The Rise in SAT/ACT Optional Schools

There was a time when one of the most important things that students had to do in order to be eligible to just apply to college was take the SAT standardized test. It became the benchmark in the American education system. A number that ranked students in the country and acted like a key to colleges based on their scores. Even though the US is largely holistic, the numbers played an important part in the overall prestige of the college as well. According to the U.S. News Rankings 22.5% of the scores that a college is weighted on is Academic Reputation which is derived from the median SAT scores that students achieve. Soon the ACT crept in and challenged the SAT by providing a science section and engaging a students intellect in a differ and now almost favored way. 

However, there is a rise in the number of test-optional schools in the country. There are a few reasons why this is gaining traction: 

  1. George Washington University in 2015 chose to be test option because it wanted to increase the number of students who didn't score well but have great academic profiles to apply
  2. Wake Forest realized that standardized testing was reducing the number of minorities that were applying and chose to go test optional to increase overall diversity. Pitzer college said a similar thing. According to reports Pitzer’s diversity has gone up by 58% since the policy change.
  3. Other colleges such as Bates claim that standardized testing is taking away time from students to apply themselves in their school studies and extra curriculars which admissions couselors prioritize a lot more. 

This policy helps colleges as well. If students choose to send their SAT scores, they only do so if they have done exceptionally well which increases the overall score median for the school thereby beefing up their academic reputation in the US News Rankings. Standardized tests are not for everyone. If they stress you or take a lot of your time, consider applying to the over 500 colleges that are test optional. 

Advice to First Years by College Presidents

It’s a tradition amongst college presidents to send out a letter incoming first year students a month before they embark on their collegiate journey. Since most first year students will be entering college this month, we thought we share some of the sage advice presidents of various colleges had to offer:

Dr. Johnathan Gibralter, President Wells College

  1. First of all, first years, take a deep breath and approach everything one day at a time.The nervous feelings you have those first few days will get better, and there are many people on your campus who care about how you’re doing. It’s normal to feel lonely and miss your family. Try not to call them too often. Instead, leave your room and get to know people on campus.
  2. Show up and study hard! Remember first and foremost you are in college to be a successful student. Faculty members are there to support you in class and during office hours. No surprisingly, they expect you to come to class, read the textbooks, be organized and put effort into your assignments. Not surprisingly, the students who do best in college are those who actually attend lectures and do the work. If you do your part, professors and teaching assistants can help you share your ideas through research opportunities, art exhibitions, plays and in many other ways. In short, remember why you are in college — to define the best parts of yourself through learning.

Dr. Adam Weinberg, President Denison University

  1. Take a wide range of classes.Students make the mistake of trying to narrow in on a particular major early. Partially, they do this under the mistaken belief that it helps with jobs (that is the topic for another article). The wider the range of courses you take, the broader the skills and world views you will develop and the better prepared you will be for life.
  1. Make Friends: Pick good friends who are at college for the right reasons and who bring out the best in you. Who you hang out with matters. Our college careers are shaped, more than anything else, by the people we chose to hang out with.
  2. Save a little bit of time for reflection: At least once a semester, take a few minutes to think about all the experiences you are having in college and what they are adding up to. What are you learning about yourself and the kind of person you want to be and life you want to lead? You can do this with some friends, an academic advisor, a mentor, a parent, or even by yourself.   

Julie Ramsey, Vice President for College Life & Dean of Students Gettysburg College

  1. Take care of yourself: Between class, writing papers and studying, attending club meetings and hanging out with friends, you may find it exhausting! Get enough sleep, eat well and exercise often. If you need help, contact the Health Center, Counseling Services, or Department of Public Safety.
  1. Join a student club. Follow up on the contacts made at the Activities Fair last week. Take some time every week to learn more about the 120+ student-led clubs and organizations on campus. If you don’t see what you are looking for, start your own club or initiative!

Richard A. Moran, President Menlo College

  1. Choose a “Walkup” song to keep in mind- something you can hum to yourself as you make an entrance on campus. A walkup song is a confidence-building song that says you're going to be someone. 

Studying Medicine Abroad

While the world is your oyster in terms of what and where you want to study, as an Indian citizen studying medicine outside of India is next to impossible. In the United States, most med schools are funded in part by the government which means that a strong majority of the seats would be open to only US citizens and permanent residents. In 2013, about 1,088 non-US citizens/residents applied, 115 of which did get in. The average admit rate into med school was as low as 1% This means that competition is hard and the that you have to complete a four year undergrad degree before going to med school makes both financially and temporally draining as well. 

The UK has good medical programs and according to reports the government will fund up to 1,500 additional student places through medical school each year. The number of medical training places available to students each year will be expanded to ensure the National Health Society- the country’s public run healthcare program has enough doctors to continue to provide care in the future. While number of opportunities to study are increasing, the UK provides no guarantee for an internship, residency, or any employment opportunity since healthcare is largely state run and there aren't many private players are allowed to be in the sector. This makes the return on investment difficult to digest. Europe does have some medical colleges that run on a foreign student model where students get their medical degrees and then apply for a license to practice in India. Nothumbria University (UK) has a 2+4 program with St. Andrew’s University in Jamaica. Another popular option is Charles University in Prague which is very liberal on Indian students and is recognized by the Indian Medical Board. 

If you are serious about medicine (specifically, in being a doctor) and have no other citizenship other than Indian, working through the Indian education system would be the best. Contact us and we could help you plan your Medical career plan. 

Rebranding the Gap Year: A look into Global Citizen Year

For the longest time,  the gap year was assumed to be for the rich or the academically burnt out who needed a sabbatical before they embark on four years of higher education. However, the gap year is anything but a holiday. Abigail Falik, in a New York Times Article challenged us to rebrand the gap year, “When used intentionally, the year before college can be a bridge, a launch pad and a new rite of passage. It’s the students who find the courage to step off the treadmill – replacing textbooks with experience and achievement with exploration – who are best prepared for life after high school.” Many universities look at a gap in a good light. Bill Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s undergraduate admissions dean, wrote a manifesto about the need for students to take time off before college. Rick Shaw, Stanford’s undergraduate admissions dean, now speaks about the value of non-linear paths and the learning and growth that come from risk taking and failure, as opposed to perfect records. PrincetonTufts and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have recently developed “bridge year” programs that encourage – and pay for – students to spend a year immersed in the world before arriving on campus.

This means that students aren't using this as way to just relax, they are leaning new things, finding jobs in careers that they might want to explore in the future, and doing Service. When we look at a resume the last thing we look at is if the candidate has been involved in a service project or not. But what if that was not the case? What if a year of service could be an effective way to not only understand yourself but the people and the world around you? A lot of student have moved toward doing just that. One of the leading gap year programs in the US is Global Citizen Year, a nine month excursion into countries such as Senegal, Brazil, and India where students live in a homestay and work in meaningful places. In India students work with Teach for India and an NGO for girl child education out of Hyderabad. In Senegal, the students work in creating sustainable infrastructure. Students love the program even though it costs as much as a year in a public college (though most US citizens get financial aid). As an Indian you can apply for the program but may only be eligible for financial aid if you are a student at one of the United World Colleges. 

Apart from GCY, there are other service opportunities in India as well (U Chicago’s Delhi office runs a lot of service immersion programs). Contact us and we can guide you in the right way. 

How to Make the Most of your Gap Year

There are a lot of opportunities to explore when you take a gap year. Students, learn new languages, invent apps, work in part/ full time jobs, create companies, and most importantly travel. According to the American Gap Association ( over 85% of gap year students (“gappers”) wanted to travel in order to see the world and experience other cultures. 

Regardless of the motivation, the time off can be helpful. Srini Pillay, M.D., Harvard psychiatrist, academic adviser, and author of Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused, can relate a number of advantages students may have as a result of time spent away from academia during a gap year.

In his book, he outlines exactly how time off such as a gap year can benefit the brain. Some examples include activating the default mode network of the brain – what he calls its unfocus circuit. This area of the brain increases creativity, improves memory, enhances a sense of prediction about the future, and re-energizes the brain.According to Pillay, “Time away, even when it seems irrelevant, can enhance creative solutions because the brain has time to shuttle around old memories, recombine puzzle pieces, and invent new and fresh approaches to life.”

The American Gap Association surveys alumni to gain further insight into the benefits of taking time between high school and college. The most recent reports show that:

• More than 80 percent of respondents said they would recommend a gap year to someone who was considering it.

• The most meaningful experience for the majority of respondents was being in a new and different environment.

• Also important was the increased exposure to new experiences.

• Gappers may even get better grades when they get to college. Undergraduate students who had taken a gap year before enrolling earned 0.1 to 0.4 higher GPAs than students who didn’t, according to studies conducted by Robert Claggett, former dean of Middlebury College.

Overall, gap years can be extremely fruitful if planned well. Having your parents or a gap year counsellor help you plan your year may help greatly increase your chances of making the most of your year! Contact us for more information about how to plan a gap year. 


The Increasing problem with Legacies

"The system is biased." This is a phrase synonymous with college admissions in India. Because of the ever increasing quotas, the number of vacancies for regular admission is steadily reducing. Affirmative action in India is definitely driving the more affluent students to opportunities abroad simply because of a supply and demand mismatch. In the United States, a similar wave of discontent is being observed. The most affluent (white, upper middle class) are complaining that opportunities for their children is ever reducing-- even though almost 50% (if not more) of any tier-1 college is white. In comparison only 30% of the seats in Delhi University are actually open to non minorities. Essentially there isn't much of a disparity, however the new government is finding ways to revoke Obama era affirmative action plans. 

This focus on affirmative action is taking from another quota in the American system-- Legacy Students. Legacy students (or legacies) are candidates who are given bonus points because their parents went to the same college. According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) said colleges shouldn’t consider an applicant’s race. Yet they were more evenly divided over legacies. While 52 percent said colleges shouldn’t consider whether an applicant’s parents are alumni, 46 percent said that should be a factor. There are definitely both sides to the coin. A sustained partnership with a school should be rewarded but should it be prized over a student who might be a better fit to the college? While some larger public universities such as Georgia State understand this issue and have reduced the number of legacy admissions, some of the more prestigious private colleges still run on the legacy membership model. 

No matter where you stand on this debate, I find there to be some optimism here. At the end of the day, if you do get rejected from a college, it may not be that you were qualified for the college, it could just be that you didn't fit exactly what they were looking for and that's fine. Not every Harvard alum becomes a millionaire but a great education will always get you to your dreams. 

Review: ZeeMee, a video based alternative to supplemental college applications

Apart from test scores and transcript the foremost thing that colleges in the United States look for in a candidate is You. They search for your brand, what you bring to the college, and most importantly if you are a good fit for the college. Creating a brand is the challenge, especially if admissions officers can't meet you and put a face to a name. This is where ZeeMee comes in. The free phone app started as a venture to train students on how to create a personal brand through a series of webinars. Soon, it began collaborating with universities as an alternative to a supplemental essay for college applications. Instead of providing a 300 word essay, students could answer specific questions in a 26 second video. This both increases the empathetic and visual connect for the college counsellor between the dematerialized college application and the student. 

ZeeMee was rolled out in 2014 to charter schools, specifically with students that lived in remote places and didn't have the funds to take a college road trip. Since then the app has reached viral fame raising millions of dollars and teeming up with over 200 American universities, most of which are historically black and liberal arts colleges (though some Ivy Plus colleges such as Carnegie Mellon were early adopters as well). If you are a non-traditional thinker and believe that you can sell yourself better through video then ZeeMee might just be for you. Over 20,000 students from 150 countries are currently creating a personal brand. Check it out here. A word of caution - be sure to put effort in creating a honest profile on ZeeMee. Your audience is watching you and it's easy to spot a lie!

How to Interview like a Pro

These couple of months are when a majority of college admissions representatives would be visiting India and meeting with interested students which means that preparing a solid interview strategy would be very helpful. 

Here are some things that you should know about the nature of these interviews: 

  1. These interviews are built to add a face to the application which helps greatly. Additionally, there is a high chance that the person interviewing you would also be the one reading your admissions application
  2. This is as much as an interview for you as it is a sales pitch for the institution: Colleges take this as an opportunity to really sell their college and would try to weave a narrative based on the your responses to their questions
  3. A bad interview (for the most part) does not jeopardize your chances of getting into the college, but a great interview can leave a lasting impression on an admissions counsellor

What questions to expect at such an interview: 

  1. What classes are you taking? 
  2. What are the things you do outside the classroom?
  3. If asked, what would your school teachers tell me about you?
  4. What is it that you would like to do in college?
  5. Why this college? 
  6. Are there any questions for me? (most important question) 

Things to do before the interview: 

  1. Research: Know as much as you can about the college. Read up reviews and come into the interview with at least 6 questions
  2. Dress well: Most students choose to dress casually but be business casual at the least. It shows that you are serious and have come here with a plan 

During the interview: 

  1. Meet interviewers with a smile and introduce yourself well
  2. Enunciate and talk like you are passionate about the things that you are doing (think of this like a first date. You cannot unravel all your flaws but this doesn't mean that you lie) 
  3. Each interview is allotted 30 minutes but if you just answer all the questions, the interview will only last for 10. Get comfortable as quickly as possible and be conversant. Again, remember: A bad interview does not jeopardize your chances of getting into the college, but a great interview can leave a lasting impression on an admissions counsellor

We hope this was helpful. Contact us if you would like to schedule mock interviews or if you would just like to know more Ed Brand!  

What Happens When a College Admits Too Many Students?

Every year college admissions go through a very interesting phase called the summer melt- a time when a percentage of students drop out even after paying the enrollment deposits. A recent study found that most students that do drop realize that they can't pay for college, or that their scholarship didn't go through making it impossible to attend. Colleges are well aware about this phenomenon and factor that percentage in when they send out applications. But what happens when everyone that you accepted plans to come? 

This is the horror that UC Riverside faced this year. A surplus of over 1,200 students accepted their offer to the California based university out of which 499 students' acceptances were rescinded. This is largely unusual but a rising trend. As incomes are fluctuating, and acceptance rates are rising, students are choosing to stay in their safety and reach schools because of the financial burden it promises to reduce. UC Riverside has issued an apology even though it still has a surplus of over 800 for its 7,000 student freshman class. This isn't the only university that has overestimated the number of students it can take. Carnegie Mellon did it in 2015, Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health the following year, as well as UC San Diego. 

For Riverside, the next steps would be to find ways to accommodate so many students. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education said that the university plans to invite students to spend their freshman year abroad, find local students to commute to school instead of staying in dorms, and even send students to community college for a year with a promise that the subsequent three years will be at Riverside. These are problems for large public schools no matter how prestigious and something that high school students should factor in when choosing colleges. 





Green Card in the US: New immigration bill may make it easier for educated Indians to stay

While the US is tightening up its borders with increasing security, travel bans, and reduced H1-B work visa offers- a new bill in known as Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act might be changing the residency situation for Indian students studying in the United States. The act wants to begin a point based system much like the Canadian Permanent Residency (PR) program where young, educated, skilled, and english speaking immigrants would be preferred over people who claim residency because of their family. 

While its only a bill, the new point system would greatly help Indian students planning to study in the US with getting a green card. Here are some points criteria that seem beneficial: 

  1.  Good undergrad education: An applicant with a US high school diploma or the foreign equivalent gets one point; a foreign bachelor's degree earns five points, while a US bachelor's degree earns six points.
  2. Further Studies: A foreign master's degree in STEM fields earns seven points while a US master's earns eight points. A foreign professional degree or doctorate earns 10 points and a US equivalent earns 13.
  3. Age: Those aged 18 through 21 gets six points, ages 22 through 25 gets eight points, and ages 26 through 30 get 10 points.
  4. English Proficiency: Points are also given out for English proficiency, as determined by standardized English test. Anyone with less than a 60th percentile proficiency gets no points, those between 60th and 80th percentile get six points, someone in the 80th to 90th percentile range earns 10 points, those with a 90th percentile proficiency or above earns 11 points, and someone in the 100th percentile range earns 12 points.
  5. Job offer: Five points are awarded if an applicant has a job offer that will pay at least 150% of median household income in the state where he or she will be employed; eight points if pay is 200% of median income, and 13 points if it's 300% the median.

IF (which is a big if) this bill passes, A young Indian between the age 26 to 30 who has just wrapped up a Ph.D in U.S, is proficient in English, and who has a job offer of about $ 160,000 per year or more (approximately three times the national median income) would be a shoo-in for one of the 140,000 employment-based Green Cards the U.S issues annually. This bill does seem like it will help both the US economy, save Trump's message of foreigners taking away jobs, and most importantly be an amazing return on investment for an education from the US.