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.


From a student: Why she LOVES the Liberal Arts and Amherst

They say that the liberal arts teach you to think, but I think a good liberal arts college teaches you how to live. However, your follow up question as to what kind of student would benefit from such an education is a pertinent one - I agree this is not for everyone. In fact, there are many here who go through this place not having seen any evidence of what I speak of, and living as they used to before they came here, armed with a major in hand, but not changed by their learning. But if there is any evidence that someone is a lover of thinking and the thoughts of others, and is curious and introspective and passionate about what they do, perhaps they will find themselves happy in a place like this. It is difficult for me to separate the people and the place, and I think it is the former that have caused this experience rather than an institutional structure of any kind. Perhaps I have simply been lucky in the people I know - I am so much happier in the spring than I was in the fall having met the most wonderful people after returning from break - I cannot guarantee that this will be the experience of everyone who goes to a liberal arts school, but I do believe that it is in a school such as this where the kind of person I described above is found in the highest proportion.

Thinking about Brown University for Engineering?

Student Brown University in Engineering/Physics Spring 2012:

Brown University Engineering!

1) US news rankings are complete BS. Everyone who goes to college will tell you the same. These rankings tend to rate universities and departments based on the "quality of research" and the amount of money spent on research. This leads to two potential problems: firstly, it is very difficult to judge quality of research. After all you are working on something no one has ever done before so one can't say beforehand whether or not the research will lead to something useful. Secondly, the amount of money spent on research highly depends on the size of the college: the bigger the college the more money spent.

In my unbiased opinion, Brown is very very good. The engineering department is close knit and there is a lot of one on one attention and a lot of freedom for one to pursue what one wants. A fair way to rank a department would be to see the success of their graduates. We have a ~100% acceptance rates for graduates to one of their top three choices for business school. That means you will definitely get in to Harvard, Wharton or Stanford for business if you want after graduation. As for engineering, we send a LOT of people every year to Stanford, MIT and Columbia and at least a few to CalTech.

2) All engineering classes are taught by professors with graduate and undergraduate TAs. On the whole, the classes are well taught. I've never had a problem but some times you may have a less engaging professor and that could change things, but that's a problem at all universities. In terms of resources, Brown has a single building for physics and engineering with 7 floors of labs. Considering that engineering has ~75 students a year, there are lots of people to work with and a lot of resources that undergrads have access to. At Brown 6000/8000 students are undergraduates so we get a lot of attention.

3) I've been doing research for over 2 years now. I think every Brown student will tell you that getting involved with research is super easy. We have something called the UTRA program which funds research for undergraduates. And the way I got involved with research was a simple email! There are so many labs to chose from and ALL of them are looking for undergrads. I have really enjoyed my time as a research assistant. I mean it's strange because you basically work in a lab with all these grad students and they all treat you like a grad student because you work on similar stuff. 

My research is based on light. We're trying to create an "optical guitar" type thing. When you play a guitar, you press the string down at some point along the frets and you pluck the string to hear a note. If you move your fingers to a different position and pluck the string you hear a different sound. I'm working on doing something similar, but with light. Our "string" is light emitting molecules and we change distances of mirrors from these emitters to produce different frequencies of light.

4) Apart from research you can get involved with projects with other students through student groups. Or you can work on projects with professors and build stuff. For example one of my friends decided to make a boat that could navigate itself. There is a car building team called Brown FSAE, you can look them up. I mean if you think of something you want to do, you just have to drop by a professors’ office and talk to them and they'll help you get the stuff you need. And I'm talking about personal projects!

5) Brown's ME department is actually the best engineering department at Brown and is highly respected in the country. (Also I'm no longer an ME. My concentration is Engineering/Physics but I took loads of ME classes). So ME is divided in to several sub categories: fluids mechanics, solid mechanics etc. Our solid mechanics group is really really top notch. Our professors in ME are all almost exclusively from CalTech, Cambridge, MIT and Harvard. But all that apart, the ME classes are taught extremely well and all include design projects so you actually build stuff too. In your freshman year alone you'll build an exercise machine, a solar car and simulate the launch of a satellite to the moon!!!

6) Doing engineering with economics isn't difficult, but it does take away from the freedom of your education at Brown because both combined have a lot of requirements. I really really enjoy economics and would have done the classes as my elective even if I wasn't a concentrator and so I have had a great time. But as advice, I'd say start off doing engineering and explore the other departments and then pick another concentration. Don't jump for engineering/economics (if you were planning to) straight away. We have awesome departments in Applied Math, CS, geology, Egyptology, and international relations.

7) Excellent question. Let me start of by saying that I don't have a job as yet! But my case is an exception because I started applying very late because I wanted to go to grad school first but then decided to get a job. I might stay on at Brown and finish my Masters in engineering.

Me aside, all the big names come to hire at Brown. To be very honest, your major plays almost no role in what jobs you get unless you are in a specialized field. So you couldn't be a history major and then hope to get a job as an engineer in any company. But if you're looking at consulting, finance it really really really doesn't matter what you study. What they care about is the way you think and of course you need some basic math skills. The people who interviewed me for various consulting and finance jobs had majored in stuff like death studies, anthropology, political science, engineering and Egyptology. And no I'm not making this up!

7) If you do engineering and Econ, yes you take away your freedom. There are around 5-8 classes that you have as electives but compared to the average Brown student that is a lot less.

Now for what I think and some general advice:

Brown is a great place. Everyone that I've met here is very happy. We are one of the happiest colleges in America! What I really like about Brown is that people here are really passionate about what they do. No one is doing stuff to build a good resume/CV, they're doing it because they're actually interested.

The students are friendly and there's a lot of collaboration and less competition. By that I mean that we all study for exams ourselves, then spend a good amount of time discussing the material with each other, teaching each other. The same applies for homework. And the professors here are (for the most part) very warm. They are informal and at the same time great mentors. I've had professors who have waited for me to finish my classes and teach me one on one for an exam the next day. I've had professors who've taken me out for meals, and some even invite you to their houses. That means a lot to me. Having a personal relationship with professors has greatly shaped me as a person because there's no barrier between you and them. They advise you, judge your work and at the same time call you for a soccer game on Sunday!

Most Brown students are dual concentrators. So if you have a range of interests, this is the place for you. The Open Curriculum lets you seriously explore different departments and then if you like more than one, you don't have to jump any "hurdles" or get permission to dual concentrate. You just fill in a form. And the ease of getting involved with research is another thing that I think is special. I'm not sure undergraduates can do research so easily at other colleges, or may be given a small part of a graduate students project. But here I have my own project and the grad students help me!

Academics apart, Brown had a great nightlife and party scene. Providence is a small city with quite a few good restaurants. Boston is 1 hr away and NYC is 3 hours away. Unlike big city colleges Brown actually has a campus with fields and greens. The nice part of Providence is where Brown's campus is located, so you never have to walk more than 5-10 minutes from your dorm to get anything.

I hope this helps. If you have other questions, just write back to me.



Why I chose University of Virginia- over Stanford, Duke, Cornell....

I will be posting several student letters that I have collected over the years from students that I have worked with who have written to current students:

Past student here attended UVa for Physics and is currently in Medical School at George Washington University:

I am glad to hear you are working with Prab – definitely a smart move.  He helped me out during my college search and application process and only great things resulted, so if I may offer you a general piece of advice, it is to listen closely to Prab.
As for why I chose UVa over Stanford, Duke, Cornell and some University of California schools –
In terms of quality of education, I should mention that I was actually advised to make UVa my choice by pretty much every single university professor in physics or a related field (at schools other than UVa I might add), and industry scientist that I spoke to prior to making my choice:

-          I met a University of California graduate school recruiter during my internship at Sandia National Laboratories who was a Stanford graduate.  He explained to me that Stanford is a place you want to go for graduate school, and that I need a real education during undergrad.  I said I was also thinking about UVa, and he says “now that would be the choice to make!”

-          I visited the University of Arizona during one summer and met a physics professor there.  He was the lead for a study to find out which top 10 or so universities had the best undergraduate physics programs in terms of how well the university actually teaches the students.  In no particular order, UVa was on that list.
And so it went on.  I came to understand that there is a big difference between quality of teaching and “top 10 schools according to US News”, in a search for a good program.  As a side note though, UVa is ranked 2nd in US News’ top public schools.  Though UVa may not strike the typical high school student in India as a dream school, it is very well sought after, and highly respected as a world-class institution in the United States.  I have numerous, numerous friends who have turned down schools like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and pretty much every Ivy League school in the United States to accept a place at UVa.  Both for financial reasons, and otherwise, which I will get to.
In general, UVa is known to be very strong in a wide array of departments, which I feel is especially important in the American education system.  As you may have learned, undergraduates have various basic area requirements that are independent of your major within a college.  That is, in general, you will have writing requirements, humanities requirements, science requirements, language requirements etc. whether you are a politics major or a physics major, so you had better hope science isn’t the only thing the school is good at teaching.  How good do you think a technical school will be at teaching history?  Furthermore, the American college system allows for you to change your mind easily (which happens A LOT), or even double major in a completely different field.   My roommate is an Economics major who discovered a love for Art History here.  He will be double majoring, with Art History as his ‘hobby major’.
One very important reason I chose UVa was the offer I received to join the Echols Scholars Program, which exempts me from all area requirements and gives me priority registration over all other students.  That is a crazy good deal, let me tell you.  In fact, this was a huge factor in my choosing UVa.  I never have to worry about not getting a place in a class, and have been given the privilege to entirely design my education (with my advisors of course) outside of the physics and math majors.
One thing I greatly, greatly appreciate here, is the Honor System, which a huge part of UVa culture.  Basically, all students are bound to not lie, cheat, or steal – a system that was created and run entirely by the student body itself.  Take home exams are commonplace; professors leave the room during exams (and no one speaks!); your word is trusted.  I could go on, but I greatly appreciate the privileges the Honor System gives us.  Student governance is huge here.  Even the University Judicial System is student run.
This e-mail is getting to be some pretty lengthy reading material, so I’ll go easy on you and jot down a few more points and would be more than happy to elaborate on anything that particularly strikes you anywhere in this e-mail, just let me know.

UVa is ranked #1 for fitness (facilities included) in the nation; UVa has an immensely wide array of student clubs and organizations opportunities.  I think of how I wish I had more time to go to this event, and join that club too on a daily basis; UVa has a fantastically well developed system for studying abroad (which you would already be doing I guess) and for just traveling and doing service abroad; UVa has an incredibly rich history – there is so much tradition here and so many amazing benefits to this.
Anyway, just let me know if there is anything above that you would like me to explain further, I would be happy to tell you more (as I have much more to say).  Just let me close my stressing how important it is to find the best fit for you in terms of student life and quality of teaching.  I am sure Prab has talked to you about this, but think about it – you are in college for 4 years and it would definitely nice to be happy during that time.  I have friends who picked the school they thought would be the best choice based on which school they felt had the “best reputation”.  My friend at Johns Hopkins for pre-med is unhappy, my friend at Cambridge (even though it’s in the UK, it still illustrates the same point) is unhappy.  Unhappiness is bad for college, as you may guess.