There is so much hype about getting in a premiere institution like an IIT  that students, well supported by their parents, spend multiple years preparing for the JEE. And after this herculean effort with a unidirectional focus of cracking the JEE, for many, getting in an Institute like an IIT becomes the ultimate goal, an end in itself.

But of course, it is not an end – it is actually the beginning – the beginning of a four year period of potentially tremendous growth and learning and solid education. Unfortunately, in this tough preparation to get in, this is forgotten.

It often gets worse. Often soon after entering, or even before, one hears statements like “I plan to do an MBA/xxx after my BTech” – a very unintelligent and sad statement as it disallows the four year of high quality education to influence the thinking, when the basic idea of good education is to strengthen the thinking abilities of a person. Institutes like IITs, and some of the IIITs, are unmatched in India in what they offer in terms of education and self growth. Courses are taught by highly learned faculty, all having PhDs, and the students in the class are all among the best in their school class (top few percent of all who applied). Brilliant students and top class faculty makes for a very potent combination for learning and growth. But this unique combination, which exists only in Institutions like these, is effectively wasted if the four years between entering and leaving the Institute are not taken with the earnestness they deserve.

What does this mean for a student?  Actually a very simple lesson: Treat getting in an elite Institute as not an end but the beginning of an exciting four-year phase of learning and exploration. Use the four years well – work hard, learn hard, and hopefully also play hard – and let this learning and growth help you define your goals after graduation and the bigger life-goals. Pre-decided goals will just get in the way – if you find something more exciting to do after graduation, for accepting it, you will have to first “fight” your old goal and maybe even explain to your parents/friends why a new goal is “better”. It is extremely hard to find a career that one can enjoy. There is no point in making it harder or taking these difficult decisions with insufficient knowledge or thought. Note that it is quite OK after 2 or 3 years to say, “I don’t like writing software and don’t have aptitude for it, so I think I will shift to management” as this is a decision based on self-discovery, not based on fashion, peer-pressure, or a general trend.

So my advice to students is that if you are able to get into a good institution like an IIT or some of the IIITs, which have the best faculty and the best curriculum the country has to offer, make good use of the good fortune and let it shape your thinking and development.  After two or three years of education – both from the curriculum and from the life in the Institute – you will be better prepared to make informed plans, which are likely to be more conducive to your style and strengths.  You may even find your passion in solving problems and building systems (engineering), exploring and finding new knowledge (research), or something else. And if you can find a career path that you can enjoy and which leverages your strengths, you will be one of the more fortunate souls in this world.