Category: Acceptance

5 Takeaways: Simplifying the Application Process Workshop


Earlier this week, as it is tradition, we had panelists from our soon to be College Freshmen class give their words of wisdom to the class of students applying this year and starting college Fall of 2017.

And so, a HUGE Thank you to the Class of 2020 Panelists who came to give their Words of Wisdom to the Class of 2021 in our “Simplifying the Application Process” Workshop at the CollegeCore Office!

Our Panelists were:

– Aditri Bhagirath – Carnegie Mellon University

– Anahita Sehgal – UCLA

– Ananya Mittal – Princeton University

– Aryaman Sethi – University of Chicago

– Rishab Srivastava – UC Berkeley

– Shankar Salwan – Northwestern University

– Shivam Bajaj – University of Southern California

– Simran Arora – Brown University

ICYMI: We had pages and pages of notes but since we can’t share them all, so see below for 5 Key Takeaways from our students.

1) Make a Balanced University List:


Enthusiastic parents and ambitious students may say “Ivy League or nothing else” but be realistic about it.

Dreams are dreams for a reason. You may feel right now that you want to apply to all the Ivies even if you have no chance of getting in, but each rejection hurts a lot. You need targets and safeties to balance that.

And we mean targets too. Applying to 8 Ivies and 1 safety like Drexel isn’t good either. What if you only got into Drexel? Would you go there?

Plan out Early Action and Early Decision as well but understand where it gives you an edge versus where it may be better to apply Regular Decision.

2) SAT / ACT Tips


The sooner you finish your SAT / ACT testing the better. Plus a reminder to Self-Study. No one can teach you to take the SAT, you have to put in the effort. The tutors have tips and tricks and ensure practice. Remember you are taking the test and not your tutor so the effort has to come from you in the test and before the test.

But don’t put too much pressure, the SAT / ACT isn’t the be all and end all. An excellent SAT score won’t save you if your school grades aren’t there. Remember, the SAT is a reflection of one day of exams and not of four years of prep like your grades. So balance your efforts.

3) Get cracking on your Essays

Start soon. You may write one CommonApp essay or you may write three. The most difficult part is starting. Remember you’re trying to stand out, so don’t make it generic, it needs to be about something important in your life. Don’t harp about your achievements, the rest of the CommonApp will cover that. Instead talk about challenges and motivations. Don’t be clichéd. If you are talking about a somewhat generic topic (like sports or community service), bring a new perspective like talking about your motivations why rather than narrating what happened. Don’t get too much feedback. Each perspective will confuse you and will be distracting. Do keep your focus narrow. This is a “Slice of Life” essay and a small experience and not story of your entire life. Follow us on Facebook because keep posting the latest essays available.

4) Take Charge of your Interviews

Unlike job interviews, these interviews are informal. They aren’t subject specific and can feel random at times. Prepare the questions but don’t rehearse them otherwise you will sound stiff. Balance. Guide your interviewer: You can guide the interview to discuss things you want to talk about. Suppose you want to discuss your dance and your interviewer chats about Bollywood. This is what you can do.

  • I’m a huge Bollywood dance fan!
  • But my favorite is Jazz which I’ve been learning for the last three years (showing your accomplishment)
  • In fact, I was really interested in the Jazz dance troupe at XYZ college (connecting to the college)

But don’t talk the entire time, let your interviewer talk to and let it evolve into a conversation. Remember to be prepared with questions at the end.

5) Don’t Overdo the Recommendations

There are school recommendation and external recommendations. Each University allows a different number of external though they all want 1 Counsellor recommendation and 2 Academic Teacher recommendations. But just because the college allows more, doesn’t mean you should send more. College Admissions says heavier the file, the faster it sinks. Only send them if they add value and aren’t repeating the same thing over and over.

Mantra of the Day: BALANCE


Don’t spend all the time on school, or all the time on applications

Don’t overdo or underdo extracurriculars

Don’t make crazy unrealistic University lists


Reading College Rankings


The U.S. News Rankings came out early last week. In case you missed them, check them out here.

But this post is not to examine the various ranks and what that reflects about the school. This post is to understanding the ranking process, both what we learn from it and why they can sometimes be misleading and disheartening.

First though, there is a clarification needed. While most people know that all Ivy League schools are good, the word Ivy League is sometimes used to name the top 10 colleges on the list. However, that is incorrect.

What is the Ivy League?

The Ivy League is the term used to refer to the eight schools that make up the Ivy League athletic conference. Below is the Ivy League schools list and their U.S. News Rankings for 2016:
• Princeton University – #1
• Harvard University – #2
• Yale University – #3
• Columbia University – #4
• University of Pennsylvania – #9
• Dartmouth College – #12
• Brown University – #14
• Cornell University – #15

The term Ivy League has become synonymous with prestige, selectiveness, and high rankings and for this reason, so many people use this label incorrectly. However, it is important to note that this list does not include other private universities like Stanford, UChicago, Duke and MIT to name a few.

But Ivy League is NOT EQUAL to Top 10 Colleges

Having clarified that, let’s dive into a couple of things

1) What Goes Into Rankings?

2) How do you Use these Rankings?

3) Why do People Like Rankings?

4) What Do I Do Instead?

First, What Goes Into Rankings?

That depends on who is ranking them. What do we mean by that? Different rankings use different criteria to measure effectiveness.

US News’ list most strongly emphasizes the academic reputations of the colleges. They take into account opinions of peers (e.g. Harvard’s opinion on Stanford), evaluate research and professors.

The Forbes list most heavily emphasizes student outcomesAmongst various factors, it evaluates student salaries after graduation.

Similarly, the Bloomberg list is incredibly valuable when looking at Undergraduate Business Schools. This is because the list takes into account employer feedback on these schools which is an important opinion for graduates from these colleges. The Niche looks at the quality of life and Princeton Review uses a variety of criteria and has rankings like “Best Campuses.”

TLDR: Each ranking is unique in what it chooses to focus on and so, use a variety of rankings to form opinions instead of putting on blinders.

Second, How do you Use these Rankings?

Well, rankings shouldn’t be the reason to apply to a college. More specifically you should never say, in your essays that rankings are the reason to apply. Saying “Dear Princeton, I’m applying because you’re #1” is like saying “Dear Girl / Guy, I’m dating you because you’re rich.” It’s crass, don’t do it.

However, use rankings to understand where a college stands. In Delhi University, when you consider a list of just about 20 colleges, a top 10 list helps you compartmentalize the list. But the U.S. has 300 good colleges and so the difference between #1 and #5 is drastic in DU but not in the U.S.

Why do People Like Rankings?

Because they are quick. If you’re new to the process of admissions, the information can see overwhelming. Rankings are a quick and easy way of simplifying the data.

What Do I Do Instead?

Figure out what you want from college. Do you like big cities or want a campus that has open fields? Do you like large class sizes or small ones? That will help you figure out which college you are best fit for. These differences are massive. Even if you look at the Ivy League colleges, in fact, Columbia is a city campus and quite a bit smaller than say Princeton which is a suburban campus. Read up more here.

And we aren’t saying don’t use rankings at all. Just don’t use one ranking. Even with US News, they divide Liberal Arts colleges and National Universities. So, you can’t compare Williams (#1 Liberal Arts College 2016) to Princeton (#1 National University 2016). Using a mix of rankings allows you to figure out if a school is in a top-tier band or a second-tier band.

A quick note: While we focus on the U.S. here, these notes apply to the Guardian Rankings for the U.K. or the Q.S. World News Rankings. Even the India Today rankings!

Finding the Right Counsellor

Finding the right counsellor – agents vs. counsellors, someone who does the work vs. someone who guides you

Guidance Counsellor / College Counsellor / Education Counsellor / Education Consultant are terms often used interchangeably to refer to a person who works closely with students to help them navigate the process of applying to college. Education Counsellors (American: Counselor), however, are normally self-employed (or are part of consulting firms), while School Counsellors are employed by a school.

Cat Confused

A Counsellor would:

– Help a student chart out their academic and career goals

– Identify courses to pursue after high school in preparation for the student’s career goals

– Identify colleges/universities which offer these courses

– Help a student to shortlist the colleges to apply to based on ‘right fit’

– Help a student to project their achievements and strengths in the best possible fashion to present strong applications to colleges

– Be bound by ethical practices thereby enabling a student rather than filling in applications and writing essays on their behalf

An Agent, on the other hand, has a tie-up with colleges/universities and is compensated by them for sending students to study in these colleges.

An Agent would:

– Facilitate a student’s admission to an institution they have partnerships with

– Agents very often will indulge in unethical practices like writing application essays and filling in college applications

– Ensure that the student accepts the offer of admission by facilitating the visa process

Now that we have that clear, let’s move on to the next step – Identifying the right College Counsellor

– Focus on your child’s personality, educational background & dreams.


The educational counsellor you choose should be a good match for your child’s personality, have experience of working with students with similar admissions profiles, and be supportive of your child’s college aspirations.

– Find someone experienced with a thorough knowledge of college admission requirements & process

A professional educational counsellor should have complete knowledge about a wide range of colleges and universities as well as latest admissions trends. A partnership with specific universities could create a conflict of interest. They should also have sufficient experience helping students through the college search and application process for the country the student is keen on applying to.

– Find someone supportive.


You and your child should both feel comfortable when interacting with the counsellor. An encouraging attitude will go a long way in minimizing stress and anxiety in the college admissions process. A good counsellor while emphasizing the need to present strong academic grades and extra-curriculars will never undermine a student’s accomplishments but instead guide a student to project them in the best possible manner. They should help you create an Application Timeline to follow, draw up a list of colleges to apply to, satisfy all application requirements, give feedback on essays and review your applications before submission. They say it takes a village to send a student to college! A counsellor will strive to work as a team with families, high school counsellors, and college admissions staff of universities.

– A counsellor should be accessible

Shell Phone

Senior Year of High School can be one of the most stressful years in school, the pressure of keeping up with school grades, to writing essays, filling applications, taking standardized tests, giving interviews, meeting expectations of parents and teachers! It’s an endless list! While students are happy even restricting conversations to text, you may want to be able to call them, skype with them, maybe even meet them. If you have someone knowledgeable to hand hold you through this process and someone you can talk to when you are stressed, someone who will not be judgmental and instead be understanding and be available in person on phone/Skype call for sudden meetings or distress calls.

– Committed to ethical practices

A good counsellor will never indulge in unethical practices like making false promises to clients like promising admissions or scholarships using their personal ‘contacts’ with admissions staff of colleges. They will never write application essays for students, or fill in applications on their behalf. Instead they will empower a student to take the right decisions and navigate the college applications terrain with their guidance and support. This is something, which will also prepare the student to deal with their college life independently.

Still confused?


Here are three facts to keep in mind:

1) In the world of Google, information is as much powerful as it is harmful.

2) The process can be incredibly overwhelming and you need someone to guide you through it.

3) It’s an investment. If you choose to spend $240k dollars on your business, would you spend 5% of the investment to find someone to guide you?

Make the most of your Summer – Edition 2 (Grade 11 / Rising Juniors)

Summer is coming2.jpg

Continuing with the Game of Thrones references in our Summer Series (check out the last one here), 11th Graders and Rising Juniors, this second set of the Three Part Series on how to make the most of your summer is for YOU!!

College seems like next year’s problem, but now is the time to start! So get set, get ready, because summer time is here and we have tips for you on what you can do to be ready for college admissions.

1) University Visits

College Visits

You probably JUST got done with Grade 10 boards and for a treat, your parents are taking you to (_____INSERT COUNTRY HERE____) Whether US, UK, Europe or Canada, use this summer to go visit colleges so you can understand them better. Even if you aren’t travelling far, venture to Delhi University or NID in Ahmedabad or Ashoka in Sonipat or the tiny college near your aunt’s place in New Jersey. It’s important to start acquainting yourself with colleges now, whether in person by visiting or virtually by checking out their website and videos. For tips on how to make the most of your college visits, check out an earlier blog post here.

2) ACT / SAT diagnostic


Once the college admissions process starts, you’ll realize that there are acronyms! Acronyms galore! But these two Acronyms – ACT and SAT – are super important standardized tests you need for the college admissions process. But before you just blindly follow what other people are doing (Sharma uncle’s son did the SAT….) take a diagnostic this summer. Figure out what you’re good at and then start studying for it. You should really plan to take your first attempt this fall (Oct / Nov / Dec for SAT and Sept / Oct / Dec for ACT). Need some help figuring out the tests, see this.

3) Summer Schools

Summer School

While the reaction to Summer Schools ranges from “Aww man” to “Yay!” there is definitely value in them. How much? That calls for another, longer post. In short – competitive summer schools, like SUMaC are a valuable indicator of a student’s capability but non-competitive ones don’t help in admissions. They do help in other ways including helping a student understand and prepare for the college-level curriculum, explore their interests (and show admissions what they do to follow them) and learn about universities first hand! But no need to head to the most expensive summer schools money can buy, colleges are coming to us! Whether its Ashoka‘s High School Program, UChicago or MIT, they are here, so make the most of them.

4) Internships


I see this reaction a lot. In fact, there are times when I think about high school students getting internships and I think of the scene in Dil Dhadakne Do when the Aunty Brigade is gossiping away and Priyanka Chopra ticks them off – “GET A JOB.” And her aunt looks up: “Paagal hogayi? Kya hamein kaun job dega? (Are you mad? Who would give us a job?)” But an internship is a great fit for a student who is looking for more specific insight into a particular industry or company, who wants to figure out what it means to be an Engineer or a do Genetics research. To get the experiences that will help guide your education and build a network of people you may want to work with some time in your life. There are a few places that will hire high school interns, however, your parents or school may be able to facilitate shadowings as well.

5) Start a Blog


Whether it’s an interest in writing poems or commenting on the political world around you, or even cataloguing your fun chemistry experiments, a blog is a great way to share your thoughts with a larger audience. While grades and test scores are important, blogging allows you to document your experiences and demonstrate your interest in a particular field. But starting a blog in October of the year you’re going to apply is BAD. That signals that you just woke up and created an artificial interest for the sake of admissions. Instead, start NOW! Create your domain (WordPress and Blogger are great) and define your topic. Remember to stay regular. For tips and tricks on a good blog, stay tuned for an upcoming post.

6. Do Something different


Frank Bruni’s NY Times Article saying that Stanford took 0% Applicants was the scariest April Fools Joke (because it could be true in a few years!), but he brought up a good point. The article says – “In the stack of applications that I reviewed, I didn’t see any gold medalists from the last Olympics — Summer or Winter Games — and while there was a 17-year-old who’d performed surgery, it wasn’t open-heart or a transplant or anything like that.” While we don’t want you to use your brother as a guinea pig for surgery, use the summer to step out of your comfort zones. Whether its learning acro-yoga or organic farming or even working in sanitation, do something different!

7. Study

Go Study

Grade 11 / Junior Year is NOT the time to slack off, especially if you’re applying abroad. While colleges in the US and Canada look at your grades across 9, 10, 11 and till your grade 12 midterms, Grade 11 is the last full academic year they get to see on your transcript and so it’s VERY IMPORTANT. Get ahead of class, or work hard on subjects that are tough for you. Pick up a book and study!

Best Movies on Admissions

Class of 2020 is now on cruise-control till the Fall and Class of 2021 is raring up to go. But mostly importantly, ITS SUMMER VACATION TIME! So we figured, this is a great time to revisit some popular portrayals of the process that teach us what we can take away from applying to college. For those looking to fill up time AND for those applying to college who want to be reassured they are not alone, check out this list!

1.     Admission (2013)

The well-ordered life of a Princeton admissions officer falls apart when she learns that one of her applicants may be the son she gave up for adoption.

What this movie teaches us: The admissions officers are also normal people like us. They work very hard in order to recruit a diverse and dynamic freshman class year after year, looking for not just the top scorers but also, the right “school fit”. They look for students are the most likely to succeed within and contribute to the specific community.

But the fact is that sometimes this works out, and sometimes it doesn’t, which means the admissions counselor, not just the student, is often very disappointed by an unfavorable decision. Still, there is no secret formula for getting in.

2.     History Boys (2006)


History Boys

“We won’t be examined on that, will we sir?” To get into Oxford or Cambridge, eight bright but mischievous working class students work hard to study for the notorious exams that act as the gatekeepers to England’s elite colleges.

The film is bawdy and irreverent, but it portrays the arduous amount of dedication it takes to study for college entrance examinations. Whether it’s the ACT or the SAT or the infamous Oxbridge examinations, this movie will make you laugh and bolster your courage to study — and hope for eccentric teachers like Mrs. Lintott and Hector.

What this movie teaches us: Take a class to prepare for your college entrance examination. You’ll learn how to ace the test as well as meet new people — both teachers and classmates.

3.     Orange County (2002)

“We regret to inform you that your application to Stanford University was not accepted.” If the college application process redeems itself through you actually getting accepted into your first choice, Orange County is about the sting of rejection.

Shaun wants to be a writer. Shocked into finding a purpose for his life after his best friend Lonny is killed in a surfing accident, Shaun decides that Stanford is the best place to go to be a writer. When he discovers his guidance counselor sent the wrong transcripts, Shaun is determined to rectify the situation.

We won’t spoil the ending, but the film asks us to think about the successes and failures in how we line up what we want to be with where we want to go to school.

What this movie teaches us: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Apply to more than one school.

4.     The Social Network (2010)

The Oscar winning story of Harvard student Mark Zuckerburg and the creation of the social networking site, Facebook, along with the legal dramas that followed by fellow students who claimed he stole their idea.

This recent film takes us into the mind of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose world-spanning creation began humbly in a Harvard dorm.

What this movie teaches us: Besides several management lessons learnt through the movie, it was internesting to observe that regardless of all the partying, football, murder, and mayhem on this list, this film is a keen reminder of how college students have the potential to effect the entire world.

5.     Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

Set at Wellesley College in the 1950s, a progressive professor attempts to teach her female students, through art, that marriage doesn’t have to be their ultimate life achievement.

What this movie teaches us: While many of the same issues don’t apply to modern day, it demonstrates the impact that one teacher can have on a student and how much college can change one’s future.

6.     The Perfect Score (2004)

The film focuses on a group of six high school students whose futures will be jeopardized if they fail the upcoming SAT exam. They conspire to break into the ETS building and steal the answers to the exam, so they can all get perfect scores. The film deals with the themes of one’s future, morality, individuality, and feelings.

What this movie teaches us: a perfect SAT score does not a perfect life make, seems a valuable life lesson.

7.     Acceptance (2006- Movie available only on YouTube)

Acceptance 2006

ACCEPTANCE tells the true story about a scholar from India who lies about getting into Harvard. It brings audiences into the world of elite international schools, VIP night clubs and the college admissions rat-race.

High school senior Rohan Patel, an under-privileged scholar from India, seems like the perfect college applicant. He’s President of 5 clubs, has a 4.0 GPA and a 2400 on the SAT. He believes the secret to acceptance rests in compromising his identity to match what each Ivy League School appears to “want” out of its applicants.

However, on college results day, Rohan is faced with a slew of rejections. Unable to cope with his failure, he lies to his friends, family and teachers about getting into the Harvard class of 2014.

The lie quickly spirals out of control and Rohan is forced to confront his hidden failures.

What this movie teaches us: One has to bear the consequences of his actions and learn to feel comfortable accepting himself. And turns out, being yourself is the best thing you can be.

8.     Good Will Hunting (1997)

The film that put Ben Affleck and Matt Damon on the map, Good Will Hunting is a tale of a janitor who has a secret gift for mathematics. The film explores the boundaries between academics and those from blue-collar backgrounds, something which Damon’s character struggles with as he learns he has to leave his neighborhood and best friend behind–something all students and grads can relate to.

What this movie teaches us: Education can come from everywhere. But… a classroom can also teach you many things life can’t. So long as you’re willing to learn from everything and everyone around you.

9.     Rudy (1993)

“My whole life people have been telling me what I could and couldn’t do. I’ve always listened to ‘em, believed in what they said. I don’t want to do that anymore.”

Getting into the University of Notre Dame is Rudy Ruettiger’s dream. After being told he is too small to play football, and lacking the grades he needs to get in, Rudy enrolls in the local Catholic community college to boost his grades.

A transfer study success story, Rudy works hard to get on the team. After sacking a player in the final play against Georgia Tech, Rudy becomes the only Fighting Irish to be carried off the field by his teammates.

What this movie teaches us: Didn’t get the grades you needed to get into a competitive school? Apply to a nearby community college and work hard to get the grades you need to transfer.

10.   Real Women Have Curves (2002)*

“Write about something you know.” Struggling to write a personal statement portion of her college application, Ana’s teacher Mr. Guzman urges her to tap into her personal experience to craft her essay. While giving practical advice to be genuine, the film chronicles Ana’s struggle to find her own voice.

Ana gets accepted into Columbia University with a full scholarship. But as a first-generation Mexican American in East Los Angeles, Ana is expected to work in her family’s textile factory. Conflicted by the obligation she feels she owes to her family, Ana uses the summer after her high school graduation to discover what she really wants to do.

What this movie teaches us: Many students struggle with the admission essay. It’s meant to be a challenge. Do some soul searching and aim for authenticity.

*Honorable Mention: Spanglish! Similar idea, different movie.

Are we missing any movies on our list? Let us know!