1 What’s the objective: First and foremost, what’s driving you to join the rush to a conventional college for a full-time programme? Is it because your parents want it? Everybody in your extended clan does it? Your friends are doing it? Is a conventional degree from a regular college an indispensable entry pass to your dream career? Do you naturally feel inclined to go for it after Class 12? Is the ‘fun factor’ related to joining college a big draw for you?
Now, think about the people who never took a college degree and yet made it big in life: Michael Dell, founder of Dell, and Bill Gates of Microsoft are college drop-outs, as are innumerable leaders from different walks of life closer home. More importantly, think about how they succeeded, in the absence of a college degree. Do you have that in you?
2 Will it kindle your fire? If you wish to attend college for the love of a particular subject/s, will the curriculum, structured the way it is in most institutions, be able to keep your interest aflame or pour cold water over it? Will the focus on straight and standard answers in three-hour exams bypass real learning?
3 Is this the best route? No one can underestimate the value of a good quality bachelor’s programme done full-time and, most importantly, seriously. A college education — matching your personality and goals — can enrich you and equip you with some skills. But is that the best route to go where you eventually want to, especially in a field where credentials will barely count for anything? Will you be better off doing a diploma in a polytechnic or a short-term course from a specialised centre or a distance-mode programme that lets you educate yourself at your pace maybe while doing a related job? Will plunging into the work sphere straightaway give you some real-life learning on the job?
4 Think wisely: When it comes to settling the question of joining (or not joining) a college, you also need to factor in your socio-economic background. Dhruv Raina, professor of history and philosophy of science and education, Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, says that “today there are far more openings in society for students without a regular college degree but those openings are available to those with a particular kind of social and cultural capital (and networking) and not for everyone.” He is also cautious of Bill Gates-type stories (“few and far between”), saying “one cannot plan for a society based on the experiences of a few successful and innovative individuals, though one can create conditions where creative individuals are not deterred from pursuing their dreams”. Raina says that liberal arts and science curricula need to be urgently revised “to meet the changing needs of society”. Till the time that does not happen, make your decision wisely.