Yashi Shukla, a career counsellor for High School students specialising in applications foreign universities, shares her advice and experience on choosing the right educational path for yourself. Further, she discusses ten common mistakes students make in their overseas college applications.

When I recently met my high school mentee, I asked him what made him choose abroad for higher studies. I was surprised because what he shared with me was not what I had expected. He said since everyone in his family is going overseas for education, his parents also think this would be the best career choice for him.

I personally felt he is just not prepared. Parents are under stress because they have limited funds and like many others, they also want to give the best to their kid, not realising how their unprepared kid will deal with this big change. With their limited funds, they want to opt for the highly expensive option. I really wish they could have spent some time on researching equally good options in India; maybe they would have thought of their child pursuing undergrad in India and Masters from abroad or they could have looked at schools which offered a decent scholarship. However, not much will change where the child is also unprepared.

A little planning and reasonable research could have solved both. Maybe a campus tour on time/summer school would have prepared the child. Timely planning on colleges offering scholarships and a detailed understanding of options of Indian colleges would have made this journey less stressful for the applicants and parents.

What I recommend- whether India or overseas (once you decide your child is ready, and you have resources to fund the most expensive education)– create a Plan B for both the scenarios. Plan well in advance.

Don’t forget that the destination is just one aspect of your child education. Make this journey exciting and enriching rather than stressful.

Seven common mistakes with the overseas college applications:

Mistake number one: “I have excellent academic scores and high SAT/scores, I can easily make it.”
Overseas college application review is much more than academic scores and cut-offs. Colleges need achievers in the complete sense, not just academics. They want to see students who care about their community, who are interesting, and definitely inspiring; they need an interesting class of keen learners. The academic and test scores are an important part of the application, but definitely not the sole deciding factor.

Mistake number two: “I have to show some community work in my application,” because so- and-so told me or Google says so.

And quickly, you either join an NGO to teach or do something to write in your resume, and you think you are ready for the application.

Just think about it, you picked up something only to write in your application– which has no connection with who you are, and shows no relevance in your high school years, not even in your statement of purpose. Above all you think the admissions officer will be really impressed with the certificates you have collected and by your detailed and edited write-up on same. Experiences prove that it is not about just random community work, it’s much more than what you have understood: relevance of your work with the real you is the key.

Mistake number three: “I should choose an innovative, different, unique topic for the Common App Essay.”

You write something on a topic you may not even believe in, you choose extraordinary vocabulary and you think you have created the best piece of writing, utilising heavy words, a unique prospective and what-not!

Remember, the admissions office is not a publishing house and this essay is not for the “New York Time’s Bestseller List”, nor do they want this to be converted into a novel. What they want is to know you through this essay, anything which has had significant impact in your life or your deep desires. It is about you and only you, whether you want to be scientist or a musician, what makes you who you are, what is that you love, what affected you. It could be on something as simple as a school trip which gave you a lifetime experience, or your journey through high school, or on a person who influenced you so much that the encounter became the turning point to define your uniqueness. Hence, keep all the superficialities aside and write something that deeply defines your life.

Mistake number four: “I should have my English teacher write my Letter of Recommendation (LOR) because I’m her favourite student.”

You choose someone to write your LOR because you think they will write the best letter of recommendation because you are their favourite student/ you meet them often/ they wrote exactly what you had thought of. Again, the LOR is not about how good a student you are, it’s about who you are, how did you deal with your successes and failures, and your in-depth knowledge about the subject you love. So if the LOR has a mix of your strengths and weakness, it will be a believable and true representation of you as a student and as a person.

Mistake number five: If I have the best counsellor in town in grade, s/he will work her magic on my application.”

How did/will you choose the best one? Because somebody referred you to them?

You forget to understand that every child is different, and so is the need. Firstly, you are late if you are hiring one in grade 12. Application is just not about filling data, it’s about creating a story of “who you are”. Once you are already in Grade-12, you hardly have time as your application process will start in the next six months, and within this time frame, your counsellor can only do the application with what you have created so far, not what colleges look for. You may not have had any idea about what you were supposed to do in your high school years because you focussed on scoring the top rank in class. You aimed at topping the school/board, not knowing that it might not really be a big deal to the college of your choice. Every year, many toppers face rejections amongst the global pool of toppers.

Mistake number six: I should be involved in maximum number of extra curricular activities.”

Someone told you that extracurricular activities play an important role in your application, and then you immediately joined as many clubs as you could in school. From theatre to swimming, debate, writing, etc., you have left nothing and now, you have an enormous list of activities to write about. You feel so happy and proud!

Now, your application looks like, “a jack of all trades and a master of none.” Even with all good intentions and hard-work, unknowingly you missed out on coming out as the smartest one did and wasted precious high-school years.

Mistake number seven – I call it “The Biggest Mistake”

You choose a college, not the course. Years of hard work deserve what you want to be, not where you want to be!

~Yashi Shukla

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