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THERE are 67 government colleges, 162 government-aided colleges and 249 self-financing colleges in the arts and science stream in Tamil Nadu. There are also 250 engineering colleges, including those of the self-financing kind, and over 200 polytechnics.

And from among these, most of us get to choose just a handful before zeroing in on the one institution that will educate us and prepare us for a career.

Not an easy choice, but a critical choice to be made anyway. Students have been taking a shot in the dark when it comes to choosing the institution that they think offers exactly what they want. M. Arun, a top-scorer from a school in Nanganallur, always wanted to be an astronaut. He topped in his class XII examination last year but found to his dismay that there were fewer than five colleges in the State that offered an undergraduate degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Arun then entered a course in Mechanical Engineering in a college in Chennai's suburbs and is already gathering information for postgraduate programmes in Aeronautical Engineering.

His window to the world of opportunities: the Internet. Heads of institutions see the use of the world wide web by the present generation students as a focussed approach to career. ``Students know exactly which institutions offer the course which suits their requirement. They have grown to depend on the Internet as a valuable source of information,'' says S. Muthukrishnan, principal of Jaigopal Garodia Vivekananda Vidyalaya Higher Secondary School, Anna Nagar.

Apart from being a one-stop-shop for information, the Internet has also drastically reduced costs. Earlier, students spent heavily on the prospectuses for different colleges and career counselling books that were sometimes outdated. Even getting these required spending many hours in a queue and a great deal of money. But these days, there are online portals that have detailed databases on various colleges.

A few other portal managers said the failure of some of the educational sites was due to the lack of revenue models. Ironically, it was a former Commissioner of Collegiate Education in the State, who mooted that all colleges put their prospectuses on a common site in a downloadable form.

Given the Net-savvy ways of the students these days, perhaps it is time educational web sites got a new lease of life and funding from... perhaps a consortium of colleges themselves.

Karthik Subramanian

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