Category: Extracurriculars

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!

Summer School? But its not even Spring!!

While winter is barely over, and Grade 12 students are in the midst of exams and preparation, it’s time to think of Summer Schools for students in Grade 9, 10 and 11!

You may think college applications are long off but unfortunately, time goes by faster than you think. Every year we get lots of people reaching out to discuss summer schools in May, but the time to apply is NOW. January and February are the best times to start planning for summer schools abroad.

But wait, even though, the trend of attending a summer program by high school students is really catching on in India and the BIG question is that is it really worth all the effort, time and money spent?

Is it becoming just about keeping up with that one kid in your class or is there a link between that an admissions? There is a lot to unpack in this article.

Well first thing to know is…

Q. What is a Summer School or a Summer Program?

A. Summer school is known to be a great way for students to pursue new interests, enhance existing talents, and build new contacts.

Q. Do they ACTUALLY act as a catalyst in gaining admission to a college of your choice?

A. In a simple way, we have parents each year asking, “If my child goes to Harvard Summer School, does that mean he will get into Harvard?” Here is the truth.

Attending a summer program no doubt indicates to colleges that you’re dedicated to studying and gaining knowledge. However, when you talk to admission officers they are of the opinion that these summer programs rarely give student that much of advantage when the time comes for them to apply to college. Yes, they do add great value to your resume/CV but understand that this is not your ticket to your desired college.

WAIT! Before you stop reading though… 

Q. Why should you consider pursuing a summer school/program?

– Summer program is the best way for students to fulfill their aspiration for global exploration and at the same time be committed to making the most of campus life. It’s a chance to figure out if they are ready.

– Explore new areas of interest, strengthen interest in a particular major and illustrate their readiness for the education system to admissions officers.

– Chance to experience what classes will be like and the level of work you will need to put in to succeed.

– Get hands on experience with international companies in form of internships which is inbuilt in some programs

– Possibility of incorporating your summer school experience in your essays

Q. What should I look for in a program?

– Is it the right time to dedicate to a summer program? AP exams are in the summer and sometimes Summer School overlaps with regular term for students. In some schools that means missing class and even exams.

– Is the school/program selective or does it take anyone who applies? If a selective program like Yale (YYGS), Boston Univ (PROMYS), Stanford (SuMAC), Princeton Journalism or UPenn LBW accepts you it is an indicator that 1) You are stronger than some of your peers 2) You are ready for a rigorous college curriculum

However, other programs that you can pay for and get in are less valuable in terms of being “an indicator” because even the admissions officers know they are not selective

Q. Do I have to go abroad?

A. No! Going to summer school abroad can cost as much as $10,000 for two weeks. Don’t waste your money on a non-selective program that won’t add too much value. Colleges are coming to us! Whether it’sAshoka’s High School Program, UChicago Summer School, Columbia University programs or MIT, the schools are coming to us and you should make the most of these opportunities.

Q. Should I go this year or next year?

A. Well, this is rather subjective and really depends from student to student. As per our experience we believe that you should join a summer program in the summer of your grade 10 and/or grade 11. The reason being that this time you are relatively free and have more time in hand as compared to when you are in grade 12 trying hard to balance your school life and college application work.

So going back to the big question, should I apply?

A. YES! Summer School is worth it if

– Your timing is right

– You can afford it

– If the program adds value to your application process either as a selective program that is an indicator or an exploratory program that allows you to show interest in a major


College Applications: Writing about Extracurriculars

Yes, yes, we know you’re obsessing about essays and scoffing at the idea of thinking about extracurriculars at this stage (“If I haven’t done them by now, chances are I won’t…”) but READ ON.

While the posts about how to make the most of your summer stressed the importance of Extracurriculars, we realize that a lot of the time, students mess up when it comes to writing about extracurriculars.

Besides the essays, the Activity Section on the CommonApp needs the maximum attention from you. The University of California has a similar section and so does every major alternative to the CommonApp. So whether you are using this particular application or not, the rules still apply. Remember to give this plenty of time because this can’t be done in a hurry.

But first…What is The Activity Section?
A section of the CommonApp that condenses the hours of effort outside of class into 10 activities total

Out of the millions of students who use the Commonapp, how do you ensure that your application stands out?

So if you keep the super fun CommonApp essay away, the application has the regular questions that any application would, hardly intriguing if one can say that! But, if you have spent a major chunk of your high school years sweating it out on the field or actively participating in extra curricular events at every possible level, the CommonApp has a dedicated section called the Activity section, to showcase them and put forth a stronger application and personal profile that will help in setting you apart. But, the trickiest bit is to understand this section and be certain about the activities that you want to talk about and ensure you have managed to leave an impression on the reviewer.

So what are the activities that I can list out?

You can list everything that you have participated in from Grade 9 on. This includes summer activities, volunteer work, internships; both in and out of school and clubs and organizations like speech and debate, music, drama, art, sports and science. The more diverse your list is, the better it is, as you come across as an individual who is open to trying out new things and will continue doing so, if admitted.

How many activities can I list out?

There are ten spaces to fill in activities, however please remember Ten isn’t necessary! Your commitment to the activity needs to come through and not the number of activities. Signs of dedication include an activity participated in continuously or an activity where you have achieved a level of distinction, either as a founder, leader or member; made a significant contribution; or were publicly recognized or won an award.

PLEASE DON’T MAKE ACTIVITIES UP TO FILL THE BLANKS. It is better to show significant participation, leadership, and personal development in 3-4 activities than write about ten activities that you were hardly involved in.

I have more than 10 activities, what do I do?

If you have listed your top 10 and have more activities to add, or feel you want to talk more about a particular activity and were limited by the 150 character limit, then the CommonApp has an “Additional Information” section where you can list these out.

To do a good job:

1. Prioritize. There are 10 spots and they should start in the order of most important to the least. Spend some extra time figuring out which one you want where.

2. Use Space Well. You don’t have too much room so don’t waste it. Write the role and the Organization in the top box so you don’t waste characters and use bigger words. Rather than “Came up with…” say “Developed.” In short places like this, every character counts!

3. Give Quantities where you can. Instead of saying “Collected money for poor” tell us “Collected $40,000 to buy back-to-school supplies for 400 slum-children”

Note: You have a place to provide hours and years so do not repeat.

4. Provide Links. This can also come into the additional information section, but it’s always great to provide a link to something tangible – a blog, a website, a newspaper article or dropbox

5. Show Leadership.You may not be President or Head Girl, but rather than just saying “Member of Football team” tell us how you may have stepped up as a leader by saying “Led football practice and coached junior members of team”

And most of all, be honest and be specific. Don’t lie or exaggerate in an unbelievable way. Don’t over-estimate hours so that the total is actually more than 24 hours a day. We still don’t have time turners.

Hence proven the CommonApp is not just an application form. It needs you to exercise those brain cells, get creative and smart with your words and put forth the best self-brand that you can! So get typing!