Michael Dias saw an advertisement in the paper announcing the arrival of Air Hostess Academy in Calcutta. At The Telegraph Careergraph Live Career Fair last month, he signed up for a course in aviation and hospitality management. The former student of St Thomas Boys School is planning to tackle the year-long course along with a BA correspondence degree from Indira Gandhi National Open University and a part-time job.
Michael has company while choosing a career path off the beaten track. The road less travelled is now crowded with his peer group making the transition from school to college.
And dearth of choice is not a problem plaguing students when it comes to courses and campuses. Not when their range of options includes medical degrees in Russia or China, management or IT diplomas in Canada or Singapore. Not with US and UK universities starting up campuses in Mumbai and Calcutta and vocational courses like jewellery designing and animation being available in the city itself. Then there are traditional favourites like English, law or economics, at a JU or a Xaviers, in Oxford or Cambridge.
An explosion of new courses and institutes in the city, around the country and abroad adds up to a win-win situation for students ' provided they know what they are going in for, how and why.
Making the right choice is not as easy as it sounds, with the biggest hurdle being the lack of guidance and qualified counsellors, resulting in confusion, say those in the know. 'Students should avoid getting swayed by the glitz and glamour and stick to the facts,' feels Snigdha Gohain, a Calcutta-based career counsellor.
Holistic help is often at hand at the admission and career fairs galore trundling through town, peddling education dreams and promising practical means to make them come true.
'Education is big business,' says Sanjeev Bolia, CEO, Afairs, organiser of the Admissions Fair, being held at the Ice Skating Rink till June 20. Bolia has been organising education fairs for the past 14 years. The Admission Fair is the second one for Afairs this year, with the Career Fair held in May and the promise of 'several more' in the coming months.
'A big chunk of outstation students, particularly in south India, is from Bengal. So the number of institutions participating in the fair has gone up substantially. Last year, there were about 20 from Karnataka; this time there are 40,' adds Bolia.
The four-day Career Fair had a footfall of 15,000, and a similar figure is expected for this one, with spot admissions to institutes home and abroad being the star attraction.
Blairland vs Bushworld
Everyone's jumping on to the book bandwagon to cash in on the growing student segment on the move. So, foreign institutions offer scholarships and participate in education fairs, banks offer loans, a Singapore Airlines slashes fares and an American Express promotes travellers' cheques just for them.
But where do they ' the students ' prefer to go off to these days'
'The number of those going to the UK has increased phenomenally in recent years,' says Debanjan Chakrabarti of British Council, Calcutta. 'One of the main reasons is financial help. Banks offer loans, of course, but there is also the fact that a lot more British institutions are offering scholarships for undergraduate study. The relaxation of work-while-you-study rules in the UK is another factor.'
High-profile places like London University, Oxford and Cambridge remain most popular, but newer institutions like Leeds Metropolitan, Reading and Oxford Brookes are also attracting students, who, according to Chakrabarti, are 'more canny and aware now'. Around 16,000 UK visas were issued to Indian students in 2004.
The lure of Blairland is matched only by that of Bushworld, with student traffic to the US on the rise. 'The East and West coasts are still on top of the list, but there is a movement to the southern part of the US, because it's cheaper,' observes Sunrit Mullick of the United States Educational Foundation in India, Calcutta.
Coast or course, awareness among a generation in the Net know is essential. 'Students need to be extremely careful about courses abroad and new institutes and private colleges in India,' advises Pervin Malhotra, director of the Delhi-based Caring (Career Guidance India). 'For instance, they should find out if the medical colleges in Russia and China that are so popular are recognised by the WHO. There's no point wasting years of your life on a vanilla degree that's not recognised in India.'
Fancy brochures do not reflect the quality of a college, she warns. A safeguard is to check the global and national rankings of foreign institutions. Education consultants taking hefty fees and not delivering, and the quality of teaching on Indian campuses of foreign institutions not being up to par are some other pitfalls students need to look out for, Malhotra cautions.
Most importantly, students need to know their own aptitude, observes Snigdha Gohain. 'There are around 2,000 courses available in India. Which one is good or bad depends on the student's ability. We can't all be Kalpana Chawla. But everyone can be good at something, once they figure out their aptitude,' she observes.
Harsh Gupta wanted to go to Christ College in Bangalore. But the ex-student of MP Birla School was persuaded to stay back in the city by his father. He made a pact with his parent ' 'I'm going to Bhawanipur College for a B.Com in finance, where attendance is not a must, so I can work in my father's firm'.
Six of his friends are headed for the garden city. As are most of Isha Majumdar's friends. The former student of St John's Diocesan is staying on in Calcutta. But many of her batchmates are off to Bangalore, followed by Hyderabad and Pune, for degrees ranging from B.Com to law to engineering to hotel management to mass communication.
Within national boundaries, southern comfort scores the highest. 'Bangalore is the most popular destination for students now, followed by Pune,' says Afairs CEO Bolia. At the ongoing Admissions Fair, of the 110 stalls, there are 40 institutions from Karnataka, 10-15 from Tamil Nadu, 10 from Maharashtra and 10 from the north.
Another trend this year is the comeback of traditional degrees like economics and law, but in its more 'modern varieties' like cyber and corporate instead of criminal and civil law. But even that is sometimes hard to get, with demand exceeding supply.
For Saimantika Mitra, the search for a good college to study psychology began well before her HS exams. Her first choice is Mumbai, where she camped for a few weeks, doing the rounds of colleges along with friends. With psychology scarce in top-rung city colleges, Saimantika must move out.
But she's determined not to repeat the mistakes of some others. One of her batchmates applied for home science in a south Calcutta institute, where admission is on a first-come-first-served basis. She deposited Rs 20,445. If she gets admission elsewhere and leaves, only Rs 5,000 will be refunded.
Some like Saimantika's friend are trapped, but many more, armed with awareness, head off near and far to pursue creative passions and commercial careers.