Why Every Indian Student Wants To Attend IIT (Indian Institutes of Technology)

by Jaineel Aga

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Best Book on Getting Consulting Jobs In India.

The Rise of Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT)

After grade 12 (High School) students in India need to pick their discipline – be it engineering, medicine or arts. Students who have excelled academically, but aren't inclined toward medicine, generally tend to drift towards engineering. Traditionally, being an engineer was a status symbol – a mark of intelligence, just like being a doctor or a judge. As India became an IT superpower, an engineering degree became synonymous with job security, above average salary, white collar lifestyle, company perks and an opportunity to travel abroad for projects.

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The Rise of Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT)

After grade 12 (High School) students in India need to pick their discipline – be it engineering, medicine or arts. Students who have excelled academically, but aren't inclined toward medicine, generally tend to drift towards engineering. Traditionally, being an engineer was a status symbol – a mark of intelligence, just like being a doctor or a judge. As India became an IT superpower, an engineering degree became synonymous with job security, above average salary, white collar lifestyle, company perks and an opportunity to travel abroad for projects.

Popularity of engineering degrees can also be attributed the rise of the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), the premier technology colleges of India. The IITs are the only prestigious colleges in India that have global acclaim due to their alumni network, which has a huge presence in Silicon Valley. Some famous alumni include Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, and Nitin Nohria, the new dean of Harvard Business School.

High school students want to break into the IITs, which have created a reputation of transforming many lives. A fresh IIT graduate from a small town or village in India could end up with a meaty job that pays perhaps 3 times what his family would be making back home. The average salaries for an IIT graduate are nearly 2-3 times that of any other college in India. Companies that recruit from IITs aren't restricted to technology – everyone from consulting firms to software companies come to recruit the best talent in India, which is most likely to be found on the IIT campuses!

An Alternative to IIT

I had a similar plan in mind after high school. I had managed to top my school in the 10th grade and come from a family with 3 generations of engineers. My older brother went to IIT. Aiming to secure admission to the IITs seemed such an obvious thing at that time.

Entry into IITs is based on an all-day entrance exam that tests math, physics and chemistry concepts. The exam is so competitive that one point could put you up or down by 200 ranks. I took the IIT entrance exam, but unfortunately, it wasn't my best performance, and I couldn't secure a rank high enough to make it to the best colleges in India.

This was a huge setback. The most successful and seamless entry into consulting is possible through recruitment fairs on the campuses of prestigious schools in India. I had missed my first chance.

There are only 4,000 ranks (positions) and around one million applicants for this exam, an acceptance rate of only 0.4% (far harder than the Stanfords and Harvards of the U.S.).

Although I didn't perform well on the day of the exam, I was always confident of my abilities and knew that I had to come up with a plan B!

Fortunately, I performed well in my grade 12 board exams (which is the criteria for entrance to local universities) and was able to gain admission to the best private engineering school in Mumbai. However, the bitter truth is that no consulting firm would recruit at non-IIT engineering campuses in India. They would recruit only from the most prestigious colleges, and I knew that I would have to work very hard to break into this industry. This was corroborated during my conversations with my brother’s IIT friends – the guys who had made it to companies like McKinsey, BCG and Monitor. I was already disadvantaged by not having a premium brand name to back me.

The first thing I had to do was slowly and steadily build my resume. I needed to be able to sell a story whenever I could get face time in front of a consulting firm. To do so, I had to be present at a place where the consulting firms would come to recruit. Build a resume with interesting stories, something consulting firms want to hear.

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