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Study Abroad: Secrets you didn't know

Last updated on: December 07, 2015 15:48 IST

Why aren’t our kids, with perfect or near-perfect SAT scores, admitted to top universities over lesser scoring students? Sri Akella provides the answer.

IllustrationHave you noticed the increase in the number of schools offering an international education in India? It clearly indicates the desire on the part of Indian parents to send their children abroad at the undergraduate level itself.

This represents a huge shift from the more traditional practice in India of students seeking to go abroad for graduate study and beyond.

Is earlier better?

Each case is different, but what I can say for sure is that, with this trend, I’ve noticed an increase in the anxiety level of parents! Their worry can be translated into two broad questions.

1. How can I maximize my child’s opportunities for admission into the best schools abroad?

2. How can I maximize my child’s likelihood of success while he/she is abroad, both academically and personally, in a new environment amongst new people?

The first question involves every element of what goes into building a student profile: grades, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, etc. Examples include: Do I need a perfect grade point average to make it into a top US/UK University? Should I take the ACT (American College Testing) or SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test)? Does playing sports impress admissions committees?

The second question has to do with the set of characteristics that should be instilled within the student to succeed abroad.

The problem with our culture is that we typically start and end with Question #1. This inevitably forces a disproportionate focus on numbers (ranks, test scores, grades).

Parents and children are getting anxiety attacks over 20 points on the SAT. Coaching institutes are telling students to set aside all extra-curricular activities to focus on earning a No 1 school ranking. College counsellors don’t see a problem with this.

At some point we have to ask ourselves why students from the US are being admitted at top universities over Indian students, who may have attended and excelled at more rigorous high school programmes.

Why aren’t our kids with perfect or near-perfect SAT scores always admitted to top universities over lesser scoring students?

The truth is that while numbers are certainly an important part of the student’s overall profile, they are not the sole basis for admission. This is particularly true in the case of the top universities, who see applications from the world’s most academically gifted youth.

It’s time to rethink our approach.

Assume from that start that our children will get into at least one college abroad. Now, let’s begin with Question No 2.

We know from our own experience that happiness is a critical ingredient to our success. We do well in subjects that are fun and we rise in careers that we enjoy (note: of course, there are not-so-fun aspects of any subject or career, but we’re talking about the overall experience).

As a starting point in working with our children, why not try to figure out what they’re passionate about? What do they love to do? Are they the type to rally up a group of friends to play a game of cricket? Do they stay up all night on the computer and play with different applications? Are they obsessed with Sudoku?

We need to assess our children’s interests and show them opportunities in areas that are natural extensions of those interests.

For example, the neighbourhood kid who could successfully convince his pals to bunk school and play cricket may have the charisma to become the world’s next Fortune 500 CEO.

The kid who stays up all night playing video games may be the inventor of the next Angry Birds.

The kid who plays Sudoku all the time may end up becoming the next Wall Street mogul.

Let’s believe in the potential of our kids to prosper in their areas of passion. Let’s help them discover opportunities that are tied to their interests. Then, let’s figure out ways to maximize their success in the areas they love.

This is not to say that the students should never take classes or do work that isn’t immediately interesting to them. In fact, those experiences can be important to provide broad exposure.

The main point is that students should be encouraged to focus on the pursuit of their passions. Students may not decide to pursue the career path that parents have in mind, but the likelihood of their long term success and happiness is greater when such encouragement is given.

Guiding students along these lines will naturally produce admissions and success at the world’s most prestigious universities.

Sri Akella is the director of Dream Seekers Academy, which provides admissions support for students seeking to study abroad.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

Sri Akella