Indian Decade

No Fun for Indian Students?

It’s extremely tough getting into Delhi University. In fact, you have to be almost perfect.

The admission season to Delhi University (DU), one of the country's biggest universities, is finishing up now with the new academic session set to begin the middle of this month. Each summer, high schoolers from across the country descend on Delhi, braving its worst summer months to try their luck at DU's several top-notch colleges like St. Stephen's, Hindu, and Shri Ram College for Commerce. These colleges attract some of India's best and brightest students.
Just this year, over 200,000 students applied for a place at DU, with nearly 50,000 forms needed on just the first day of the application process on May 28. Apart from a few colleges and courses, admission to DU is granted based on a ‘cut-off’ mechanism under which students start applying from the end May (after results to the make-or-break Class XII board examinations are announced), with colleges deciding  in mid-June the cut-off points for admission to each course. After the cut-offs are announced, students whose marks equal or exceed the cut-off can expect admission (provided they applied for that course and that college).

It sounds simple, but a quick look at the cut-offs shows why June and July are so fraught with tension for our young students.  Several second-rung colleges have cut-offs close to 90 percent, even for liberal arts courses that many say have no ‘real’ career opportunities. Meanwhile, those studying economics or commerce—the two most sought after subjects—are required to score an astronomical 94 to 95 percent. Interestingly, though, there seem to be no shortage of those willing to go for these subjects, including a cousin of mine who missed out on a course at the famous SRCC, despite scoring 93 percent.

All this is something I’ve never understood about our college admissions and exams. Isn't there something wrong with a system that produces students who score in the 90s, but still have their hopes shattered? And, beyond the brand value for your CV, does Delhi University really deserve this rush of attention each year?

I did my bachelor's at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, one of the best liberal arts colleges in Delhi University. In fact, it's often considered one of the top five colleges in India. But although it’s almost 10 years ago since I applied, the stress of getting there—the anxiety, heat and madness of the application process—is still an uncomfortably vivid memory.

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Back then, a high 80 was seen as a respectable score, but many high school students scoring this now would just mumble their result as if they hadn’t achieved anything at all. Maybe we just have brighter students now. That's possible, isn't it?