A big-picture look at India's educational system

March 27, 2018
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • International Admissions and Credential Evaluation

by Eric Shadle, MBA, Director of University Admissions, Loma Linda University

When it comes to education, India can feel like a confusing place. As a country, they have experienced tremendous growth in the past 30 years. While it may seem confusing and overwhelming at first glance, I would argue that it is more cluttered than confusing if you examine it more closely.

Timothy Kell, ECE Senior Evaluator, offered some insight into India's educational system in his AACRAO Annual Meeting session "India – From the Top!" 

External examinations

India inherited its educational system from the British system after their independence in 1947.  Like England, India is an external examinations-based system. This means that students go to class for the sole purpose of sitting for an examination. These examinations are usually given by someplace other than where the instruction is given.

Exams are given in sequential order and typically cover two years at a time.  This means that secondary school credit is given by completing the Standard X exams for grades 9 and 10, and Standard XII exam for both grades 11 and 12.  These exams must be approved by one of the recognized boards for the credit to count. A great resource to check on various boards is the Council of Boards of School Education in India (COBSE).

Grading and documentation

When talking about documentation it is important to distinguish between primary-source documents, which are issued by whoever conducted the examination, and secondary-source documents. The view of the presenter is that he prefers to see the original document even if that means it is not “official” because oftentimes that will be the best document available. Other schools offer online services which allow you to verify grades.

Grading scales in India are inconsistent. The traditional grading system involves students sitting for an exam and receiving a grade or a mark. This then leads to their “Grade” or “Class” (ie First class). To get a real idea of the scores, one must compare the max marks vs the given marks.  A newer system is the “10 point” grade scale which helps to standardize marks (similar to the US 4.0 grade scale).

Colleges versus universities

The majority of audience questions occurred once the topic moved to universities vs. colleges. This can be confusing because even though it is very common for the instruction to be given at a college, the degree will be issued by an affiliated university. This goes back to the idea that studies are geared entirely for test preparation.  Only three categories of Indian institutions are authorized to award the academic degrees of bachelor, master and doctor: Univesities, Deemed Universities, and, Institutions of National Importance.


Marksheets are first issued directly to the student by whoever conducted the exam. Marks are the only primary document that reliably lists all courses and grades.  ECE requires proof of degree and statements of marks for every exam attempt and/or a transcript. They also require require the statements of marks or transcript from the institution that conducted the exam typically the university. India documentation is often a choice between something “official” and something “complete.”


Eric Shadle, MBA

Director of University Admissions, Loma Linda University