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Stay organized during College Admissions: What we can learn from Steve Jobs’ uniform

Black turtleneck, blue jeans, New Balance sneakers. Also known as the Steve Jobs uniform or that costume you make for yourself when you don’t plan ahead of the Halloween party you are attending.

People have written about Steve Jobs’s uniform and how experts say that it brought productivity and efficiency to his life. But we know that most students in India wear uniforms to school so this isn’t an article about how to dress but rather about why consistency is good and how that is important to this vital time in your college admissions process.

Everyone wants to be productive but no one more than a student applying to colleges in December, torn between studying for school and exams and completing applications for the next step of his life. One way to increase productivity? Simplify your decision making process!

It’s said the average person makes 35,000 decisions every day. That in itself is exhausting so why not simplify your life the way successful people like Steve Jobs simplified theirs. Jobs said “The most precious thing that we all have with us is time.” While Jobs wore the same thing every day, we believe in being organized and schedules is how we do it.

Why stay organized?

1. You’ll waste less time.

As you prepare to apply to colleges, you might feel a bit like a professional juggler, holding up a dozen balls in the air with one hand as you sign up for the AP tests with the other. There is a  lot to do and it seems like it all hits at once.

When every hour gets you closer to the deadline, the urge to procrastinate and not think about work feels just so appealing. Stop yourself from playing that extra hour of Fortnite by taking away the decision. Instead of spending 5 or 10 minutes figuring out what to do, look at the calendar and stick to the plan.

2. You’ll save brainpower.

Routines are essential for focusing your decision-making energy. You can’t keep getting distracted. The plan gets you one step closer to avoiding the distraction. You can channel all that decision-making power directly into planning for your future.

Plus applying to college is different from other activities. This is about your future (as your parents and teachers remind you at every minute) so the stakes are high. And you have to apply while doing well at school, your extracurriculars and bonding with your friends in your last year of school.

So what do you organize?

There are dozens of articles out there talking about how you can stay organized and each person has their own way. Whether its a diary with all your notes or a color coded google calendar we aren’t here to prescribe”how,” but we definitely recommend the “what” you need to organize.

1. Schoolwork

We say it over and over again, the most important thing for college admissions are academics. You are going to college to study, so colleges, whether in India or abroad, care about your grades since they are an indicator of academic success. So first of all, organize how you study.

Make a daily calendar for subjects you need to review, marking note of assignments and exams, adding time for reviews of subjects for end-of-school exams (CBSE, ISC or IB).

2. College Applications

You would think this would be first on our list, but really, academics are important. Then is getting the application in on time. Make sure you work toward clear deadlines. Give yourself buffer time because life always inserts itself when you least expect it. Do NOT submit your application nine minutes and fourteen seconds before the deadline. Do not do it. Do not put yourself in a position where that is what you will have to do, because it is nerve wracking and horrible and you will feel very unpleasant for hours afterwards and get yelled at by your parents. Just don’t do it.

3. Letters of Recommendations and Financial Papers

College Applications are more complicated than forms and essays you need to complete yourself. Even if you can complete something in the nick of time, people around you might not. Your teachers need to submit recommendations, your parents need to complete financial papers. Make sure to organize those.

4. Family and friends

It’s the last year of school. You’ll be leaving home to spend the majority of your year focusing on college soon. Time spent with family and friends is vital. Steve Jobs spent his last weeks talking about time spent with family. “That was one of the things that came out most clearly from this whole experience [with cancer]. I realized that I love my life. I really do. I’ve got the greatest family in the world, and I’ve got my work.” You have the greatest family and friends. Be organized in making time for them. By organizing your time you won’t experience guilt when you spend time with them and at the same time, you won’t lose out either.

So as we move into 2019, figure out your version of the Steve Jobs uniform and get ready to take on the world around you.

Thinking about Undergraduate Majors

Why you should pause before choosing the Business Degree

Amongst the dozens of majors that American colleges offer, and the promise of freedom that education abroad stands for, the popular route for students from India is still a degree in Bachelors of Business Administration. First, it was all about Wall Street, more recently about Entrepreneurship, but business is still the most popular major out there.

We’ve had students go to Wharton, Stern, Kelley, truly the best of business schools because they are certain of what they want and we are definitely there to support them. And there are those students who apply for reasons that are less than perfect – pressure to manage the family business or a misguided desire for money. But before they make the decision, we have a conversation to make sure it’s what they really want, not just what they “believe” they should study.

And that conversation is essential. And that is the conversation I want to share with you. Because I am sad to say that some students lose their opportunity to broaden their minds with a liberal arts education by sacrificing it for “safety.” And I’m not just here to drill in on the values of Fareed Zakaria’s “In the Defense of a Liberal Education,” I really want to use this opportunity for you to explore if this is a good idea.

So What Are Wrong Reasons to Pick a Business Major?

Because you don’t know what else is available. The ingrained mentality that Indian Students study Engineering, Medicine or Business is hard to shake, even though times are changing. Sometimes, students say they want to study business without even knowing why. It’s like saying, “I like to read” because it’s the “right hobby” without having an opinion on what genre of literature you like. Do you know what part of business you like? What do you want to do after the degree? What does Accounting, Marketing, Operations, Strategy entail? And even then, if you want to get to Consulting do you need to be a business major to get there?

Because of the flashy title. What was once a desire to be a banker on Wall Street has become a desire to be an Entrepreneur or Founder. But remember, each entrepreneur you idolize became a success because they had a different idea that changed the world. And they didn’t necessarily get that idea from an accounting classroom. Often, it was an unusual experience that prompted it. In The Social Network, Zuckerberg got the idea from social interactions rather than classes. Don’t get swayed by a title, recognize that you need a foundation perhaps but you won’t get an idea for “the next big thing” with your diploma when you graduate. You need more.

Because you don’t realize you don’t need the major to do the job. This is something we’ve been hinting at in the last two points but the biggest thing that students forget is that you don’t need to study business to do business. Consider the fact that each year, students from top liberal arts schools – Harvard, Princeton, Stanford – go into consulting, banking and finance. And none of those students have a business degree. Because those schools don’t offer them. Yet those students are a success in the world of business.

Companies hire English majors who can analyze novels to manage communications, history majors who understand cause and effect to analyze patterns, and social science majors to take their theoretical understanding and apply it to the world around them. A designer developing products works in business, an HR person works in business, there is more to business than the degree. Managers need teamwork skills, leadership, and problem-solving skills, something you can learn in any degree.

And sometimes, the broad base of the liberal arts education is valuable because what is business today, is not business tomorrow. The smartphone didn’t exist in the last millennium, and yet there are businesses built on just building smartphone apps. As the world changes, you need adaptability, creativity and strong people skills for success, not just finance classes. The exploratory approach that the liberal arts education follows can encourage the flexibility you might need.

This is not to say we don’t encourage students to study business if it is right for them. Like we said, we have students going to top schools each year. But this is a decision that should be thought through and explored carefully. Don’t pick business because it’s a default, pick it if you truly want it. And if you are one of those students who loves the Mock Stock Exchange and started their own business in middle school, maybe you are right for business.

Others may want to wait till the MBA where you study those same courses but after you’ve built a foundation and improved on it with work experience. Remember that your undergraduate education only comes around once. And by jumping right into the business world, you may be closing those opportunities to explore that led you to apply abroad in the first place.

To MOOC or not to MOOC

Understanding the potential for Online Courses

With monsoons come midterms and exams. But we would like to use the last bit of the monsoons to touch on another subject – MOOCs.

Over the last five years, web-based classes—especially massive open online courses (MOOCs)—have begun to change the way students gain knowledge. For a while they were the hot commodity with websites like Coursera and edX seeing thousands of new courses come up every week. People even wondered if they would replace traditional university education! While jury is still out on that, we have seen MOOCs become a valuable tool for students applying to college – whether in India or abroad!

Explore: MOOC’s have been a boon, allowing students to explore their interests beyond the curriculum. Looking at the rigid CBSE and ICSE curriculums in particular, the classes you attend in school rarely allow you to mix and match across interests or show that you can and will go above and beyond. Thus, online courses are extremely valuable because they allow you to show an array of interests and explore your major in greater detail.

Many students realize in high school that they want to go into the business world, but some schools don’t offer classes in entrepreneurship or marketing. This is a good chance for you to walk in with eyes wide open and try courses in a safe environment. Do you want to study Art History but don’t know what it is? Did you come from a strong science background but may want to switch to Economics without ever taking a class in that subject? Use MOOCs to explore.

Express: What then? How do you show the world? A few ways! Firstly, social media sites like LinkedIn recognize the value of MOOCs too and allow you to integrate and advertise those courses on your online profile. Applications to colleges abroad have sections allowing you to express your interest in a subject – whether through an essay about your chosen field or through the activity and additional information section. Brown even had an essay that said – “Please list the courses, including those you may have taken outside your secondary school, that relate to your chosen field.”

Pro Tip: Choose courses for which proof of completion is easy to share – whether it’s a certificate or a grade. Remember that you will be sharing your accomplishments with an admissions department that will wish to verify your claims. It may cost money to get a certificate but that is well worth it!

Bringing it together: To show you an example we want to talk about a student who successfully used MOOCs to tip the admissions game in a favor. This particular student was extremely interested in Economics, having studied it at school. She was also a talented artist, who enjoyed reading about art and artists. She never thought of the field of Art History.

To stand out from the thousands of students applying for Economics, she wanted to highlight her interest in Art. We recognized that there was no way she could simply mention that interest without supporting it. There’s a big difference between a student who talks about how she’s really excited to advance her knowledge about a particular subject and one who has already started doing that.

Now she was an amateur artist already, taking classes and entering competitions. But she hadn’t been involved in any events that were connected with Art History. She also wanted to learn more about this field and to figure out if it was something she wanted to pursue more fully in college.

My student decided to decided to take classes on Coursera exploring the field. Later she dove into influences of Islamic Art on modern architecture. Halfway through the course, she was inspired to take a walking tour of New Delhi, taking photos of the influence she learned about on her own city. She read about the research the universities were doing in the fields as well, even volunteering at a museum to learn more and gain valuable work experience. She still continuing to take pictures of her city. On one occasion she even ran into a group of students from one of her dream universities at Humayun’s Tomb, studying the architecture there over their summer vacation.

So the Coursera course wound up helping her accomplish a great deal. She…

–        Explored her budding interest in Art History

–        Used the course to engage with the subject and with the colleges

–        Wrote about those engagements and expressed the way she had built on her interest

Now at Brown, she is studying both Art History AND Economics. She was able to stand out in her supplemental application essays, interviews and overall application and explore something of interest to her.

So, in conclusion, should you take a MOOC? If you’ve got the time, it’s a great thing! They are a great way for students to expand their knowledge and skills beyond what is possible in their school classrooms. And more than that, they are incredibly useful tools to illustrate intellectual vitality and strengthen your application.

Build Your Brand: On Paper and Online

Social Media and College Admissions

It’s like your worst nightmare. Your dream school sent you another letter after the “Congratulations!” letter, and this time, it was to rescind your admission. Earlier in the year, Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten prospective members of the Class of 2021 after the students posted sexually explicit memes and racist messages in a private Facebook group chat.

That’s right, they thought it was private, and yet, it wasn’t.

Your social media profiles are being viewed by college admissions officers more and more. And what you post can influence their perspectives. A lot of time they look at your profile with a sense of curiosity – “this student is so interesting! I wonder what they look like. Let me Google them.” Something negative or inflammatory can leave a bad taste in their mouth. And when they re-read your application, they’re already skewed. Like what would happen if you stalked one of your acquaintances and built an image in your head even before you met in person. It happens.

So with that in mind, what can you do?

Well, in addition to getting started with your essays (really, you should), here are a few things you should do to clean up your social media profiles.

Don’t Go Invisible: This may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s the lazy way out. Like with the Harvard students, private doesn’t mean private. Don’t use that fake name or that totally stringent profile. Instead, control what you’re posting.

Which gets us to Do Use it To Your Advantage: Share what you want to highlight about you – that interesting project, a YouTube video of your piano concert, your blogposts on socially responsible politics. Just like with your application, you can use that online profile to showcase yourself!

Don’t Raise Questions: You don’t need to make it completely squeaky clean – it’s ok to post photos of a vacation, or a hangout with friends. In fact, a lot of admissions officers can sense when you’re being authentic vs. overly curated. But don’t do anything illegal, irresponsible or controversial. Don’t trash people on your status. You want the Admissions Officer to like you.

Do Diversify!: There are so many different mediums, use them! Instagram, Twitter, Soundcloud, Blogspot. We’ve had students who have shared their musicality with a Soundcloud account and poets who’ve shared photos inspiring their work on Instagram. We’ve even had students who were “discovered” on these mediums and published! Think beyond just one medium.

Do Stalk Them!: Follow schools, learn about them. They’re using their social media well. Get glimpses of the life on campus through Instagram and Snapchat and follow their Facebook and Twitter account to learn more about admissions deadlines and happenings on campus. If you visit, post photos and engage with them but be smart. If you put a post of “Columbia is my dream! Can’t wait to wear that blue!” NYU, may not be as pleased or trust you when you write about how much you like that school.

Don’t Waste Time: Your time is valuable, so don’t spend it all creating the “perfect” online profiles to impress admission officers. If they do look you up online, they’re not going to spend hours combing through your posts. Use that time for application essays, your grades, things that matter. If you want them to look at something, include it in your application in the supplement section but recognize they may not spend too much time on it.

With that, get cracking on your applications! And good luck!

Insider’s Guide to Admissions: Standardized Tests

SAT, ACT, IELTS, TOEFL, APs, AHH! No that last one wasn’t an acronym but it was an attempt at capturing the frustration and confusion students experience as they go through the complicated and sometimes overwhelming process of applying abroad.

This Insider’s Guide to Admissions is here to give you guidance and direction. This particular article is covering Standardized Tests – what are they, how are they different and who needs them.

SAT: For applicants to the US, the SAT has become a bit of a household name. However, the SAT recently changed evolving into the New SAT. This New SAT has a few cosmetic changes (e.g. scored out of 1600 now instead of 2400, doesn’t have negative marking any more) and some content changes (e.g. no more Writing section). It basically consists of two sections – English and Mathematics. Internationally, the test is offered six times a year – January, May, June, October, November and December.

Pro Tip: While the essay is Optional, don’t skip it. A number of colleges require them including the University of California colleges (UCLA, UC Berkeley etc.)

ACT: An alternative to the SAT, the ACT has been gaining popularity in India of late. While SAT is out of 1600, ACT is graded out of 36. Unlike the SAT, the ACT covers three basic areas – English, Mathematics and Science. The science section in ACT is easy to master, unless you completely hate science. In that case, the New SAT is your savior! Anecdotally, English is easier on the ACT while Math is not really harder but faster. The test is offered six times a year – February, April, June, September, October and December.

Pro Tip: Whether it’s the ACT or SAT, plan to give your first attempt in Grade 11. Most people take 2 attempts to get their idealized score.

Choosing between the ACT and SAT: Let me make one thing very clear, SAT and ACT are equally accepted in universities abroad. If you want a competitive college application, you need high test scores. And if you want high test scores, you need to take the right test. Most importantly, you should focus all your efforts on taking one test. So, you really need to choose between SAT and ACT, and that too well in time because time is precious. Ideally, you should take a Diagnostic or Practice Exam in each one of the two exams. Compare the scores and then decide. Check out our blog post on this for more tips www.collegecore.in/blog

Pro Tip: SAT and ACT not for you? You’re not the only one. In fact, there are a number of universities that are going SAT-independent, eliminating the requirement to do the tests. Check out the list on FairTestPrep.org

TOEFL / IELTS: TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) as the names suggest, are tests to gauge your command over the English Language. These tests are Visa Requirements for the most part. TOEFL is more popular with U.S. and Canada while IELTS is what the U.K. colleges prefer. Requirements differ by colleges – some colleges specify that if you have over 650 in the SAT English section the requirement is waived, others waive it for U.S. Citizens living abroad while still others will require it no matter what. The test is offered fairly regularly. You should check the official websites for the dates.

Pro Tip: ETS, the TOEFL organizers have begun offering a free online course to study for the test. While on the other hand, the British Council, the IELTS organizers often hold in person workshops to train you for them.

While we’ve covered the major ones, a few other tests you to keep in mind:

PSAT & Pre-ACT: Say you’re in the Ninth or Tenth grade, and you have your sights set on the United States of America as your intended college destination. You have all the plans to get yourself ready for the mad rush of Grade 12 but why not start earlier? The PSAT or Preliminary SAT offers the opportunity to get a head start on the preparation for the standardized tests. Moreover, the most competitive summer schools often request the PSAT or the SAT as a part of the evaluation. The test is only offered in October each year.

The Pre-ACT is new, in fact it only was announced in 2016. Its function is similar to the PSAT and like the ACT is an alternative to the SAT, the Pre-ACT is an alternative to the PSAT. It’s yet to come to India though. Read more about it on the ACT website.

SAT Subject Tests: While the SAT and ACT focus primarily on English and Math, the SAT Subject Tests are subject specific. SAT Subject Tests are available in 20 subjects (12 are in various languages), and allow a student to be able to show their academic strength in specific subjects. Some universities require Subject Tests, others recommend them, while still others don’t want them at all. Sometimes, universities will require specific tests depending on the major you’re applying for. For example, Engineering majors are often required to give the Physics and Math Level II SAT Subject Test.

APs: APs or Advanced Placements are the ‘New Kid on the Block’ at least in the Indian Standardized Tests landscape. The exam takes place in May each year and is offered in a number of different subjects – 37 subjects as of 2016 – so you can show your interest in Psychology or Economics which is not offered as a Subject Test. It’s graded from 1 to 5, 5 being the highest. The results of these exams are widely accepted and since they are considered “college-level” are used by colleges for college credit AFTER a student has been admitted. However, for Indian students applying from a curriculum that doesn’t offer APs in school, the results are not considered for admissions. Check out more on specific pros and cons and whether you should take APs on our blog www.collegecore.in/blog