can decide your own academic processes, including
curriculum, exams, grading, and even admissions, etc.
Invariably, colleges with this kind of autonomy
have much better quality of education than others.
There have been some recent concerns about deemed
universities based on report by one "Tandon Committee."
I would say that one shouldn't worry about this report,
certainly not about the universities in the list 'B'
(which have supposedly been given three years to rectify
some presumed weaknesses). I personally wouldn't bother
about list 'C' either.
If you have any comments,
you can send me email at: sanghi[AT]gmail.com