The easy-tough track to Ivy League : The Tribune India

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The easy-tough track to Ivy League

Students often ask me whether they will be able to get into a top-notch college.

The easy-tough track to Ivy League

Abhishek Singhal 

Students often ask me whether they will be able to get into a top-notch college. My answer to this is a short and firm ‘yes.’If a student believes in herself and works hard towards securing admission in the best institute, she would invariably be able to make it.

Last year, I worked with more than 100 students —many of them had ‘average profiles.’ However, each one of them believed in their ability to make it to the best school  and they were ready to work towards that. Eventually, all of them were able to make it to at least one of their top three choices.

Here are some successful admissions applications. Draw lessons that you can put to use

Lesson 1

Don’t listen to your friends

You have the risk-taking ability if you are thinking of a university that ranks in the top ten. Peers, friends and relatives base their assertions on limited information and are often ill-informed. It is a good idea to build your views on the basis of your research. In case of doubt, it is good to connect directly with the college admission office. The information that you get directly from your own research or from your direct communication with colleges will be more reliable. For instance, people look at the profile of a student and judge her to be good for a certain set of colleges. This is an incorrect approach. One can’t judge a student’s ability from mere profile. 

Lesson 2

Supplement poor academics with other ‘aces’

A student flunked in his Class X examinations. He took the exam again and subsequently managed to pass. He barely survived Class XI and XII. He wanted to get into MIT and opt for the prestigious course —computer science and electronics engineering. His English was below average. However, he was a brilliant programmer. He managed to write a part of ‘matching algorithm’ — to match buyers of a service with providers of a service — when he was in Class XI and eventually sold it to Airbnb for half-a-million dollars. His admission application was essentially a part of this code. Not only did he secure an admission without SAT or TOEFL, he also secured scholarship to study at MIT.  

The point is — each one of us has a unique trait. We need to focus on that and showcase it in our admission application.  

Lesson 3

Consistency and rigour are important 

A student scored 65 per cent in his Class X examinations. Yet, he dreamt of getting into Stanford and MIT to study game design and computer science. He has been a gamer for the past 10 years and has been playing computer games for an average of three hours every day. That is more than 10,000 hours of gaming — the time that it takes to develop deep skills in an area (Malcolm Gladwell, 10,000 hour rule.) His profile listed  this interest in gaming. There was a host of things that he did around his skills in gaming, including building a following on YouTube, taking specific game-design courses, participating in game-championships around the world, etc. Notwithstanding his poor SAT scores and average academics, he could make it to Stanford! 

Lesson 4

Tell a story

Most applications encourage you to get into a ‘full-disclosure’ mode. However, the story that you need to tell has to be crisp and focus on a few aspects of your life. Try focus on things that are  most important to you. This will lead to a story which will not only be powerful but also relevant and contextual to the admission application.  

Lesson 5

Do not give up

There was a student who was not sure whether she could get into any decent college, leave alone IVYs. But she was willing to put in efforts to make her application stand out. While researching colleges, she found a new programme at one of the top five universities, which was being launched that year only. While the university had seven per cent acceptance rate for international students, that particular course had a higher acceptance rate because people did  not know about it yet. Along with a few other universities, she applied for that particular programme and eventually got accepted. In that year, the programme had a 19 per cent acceptance rate (which later came down to 7 per cent, same as that of the university.) Had she not tried and given up, she would not have got the admission. It is important to try — there is no downside to that. Who knows, you might get in! 

Remember that you would be spending a good amount of money on your education. That money would be far more effective, if spent at a great educational institute. 

In the end, remember that an admission team is trying to build a cohort and they are not just looking for academic superstars. They are looking for students who have different kinds of aces up their sleeves — sports, dance and music, problem solving, interests like photography, bird-watching, etc. If you can build a story which is different and has elements of rigour, there are good chances that you shall get into your dream institute. 

Iterate & revise

A psychology master’s student wanted to go to King’s College London — one of the best places to study Psychology. She built her profile and had done a bunch of things in support of her application and was ready to prepare her admission material, essentially her Statement of Purpose (SOP). The value of SoP cannot be overstated — it is the most important constituent of your admission application along with your profile, academics and test scores. She iterated her SOP documents at least 100 times and in the end she was exhausted with all the writing. However, the document turned out to be her way into not just King’s but also UCL, Cambridge and Oxford — all the institutes that she had applied to.  

The lesson is clear. Make sure that the essay that you are submitting has gone through a rigorous process of editing and conveys your story compellingly. Do not use existing templates or ‘essay-writers.’ There are software programmes that can track plagiarism. And the more you iterate, the more powerful your story will be! 

— The writer is co-founder

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