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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How to Choose An Engineering College (2015)

This is my second blog article on admissions related issues. I wrote one with exactly the same title long time ago in 2009. I then expanded upon it and wrote an improved version, but did not share it as a blog article. Instead it remained on my website. So it didn't reach as many people, since I notice that a lot of people still access my 2009 article. So here is the expanded version, largely same as what you would find on my website.

The reason I wrote this in 2009 and again in 2011 is rather simple. I get lots of emails on my views on different engineering colleges, and request to compare this with that. I am not in the habit of comparing things based on what I have read on social media or what I have heard on the corridors. And hence in most cases, I have to decline any comments. And I thought instead of just saying that I have no opinion, I could give them an algorithm to make some progress in coming to a decision. And hence this article.

First of all, which is a good college. Yes, I know. The highest package. Sorry, if you think so, and you are convinced about it, this article is a waste of time for you. Please stop reading. Go to any of the infinite sites where you can ask questions about packages and you will get answers that you can completely trust.

Let me suggest an alternative. It prepares you to achieve your goals. And, of course, your goal could be to be rich. But you don't become rich by having large paycheck in the first month. You become rich by having a long paying career. The first job is no guarantee of a successful career. And placement statistics anyway are most unreliable. So may be you should be looking at how alumni are doing 5-10 year hence rather than how final year students are doing. But then that statistics is even harder to get.

So let us look at factors that are most likely going to lead to a successful career. These factors are:
  • Your passion and interest in the area you are working in (that is why it is important that you don't choose CS or ECE just because everyone else is doing so, but think of what excites you)
  • Your preparedness as far as knowledge and skills are concerned (this is why the quality of education is so important)
  • 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 soft skills, attitude, ethics, etc. (this is best learnt at school, but a good college would improve upon this, particularly a residential campus where you learn many things from hostel activities)
  • Your network of friends (this is where a good college which attracts more good students will help), and
  • A huge amount of luck.
This article is not about choosing a branch, though I would like to add that if you do not have a particular interest in a discipline (and most 12th class students don't - it is ok), then prefer a good college over a popular discipline.

And this article is not about luck. I can just wish you all a huge amount of luck.

So let us focus on the other four factors.

The most important factor is the quality of faculty. It not only helps you in learning how to learn lifelong, but also ensures that you pick up adequate knowledge and skills from the program. How do we know which college has a better faculty than the other. Well, visit their website, and 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 qualifications. 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 publications.
Of course, people will argue how important it is to be a PhD to be a good teacher. And I have no doubt that there are some excellent teachers who are not PhDs, and there are some lousy teachers who are PhDs. However,  there is no doubt that places which have a lot of non-PhD teachers have them because they failed to attract PhD faculty, not because they just hired great teachers, and it so happened that many of them were MTechs. And if you look at the background of those MTechs, it is quite unlikely that you will find many of those MTechs from IITs, IISc, and other top institutions. And, in general, PhD from a good university would have a higher chance of being a good teacher than an MTech from a tier two college.

Another factor that gives an indication of the quality of faculty is the research output of the institution. I believe that there are good researchers who are not good teachers, and similarly, there are good teachers who are not good researcher. However, in general, faculty members who are actively pursuing some research interests would be current on the subject and would have a deeper understanding of the topics. 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.Unfortunately, there are enough journals today where one can publish by paying. There are also online sites where anyone can upload a paper. So it has become extremely difficult for anyone but a researcher in that area to figure out the quality of research by looking at the webpage.
  • Sponsored research projects by various funding agencies like Department of Science and Technology (DST), AICTE, Dept of Information Technology, etc. Normally, research projects are peer reviewed and thus presence of such projects indicate that peers think highly of them.
  • Any industry interaction in terms of research projects or consultancy. Working with industry requires confidence in one's abilities. Industry isn't in the business of charity. Also, industry interaction often would lead to good internships and employment opportunities for students.
  • Do they invite several researchers to give seminars. Do they organize workshops and conferences. This shows that the place is active and has energy. 
 Now, let us look at the second factor for a successful career. That is, level of preparedness or the knowledge and skills learned. This will, of course, depend on quality of faculty, which we have already discussed. But it requires a couple of other parameters as well. Most important of them is the curriculum. 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. 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.A good college may have 40-45 courses in the curriculum, while a poor quality college may have more than 50 courses.
  • 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.
A lot of learning happens outside the classroom, and hence a residential institute should be preferred over a place where all are day scholars. If there is a mixed system (that is, some live in hostel, and some are day scholars), it is still better than fully day scholar since even if there are some students on campus 24x7, it would have facilities that even day scholars can use when necessary. You won't have all labs close at 5 or 6pm. The library is likely to be open late. Indeed, one of the parameters to look at while understanding the quality of an institute is whether they allow access to their facilities for long hours, or are they only from 9 to 5 on weekdays.

Another important criteria is the autonomy of the institute. Can they decide their own curriculum. Typically, universities (including deemed-to-be-universities) can decide their own curriculum, and in general I would strongly recommend universities over affiliated colleges. Teaching someone else's curriculum is demotivating for teachers. If they do not have much stake in the curriculum, it would also invariably mean that exams are also conducted by someone else (by the universities, except for some "autonomous" colleges), and that means students don't care for the classes and teachers. This can not be conducive for lifelong learning, not even for immediate learning. But, of course, a vast majority of engineering education happens in such affiliated colleges, and most of it is poor quality. Of course, this is generalization, and certainly there are some affiliated colleges which are doing a decent job.

Fancy infrastructure is not something that impresses me, but yes, they should have all the necessary labs, good Internet bandwith, WiFi access so that you can use your own laptops and other devices anywhere, a good library with lots of reading spaces, lecture rooms without a projector is like living in dark ages, adequate sports facilities, etc. (Caution: Some of the engineering colleges would have all of this and more, but would not have faculty. Look at infrastructure only after you are convinced about the faculty and curriculum, etc.)

To ensure that your peer group is strong (since so much of learning will happen outside the class room, and your career will be helped by a good peer group), one may look at the closing ranks of the admission test (like JEE). The other possibilities are various rankings that you see in the media. Well, I would just ignore all the rankings. I have seen such stupidities in these rankings that I would not want them to influence your decision at all. But then there is a problem. How do you compare two institutes who take admission through two different criteria. Well, my advice, don't use this criteria in such cases. Of course, this criteria will also discriminate against some new institutes who may have suddenly become very good (like IIIT Delhi in comparison with other Delhi institutes), so take this with a pinch of salt.

Other things that you might want to look at:

  • Quality of the website. Do they give you all the information that you need to evaluate them. If they don't give some data, assume the worst. In this age, if they are not serious about even this level of publicity, how serious will they be about your education. How will they attract industry for placement and internships.
  • What fraction of graduates go for higher studies? This shows that they are not sick of their education. And also, the higher education is becoming increasingly important for success. So the chances are that a greater fraction of their graduates will be successful in future.
And things that you should not look at:
  •  Placement data (it is completely unreliable and has no prediction value)
  • MoUs with foreign universities
Then there are things which do not really matter in terms of quality, but could be important for you. Feel free to factor them in, and indeed they are important. One is Geographical location. Many people have preference to stay close to home or away from home, in a similar cultural environment or in a similar weather condition, etc. This is fine. The other is finances. If the two places you are considering have very different costs, then one has to look at whether those differences are worth the extra cost. And it is never going to be easy to take a call on that.

I will perhaps keep editing it as I think of more issues.


prasun said...

Won't it be hard for people to know which conferences are good or reputable? Same goes for a lot of faculty PhD universities.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Prasun, I do mention that in the article that it is very difficult to judge the quality of research and hence seek help from an academic. If someone can't get help from an academic, then one can ignore this criteria. You can only use the information that you can understand and that is still better than not using any information.

Geetam Chawla said...
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Prashant said...

Very nice writeup, but I have a strong disagreement with the ordering - at the UG level, Curriculum, specially the flexibility it offers should rank right at the top. I had my mind firmly made up about things which interested me, and didn't interest me, right from Class 11 and 12 - and never was there a case where an excellent professor managed to get me interested in a subject where I didn't have much interest anyway. A lot of people behaved similarly.

Siddhant Chadha said...

Dheeraj Sir i have great admiration for you.
Sir i have heard you are leaving iitk for iiit delhi.Is it true sir?
I would love to join iiit delhi. I expect to clear cse cutoff. will it be a good decision according to you.Really need your experience and opinion on this?
or should i try for dtu or nsit?

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Siddhant, you may read the following:

Abid Rahim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Respected Dheeraj Sir,I know that you addressed social issues and queries related to various national level exams.I am a great fan of your work.The way you address the topic is commendable.Okay sir my question is off the topic.After declaration of IITJEE Advanced 2016 results i have come to a decision that i will be most probably opting civil.Now dilemma is striking me that which one to take kanpur(unsure),madras(sure),kharagpur(sure),roorkee(sure).I prefer kanpur which seems to be a viable but not confirmed option.Now remaining 3 IITs all are really good college.But Kharagpur has a great learning environment,4th factual ranking(after bombay,Delhi and kanpur) and great alumni network whereas IIT Roorkee is well known for it's civil although factual ranking and learning environment is not par wit kgp.But Roorkee was earlier called Thomason civi engg college and has alumni like ganga ram and jai prakash gaur and many more.So which one of them should i prefer.Madras will be my 4th preference(as proximity(delhi) is taken into account).Thank you in advance

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

As I read it, you are placing IITK first and IITM fourth, and want to know between KGP and Roorkee which one should be number 2 and which one should be number 3 choice. I think the alumni network of Roorkee is also very strong compared with KGP. I don't know what you mean by KGP having a better learning environment. (I am not questioning your statement, just wondering if this is just someone's perception, whether that someone has actually experienced both KGP and Roorkee.) And what do you mean by "factual" rank. I don't believe in India Today style ranking, if that is what you meant. So I think it is really boiling down to how much you have trust in this statement about KGP having a better learning environment. I would suggest that you do a bit more of homework, go through faculty list, see how many faculty are there in Civil in each IIT, and study a few things about them.

Unknown said...

Sir. Can you please share your thoughts about the future prospect of Material Science & Engineering from IIT Gandhinagar whether after completion of this course can a student have placement so that he can pursue for CAT/GMAT with proper preparation.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

If your focus is on CAT/GMAT, why do you care about the placement. Especially when most students in any discipline from any IIT are going to be placed anyway.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

If your focus is on CAT/GMAT, why do you care about the placement. Especially when most students in any discipline from any IIT are going to be placed anyway.

Priya arora said...

Sir I am pretty confused about the distinction among CS IT and SE branches. If they are the same then why there is a difference in the cut off? NSIT is under DU and DTU is a university then which of the two would have value if one wants to pursue MS. If one doesn't know one's interest then how to distinguish between electronics and CS or IT as a course to choose

Apoorv Khattar said...

Sir , I am confused between IIITD and NSIT for CS. Although I am convinced that IIITD teaching environment, Infrastructure etc. is better than NSIT, only thing that bothers me is that NSIT has a ranking in top 10 colleges but not IIITD, at least not today. I am interested in doing MS from US. As NSIT comes under Delhi University I have heard that it makes the application better.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

The fraction of students that go for higher education outside India from IIIT is higher than most institutes in the country. And the places from where our students have received offers include CMU, UPenn, UCLA, Princeton and many more. I think a complete list is probably there on some web page. We shared it during the open house. Please try to get the same information from other institutions that you are considering. And, by the way, most of these offers are with financial assistantship. The most important part of applications is letters of recommendation written by faculty members. The value of a letter is very high if it is from an active researcher who is known in the community. So you will get a significant boost to your chances of going abroad if you join IIIT-D.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

The fraction of students that go for higher education outside India from IIIT is higher than most institutes in the country. And the places from where our students have received offers include CMU, UPenn, UCLA, Princeton and many more. I think a complete list is probably there on some web page. We shared it during the open house. Please try to get the same information from other institutions that you are considering. And, by the way, most of these offers are with financial assistantship. The most important part of applications is letters of recommendation written by faculty members. The value of a letter is very high if it is from an active researcher who is known in the community. So you will get a significant boost to your chances of going abroad if you join IIIT-D.

takizaki said...

Sir please suggest me NSIT(CS) or IIIT(CS) or DTU(CS).
I would like to do MS after BTech. Althogh I am convinced that IIITD has good faculty, infrastructure, good learning environment but still id does not come in top colleges rank list.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@takizaki, I have always been saying that quality of education as evidenced by quality of faculty should be the criteria of selection. If you are convinced that in that parameter, IIIT-Delhi is the best, then choose that. Rankings are a game where it is difficult for new institutes to perform (unless you are an IIT). I think instead of trusting some linear ranking which all of us don't understand, we should trust the basic information given on the website.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Priya, The reason for multiple "branches" which are similar in curriculum is historical. Let us not get into those. The problem is that the choice of branch is not based on any rational criteria. If two programs are similar and are being taught by same set of faculty, then there should not be any difference between them. But in most places in the country, engineering colleges have CS and IT as two separate departments. Typically, "better" faculty candidates are able to negotiate their way in by demanding that they be placed in CSE department, and hence even though curriculum of CS and IT may be similar, the quality of education of CS and IT are different. In most colleges, CS is better than IT. The companies also have noticed that in general, CSE students perform better than IT students, so placement of CSE is better than IT, and that confuses students and parents even more and everyone who has a choice between CS and IT would choose CS over IT.

Frankly, there is no reason for having separate IT and SE kind of programs. But in India, it is easy to start things, very difficult to stop things.

I don't think it would matter to a US university whether the degree is from DU (in case of NSIT) or from DTU. I would suggest that for this purpose, you consider IIIT-Delhi, where you will get letters of recommendation from faculty members who are known around the world, and who have sufficient foreign exposure to understand what kind of letters have more impact on the admissions committee.

If you do not know your interest, then forget the branch, choose the best college, which ever branch you get. Choose a place where the quality of education is so good that they will inculcate an interest in the selected branch.

Abhishek Sharma said...

what are your views on iiit bhubaneswar for b tech programs?

Ankur Rastogi said...

Respected sir, I got your reference and need ur advice on the following

I am indeed in a great dilemma .
first let me tell the choices available to me:
1.dtu mech( may or may not)
2.nsit delhi mech
3. nsit ice
4.thapar ece
5.bit mesra eee/ece
6. dhirubhai ambani ict- ict/ict +minor in cs
I am confused which one shall i take keeping in mind the following:
1. I belong to delhi
2. I might go for research work or higher studies sooner or later after btech
3. the faculty must be good
4.the campus must be good in terms of labs early as of now some aspects of quantum mechanics, nano tech, robotics fascinate me but not sure about how far can i go into them
6. if not research or higher studies then the placement must also be good as i am doing engg for financial stability.
7. also i might want to pursue masters in physics in future

just need ur advice on which would the best option among the following keeping in mind the above.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Ankur, what is your rank. These are all decent colleges, but perhaps DAIICT would meet more of your requirements than others.

Rajeev Rawal said...

Respected sir advance result is out & my son's rank is 2255. His first choice is cse. We may get cs at mandi patna jodhpur bhuvneshwer. What will be your advice cs in one of these iit or electronics & electrical in guwahati hyderabad or bhu iit

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

If he is interested in CS why not let him study CS. Why consider Electronics and Electrical.

Pankaj Yadav said...

Sir i am greatly confused between IIIT-D CSE & DTU CSE....Which will be the best for me.....which should i keep on top while filling the choices....please help me out sir

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

My suggestion in all cases of confusion between two institutions is to visit their websites and check their faculty profiles.


Sir please suggest me the order of preference. I'm so confused.
Bombay metallurgy
Kanpur civil
Bhu electrical 5 year
Bhu mechanical
Dhanbad computer science
Jodhpur computer science
Or if you like to suggest anything else my obc rank is 1284 in jee adv 2017 and general rank is 7527

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Toshik, How do I know what you like, and what you want to optimize. If you don't care about the discipline (which is apparent from the choices you have mentioned), just think of which is the best "overall" institute in your perspective, and choose that. Don't worry about the discipline.