I have just entered eleventh grade, the land of the sleep-deprived, or my junior year of high school, and as was the case in tenth grade, I have two words for my academic life now, Information Overload. For once, I’m not talking about the academic pressure, (yes, of course, it’s presence is unfading, but it’s something that has almost become secondary when the rat race of securing admissions in good colleges is taken into consideration). Most students enter eleventh grade knowing that academic pressures will be high, but few know that their conversations will, over the course of the next two years, be solely dominated by comparisons of elite colleges and universities.
With an influx of advice from experts such as career counsellors and online portals engaging in career mapping, students like myself often end up becoming more confused, with various adults conducting psychometric tests on us poor lab mice to determine the ‘best fit’ career options for us. They also suggest other back-up careers which support our interests in case our first choice fails. No doubt, in India, this is a relatively new service, and in many underdeveloped areas, where children do not receive career guidance at home, these counsellors are providing some excellent help. In addition, let’s face the fact that it’s a fantastic business opportunity as well; the fees, per student, for a few sessions and some personalised help, ranges from Rs. 7000-10,000.
The fundamental problem with many of these psychometric tests, apart from the standardisation, is the fact that they suggest careers on objective parameters, on the basis of which they further outline career plans, including best fit colleges. However, perhaps a more functional solution, maybe not perfect, involves regular sessions of workshop vocational training, where students interact with experts from various fields including medicine, law, performing arts, pure sciences, engineering, business, etc. Teaching students the real-time requirements and aspects of a career, along with potential future advancements in the field, is the ultimate way to get them decided on what they like or dislike. Personally speaking, one of my extremely talented friends, unsure of her goals, has recently appeared for five consecutive psychometric tests, each with divergent results. Now, she has reached a point where she believes that she has no focus and can never get anywhere. If she had actually met some experts from the various fields she is interested in, she might have found her calling or her ‘dream’ career.
Another major problem I see with psychometric evaluation is the intense focus on the ‘dream’ college. The career coaches suggest ways to get into those colleges and get the brand name of those colleges on a student’s resume. In eleventh grade, no one talks of anything less than getting into MIT or UC Berkeley, without realising what they actually want to do there. The university or college becomes the students’ goal, not the pursuit of excellence in their chosen field, and that is precisely where I see a problem. The question, ‘what happens once I get into the university?’, is one few know the answer to. Few are aware of their big-picture plans.
For most students, regardless of the course they’re pursuing and its alignment with their goals, it’s just the brand name of the university that matters; the brand name providing the student a perceived sense of merit and also being their source for some good connections/networking opportunities in their field. Counsellors thrive on this branding and marketing; after all, ‘thirty of (insert counsellor’s name)’s fifty students are in Ivy League colleges’. As much as I’m programmed to want to get into one of these colleges myself, sometimes I feel that these colleges are only selling membership to an exclusive club. Indian entrance examinations are another ball-game altogether, where there’s no subjectivity whatsoever; scores, and only scores, matter for top-notch colleges here.
For all those students criticising their parents or teachers for pushing them in a certain direction, I just want to say one thing. They have observed you for the last fifteen to seventeen years of your life and will always be with you; they can give better advice than a counsellor who has known you for little more than two hours, and that too, via a psychometric test. I would like to add that I’m not demeaning the work of counsellors, this is just an opinion, but I’m tired of the ‘I’m going to a counsellor for career advice’ fashion statement that comes from students these days.
With that, I’m signing off, to probably go and write another mandated psychometric test. 😉