The Journey from the Doon School to Princeton University
I entered the second half of 11th grade, with the exhilarating feeling of knowing that I was finally reaching the highest rung of the high-school student ladder. I also experienced the feeling of massive responsibility to guide myself on the right path towards my immediate future after high school: college. College! – a word that meant so much more than just an institution of higher learning. It meant scary acceptance rates of less than 10% and essays of personal exploration that I had never really thought of writing before (being more accustomed to writing analyses and creative pieces). The deadlines lay more than a year away, but my ambitions were high and there was a lot to do, so I started early. I set targets that I knew were not set in stone, as flexibility is the key to getting to a good college. However, I also knew that it was important to work towards a set target. I divided my plan to achieve my college admission goals into three parts: Academics, extra-curricular activities/sports and college essays.
The first and most important part of my strategy was continuing to achieve academic success in high school at a level that would give me a competitive edge against most people applying with me to college. Academic performance was one aspect not to be compromised on. Important deadlines had to be met regardless of the amount of work required, and all academic work took priority over everything else. It was surprising how easy it was to do this once I willed myself to and got organized. I had a clear and precise goal, and that made my life a whole lot easier. In fact, I had more than ample time to spend with friends and pursue a plethora of extracurricular activities that I liked while still keeping my academic scores at the highest level possible. At this point I was already thinking of targeting Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford and MIT as my “dream colleges”, followed by a small list of “realities” and “safeties”. That meant that I was well aware that hard work was a necessity to achieve this dream. However, I did not try to do anything extravagant or “save the world”, but simply pursued my passions. I loved public speaking so I eventually ended up going for five international and many more national Model United Nations Conferences and debating competitions in just the span from summer of 11th grade to late spring of 12th grade. I was fortunate enough to do well at all these conferences, which further boosted my confidence, but I always knew that this was more about learning and fulfilling my passions than about awards. I often wrote policy articles for competitions, school publications or just for fun, given that I read as much as I could in my free time.
I was also greatly interested in athletics (or as they say in America, “Track and Field”) and was appointed the House Athletics Captain in 12th grade, which was a big test because the athletics season is right in the middle of almost all IB (International Baccalaureate) first draft deadlines and also right in the middle of the college applications season. I would be lying if I said that it was an easy time, but every one of those sleepless nights and early morning practices taught me more than ever and prepared me for college more than any class could. So there I was, debating, writing, participating in MUN, running, reading and keeping up my academic performance, but I was really happy and occupied with what I was doing because it was what I loved to do. My teachers were more than encouraging, and my parents outright stated that they supported me in whatever I did and however I did it, which was really amazing considering they knew little about U.S. college admissions or about the colleges I was applying to. Moreover, I had an avid interest in science, so I decided to carry out a research project I had in the summer of 2013, completely by myself. I was actually awed at how well the model came out and that I actually wrote a 20-page scientific research paper on my own with only a small amount of guidance and mentorship from my teachers. I learnt that anything could be done if one has the will to take the plunge.
I worked on my essays for over a year, writing countless drafts. It was not unusual for me to scrap essays altogether if I felt they did not express who I truly was. I was never scared to simply rewrite a few hundred words, if they were to determine where I would spend my next four years of learning. I was completely honest with my essays, baring my personality to the colleges I applied to, and hoping they liked what they saw. I decided to apply early to Princeton because I realized it was the perfect fit for me (I came to this conclusion after a year of research on the student life, academics, undergraduate focus and many other aspects of the college that appealed to me). When the Early Action decision letter came out online in mid-December at 3:00 a.m. Indian Standard Time (IST), the word “Congratulations!” meant more to me than any other word I had heard in at least the past five years. My elation at that instant was not simply because I was going to Princeton, the beautiful lovely orange bubble that has produced some of the greatest minds in the history of mankind, but also because I had achieved the goal I had worked so hard for. The fruit of the hard labor was indeed as sweet as the labor was fulfilling for me as a person.