IT ALL BEGINS IN GRADE 8
You don’t have to go to the US for undergraduate studies. For that matter, not even for graduate studies. But if you do plan to go or you are even considering the idea vaguely in your mind, then here are some insights that I think will help you prepare for undergraduate admissions.
It is not that you cannot one day just wake up and apply to the US Universities, because you can and many have done that. However, that certainly would not be the best way of going about the process. “Is there a best way?” you may ask. I don’t think I can say there is one best way, but experience tells me that it all begins in Grade 8.
1. Practice being focused on your studies from Grade 8 onwards.
The colleges look at your academic performance from grade 9 onwards. That’s the reason I recommend that you work on the art of studying from Grade 8 onwards; by the time you are in Grade 9, you are on track. When students come to me in Grade 11, they tell me that they wish they knew they had to work on this from Grade 8 onwards.
Our Indian curriculum is designed to look at Board Exam marks. The US Universities look at performance from class 9 onwards. They give a lot of importance to consistency and growth in a student’s academic performance. Many students are not aware that they need to put their act together much earlier.
2. Wean yourself away from the thought that you must do only what you are good at or what you like.
Sometimes in order to do what you are good at or study a subject that you are interested in, you may also need to study some subjects that you are not so interested in. For example there are some students who enjoy physics but not chemistry. For certain streams of engineering you need to work at both these subjects. Similarly you may not enjoy math, but you may enjoy economics. In order to be able to do economics, you need a good understanding of math. You will also see that once you have got over the initial hurdles, you will actually start enjoying many subjects. Of course there will always be exceptions and in such cases you might want to meet your counselor at school or an external counselor if you don’t have one at school and understand the best options for you.
3. Understand the difference between core subjects and soft subjects
Of late I meet many students who are attracted to Business Studies and want to take this subject from class 9 onwards. Business Studies is considered a soft subject and colleges do not much care for such subjects. So if you are keen to get into a selective college, make sure you retain core subjects like Math, Sciences and History. While you may argue that you don’t really need Science or History for you plan to study Economics at college, the admissions process at US Universities does not work that way. Admissions would like to see you taking rigorous subjects in school for they feel assured that you will make the best use of a college education.
4. It is not all about marks – the rigor of the subjects you choose to study also makes a difference
Many students and parents too for that matter are surprised when I tell them that it would be better for students to take the science stream in Class XI and XII even if they do not want to pursue a science stream later. Most Universities, especially the hyper-selective ones, like to see that you have challenged yourself in high school
5. Nurture one or two extracurricular activities
The US universities like to see if you have an interest beyond academics. If you are interested in more than one extracurricular activity, ask yourself which is the one you would really want to continue. It is not about the number of activities but about what you do with your interests that is important. For example one student may showcase his passion for tennis by talking about the number of matches he has won, another might showcase his passion for tennis by the number of other students he has taught and yet another may showcase his passion for tennis by writing a playbook for other budding tennis players and so on.
6. Develop a passion – listen to your heart
For those of you have who have too many interests or do not really know your passion is it is time to reflect on your interests. What is that one interest that makes you feel thrilled and makes you want to pursue it no matter how difficult the journey. The US does not prescribe any activity as the number one activity. So follow your heart - it could be tennis, singing, playing an instrument, reading, whatever - as long as it is something you enjoy.
7. Think beyond yourself
It would be nice to develop an interest in the community in which you live. Ask yourself what you do that would be of use to someone other than yourself. Don’t do this because someone else wants to see this on your Resume. But sometimes expectations from another of you, does drive good behaviour, which later becomes a part of you.
8. Last but not the least
Almost anyone who meets me for college prep asks me, “Please tell me what is it that Harvard and Stanford look for.”
You will find the answers here. In their own words …