Previously published in Hindustan Times Education Supplement
Lately I am seeing a lot more people tuning into the foreign undergraduate college admissions process early. This is a good trend! Preparing early is the best way to help you feel in control of the process and reduce stress at the last minute. If you plan early, you have the confidence that no matter what the outcome, you did the best you can.
However, some families find it stressful to decide on a career trajectory so early (at 14!). If you are in this category, don’t worry, nothing is ever set in stone. You can change your mind later. Competitive colleges are mainly looking for students who took the most challenging courses offered in their school and made the most of the available opportunities and resources.
Some other important early preparation tips to follow are: 1. Write, 2. Read, 3. Talk. Writing is a weakness for almost every Indian student I have worked with. Developing a habit of written expresion early is the best advice I can offer. Approaching college applications with confidence about writing the required essays will make the entire process less stressfull.
Reading as much and as widely as possible will expose students to good models for communicating their own ideas. By all means stay up to date on topical Indian news and periodicals, but also read up on global news and ideas (The Economist and TED talks are 2 great sources) which will help you cultivate a broader perspective. You can practice your writing in the voice of your favorite authors and experiment with your own voice long before you have to finalize your college essay.
At this early stage it is also important for parents and students to talk to school administration, counselors and teachers about study abroad plans. The school is a crucial ally in this process so nurturing a supportive relationship is key. A recent article outlining the advice of renowned college counselor, Katherine Cohen, elaborated her emphasis on the importance of teacher reccomendations. In a seminar Cohen explained that “Early on in high school your children should find a teacher they like and go that extra mile… They should spend time with that teacher, cultivate that relationship. Let that teacher know what they’re interested in. They should be enthusiastic in class, add to the discussion, speak up—help the teacher make that classroom an exciting place. Each and every day they should ask themselves, ‘How am I contributing to this class?’ And spend time outside of class with the teacher, if that’s possible.”
So while it may seem important to set children up early to perform well in their exams and decide upon a future course or study, it is the softer factors of developing relationships with teachers, expanding the students perspective through reading and practicing essential written communication skills that can ultimately make the difference in college admissions.