Meghna Ravishankar shares some of her advice....

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Applied to College

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Completing college applications is an extremely stressful task and causes anxiety in many students, teachers, Internet service providers, the whole lot. Everyone knows that they are obviously a test of endurance, stamina and intelligence, and should therefore be respected from a distance, and feared up close. (You thought high school was hard, LOL). The aim of this article is to hopefully make you a little more confident about your college applications or just a little less stressed out (Success not guaranteed). I am going to relive my application process, and if we both make it out alive, maybe you’ll learn something.


Narrow your Choices

Narrowing your list of prospective colleges can be difficult but it’s not impossible. Remember that the rankings of colleges are often based on their grad schools. Consider this while applying and when deciding on a college later on. Many small liberal arts schools are not featured in these rankings but they are by no means less brilliant than the huge, highly ranked research universities (don’t be too quick to brush them aside, most are pretty great). College prowler will be your best friend throughout this process.


Finish Tests Early

Get your standardized testing out of the way as soon as possible because it’s just a pain if you try to juggle your applications, standardized tests and schoolwork all at once. Avoid doing the November/December, unless it’s really necessary, because it’s usually around the same time as the midterms in 11th, AND in 12th you’re writing college essays and midterms. I did that and my scores didn’t really improve so: waste of money, waste of time. But you’re not me so do whatever, YOLO.


The dreaded SAT: It’s a huge pain and it’s not exactly cheap, around $100 to write a test for over 3 hours; $51 for the test, $40 for being Asian and some random taxes of course because life is incomplete without them. GET IT OUT OF THE WAY.


Make sure you check if the colleges on your list have any specific testing requirements (SAT, TOEFL, IELTS, SAT II) and see if you can have them waived. There’s nothing more annoying than having to spend a ton of money on random tests that you could’ve avoided. Some of the smaller liberal arts colleges don’t even require the SAT anymore (YAY liberal arts!).


Organize your Thoughts

Writing essays is a time consuming process so start early. Make sure you stick to your deadlines because it’s going to affect YOU in the end, no one else. If you’re sending your essays to a college counsellor don’t be late and expect them to work miracles because they’re people too and believe it or not, they need to sleep at night as well. Ask your teachers and peers to read your essays and give you feedback. That being said, don’t feel the need to take every single person’s opinion into account. It’s very easy to lose your thought process and your voice in an essay when you take everyone’s feedback into consideration. You are trying to convince colleges to choose you for YOU so be true to yourself as much as possible. College admissions committees are not as mean as you think they are. They are more afraid of you than you are of them (once they admit you, you have an insane amount of leverage.) Find out if colleges are need-blind or not. A common belief is that you are less likely to be accepted if you apply for financial aid but this is not always true. If you know people in some of the colleges you want to apply to, talk to them and get a sense of the academic intensity and the expectations that professors might have. This is also helpful when you are choosing where you want to go after the decisions have come out.


Enjoy Life

Fast forward. Applications are sent, a huge burden taken off your shoulders. Take a breather because you deserve it for making it this far. Now start stressing about whether colleges actually love you. It’s normal to be stressed while waiting for your decisions but remember, there’s nothing you can change about your applications now. So just have fun while you can. Getting accepted is always fun, getting rejected or deferred, not so much (Feels something like this


Finally you have to pick where you want to go: the perfect place for an amazing experience and a new adventure. Think carefully even if you think you already know where you want to go because the entire application process might change things for you. Trust me on this one. I had to choose between UBC and Grinnell. Before I applied, I had my heart set on UBC and it was a no-brainer when anyone asked me where I was going.


When it finally came down to it, however, UBC wasn’t the one for me, even though it was my first love. At the time, I thought I was making a huge mistake by choosing Grinnell but now I can easily say it was the best decision I have ever made (Grinnell is amazing. You should apply! Colleges are like clothes. Imagine that you find a really nice pair of jeans and they look great but they don’t fit you. You squeeze into them anyway but they look terrible on you. Don’t choose a college that doesn’t fit you.



Lastly, while choosing the college you want to commit to, have a set of criteria to compare them and make a rational decision. I can’t give you a list of criteria because it depends on what is important to you. One thing I’ll tell you, however, is that WEATHER IS IMPORTANT. It shouldn’t be a determining factor (unless you are very picky about the weather) but I think it’s pretty important. I go to college in Iowa where winters are -20°C on average. Not fun. I’m sure I would’ve transferred by now if I didn’t love my college as much as I do.


I know this was long but we both made it through. I hope it helped. These are things that I learned late into my application process so maybe it will help you get a jump on your work. Hang in there! College is such a blast, so I hope you find your perfect fit.


On Liberal Arts Education

Just read a nice blog entry written by a mother of a girl studying at Tufts about the benefits of a Liberal Arts Education. Was nice to hear the parent perspective and made me want to go back and re-read the essay that Gurcharan Das ( wrote years ago that I have kept handy for families in India that are unfamiliar with Liberal Arts Colleges. It is not as difficult these days to open a family's mind up to these opportunities as it was 6-7 years ago. Many of the colleges are traveling to India now, and many of the students who went to these smaller schools are now very successful and are spreading the news back home. Back in the day, I had to really break through a bunch of barriers to get a family to consider the schools. I think that this is for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that with the variety of concerns that a parent has about sending their 18 year old all the way to the US, and paying the enormous amount of money that it requires to do so, the words "Liberal" and "Arts" are probably the last thing that they want to hear in making this decision! Furthermore, while I had different problems all those years ago sitting in an all boy's boarding school in Mussoorie, India trying to decide where I would go to college, they are not that different that what families now have. My major problem was a lack of information (pre-internet and no one was traveling to India to recruit students, much less to the foothills of the Himalayas!), but parents and students these days have an over-abundance of information. And all of those websites look amazing! The front page that looks like a Bennington add, adorned with every possible nationality staring back at you like it is a multicultural paradise! Lack of info or too much info, we go to the familiar. However, since historically Indians only went to the US for graduate school, the familiar would rarely include Liberal Arts Colleges, given most of them are entirely undergraduate, or primarily undergraduates. So the familiar refrain from my students, "But no one back home will have heard of the school." I always tell them that they can always answer back to people that say that with the quip reply, "Yeah, they've never heard of you either." But seriously, I do understand that concern, and if you were planning your terminal degree to be an undergraduate degree, then by all means, this could be an issue if you were to try to get a job back in India. However, not many of my students plan to stop after undergraduate studies, and therein lies one of the greatest strengths of LACs. The other two articles I referred to talk about many great things about LACs and I have posted the links below and you should definitely read these!! But, I would also point out that one huge factor for choosing a Liberal Arts undergraduate education is that if you are going on to Grad school, this will be your best preparation. For those parents out there that went to the US for Grad school, just think back on your own experiences with professors in your school. How concerned were they about the undergrads? More likely than not, you handled many of the undergrads for them. Fact is, professors from large research universities are focussed more on their research. Grads and PhD students help them with this. Undergraduate teaching is not always the most important area for them. On the other hand in a smaller LAC, it is likely that the classes are less than 20 in a classroom, which not only means that you are going to be known by the professor, but also that there is a built in expectation that you are involved and prepared for the class. 

I am certainly not saying that LACs are for everyone, but I would certainly think about the investment in terms of the priority towards the undergrad, time and attention that you will get, and not about rankings and number of Nobel laureates that the school might have.

Here are the links to the other great articles on LAC's:

Romancing the Arts:

Parent from ParentEdge: