I want to get an MBA degree when I grow up — one of my best friends in school told me, when we were in class III. A very intelligent girl, she could have easily made it to one of the IIMs if she had tried. But along the way she changed her mind. Chartered accountancy was her new dream when we reached high school — a dream she went on to realise in a few years from then.

Ask any student in class VIII or IX, going to a private school of repute, what she intends doing after class XII, the response is likely to range from “I will take JEE” and “I am thinking of pursuing a bachelor's programme in fine arts” to “I want to study biotechnology, but undergraduate programmes abroad are apparently better” and “I want to study law in NLS (National Law School, Bangalore).” My friend also knew exactly what to do to become a C.A.

For every such confident, well-informed student, there are several hundred others who yearn for some basic advice. “Many students, particularly those from government schools in rural areas, go by the availability of seats in colleges and not by interest or aptitude. I can't blame them. Has anyone ever made the effort to tell them what they might be good at and which colleges offer suitable programmes?” said a government school teacher. So true. Between the first choice and the least desired college, there are quite a few good options to consider. But how would students know?

The idea that many of the students have about counselling or admission process is, at best, blurry and far from what is needed for an informed decision. While parents might be willing to go that extra mile and earn more in order to send their children to college, not all may know which college or course is best-suited for their wards. There are also some exciting avenues students are unaware of.

Both the Central and State governments, from time to time, claim that they will focus on increasing the gross enrolment ratio in higher education, which is still hovering around a not-so-promising 20 per cent.

Access to college education cannot be improved unless the government takes the responsibility of readying students for higher education by way of providing comprehensive information on higher education at the high school level. Awareness of options in higher education is not something that can be built in a few weeks, for the process is tedious and could intimidate many.

There should be a system that allows children, particularly those going to government schools, to access information on new courses/avenues, the career prospects they offer, the fee charged, process of selection, bank loan options, and even distance education, from the time they are in high school. Credible universities and colleges should partner schools in these initiatives.

Only such an initiative can ensure adequate preparedness among students, by the time they finish school. Or else, some of the students might just give up mid way.

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012

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