Eshna Goenka, 23, a graphic artist from Mumbai, made an unconventional decision after Class 12. She decided to opt for the BA correspondence course offered by Mumbai university, and use her time exploring career choices.
She tried her hand at event management for a while, working as an event coordinator at Rolling Stone magazine.
“One year into events, I took up graphic design and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since,” she says.
In addition to her graduate degree, she has completed a six-month design course and is now a graphic artist at Rock Street Journal, a monthly music magazine.
“It worked out perfectly because I did not spend crucial years of my life studying subjects that would have no real relevance to me. Instead I explored fields that interested me and got some hands-on experience — and the contacts I made at Rolling Stone helped me get my job here,” Goenka says. “When you are a full-time student, there is very little time or inclination in you to experiment or do something on your own. By opting to work after Class 12, I learnt early on values such as relationshipbuilding, negotiation skills and the importance of communication. Now I am in a better position than most graphic artists my age, who just starting out as interns after graduation.”
There has been a 20% rise in the number of students opting to graduate via correspondence courses, over the past five years, according to Dinesh Kamble, registrar of the Mumbai university’s Institution of Distance and Open Learning (IDOL). “One primary reason is the massive competition in every field of employment, so to give themselves a headstart, students feel they need to start early,” Kamble adds. “Where distance learning used to be frowned upon as an option only for students who could not secure admission to a good institute or were not serious about academics, the internet generation is curious, open-minded and wants to get out there and learn from real-world experiences. Spoon feeding in classrooms does not appeal them anymore.”
It helps that employers have moved with the times too. “Industry expects new recruits to deliver in the shortest time possible after induction and on-the-job training, so previous internships and work experience are welcome,” says Kishore Pingulkar, founder and director of Key HR Solutions, a human resource consultancy firm. “However, without having a degree to begin with, it is common that you may jump from one profile to another. Even with internships, this shows an unstable work approach and can have a negative impact on your CV.”
DO THE SWOT
It may sound tempting — no lectures, you set your own hours, pick your own subjects. But self-designed courses are not for every teen.
The most crucial deciding factor will be, do you really know what you want to do with the rest of your life?
The SWOT analysis begins with deciding whether your chosen field is a good fit for a combination of long-distance education and hands-on work experience.
“But to do a distance course, you must be sure about your future career,” says Fatima Agarkar, education counsellor and founder of KA EduAssociates. “A long-distance degree could end up hurting rather than boosting your career, if not handled right. If you plan to graduate in the arts or humanities, while pursuing a career of your choice, that could make for an impressive CV.”
Commercial art is one field where you can actually vastly improve your chances if you spend your post-school years honing your craft while graduating long-distance, Sinhal adds.
“The reason for this is that creativity cannot be taught, only refined over time. Whereas when two lab scientists on a project, it is the ability to crunch data and the time taken to arrive at the solution that make the difference — and that depends on principles best learnt in a classroom, through a structure course of study.”
You also need to be sure you can keep your social life active, because college is when you make most of your ‘friends for life’, begin to negotiate adult relationships and start networking.
Read: Beware! That online degree may not be valid in India
BE PREPARED TO WORK HARDER, DO MORE
“Opting for the distance learning-work experience option means you have to use those years in a way that will make a difference and that will visibly and powerfully explain your choice to future employers,” says Pratibha Jain, education counsellor and CEO of EduAbroad.
In those three years, you need to do at least three internships and as many freelance projects. “Plan early and start applying before you enroll for your distance course. Try your hand at different work cultures, through a mix of start-ups and established companies; this will show that you are a flexible employee,” Jain adds.
Personality, of course, is crucial. You need to be self-motivated, efficient, a good time manager and capable of multitasking.
“Realistically, you might end up having less free time and less of a social life than your peers,” Jain says.