How is career counseling at school level in India different than US?

If you are exposed to US schools and colleges, you will realize that resident counselors are available in almost all the schools, armed with on-line and offline personality test suites, and willing to provide career guidance for colleges as well as jobs. Private career counseling services abound too.

Contrast this with situation in India: very few schools actually have counselors available, and while private career counseling is available, it is not as abundant, and their effectiveness is questionable too. It is very clear that this industry segment hasn’t really taken off in India the way it has in US.

Why is that? Here is my explanation of this.

US education system is all about choices, choices in studies, choices in job options, choices in colleges, etc. Students take all kinds of courses through the school and decide only in the last minute what do they want to pick in college. Once in college, again they take as many kinds of courses they like or they can since rules for getting a major in a particular subject is very flexible. Hence, when the time comes to pick one, it becomes a huge problem and career counseling services become almost necessary to make some sense out of so many options available.


Compare this with India: as soon as they can, students pick one among 3 prevalent streams: Science, Arts, Commerce. Even within that, for example, science students will tend to choose between Biology and Mathematics. That reduces their options a lot. Also, the way indian students make up their mind about picking a college is largely algorithmic, and partly driven by cultural and economy. Algorithmic in the sense that most people use the yardsticks of ‘better college’ what their ‘friends’ use, and hence they are similar for a region. For example, if you take Science (Maths), IIT becomes #1 option, RECs become #2 option, and everything else (including private colleges) is #3. This again reduces career management/counseling exercise to be moot because options are pre-selected. Similar algorithm exists for Science (Bio) student, and Commerce student, and Arts student.

Cultural part comes from the fact that most of the time parents/relatives/friends influence the student to pick one of the ‘known’ study streams rather than something esoteric like “Sports Management”.  Students are expected to listen to them, and make decisions keeping those ‘advices’ in mind. A personal example: When I was picking my own stream of study for IIT Delhi, I listened to (and got lots of flak from) my family and relatives, who though my choice was weird (Mathematics and Computer Applications when Mechanical Engineering was so available and so prime!). I listened to them, not because I needed to, but out of respect, and knowing well that I have to give them good reason for my decision, I am answerable to them. This is purely cultural.

Economy plays still bigger role. As one of my friends pointed out, primary goal for most college-seekers is still to maximize their chances of getting a well paying job after the course is over. One of the reasons you listen to your ‘extended family’ is because they are expected to know more about the job potential of any stream of study.

This means that most students can do reasonably well (or they think they can) without the need for any career counseling services. Hence the demand is low, which means supply will be low. Also, job market is not really evolved, so even though there are courses available, there may not be sufficient jobs available if you indeed graduate in that course. So sometimes it may be a bad idea to pick an ‘esoteric’ course in India.

With globalization and outsourcing, many new options for jobs and skill set requirements (both local and abroad) are emerging which have not yet made their way to indian middle class decision making process, and hence some of these ‘extended family’ advices may no longer hold true. This will be one of the most important reasons which will fuel the growth of individual talent management industry.

7 thoughts on “How is career counseling at school level in India different than US?

  1. very true.. I am so bugged up right now… I want to speak to a career counselor in India.. and I dont even know where to start .. Just the fact that those ppl exist .. am not even sure how many ppl know that and refer to them..

    i could do with one.. if you know anyone.. please leave me a note

  2. I can understand your frustration. Most of career counseling (if it exists and available!) is still ‘get the next job’ based and not necessarily on detailed analysis of needs and long term viability. You could try , Jayanti Ghose is a known counselor but I do not have any experience about effectiveness of her advices, so this is not an endorsement. Hope this helps. If you want, you can drop me a note at and I can try helping.

  3. School or college Counseling in US and other developed countries not only deal with Career counseling and choice of courses, it also deals with the overall mental health of students.
    We need counseling services in schools and colleges for the holistic development and well-being… and it is completely missing in Indian educational system.

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