Why are many students so lost regarding admission options despite access to online information?

Sometime in April this year I got an S.O.S request from a worried mother who reached out through a friend of a friend and thought I was a career counsellor. Yawn!  Anyway, here's how the conversation went:

Parent: "My daughter wants to pursue design.  Which college should she apply to?"

Me: "Uh.... I'm sure she did her bit of research on her choice of colleges."

Parent: "Yes, but she was not finding the information she was looking for."

Me:  "Can you elaborate?"

Parent: "You see, she spent lots of time Googling and ended up more confused.  Plus, the websites all seemed to be interested in obtaining her information and sharing them with some institute or the other.  She was unable to find information that she is looking for."

Me: (I cursed myself for not paying Google to get our portal on page 1)

Parent: "Shamina (my friend's friend) mentioned that IIT Mumbai has a design program for non-science students and she asked me to contact you for details.  "

Me:  "Yes, that's right.  But, the applications to IIT Mumbai Industrial Design Program closed in January.  I can perhaps suggest other options in design that she might find interesting."

Eventually, I advised her to visit our website and explore the options in design. 

This incident left me thinking.  These days kids are always online and are known to be many times smarter than my generation.  If this were indeed true, why do they fail to gather the information they seek?  I decided to speak with friends and experts in the online business.  Here's what I gathered:

Finding #1: Internet & social media impact on teenagers:  Most students starting from Class 9th are using internet more for social media and less for 'search' purposes.  In fact, Intel Security's Teens, Tweens and Technology 2015 report claims that 90% of teens in India are on social media. 

Finding #2: Website design: Many of the education portals, including some leading ones, have websites that are designed to present 'featured' content from their advertisers than neutral content.   Then, there are websites that are so focussed on images that they look more like photo albums than knowledge platforms. 

Finding #3: Limitation of 'Free' content:  Generating and managing good quality content requires significant effort (and investment) by online websites.  While the consumer is willing to spend anywhere from Rs.500-Rs.1000 for a movie, she is hesitant to pay for good, neutral and factual online content. This behavioural paradox of the consumer drives websites to offer free content which is heavily advertisement driven or allows display of lots of sponsored content. 

Finding #4: Content correctness:  Many websites offering career, education and college related data simply do not validate the data they are sharing with their readers.  Even today, there are hundreds of such portals that offer old, outdated content (e.g. exams that do not exist, or courses that are no longer available in that college) or offer futuristic information.  Simply Google 'BITSAT 2018' and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Our Take:
While one cannot help change teenage behaviour related to their social media usage, business owners who run education related knowledge portals must make concerted efforts to ensure that the content on websites is correct and unambiguous.  While they have all the right to put their portals to commercial use, it should not be at the cost of content correctness. After all, students are seeking potentially life changing information through them.

About the blogger: Tarun is a Co-founder at MyExamPlan.com. He can be reached at tarun@myexamplan.com