Why no selection criteria has ever made sense

Formal Entry for InsideIIM  B-School Debate

B-School: IIM Trichy

Team Name: Kanti  Shah  ki  Entry

Team mate’s Name: Subhash Rajeev


Why no selection criteria has ever made sense


Source: imgflip.com

B-school selection criteria have always been a subject of hot debate in India. With an ever increasing population of aspiring youngsters, it has always been a challenge for our management institutes to keep up with the demand for quality education. A simple look at last year’s figures reveals the level of competition  for gaining admission to a premier b-school – 3335 seats were available across all 13 IIMs put together for a pool of 195000 registered candidates[1]  . The result is inevitable – there will be quite a few deserving candidates who will miss out on getting selected due to the capacity constraints of our educational infrastructure rather than the individual’s ability. Can one really say that there is any significant difference in quality between the 3335th ranked student who makes it through and the 3336th ranked student who doesn’t?  Of course, selections are never as simple as that since there are a number of factors taken into consideration such as your CAT score, work-experience, work-experience diversity, Graduation-12th-10th marks, Gender, the list can go on.

Cloudy days since the beginning

Admission processes have been more of an elimination exercise rather than a selection procedure which brings us to the author’s first point.  The author makes the case that the increase in overall seats with the introduction of the Newer IIMs and the doubling of seats available at the Older IIMs meant that the older system of selecting candidates on the basis of just their CAT score was no longer feasible on administrative and student-quality grounds. However, one would think that shifting from a simple score based system to a more complicated multi-parameter system would only add to the burgeoning load of administrative procedures. Furthermore, the grouse that only leftover candidates from the older IIMs’ aspirant pool with lower percentiles would be available for selection seems to imply that some correlation is being attached between CAT scores and student quality. If not, then b-schools shouldn’t have complained about the existing process as they would have found quality students even amongst those with a relatively lower CAT score. These would include many candidates with consistent academic records and good work-experience backgrounds which is exactly what B-schools are clamoring for now!

The CAT score vs. Academic record conundrum

Fact of the matter is when you consider students in the top 10%ile (say) of CAT, you would have those who have a high CAT score, a consistent academic record or both. Judging one parameter to be of more significance than the other is a matter of perception. A student with a poor academic background but a high CAT score could be considered as a one-hit wonder but at the same time a student with a consistent academic record but a lower CAT score could be considered as a candidate who is strong on paper but perhaps unable to deliver when it matters? One could even argue if board exam results/graduation scores are valid indicators of academic proficiency as those are also judged on the basis of a one-day examination rather than continuous evaluation. If the idea could be extended further we could also question what kind of social norms are these institutes setting by implementing such criteria? A candidate who has supposedly “failed” at securing a “good” score in his 10th, 12th or graduation will not be given a second chance inspite of acing one of the most competitive examinations in the world!

Male-Engineer-IT-Thank you for applying-Next!

The author goes on to highlight gender diversity as a vital need on two grounds – industry requirements and peer learning. The first argument presumes that the sole purpose of a B-School is to cater to industry recruitments which is the exact opposite of what an academic institute is supposed to stand for. Industry giants throng premier B-Schools because they are known to produce individuals who have imbibed all the necessary ingredients to be capable managers amongst many other roles such as researchers or professors. It is never meant to be the other way around where industry trends should dictate the admission processes of an institute. The next argument of peer learning is a contentious one. It is true that diversity does indeed bring diverse view points during class discussions but does that justify giving grace marks/quotas to female candidates just for the sake of boosting their numbers in the batch? The general argument is that the lack of female candidates applying for management education is low – which is true. Only 29% of last year’s CAT applicants were women.[2] Perhaps the answer to correcting this skewed ratio could be tweaking the exam format to make it a level playing field for both genders? If the current format is failing to attract female applicants then the IIMs need to look at corrective measures in the CAT syllabus to ensure they get a fair mix of meritorious male & female candidates to choose from rather than going for unsustainable short-term affirmative action plans. The same logic extends to the issue of giving extra marks/quotas for those from non-engineering backgrounds or non-IT work-experiences. Sections or questions could be introduced in the examination to ensure candidates from varying backgrounds are not at a disadvantage.

After all we went through together…I was just a statistic to you

The author also goes on to make the point that the number of students getting a 69/79 and hence falling victim to the 69-71 problem are “statistically not significant enough to alter a policy”.  There are minorities also who are statistically not significant enough, so can governments march forward without altering their policy? An admission process has to be inherently fair to all its participants. Especially when we’re talking of admission processes as extensive as the IIMs’ which require months of preparation for the examination followed by half-a-year worth of GDs/WATs/PIs. There have been positives on this front with the IIMs releasing their application processing weights for the various components. However, some institutes tend to be ambiguous in their process notes as compared to others which amounts to misleading students by not giving them a clear picture of whether they meet the institute’s criteria or not.

Been there, done that

While the author is correct in stating that the subjective nature of profile-based screening could lead to greater discontentment amongst the CAT candidates, it isn’t as if the IIMs aren’t already receiving flak every year for the issues that crop up during the online testing cycles in Oct-Nov. Every year there are threads on popular forums where students who are not satisfied with the normalization of their CAT scores are mobilizing others and filing RTIs, PILs, etc. Even this year there were cases of the media reporting that the Indore & Madras HC issuing stay orders on the admission processes so the IIMs are not new to facing controversies. One could argue that if they did come out in the open and said they were going with a subjective profile-based screening such as at SP Jain then candidates would automatically adjust their expectations accordingly. As of now, the process claims to be “objectively quantifiable” but it isn’t, which is what irks the applicant community.

Good Will Placement

The author’s final point on only students having consistent academic backgrounds bagging plum summer/final placements is more a generalization than anything else. There are examples on either side of the fence to indicate that the correlation isn’t as strong enough as it seems on the outside. There are cases aplenty of academic toppers not getting placed till the final day of placements and students with not so strong academics bagging the day 0 offers. Ultimately, it all boils down to your profile, how you present it on your resume and how well you are able to engage with the recruiter during your interview. Naturally, it takes more than just past academic scores to make a recruiter take notice of your profile and shortlist you. Recruiters are interested in knowing who you are as a person today and not how you performed as a student in an examination a decade ago.  It is only when candidates are ill-prepared and not meeting standards (yes, it happens at premier b-schools as well) that recruiters have no choice but to lower their expectations and fall back on these numbers to screen them.

The author is right in pointing out that most selection criteria used by companies are random. Every phase there is a trend in the industry which is as whimsical as the blowing wind which is why it is crucial for B-Schools to not get swayed and forcefully alter their processes to cater to the industry. Unfortunately in an ends-rather-than-means obsessed country such as ours, this has been the dictat which is why no selection criteria has ever made sense.

– Vishnu Poduval