Operation admission!

For the better part of this year, as the mother of a teenager transitioning into adulthood and out of school, I was on a roller coaster called college admissions.

When my daughter, husband and I — and 1.2 million sets of parents, students and a few dozen education reporters in every city — were least expecting it, the Central Board of Secondary Education declared the Class XII results on May 2 — weeks ahead of schedule and without warning. The move spared the children the agony of the wait, but only for the results. That the Delhi University (DU) admissions started only on July 4 — after two false starts — added a generous measure of agony of its own. 

Just at the threshold of adulthood and with their share of teenage problems, many were already suffering from anxiety-induced weight loss, hair fall, panic attacks, chest pain, insomnia et al.

The board’s Class XII results were, as usual, logic-defying. Everywhere I looked, I encountered 95-plus percenteenagers — including one at home.

I’m sure there are others like me who long for those no-fuss days when getting “distinction” (75 per cent or more) in even one measly subject made you a neighbourhood hero of sorts. College admissions were guaranteed, even to lesser mortals.

Back to the present: As expected, the college cutoffs were ridiculously high but my daughter’s score ensured that the course and college of choice were now within her reach.

The process is fairly straightforward on paper: students who secure a certain percentage (or more!) walk in to apply, get certificates checked and pay the fees to walk out as students of that college on Day One. But those scores were abnormally high: Hindu College — at least 99 per cent for BA honours in political science; Lady Shri Ram College — 98.75 per cent for psychology honours: Hansraj College — 97.25 per cent for English honours.

Hoping to wrap up early, we left home at 9 am and by 10, our daughter was in the queue for admission at what is often ranked the top college in the country. The process, we were told, would take about three hours. My husband and I headed for our respective offices. He’d meet her for lunch and drop her home, we planned.

Lunch hour came and went. Both skipped lunch in their respective locations. We shared notes on the WhatsApp chat group “admissions”, which we had created just to keep track of dates, cutoffs, announcements and so on. Jokes and leg-pulling soon gave way to expressions of concern: Do you have access to the canteen and drinking water? You should have kept the water bottle!

At 4 pm, students were told it would take another couple of hours; at 7 pm, they were still in the queue. Hungry, thirsty, tired and sweaty, students who had slogged all year to reach the top were still unsure if they would secure a seat in the college. Many were from outside of Delhi and had to catch a train or flight back home. 

Outside the building, in the humid heat, their parents waited. At 8.30 pm, my husband and I joined them. At 11 pm, my daughter had finally got admission. There were more young women in the queue who would make it that night but also several others who were asked to return the next day.

These were all students who had made it to DU’s coveted and obscenely high first cutoff list. And yet their first experience outside of school was with a system that is disorganised, callous and anxiety-inducing. A Mumbai-based colleague recalls that her husband had to extend his leave last year for their daughter’s admission.

And this is but one part of the story. No sooner is a child in Class XII and attended a career counselling session in school, private universities descend on her like vultures. We’re still dealing with SMSes and calls from random colleges and vague deemed-to-be universities from all over: Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka, West Bengal, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan. “Pay Rs 40,000 by 5 pm today to get an assured seat for your child in XYZ college,” is one recent message my husband received. She is a humanities student but has received admission offers to pharmacy and engineering courses.

My daughter got quite alarmed when an SMS from one such university she hadn’t even heard of cited her roll number and marks to inform her that she was eligible for admission to some course she hadn’t applied for. They had all the information, including all our phone numbers and home address, given the number of brochures that kept landing at our door. My husband, too, has been offered admission several times because it was his number that she had shared.

veenu.sandhu@bsmail.in



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