Advitya Khanna (Cornell ´17) talks about the challenges of the application process

Advitya Khanna.jpg

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

I must say that hitting the "complete" icon was probably the most difficult part of the College App Process. It takes heart to click on the icon; after all, it all comes down to this moment: two months of writing college essays (adding that so "hard to find" personal touch), prepping for SAT, whilst working equally hard in school, all together boil down to this moment. 

What was your SAT and Subject Tests prep strategy?

The SAT is not your normal school exam. It is tedious, exhausting, and yet deceptively simple. I say deceptively simple, because with well-directed practice, the SAT is an exam that most students can attain their "dream score". 

 My strategy was PRACTICE. Sometimes mindlessly, I must admit. (Please do not do that—first hone your skills and then move onto practice). Initially, I used Direct Hits by Larry Krieger to hone my SAT vocab for the Critical Reading Section. I practiced SAT Math sections from Dr. Chung’s (not sure if available in India)—it is very good for practice, but is definitely a lot more difficult than the real exam. I used basic grammar books for the Writing Section, to refresh my memory on basic grammar rules.

 Finally, I arrived at practice tests. I completed SAT Collegeboard Tests (most accurate) in the Blue Book, as well as the Online Course. With 10-15 practice tests under your belt, I felt confident about taking the exam.

 For SAT 2’s, I did not prep much. It was basically review from a Princeton or Barron Review Book (only because I had taken the AP exams for the respective SAT 2’s that I took).

 How did your college list change over time?

 My college list changed drastically over time. But that owes, to my school's new policy regarding college admissions. Initially, I had planned to apply to 12 universities: including most of the top tier (Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, per se) universities. However, my school imposed a restriction on the number of college applications, restricting each student to six applications. This restriction forced me to change my plans. I had to cut down on the number of top tier colleges on my college lists; instead I had to add more "Safety" and "Reach" Colleges.

 What are you looking forward to the most in college?

To be honest, I have not thought about it much with ongoing exams. But, I must say that I am looking forward to taking on the challenge of adapting to a rigorous engineering curricula, while making new friends and starting a fresh life (away from school, finally!)

What major/s are you considering?

I am considering an Electrical Engineering Major at Cornell University, for reasons pertaining to my passion to incorporate technology to improve the quality of life.

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

The fact that they will be incorporating the most up-to-date theories and discoveries truly excites me. I have always wanted to delve into modern research. Only learning about the discoveries that Newton had made (200 years back) at school has annoyed me. I always wanted to participate in research and with the courses (that I sign up for) I will have the opportunity to do my own research and explore new avenues that are yet to be explored.

What are your plans for summer?

Relax. I think I need a break from academics to get myself geared up for an exciting, yet challenging, academic journey at Cornell University. Oh! And brush up on my swimming (All Cornell Students must pass a swim test in order to graduate)

What advice would you give future applicants?

First and foremost, construct a plan. Then, merely stick by it. I know it sounds simple, but it can get very difficult to manage, especially while keeping up with school.

At the beginng of your junior year (11th grade) begin to chart out your rough plans. Start with a College List; discuss it with the family (taking into account your field of interest and financial backing from parents). Now, would be a good time to meet up with a college counselor. Discuss this college list with him/her and he/she should give you a good idea as to what SAT score, grades and extra curricular activities are required to be competitive for admission.

So from there, set a benchmark SAT score and begin prep in a methodical fashion. First, hone your Critical Reading, Math, Writing Skills using SAT guides published by Baron’s and Princeton’s. And sign up for the Official SAT Question of the Day and take the time to complete a question every day. This will help you get a basic idea of SAT questions before you move into intensive practice with Official College Board Tests. As soon as you think you have honed your skills move onto the intensive practice.

Now with practice (familiarity with SAT questions and format), take your first SAT in the October of your Eleventh Grade. This will give you a good amount of time to retake it, if you are not happy with your score, which is absolutely normal (you could get nervous and maybe it was just not your day — at least that is what happened in my case).

Having given the SAT, you should now think about the Degree (Career) you want to pursue in/ after college. Now, on the basis of this decision, pick two SAT subject tests that would be most applicable to the Degree you would like to pursue in college. For instance, an engineering student would pick a combination of (Math Level 2 and a Science).

The Eleventh grade should prepare you for the two exams that you have chosen to take. So, go ahead and take the exam in the May preceding 12th grade.  If you do not receive the score you desired, you still have enough time to retake the exam in coming October and November.

With SAT and Subject Tests out of the way, it is time for the more subjective part of a College Application. That is, the essays’. Think about your childhood, upbringing, values you hold and the present- day “you” and tie that in with the person you want to become. It sounds relatively simple, but I found it is SO DIFFICULT to write about oneself. So start early, take some time to think about all of this. Get a couple of drafts in. Get your teachers to edit and ask your parents if your writing reflects the true “YOU”. If not, scrap it. And write about something else. Remember, you always want to come off as yourself. Do not think that fancy words will get you into a better college. Just say what you need to say and let that reflect who you are.

Now, once you are done with the essays. You are basically done. Just fill out the application forms on time. Meet the deadlines. And push the “complete” icon, once you feel that you are done.

Remember, do not let your grades drop at school while completing the College Application. This does not settle very well with colleges. Also, remember to pursue your interests and hobbies. Continue to play football if you like to. Don’t stifle your interests just to get into prestigious colleges, because that would not work. These prestigious colleges want you to carry on with your interests.

And, most of all, relax. After all, it is your last year in school