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Category: Admissions Interviews

5 Takeaways: Simplifying the Application Process Workshop

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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:

Balanced2

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

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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

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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

Balanced3

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

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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

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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

Internship

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

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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

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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!

Make the most of your Summer – Edition 1 (Grade 12 / Rising Seniors)

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Temperatures rising and vacation approaches and as much as we want our days to devolve into lazing by the pool and watching Game of Thrones (Season 6 woohoo!) we want to give a few great tips and hints to college applicants. So this, is the first of a Three Part Series on how to make the most of your summer!

This first edition is for our 12th Graders and Rising Seniors. Before you know it, October will be here and Early Decision deadlines will be upon us. Colleges like knowing what you’ve done with your summer, so get yourself up and go out and conquer!

1) Common App essay

Essay Writing

I don’t have to repeat this to the seniors who have already started, but the Common App essay is an essential part of the process. Topics for 2016-17 came out early January  and seniors, if you haven’t already started, get a jump start on your essay! The topics are the same as last year, and are, as always, eliciting personal thoughts, opinions and stories. Whether it’s writing about a time when you stood up in class and challenged a popular opinion on the way a student election was going, or stepped up to become an adult, taking on responsibilities that transformed your perspective, the colleges can’t WAIT to know. A CommonApp essay is never one and done, and the summer is the perfect time to work on your drafts, give yourself the time to work, rework and rework again.

Essay Writing 2

If THIS is how you’re feeling, reach out to us! We’re doing essay brainstorming sessions with our students every week.

Pro Tip: Carry a notebook or start a notes section on your phone. The most fascinating essays we’ve ever read have been inspired at the oddest moments – on a plane when cut off from all wi-fi and external distractions, a student reflected on an illuminating trip to Haridwar or when the metro broke down and a student stepped back to observe the people around him.

2) Recommendations

Summer means school is closed! And while you as students are looking at filling your free time, so are your teachers. Before school closes, you should absolutely request your teachers for Letters of Recommendation – THEY ARE FREE! Remember, your teachers are probably writing letters for dozens of students and in case you’re applying early and hoping that your teacher can get your thoughts in on time, give them time to work on it.

Recommendation

Pro Tip: While it’s a good idea to get a teacher who can comment on your academic readiness for the major you are applying for, it’s more important to choose someone who really knows you. Remember to help your teachers by giving them a copy of your resume or list of activities, maybe even filling out a page of anecdotes reminding them of a time you participated in class, interacted with them on something important (whether inside or outside the classroom) or went above and beyond.

3) Standardized Tests

SAT Koala

The last few attempts of the SAT and the ACT before the Early Deadlines (Nov 1) are upon us. You have two attempts of the SAT (June & October) and two attempts of the ACT (June & September) left to finish up your Standardized Tests and Subject Tests. The summer is a great time to work on them and make sure you nail the exams. If you’re still unsure, read up on the New SAT vs the ACT.

Pro Tip: Both exams are marathons, not sprints. We aren’t SAT / ACT coaches but, as third party bystanders, the biggest mistake we’ve seen students making is not enough full-length tests. When the students tire at the end of three hours, they make stupid mistakes, ruining the effort they’ve put in. Use the summer to do at least 20 practice tests! Then go kick that exam’s ass.

4) Research Colleges

Besides the Common App essay, you will have the much-dreaded Why X College essay, so use the summer to research colleges and finalize your college list. You may not get the chance to go visit colleges (check out our tips if you do) but you can still do your research while at home. This first great resource is the website. No seriously, the website is there for prospective students, so USE IT. Next, check out the college on social media.

Research College Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, keep up with colleges via their social media networks. Just don’t forget to clean up your own.

Pro Tip: Besides primary data, use forums like College Prowler, College Confidentional and Unigo to learn more. Additionally, YouTube is an amazing resource as well, for college virtual tours and general videos to get a sense of the campus.

5) CommonApp Application

Roll Over

Late 2015, Common App announced a new feature – the Common App Rollover! This is a huge change for us all because seniors would otherwise have to wait till August when the new Common App came out to begin their applications. While students still need to wait for the supplements, you can now get a jump start filling out oodles of data in the Common App during your summer. So grab your passport and information and settle in, let’s get this show on the road.

Random Note: We as counselors love the Common App for bringing families together. Confused? Well, every time we sit with a student to help them through the app, we reach a point when they need to call their parents – “Dad, when did you go to college?” The sound of a student reaching out to their parent to learn more about them warms our hearts. And makes us laugh.

6) Activities

Oprah Resume

I wish it was that easy, but ever since Oprah retired, you have to WORK for the resume. Once you start the application, you’ll realize that the Common App has 10 little sections for you to write about your involvement in various extracurricular activities. Depending on the kind of person you are, 10 can either be a lot or too little. This section isn’t easy and can take a lot of time for a few reasons 1) you need to rank your activities 2) you need to condense your experience with each activity into a character limit smaller than a tweet.

If you don’t have 10 activities, the summer is a great time to find some! It could be Community Service or an Internship, or something that sets you apart. But really, you don’t have to cure Cancer to get into Harvard or Stanford, you can find other activities to pique the admissions officers’ interest. Admissions Officers are looking for a few things – Leadership, Depth vs Breadth and time spent – and they use that connect to what you would do on campus.

Pro Tip: Start with a resume so that filling out the sections becomes easier.

7. Online Courses

Mooc

I know I know, you’re sick of hearing about them. But really, 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. Check out Coursera, MOOC List, eDX for a few! Moreover, colleges understand the value too and have been asking you about them. Brown had an essay in 2015 that said – “Please list the courses, including those you may have taken outside your secondary school, that relate to your chosen field.”

Pro Tip: Look for certified courses so that you are able to share them with colleges. You can also refer to these courses in Why Major type essays.

5 Takeaways On Visiting Colleges

We may live on the other side of the world from universities in the US and UK, but some students take the opportunity to go visit in the summer.

College Visits

Why Visit?

Visiting colleges can help you realize if it is the right place for you. You get a chance to connect with Admissions Officers, the mysterious beings who will be reading your applications. Additionally, your experiences can make for some interesting, personalized tidbits in the dreaded Why University essays.
For those venturing out on college trips, here are a few tips!

1) Sign up: Don’t show up unannounced, especially if the college only does tours by reservation. Go to their website and check out what times the Information Session and Campus Tours are. Sign up if you can to make sure you have a spot. Also, sign up for other opportunities if they offer them – sit in on a class, have lunch with a current student or maybe do an overnight visit.

2) Stalk them on Facebook: In this day and age, chances are that the colleges you visit will have an excellent website and a social media presence. Before you visit, read up about the school to get the full experience! Figure out the questions you might have, what you’re interested in. Moreover, you should be ready with questions to impress the tour-guide! Ask them about their experiences their first year -“What is your favorite general education requirement…” or more specific than that “I heard that the business school is adding an entrepreneurship lab, have you had any experience working with it?” Remember, YOU = STUDENT and not mom and dad. Mom and dad should take a back seat, this is your application process, own it.

3) Take Notes & Pictures: College 1 might stand out, but slowly, the differences between colleges 3 through 5 will blur together. Take notes and pictures to remind yourself! This will help later when questions arise. Don’t just note facts either. Saying that you were fascinated by the “14.3% population of international students” is not as impactful as “Rory, our tour guide’s story about Max Hall…” Names of the tour guide, admissions officer, campus buildings is what will set you apart. Pro Tip: Take notes in a notebook instead of on your phone. The info session leader can’t tell if you’re texting or writing notes when you’re on your phone. And no one likes to see an audience member texting away instead of noticing them.

4) Explore the Campus: You’re there! So explore. First, take the tour. That will help you figure out the campus, see the highlights and get to know a lot about the lay of the land. Then, keep time to explore the campus on your own. Have lunch in the dining hall, go check out the library and maybe even see the dorms. Understand how your life as a student would be.

5) Meet the experts: Current Students, Tour Guides and Admissions Officers are the experts on the University, each in their own way. Stop by the admissions office and introduce yourself to the Admissions Officers. If they have a regional admissions officer (which most colleges do), email them before you go to tell them you’re visiting and ask to stop by and say hello. Ask them to connect you to a current student perhaps that you can meet with during your visit. Collect their contact information and send a thank you email after!

Bonus Tip: For Seniors – Don’t Forget to Interview
Interviews are far and few in between for international students, who often don’t get to interact with admissions officers because they don’t always come to India. You’re visiting them, so don’t forget to interview! There are two ways to request an interview

a) Online – while signing up for an information session

b) By emailing them – reach out on the admissions email or contact us email to request an interview when you’re visiting campus. Even if they can’t offer it, the college will make a note you asked and that will be valued when you apply. And, as always, don’t forget to prepare!