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'St Stephen's College is like a medallion on the chest'

Last updated on: June 14, 2012 08:47 IST

'St Stephen's College is like a medallion on the chest'

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Aditya Mahajan

Aditya Mahajan a 2006 Mathematics (H) graduate from St Stephen's College writes to us about the heady days that led him to the haloed institution and the three years that followed.

As hundreds of thousands of students receive their Class 10 and 12 mark sheets and are all set to embark on their respective journeys to colleges and universities across the country, we invited those who have walked the path before to share their stories with us.

Aditya Mahajan had the option of choosing Economics at Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) and St Stephens. What did he do? He picked the college over the course.  This is his story:

I was (and maybe still am) one of those confused Science students who weren't sure whether they wanted to take up Engineering (a 'safe' bet) or go down to Delhi University. Thankfully, my parents were very clear – whatever you do, do it from the best. Hence, for Engineering it obviously meant the IITs and Delhi College of Engineering, or St Stephen's College/Sri Ram College of Commerce for a non-technical graduation. For a typical Delhi-ite (like me), anything below South Delhi was South India --  hence Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai etc were beyond imagination. Yes, most of us think only as far as our noses!

What I wanted? To do English (H) or Economics (H). Did I do either? No!

I came from a typical Indian family -- my father is an engineer (from IIT) and my mother is a Physics teacher teaching Class 12.

Interestingly, my father was quite clear -- it was either IIT or St Stephen's for me. Mother was more concerned -- what will he do after English/Economics -- become a teacher? How will he get married? Any Engineering college is good, so long as he turns out to be an Engineer. Let him drop a year, if he doesn't make it to IIT (the worst suggestion ever!!)

I only applied to St Stephen's College and SRCC -- any other college was below par for me (yes, I was arrogant and myopic). Of course, everyone applies to IIT -- whether they are capable enough to even write the date in the right format is another question.

Thankfully, and for once, I listened to my father.

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Image: St Stephen's College
Photographs: Courtesy St Stephen's College

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College versus course: What do you pick?

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I didn't make it to the IITs -- their loss, I guess and scored in the early 90 per cent BFS bracket, which was great then; rubbish now. I got through the second list at SRCC Economics and St Stephen's College Mathematics -- there was no and never will be a second cut off list at St Stephen's College -- you either make it or you don't; and if you make it, don't be a fool to drop it.

Again, my parents were torn -- it was almost a recipe for their divorce. Father wanted me to go to St Stephen's for the brand and legacy of the college mother wanted me to go for the course, i.e. Economics (not to make any judgements on the SRCC legacy). So, the good son that I was (still am), I blocked a seat at both colleges, and attended a week of classes at SRCC. Long story short -- I finished my three years as a Stephanian, and will be a Stephanian for the rest of my life.

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College versus course

All of you will face this challenge -- very few get their course and college of choice, and they don't form a part of my circle of friends. I will always support college over course for the following reasons:

1. Physics, Mathematics, English etc are all non-technical courses -- hence you won't be using them for the rest of your life; unless you want to do a PhD.

2. Organisations come to colleges; not courses. Hence, if you just pick up the list of organisations that come to St Stephens for recruitment, you'll know what I am talking about. It makes matters more impressive, given the fact that our campus placement cell only started in 2004-05.

3. Business schools in India split you into two categories -- either you're an IITian or a non-technical graduate. Hence, you may want an impressive college on your resume.

4. Internationally, while IIT and St Stephens College are big brands, recruiters and business schools are equally keen on what you did outside the classroom -- many colleges in India are unfortunately too academically inclined; IIT and St Stephens offer you much more than vanilla academics.

5. Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Harvard etc -- look at the graduation colleges where they accepted applications from -- I'd be surprised if another college overshadowed St Stephens College.

6. Alumni -- everyone has a computer and an internet connection these days. Go on to Wikipedia and look up the alumni list of colleges like Sri Ram College of Commerce, St Stephen's and the college across the road from us (aka Hindu College).

7. Last but not the least -- you'll be spending three of your most memorable years in a college, not in the four walls of a classroom -- make the most of them.

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Image: St Stephen's College
Photographs: Courtesy St Stephen's College

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Don't waste your parents' money

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Today, in this global setup, I can't recall any engineers (no disrespect) or other graduates who have made it this far. Most engineers I know started their career at Infosys or Satyam, coding software.

Between three years of graduation and four years of engineering, I see it as one additional year wasted within the classroom (If 3 Idiots is your benchmark, you'll know what I am talking about).

Some folks with the 'safer' jobs have gone as far as paying lakhs of capitation fee to make it to their colleges; colleges which advertise for permanent faculty in almost every newspaper everyday, and may have their license revoked overnight.

Don't waste your parent's money -- most employers will see through your degrees; some of them may not even be worth the paper they are printed on.

Life is good for those who have the breadth and the street-smartness to make quick decision. I am not a guru (not even close to it), but so long as the drive to succeed is there, and you make the best of what is offered, sky is the limit and the world is your oyster. Colleges like IIT and St Stephen's will give you more than you can digest -- whether you are up to grab it is completely your initiative.

Why St Stephen's College?

After what I have written so far, need I really give an answer to that? I was never academically inclined, even though I got my marks and always wanted to be in a college that gave me more than studies. St Stephen's College is just that, and more. When most colleges turn into ghost towns after 1 pm, that's when the buzz reaches its crescendo at St Stephens.

The Shakespeare Society and Debating Society are two of the most coveted clubs at St Stephen's College, with their alumni across the global map. Our students don't rush off to private tuitions in the afternoon -- we hang out at the cafe (we don't call it a canteen -- live with it) eating mince cutlets and discussing world economy or how Kurt Cobain was better than Hendrix. We may not have great insights, but we have the energy to discuss it nevertheless. We don't participate in University politics, although a good proportion of the political brass in the country today is from St Stephens college (I'm not particularly happy with the last fact but we all have a cross to bear).

For the academically inclined, to get a better faculty anywhere else would be like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. These are people who have dodged lucrative corporate job offers to come back to their college and teach, purely for the love of the subject. Most books that are read in other colleges are written by our faculty -- be it Economics or Mathematics. And if you are fortunate to get a recommendation from this faculty for your Oxbridge applications, chances of a rejection are unheard of.

Word of caution -- never ask the faculty here what the best way to score in DU exams is -- you'll be digging you own grave. St Stephen's has never been about the marks -- and to prove that point, we are the only college in DU which conducts an interview despite your clearing the cut-offs.

Brand Stephania is one to reckon with. Take a random cross-section of students and ask them where they did their graduation -- the ones from my college will say St Stephens, the others will say Delhi University. That's what this college means to us.

Are we pseudo? well who's to judge that? Maybe we are, maybe we aren't. My only gripe would be that we have taken more from this wonderful college than we have contributed to it.

For those of us who only came in to take the tag name along, well they are like anyone else, with a beautiful feather in their cap. For those who came to learn and make a contribution, St Stephens College will always be a golden medallion on the chest; only those who wear it will know its true weight.

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Image: St Stephen's College
Photographs: Courtesy St Stephen's College

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