I remember my neighbor telling me about “booking a seat” for her son in an Engineering college. While it does sound a bit curious to describe it so, I think it captures the reality in the best possible way!
For the past one month we have had the feeling of waiting at a railway/bus station for this train/ bus called “college education” to stop by into which our daughter could be accommodated.
Just as one experiences the impact of our huge population while trying to get into a train similarly does one also feel the numbers while trying to apply to a college for admission.
But unlike the train or bus situation where ability to get in depends on whether you can buy the ticket or push yourselves into an unreserved coach, in this case it is a bit more complicated.
For starters there is the question of academic merit. With school education in India being governed by various state , central and other boards it becomes very subjective. The engineering, medical and law schools conduct their own set of common entrance tests based on which decision regarding admissions are made.
However when it comes to “non professional” courses like a general Bachelor’s degree in Arts ,Commerce or Science the question of establishing “academic merit” becomes highly subjective. Given the quality of education across the various states and the curriculum across various educational boards, it is difficult to compare based on the scores a students might have got in their XIIth standard exam. However it is this system of comparing apples and oranges that one has to deal with if one wants to get into a college in India. Though some of the private universities have established their own entrance test systems for even these “non technical” or “non professional” courses, in general the apple and orange system is the one that prevails! And god forbid if you are a mango or an apple in orange land !! You will not even be acknowledged as a fruit!
But college education today is not an aspiration. It is a basic requirement. So we decided to apply in colleges within and outside the city of Chennai (where we live) in order to improve our strike rate in terms of securing admission . Each city college I must say brings its own unique set of challenges.
Chennai colleges on the face of it appear to be “High tech” - except that the technology sucks at the back end! As a person who has spent two decades working on social research I must say that I shudder when I see the type of questions and the length of the application form. One of the things that we learn in designing questionnaires is that one has to be keep it simple and short. But obviously the persons who have designed the Chennai college forms have not heard about that! There are questions about blood group, parent’s income ( which incidentally is an open ended question and not a multiple choice close ended one), caste, religion etc. You wonder how they are going to sort through these long questions and arrive at a “short list”!!! But you tell yourself that it is not your concern and apply anyway ( clicking options that you only hope are what you think they are). As you get ready to pay for the application on the online application portal– you are flummoxed when you find that some of the payment gateways do not seem to open for many types of credit cards. Our experience in application tells us that IOB payment gateways pose the maximum problem on that score.
Anyway, once you have somehow managed to make the payment, some colleges expect you to take a print out of the application form and post it to them!!! “Why is it then called online application?” asks the prospective student! There is one college in Chennai that expects you to take a Demand Draft from a bank, enter the details, submit online and post the acknowledgement slip along with the DD to them!
Coming to Bombay University colleges- the first thing that my daughter and I realized is that we both needed to have a middle name. While she does fulfill this criterion, there is a hitch- her middle name is not her father’s first name! I on the other hand do not have a middle name and my surname is different from that of my husband’s!! But despite these challenges around nomenclature, we managed to have it submitted online. A very good friend helped us get an application form from an affiliated college of our choice using the acknowledgement slip of the submitted online application.
Moving on now to the Sultanate of “Cutoffs” – The Delhi University! The form was simpler and easy to submit. But we still do not know how we will go about applying to the individual colleges affiliated to it. So we went ahead and applied to two minority institutions affiliated to the Delhi University that had their own system of application and screening. The forms were very easy to fill and for the first time I felt that one of those two college was actually trying to get relevant information and attempting to get to know the applicant better. I can now understand why it is considered to be one of the best colleges in this country! But when it came to payment we faced a similar hitch as in a Chennai college. The payment form was eerily similar to the other minority run institution in Chennai that we were struggling with online payment. I was by now sure the systems design had been outsourced to the same vendor. We made two attempts and it did not go through. However at the third attempt we managed to pay and obtain an acknowledgement.
Thankfully we did not have to experience Calcutta University. A friend tells me that obtaining an application form there is actually like boarding that crowded bus ( or a railway unreserved compartment) ! Having spent the first seventeen years of my life in the City of Joy I can completely believe that.
I am relieved now that we are past that application stage. She has made it to a good institution where she has been accepted after being tested using methodologies that were thorough and relevant to the course. The apple-orange-mango issues of the XIIth standard marks did not figure. The testing standards were objective and uniform. The communication from the institution was consistent and the technology options efficient. I am happy that besides the course work, efficiency is also a value system that this institution will inculcate in her.
There are times when I regret that we do not have another child. But this one time I am with my husband when he says “ Are you out of your mind? Imagine putting them through school and college”. I don’t think school was too much of a problem but I certainly do not think I can go about applying for college admission again!