“Waste” of IIT/IIM

Why IIT/IIM before IAS isn't simply "wasting" a seat, and why it doesn't matter.

So this is something I’ve heard a lot and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

“Why did you do B.Tech if you wanted to join IAS?”

And even more – “Why did you do an MBA if you wanted to join IAS”?

Honestly, this ranks among the most frequent questions I’ve heard but since it’s so common I thought I’ll talk about it.

I’ll give not one, but two answers – a long one and a shorter one.

Long Answer

Claim: “IIT/IIM is a waste if you want to join the civil service”

I’ll ignore the cliched “diversity”, “new perspectives” stuff – I don’t believe in that myself, you can find it elsewhere too – you don’t need to go to IIT/IIM for that.

I’ll show you the assumptions behind this claim and explain why I don’t agree with them.

  1. You can’t apply anything you learnt in IIT/IIM in the civil service
    1. I don’t agree. I’d taken courses on public policy, Infrastructure development, Indian Economy, Business, Government & Law in my MBA
    2. I think I might get to apply what I learnt in civil engineering. Take a simple example that’s bugged me – if you wonder why you face so many red lights one after another, it’s because the traffic signals aren’t optimized for the actual flow of traffic. One small change can save millions of man-hours everyday.
  2. You actually apply what you learnt in college in your job
    1. I don’t think it always works that way. Sure, if you’re lucky, you might, but I’ve also seen many of my friends who aren’t lucky – most of them, in fact. I wasn’t unhappy, but I didn’t feel that I was using what I had learnt in my job after my MBA.
  3. You’re absolutely one hundred percent sure there’s nothing else you want to do other than join the civil service
    1. I’ve never understood this, and always felt envious/sceptical of those who’ve been so sure
    2. There are hundreds of opportunities open – how could I ever shut them all off and say, “I only want this one”?
    3. I’ve changed minds so many times in childhood (another story), I couldn’t ever imagine fixating only on one path and ignoring the rest.
  4. You’ll “waste” years and money – it won’t give you an “edge” in your civil service career
    1. If “becoming” IAS is all you want, then yes, I’d advise you not to go for IIT/IIM.
    2. I don’t want to “be” someone. I want to “do” things. That’s why I took the path I did, and I don’t have any regrets. Chasing a job wasn’t my motivation for IIT/IIM (that’s also a story for another time).
  5. You identify completely with your job – A job is all you are, you have no identity beyond that
    1. Again, I don’t subscribe to this view. There’s more to life than a job, even if it’s IAS, and I’ve found that everything I’ve learnt is something I use in my daily life. If you read my posts, you’ll see I draw from everywhere.
    2. I didn’t use much of what I learnt in MBA in my job as a risk analyst. But when I started writing books, when I created this site – everything I read about came to life in front of me. This was one of the most fun things I’ve done, and this was what I felt I’d gone to IIM-A for, not a big salary.
  6. You believe in sunk costs and think your past determines your future
    1. Most of those reading would be preparing for UPSC. So perhaps this example might explain what a sunk cost is.
      1. Imagine you pay Rs. 25,000 for coaching and you find out the class is a complete waste of 3 hours, but you can’t get a refund. What would you do? I’ve seen most people still keep going, just to “get their moneys worth”.
      2. I think that’s indescribably stupid. That’s essentially saying, “I’ve wasted my money on this useless coaching, and now I’m also going to waste my time.”
    2. So I don’t believe in letting my past determine my future. Most people are the same, but they usually won’t admit it – how many civil engineers really do civil engineering?
      1. Many people think it’s “bad” that engineers aren’t pursuing their core subjects. If you are such an engineer, don’t let it affect you. Why would you bind yourself for your whole life to a decision you took at the age of 17? It’s mindbogglingly stupid.
      2. If you enjoy your subject, you might want to make a career out of it. If you don’t, then there’s no compulsion whatever that you “have” to anyway – why would you let one choice the next fifty years of your life?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Steve Jobs

This is essentially what I’ve come to believe. I’ve seen quite a few people with their lives completely mapped out – that’s good for them, but I wouldn’t and couldn’t ever do that.

The past doesn’t bind my future choices. And my future isn’t predetermined either. So I gave up wondering “What will I be when I grow up?” – a question that haunted me as a kid. I answered it in my own way, which I’ll talk about another day. And I never had an answer for the cliched, “Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years?” beyond “I don’t see myself anywhere, I look that far ahead.”

Now for the short answer.

Short Answer

The short answer is I don’t really care whether someone thinks it’s a waste of IIT/IIM or not.

I don’t base my life decisions on what complete strangers would think of them. It’s a matter of irrelevance – neither approval nor praise matters. It just doesn’t register in my mind, I simply can’t bring myself to devote any thought to something so trivial.

And the truth is – those who criticize the loudest, claiming a seat was “wasted”, are also the ones who wouldn’t make it anyway – they just want someone else to shift the blame on. Those who succeed are the ones who don’t have time to waste on trying to pull down complete strangers; they’re too busy building themselves up.

The more you focus on others, the less you retain of yourself. If you’re devoting your time and energy to what an utter stranger like me chooses to do with his life, you probably don’t have enough going on in yours.

The reason I’ve written this out isn’t to defend myself – I don’t need defending (nor praise). It’s so that those who are in a similar position can break through these fallacies and make the choice they want.

Whatever you do, someone will criticize you.

If you go abroad for higher studies, you’ll be denounced for deserting your country after it subsidized your education – never mind that you might come back in the future or add value in your chosen field.

If you work in the private sector, you’ll be criticized for “making money” or “selling soap” – never mind that if you sell enough soap, you can help your firm grow and create jobs, you can improve people’s health and hygiene, and your taxes can contribute to people’s welfare.

If you join the civil service, you’ll be condemned for “wasting” a seat by the same people who will bemoan that “our best minds leave / only make money”.

If you become an entrepreneur, you’ll be told that you’re only interested in money, or that you will fail so you shouldn’t even try, or your idea isn’t even that good, fifty people are already doing that, “can’t you think of something better?”.

Don’t let any of this affect you. Criticizing is easy, and there’s no personal risk, no skin in the game. It’s easy to say a book sucks; it’s much harder to write one that doesn’t suck – you have to expose yourself to public criticism if you want to do that, which means you’ll have skin in the game, because your work is now out in the open.

Someone will always criticize you. If you let that affect you, you’ll never be able to do anything. You might then sit at home vegetating like a plant – and even then you’ll be criticized for doing nothing. So if someone will always be unhappy, no matter what you choose, why not make yourself happy?

That’s the only thing in your hands. I know far too many people graduating from the best colleges – those whom the outside world thinks have everything going for them – miserable and unhappy.

Don’t be one of them if you can help it. And you can always help it.



Awesome Read!

Prasoon Mishra

Hi once again, i got hitched by your way of writing. I wanted to ask “Why you wanted to marry Portia?” and this explains it perfectly. I hope you had find the work that you love. One more thing, keep writing amidst your busy schedule!

~By Non-UPSC aspirant


Yes, I’ll continue writing. I prefer writing books though – you have more space to build. I don’t think it’s possible to do justice to most ideas in blogs.


I saw your gem of a video on youtube and did the forbidden- scroll the comments. I had to get this off my chest. If Zuckerberg hadn’t dropped out and ‘wasted a precious’ seat of Harvard; they wouldn’t be writing those comments on youtube. You could have easily faked a back story (which would probably resonate with them) and gained popularity like many other toppers. But you kept it real and spoke as humbly as possible. Kitne bhi achhe aur izzat se baat kar le par finally the good ol desi- Angoor khatte hai, yahi samajh aaega inhe.

These aside you and Gaurav are inspirations for us Kanpuriyas. I can only in my wildest dreams, hope to be even half as good as you. Its only because of such revered seniors which make even the baap wing sessions worthwile 😛

A Y15 Mechanical


Thanks for your words.
All the best to you.

Vikrant Shukla

In this post you mentioned at 3 points – Another time.
So where can i find those 3 another time stories???

  1. I’ve changed minds so many times in childhood (another story), I couldn’t ever imagine fixating only on one path and ignoring the rest.
  2. I don’t want to “be” someone. I want to “do” things. That’s why I took the path I did, and I don’t have any regrets. Chasing a job wasn’t my motivation for IIT/IIM (that’s also a story for another time).
  3. The past doesn’t bind my future choices. And my future isn’t predetermined either. So I gave up wondering “What will I be when I grow up?” – a question that haunted me as a kid. I answered it in my own way, which I’ll talk about another day. And I never had an answer for the cliched, “Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years?” beyond “I don’t see myself anywhere, I look that far ahead.”

Waiting for the answer with my coffee mug ready:D


Yes, maybe in the future.
I don’t really like reading about people’s lives, unless they teach me something.
I find reading about ideas much better.
Hence it’s a bit hypocritical for me to talk of myself too much.

Plus, I’ve seen that’s what sells – “My fit-to-fat story, My rags-to-riches story, My UPSC story” etc. I’ve found it a waste of time. I’d rather learn the ideas on how to achieve something than read how one person achieved it in one specific way (which might not work for me).


Namaste Pratyush

I am sharing this thought here as the thread under Fiction & Non-fiction.

One, your thoughts on the design of your book cover, I feel you can do so much better with that, I remember a desi anecdote jo dikhta hai, wo bikta hai

Two, would love a post where you could take us through your publishing journey, did you do by yourself- kindle publishing tools or outsourced the process. My best guess would be the former.

Anyways, looking forward to hear from you soon



Thanks for the feedback – I appreciate it.

Yes, I know the cover sucks. But in my defence, I learnt everything for self-publishing from scratch and made the cover myself, turning them out in 2 months along with my job. It was mostly for fun, so I didn’t feel like shelling out a lot for a professional designer.
And marketing was my least favourite subject along with HR – I’d much rather spend my time writing than designing covers.

And honestly, I have almost zero aesthetic sense in these things – I don’t notice covers at all. I don’t know what makes a cover look good or not – these seemed as good as any to me. But you’re not the first to tell me this so I assume that while I’ve been blessed with decent quantitative/writing skills it’s been balanced with an artistic deficiency.

Yes, mostly through KDP.

But lesson learnt: Henceforth only simple plain covers.


“There are hundreds of opportunities open – how could I ever shut them all off and say, “I only want this one”?”

I have the exact same thought but that is causing me problems of sticking and excelling in any role. It would be really helpful if you could tell how you overcame this following problem.

I am an IIT graduate and am currently working as engineer. I gave GRE, TOEFL and got good scores but did not pursue MS as I was interested in MBA later on. I have been jumping across different verticals in engineering. My problem is I am not able to choose one long term goal ( like MBA, or Software or Hardware) and work on it. I have enjoyed all the roles I did in engineering, marketing, Sales etc. I keep finding there are more goals that could suit my skills and post pone the decision to work on one long term goal.

My understanding is that the core reason for my above stated problem, is the same belief that you have – “How could I ever shut them all opportunities off”. How were you able to focus on one difficult long term goal and achieve it( like Civils or MBA) without getting distracted by other difficult goals?

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this! Enjoyed the strong reasoning provided 😀


I have written a book about it.

Trying new things is good – I’ve worked in fin-tech for a year, interned in an NGO too.

Try figuring out what you want- what’s important to you? In decreasing priority.
The work itself? Money? Leisure? The lifestyle?

If you’re asking me about the work itself – I can’t tell you. I don’t know you, and everyone has different likes. How can someone possibly say sales is “better” than operations? Better for whom?
Only way to figure that one out is keep trying more things, I’d guess…

If your question is about things other than the work itself:

Money – money always comes into it. Don’t shy away from thinking about it.
How much money do you need to be happy? In my case, my lifestyle doesn’t require a lot.

Don’t disparage it though – money is freedom too (no one can order you about, it buys you time and all that stuff you probably know).
But I realized I wouldn’t give my life/time for it.
The more money you need, the less flexibility/options you have too – money can enslave you as well if you’re not careful.
So it can be freedom or unfreedom.

What I’m saying this is: Be honest with yourself and figure out what makes you happy. Work itself? Or only life beyond work (hobbies, relations) – and how much time/money you need for it.

And don’t take it too seriously in case you are (I don’t get that impression though).
I think there’s always a leap of faith involved – you never know what a job is like till you do it.
You can hear all you want about MBA/MS/ anything – it never turns out to be like they say it is.
Same applies to civil services.
Though I sometimes think it’s just me since I never seem to hear others with the same doubt…

I would also suggest ignoring sunk costs if you ever make a mistake.
Unless you want one wrong turn to determine your path for your whole life.

Hope this helped a little – obviously it won’t give you a direct answer.

Pragyan Pandey

Hello sir,
I liked the point where you mentioned ‘Why would you bind yourself for your whole life to a decision you took at the age of 17?’.
I believe many who turn 20-21 come across this idea atleast once in their life but they are just scared or afraid of breaking the general norms and taking a step for themself. I am today standing at that point in my career.
I am doing engineering but I’m not an IITian or NITian,and I don’t see myself making a good future in tech world. Honestly this was not a ‘decision’ I made to go for engineering ,it was just something I did considering it is the best option for a good future. Today when I want to make a decision for myself and change my path I am afraid,what if I make a wrong decision?
I would really appreciate if you would give your time and write a new blog of fears of failure, courage to make a change and making decisions for ourselves.
Thank you.


I’ve written a whole book about these kind of decisions (my first one, In Search of Success)

It’s about the ideas you should think of before you take such decisions – it’s logical. It won’t tell you what you should do, but it can help you make your decision.

For now –

This is the sunk cost fallacy in economics – past decisions influencing future ones.

If you spent four years studying something you don’t have an interest in, you’re essentially saying you’ll now waste the next forty years as well pursuing it because you don’t want these past 4 years to go “waste”.
Or you pay for coaching, find it useless, but keep going because you won’t get a refund. It’s saying “I’ve wasted my money, now I have to waste my time too”.

It’s one of the hardest things to do in my opinion.
The only way I’ve found is to ask yourself what you fear less or what you want more: Comfort / security in a field you might not enjoy, or risk and possible failure in something else? No choice is wrong or right. Passion etc are overblown, but extreme risk aversion isn’t always preferable either. This is something you decide for yourself.

Pragyan pandey

Thank you and I agree that choice is always in our hand, and I’ll choose the good one for me .


Hey pratyush.. I extremely love ur work.. The way u decoded the syllabus n mindset! Amazing.. One more thing..plz do write something about ur iit nd cat preparation… Coz I loved the work on myriad notes…. Thankx


I was really confused about my future but when I gave a read to this, I was really impressed. I really loved the line in which you wrote, “there are so many opportunities and how can you ask me to choose one” this line is sooo true. I really want to do MBA but civil service is also in my mind but someone told me today, if you’re ready for ias then go for it but me and my friend have decided civil service after mba. So I’ve decided MBA and then IAS. Why I should be the one to choose one opportunity:)


It is a pleasure reading you. Appreciate your thoughts. Feels good to know that the destiny of our great nation is in good hands.


Wish i could have all the IIT /IIM / IAS titles …so definitely not a waste for me …

We all want to have that large piece of cake …. one who says “no ” , is definitely lying …. but it’s human nature not to confess anything so easily because the reality sucks and not everyone is so smart / lucky / capable enough to have above titles in this materialistic world …..

Somewhere we are mediocres and we hate confessing it on every single moment of our lives .. and it is not about being negative …. it is actually about how the world perceives / judge us at every stage of life …..and we feel that deeply ….


You never really understand what you feel at the moment you one way you want to give up on life and another you are still struggling to figure out things you feel alone in your own home in your own family you feel like you are depressed but than according to science you are not .people dont value you you don’t even value yourself .you can’t even identify yourself .you cry more often with out any reason now .you thing the family who loved you they dont value you neither remember you in anything . one decision one path changes everything .once you are tagged loser you lose self confidence for yourself .Sometimes you dont even want answer you want nothing .You just hate everything the moment the life you have everything seems to drown you into the world of darkness where no one can rescue not even you .Sometimes the road you you have taken the path is just a array of fallacy ,a mediocrity .

Meghna Tripathi

Thanks for wonderful and insightful post.

Madhav Yagnik

Thanks a lot specially the lines ” Don’t decide your future on your past decision ” Changed my total thinking

Eternal Bliss

Great 👍

Anumeha Lakra

Thanks for writing such realistic words