Aditya Agrawal (Harvard, ´17) gives wonderful advice to future applicants


What advice would you give future applicants?

Find those little idiosyncrasies/unique life experiences and go all out with them on your application. If there is one thing I learnt this Admissions season, it was that, above all else, colleges seek kids who bring in unique perspectives to their campuses. They look for high achieving kids or, at any cost kids who've made the most of the resources available to them. Start out early; if you have passions, highlight the same through significant achievements, awards and the like. Work on your essays and mould them after yourself as far as you can; don't try going crazy abstract when you know you you're no Milton or fancy language when you could make do with much simpler and effective words. Be just as funny/serious as you actually are. Though this is not meant to be a rule set in stone, I do hope regardless that most of you choose to write something that amalgamates your quirks with your passions and somewhere, somehow indicates to the college implicitly just why they should take you. 

 Make your college search as extensive as possible. I didn't apply to a lot of colleges under the belief that they'd be financially unviable. There are in fact a huge number of colleges offering full aid to kids, and this was something I came to know once I'd sent in my applications. 

Reach out to fellow Indian applicants on sites such as collegeconfidential and enjoy the extended process of self discovery that the application process really is. Don't be cowed down by cyclical periods of self doubt and the blues that will come hovering into your life, at different stages of the application timeline. Never let your ISC/CBSE/IB preparations be offset by the application process, that is a figurative gamble and enjoy the last year of school!

What did you find most challenging about the college app process?

Battling existential crises while scouring for essay fodder and finding the brazen motivation to complete applications on the back of piling school stuff. Getting them in on time was probably the biggest challenge, one that I unfailingly failed: I submitted my applications an hour post the deadline.

What was your SAT and Subject Tests prep strategy?

The SAT's, though a gazillion times easier than your average Indian competitive exam, are deceptive in their very ease and simplicity. They require directed efforts and persistent practice on part of the student. 

I depended primarily on official CollegeBoard material because it is the only genuine yardstick by which I could measure where I stood.  The Official SAT Guide was my source of practice material and strategies. The tests in the book, coupled with comprehensive answer explanations online, were the whetstone of my preparation. Besides the tests in the guide, I searched extensively on the Internet for previously administered tests and the official practice tests released by Collegeboard(they release one every year). Use the internet judiciously and you'll end up with roughly 12 or so additional official tests. These coupled with the 10 tests in the book(in all say, 22 tests) should be enough for anyone hoping to score well on the Reasoning test. It is important to note that once you've gotten familiar with the layout of the test, you should write practice tests under proper timing and complete a test in a single sitting, so as to simulate test day conditions. This helps in alleviating the pressure of time crunch when you sit down to actually write the exam.

I used the Direct Hits SAT Vocabulary books by Larry Krieger, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch if I were to claim that almost every word on the Critical Reading section was from these books. For the essay, I had a pre-prepared template and the only thing I needed to do in the actual exam was to insert the examples. I used the four para format(introduction- first example - second example - conclusion) and made it a point to fill both sides to the very last line. I had also prepared a compendium of examples, which I could apply with ease to prompts on a vast range of topic areas. For the writing section, I can safely assure you that with 20 tests under your belt, you'd be to breeze through the ones in the actual test. The ETS has a habit of formulating the same type of sentences over and over with minor variations in wording.

For SAT2's, I took the Subject Tests in Chemistry, Math Level 2 and World History. I don't think I need to elaborate much, these tests are fairly doable with even moderate levels of prep. I would however strongly suggest against using Barrons for Science/Math subject tests. It is insanely difficult and grossly overshoots the scope of the test. Princeton Review is the way to go. 

How did your college list change over time?

I didn't prepare a 'college list' per se, courtesy the dire lack of time and immediate paucity of reliable information regarding colleges/programs back home in Lucknow. I guess I went down the path of a standard Indian applicant, applying to five colleges in all(four Ivies and one Non-Ivy), each of which was a need blind and doled out generous portions of aid.

What are you looking forward to the most about college?

Encountering insanely talented and decidedly passionate kids from across the world, immersing myself in Crimson pride and brouhaha of activities, learning an arcane language, partaking in the traditions of a centuries old institution and going on long contemplative strolls by the Charles.

What major/s are you considering?

I'm not too sure at the moment at the moment but I'm toying with Economics/Government/Social Studies/ Physics as possible concentrations.

What excites you about the courses you'll sign up for?

The fact that a large number of them would be taught by personalities who have, for all intents and purposes, pioneered and pushed the frontiers of their respective fields of study. Besides, the romantic possibilities that a Liberal Arts education inspires, has me really excited! The bewildering(and markedly unconventional) array of classes available to freshmen as a part of Program in General Education(Harvard's version of a core curriculum) have already set my intellectual appetite crackling. 

What are your plans for summer? 

Reading up extensively on philosophy, getting in shape and branching out my severely handicapped taste in music.