In today’s age, data and information is readily available to all. ‘Expert’ advice is offered in abundance for every possible issue that one may face. While there is no dearth of suggestions, the key lies in successfully applying the suggested idea to one’s own situation. If the basis of the selected ‘advice’ is unclear, the adoption of the same could prove detrimental and possibly disastrous.

However, though most aspiring students, parents and potential employers are always on the lookout of the best-in-league institutes in the country, whether it is for MBA/ Engineering/ Medicine or any other field, the question that arises is how to decide which institute is the best for them because the criteria for selecting a college may differ from person to person.                                                                                                                                      

Here is where the confusion comes into play. There are multiple ‘expert’ listings available each year, as a result of extensive surveys, collating the best colleges in the country. Many business-related magazines, financial media houses and a horde of other analysts are in the foray to create a ‘pecking order’ list of the sought-after B-schools. A closer look would reveal that most of these lists are actually order-rankings of the colleges. A simple comparison between the lists published by various agencies would show major variations in the listings. For example, a college ‘A’ could be at number 10 in one list and at a dismal 87 in the other. Even the top 25 MBA colleges rated in 2014 by prestigious names such as Business Times, Outlook, Economic Times and Business World have widely-varied rankings. So how does decide which ranking to believe?

While every student aspires to study in only the so-called ‘best’ colleges based on the rankings, that is not really practical and it is therefore important to know how to assess the credibility of other colleges as well that don’t figure anywhere in the rankings, so that the right decision can be made when making the one of the most crucial decisions of one’s life, i.e., selecting a college/university/institute for higher education.

The main reason behind the variation is the difference in the parameters and methodology used to make the rankings. Since normally all institutes in the country don’t even get an opportunity to participate in the survey and only a ‘handful’ are picked, there is absolutely no question of them all getting ranked. A privileged few continue to reap the benefits year after year. Moreover, these rankings are relative; hence a college which is at par with another college in academic quality may fall short in terms of affordability and hence slip low in the chart. When it comes to selecting the college, this may not even be a factor to consider for a particular student seeking admission.

It could be well argued of course, that the stiff competition to conduct meaningful surveys have led to availability of separate ranking lists for each detailed criterion, such as average salary, tuition fees, infrastructure, placements besides academic excellence. Yet, these lists are again quantitative and have the same limitations as goes with the aggregation of any statistical analysis.

Hence there emerges a need for a system that can award a scorecard to each college individually on various parameters. A more realistic mechanism could be to ‘rate’ each institute for each parameter on a count of say 1-5, rather than ‘rank’ it against another competitor. For instance, if a college scores ‘4/5’ in ‘Industry Exposure’, even though it ranks lower than another college, a company may prefer to visit this college for campus placements. Similarly, even if college ‘X’ with an overall score of ‘3/5’ in terms of infrastructure had a lower ranking than college ‘Y’ with a score ‘4/5’, it might be a preferable choice for a student because for them the ‘Student-Faculty Ratio’ criteria is important and on that particular criteria ‘X’ scores more than ‘Y’. Evidently ‘rating’ is by far a more just method to help judge a college, lending deeper and more accurate understanding and insight into each institute, without constantly pitting it against institutes.

Even qualitative reviews, offer a far deeper insight that no statistics can match, because, has while statistics might reveal one side of the coin, a single review, though an exception, has the power to completely change the picture. For instance, if a survey reveals that “85% employers who hired from the institute this year would prefer to come back next year too”, if even a single review says that “though the students were bright overall, they lack in terms of business communication skills”, then companies who are looking to hire students for client-interfacing roles may not choose to visit the institute at all.                                                                                                                

It is also important to remember that the most genuine ratings and feedback can come from the people who have experienced the said college first-hand. Parents, students, alumni, faculty, companies who have visited the school and have absorbed the selected candidates from that institute into their enterprises – are perhaps best disposed to judge the quality of the college on various counts as against an external agency. Such a shared community feedback that encompasses a wide-sampling of people who have been associated with the college for different reasons is also more democratic and practical.

Manu Mital