A group of boys in blue T-shirts approach you as soon as you enter Anna University and in flawless Tamil, offer directions to the place where the engineering counselling is on. “We are trying to manage the crowd here. Everyone except the B. Tech aspirants can use the information centres on the other side,” said Guru Prakash, a tennis player, also an engineering student.

Over 30 boys like him, under the banner of the National Sports Organisation (NSO), are helping students and parents navigate the counselling process. On Friday, the group was perhaps the most conspicuous among the crowd of engineering aspirants, siblings, teachers, consultants, salesmen advertising colleges and over a 1,000 students who had all assembled at the campus. The month-long procedure, this year, has been advanced and made rigorous to ensure classes begin by August 1. On the first day, 1,851 students were called for counselling, of whom 628 were absent.

While parents and aspirants from far-off locations were all admiration for the work put in by the NSO group, they did point out that the university should have made better arrangements. Many were peeved at having to travel long distances and wondered why the university could not put an online counselling system in place considering that the number of engineering aspirants had risen to 2.5 lakh. “It took us eight hours to reach here. My medical counselling is scheduled for early next week, so I have to stay here for a couple of days. We are staying in a room in a mansion,” said Vijaya Raghavan from Pudukottai, who had come with his father. Other candidates such as Poorvika from Tiruvallur district had the luxury of returning home after the day’s formalities but will have to return on Saturday for the medical counselling.

“They could at least de-centralise the process and set up centres in different cities, so that we can go to the centre nearby,” said a candidate from Panrutti. Somasundaram from Tirunelveli, who might give up his seat if he got into the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, said that offline counselling tended to be quite restrictive. “In an online counselling process, a vacancy can be scaled up as and when a seat is given up. In this system, it takes far more time,” he said.

Anna University officials said online counselling would require more coordination and systems in place. They claimed that efforts were on in full swing to manage the crowd and provide better facilities. “We have Aavin booths, extra food and water stalls, health centres and even bath facilities, besides toilets this year. We have employed more than 100 police personnel and volunteers for managing the crowd,” said an official.

However, students had their share of complaints. “People throw around a lot of trash and the campus is dirty for days every year,” said a student of College of Engineering, Guindy. Another issue, noted Sai, an NSO volunteer, was the all-pervasive presence of salesmen distributing ad pamphlets for private colleges.