The much-anticipated board results have come out this week. However, students all over the country are more confused than ever about their future. The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench even to the best-laid plans and left students uncertain about their higher education and job prospects.
Due to lockdown and rising cases all over the globe, school and university students no longer know how to plan for their future. There are students who had their sights on study abroad but are now faced with increased infection risk, quarantining in a strange country, online education, and strict travel restrictions. Students who were focused on national universities are also faced with online education and lack of student life, opportunities, and exposure – the core features of university education.
Additionally, there many many students already in colleges and universities who are either stuck in a different country, away from their loved ones or students who have seen a dramatic reduction in job openings and internships.
Saurabh Nanda, a career counselor, has extensive experience in helping students choose the right career path. We talk to him about the impact of this lockdown on the futures of students at various levels. We also talk about how students everywhere can keep their morale up by staying busy, learning new skills, and accepting freelancing opportunities.
Q: The CBSE board results are out, but there has not been any clarity about if students can take a re-examination and when. With other competitive exams and college admissions delayed as well, what would be your general advice to anxious students?
A: Simply put, don’t give up and be prepared for everything. Covid-19 has given us uncertainty, all of us need to accept that uncertainty, and then make decisions.
It is an extremely difficult time for students and their parents who have been preparing hard for this academic year. But it is especially hard for students who are finishing 12th and/or waiting for entrance exams so that they can get into the colleges of their choice. On a daily basis, I talk to students and parents, trying to calm them down about what is happening and how they can find some control over it. Exams and dates will continue to shift.
The majority of Indians do not have access to technology, software, and the internet so that AI-based tests can be conducted. So, education bodies cannot implement tech-enabled solutions easily. Things will continue to remain uncertain in these times when lockdowns keep happening again and again.
Q: It seems very likely that many admission processes and enrollment would be delayed further and perhaps, inordinately. In this period, how can admission seekers use their time most productively?
A: Firstly, try and get access to technology – mobile phones or computers and the internet. Make sure you have furniture, a place and time in your home where you can study. Borrow from your relatives and neighbors. It will make your life easier.
Secondly, keep preparing for your entrance tests. I know it is a harrowing experience to continue studying for something which should have been over by now, but the more you keep at it, the better your chances will be.
Thirdly, fix some backup options. Private universities have been able to manage admissions better. So, you can create back-up options for those courses, if it suits you.
Fourth, spend your time skill-building – learn something new and something immediately useful like programming, foreign languages, communication skills, improve your creative portfolio with new drawings, music, etc.
Q: The Covid-19 outbreak has also wreaked havoc on the job market, and many fresh graduates who were earlier offered jobs on campus, are now being asked to wait or are getting their offer letter redacted. In such a scenario, would you recommend them to use this time to pursue higher studies or do something vocational online?
A: Times of crisis are times to build skills and collaborate. Companies will only hire you if you provide them very specific services. So, build expertise in your areas by taking on more projects and freelancing. The question is how. That’s where collaboration comes into play. Collaborate with your friends/seniors and start your own projects. You can use these projects to show your expertise.
In these uncertain times, companies are going to cancel job offers, defer joining dates, ask you to intern for free, prolong probation periods, and employ more freelancers/contract employees for short-term projects. Do not say NO! If you like a company or the work they are asking you to do, go for it because there are limited opportunities, and a couple of years down the line, people are going to ask, ‘What did you do during the lockdown?’ Moreover, you might get job offers based on your internship performances.
Now, internships are few and sporadic, so keep investing in yourself and keep improving your skills. Get yourself assessed by career consultants, seek guidance from mentors, and take one-on-one classes to improve yourself.
The other aspect of a crisis is investing in higher education. Go for it. MBA applications for the next academic year in some of the top global MBA programs have increased by 60%! So, the competition is higher, but the return on your investment is worth it. By the time you finish your higher education, you will be ready for the new economy.
Q: Many admission seekers who were planning to go to foreign universities are now in jeopardy with extensive travel restrictions and visa problems. What is your advice to these aspirants? Are there enough alternatives available?
A: Foreign university education is also in bad shape. In my opinion, travel restrictions will continue to be there for most people until the middle of next year.
Lots of students couldn’t join their colleges this year as well, but for them, online education and virtual cohort interactions have begun. So, if you are stuck in a foreign course now, the only option is to continue your education online and wait for travel restrictions to lift.
If you have not paid your fees yet, then you can ask the university to defer your admission to next year. Plan for your studies from next year.
Till then, keep learning and working online. Build up your skills, learn something new, and collaborate with others.
Q: Overall, this is an unprecedented time in terms of the future being uncertain. For young minds, that can have a shattering effect. What would be your suggestion to them to keep a positive frame of mind?
A: Change your perspective! What do we know about the situation now? The only thing we know for certain is that it is highly uncertain! So, one thing is confirmed, and that is uncertainty.
This will continue until when? For some time, maybe six months, maybe two years. No one knows for sure. So, make plans for three months only. Set targets for small projects. Plan to build a new skill in the next three months starting today, and then reassess the situation around you. If it is still uncertain, make a plan for another three months.
Imagine this uncertain year to be like a degree that has four terms of three months each. Score well in each term! That is the name of the game. The winners after the lockdown will be the ones who keep learning and not stop!