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BusinessIamA professional college admissions consultant from the United States. I spent six months in India helping high school students apply to American, Canadian, and British universities. AMA!

Mar 4th 2018 by AppHelper • 30 Questions • 55 Points

I am Ben Stern, founder of IvyAchievement, a college admissions consulting company. I started the company in 2015 helping people on Reddit (/r/ApplyingToCollege and /r/CollegeEssayReview) and TopLawSchools. I secured a round of funding for my company in April 2016, after a successful admissions cycle. I traveled to India May-July 2016 to get a better idea of Indian families' needs and give presentations at hotels and schools. I returned to India in November 2016 to work one-on-one with clients throughout the American college application season, which is mostly done by February. I took a third trip to India in October 2017 and stayed until mid-January of this year, spending the vast majority of my time assisting students and their families with applications.

I've spent a total of around eight months in India; two mainly marketing and six mainly working directly with families. I've visited Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Kanpur, Jaipur, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Bangalore.

In addition, I've helped students from Kochi, Ludhiana, Bhubaneswar, Raipur, Patna, and a few other cities remotely. I have been hired by NRIs (non-resident Indian citizens) in Indonesia, Singapore, the UAE, Bahrain, and Hong Kong.

I've written several blog posts about my observations in India and what I learned there:

Part 1: Why Indian students go abroad

Part 2: Indian families' concerns

Part 3: The Indian high school system

One of my professional goals is to help families by shedding light on the international admissions process. To that end, I assembled an international financial aid guide, the first to combine international financial aid and admissions selectivity data. I also conducted a survey and analysis to determine how competitive the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign is for Indian students seeking to study computer science there (it has one of the most sought-after programs). I report my results here. And because CS is so popular with Indian and other international students, I generated a ranking of computer science programs based on employment outcomes. In general, I like to apply a blend of qualitative and quantitative analysis to admissions strategy.

My clientele is not limited to Indians and my expertise is not limited to international admissions--I've had clients of various ethnicities and countries of origin, including China, Singapore, Italy, Belgium, Azerbaijan, the United States, and Canada.

A few notes about this AMA:

  • I attended Columbia University and Yale Law School, so feel free to ask about those as well!
  • Don't expect an answer to "chance mes" ("here are my grades/scores/extracurricular activities, what are my chances at xyz universities?"), "reverse chance-mes" ("here are my stats, please recommend some universities"), or requests to compare specific colleges/programs. But if particular questions of that type get upvoted enough, I may answer.
  • I'm doing this AMA here rather than /r/ApplyingToCollege because I was banned there for some controversial (and honest) positions. In any case, I think my experience is unique and would be interesting to a general audience. I don't think any American professional admissions consultant has spent as much time in India or dealt with as many Indian families as I have.

So... AMA!

Proof: Website contact page

Proof I've been to India

Edit 5am IST: In case you're wondering how I have so much time to spend on this AMA, it's that most of my clients (and prospective clients in India) are in the middle of exams.

Q:

How rigorous is the Indian school curriculum as compared to the American counterpart (AP)?

A:

Your question comes with a few assumptions I'll address before answering. First off, there are multiple Indian school curricula, and exams are conducted in 10th and 12th grades. The curricula are set by CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education), CISCE (Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination), which administer tests nationally, and individual state boards, for example Maharashtra (where Mumbai is located) and Tamil Nadu (where Chennai is located).

Second, the AP isn't exactly a "counterpart" to the Indian curricula. Many high school classes are built around the AP curricula, but the AP doesn't serve the same purpose.

CBSE math is roughly as advanced as Calculus BC, but includes topics besides calculus and differential equations. CBSE English is nowhere near as rigorous as AP English Language or Literature. English essay composition is not taught or tested and original literary analysis is not encouraged (there are pre-defined answers that examiners are looking for).

Because of they way they're graded, it seems board exams take more time to prepare for. Every percentage point counts in 12th grade board exams, which is different than the 1-5 scale that gives some leeway.

I encourage admissions professionals to review the curricula of applicants. I may add some links here later. I don't think a good summary of the curricula compared to AP or IB exists, and that's something I'll look into doing.

Edit: changed calc AB to calc BC.


Q:

I'd like to correct you on CBSE being as tough as Calc AB. CBSE Class XII curriculum for Math covers a LOT more than the AP counterpart.

A:

Oh, you're right. BC is about equivalent to the CBSE calc and differential equations curriculum. There's a lot more math on the CBSE curriculum (geometry, linear algebra, and probability) which makes it tougher overall. I'll edit.


Q:

Have you considered the market for Myanmar as well?

We have a lot of rich(relatively but some can be Megarich) students who don't actually attend a US curriculum schools but answer A levels.

A:

Fewer than 1,000 undergraduate students go to the US from Myanmar, so it's not a particular market I've explored, but I'm certainly willing to talk to you and anyone else interested. Basically, if I get three clients in a place I'll visit. This year I spent three weeks in Bangalore this past season because I had four clients there and it's a good market.


Q:

For me I just applied so it's not for me. Also I think the number is higher. Us embassy said 1100+

Facebook is a big deal (internet == Facebook) here so just saying if you ever want to advertise or expand your market. Myanmar students who want to study at US often have very good English proficiency skills, good course grades but they are often poached by "agents" to go to community colleges because they receive commission. Which is kinda wasted potential for money and they more often than not have so much money to afford full cost

A:

Thanks! According to the Institute of International Education, there were 987 undergrads and 210 grad students in the United States from Myanmar in the 2016-2017 academic year. So 1100+ is probably all students. https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students/Places-of-Origin

Yes, agents do guide kids toward colleges that are less than ideal.


Q:

Do you put pineapple on your pizza?

A:

No, usually the restaurant does it.


Q:

I am from India and I am really freaked out for my CBSE board exams . Do you know of any students being rescinded from their ivy league ED college for two or three scores in the 70s but an average in the high 80s? According to you, what score do you think is bad enough to raise red flags?

A:

I don't know of any such rescissions. However, I had a client with a score in the mid-70s who got a warning letter from an Ivy League school he already put a deposit down on. It was really scary.

An average in the high 80s will be ok. How would you have three scores in the 70s but an average in the high 80s? That is mathematically impossible unless it's like three 79s and two 99s.


Q:

What're some plausible unique ECs and on the other side of that spectrum, what are some ECs that almost every Indian kid has?

A:

Example ECs that I like to suggest as unique include unicycle riding, freediving, and competitive eating. All involve developing some skill, but you don't need to be a national unicycle champion, record-setting breath-holder, or competitive eating grand master to stand out. Those stand out on their own.

As for Indian students: MUNs, debates, or both. A few months ago, I analyzed my data from hundreds of students who have had consultations with IvyAchievement. In the pre-consultation survey, I ask Indian students how many MUNs they've been to and what awards they've gotten.

Results:

  • The overall median number of MUNs is 1, meaning more Indian applicants have done a MUN than not (55% have).

  • For those who have done MUNs, the median is 4.

  • Unfortunately I don't have an average, because the highest number on my survey is "more than 10." That is also the mode of respondents who have been to MUNs.

  • In light of the above, that translates to an average of AT LEAST 5.85 MUNs for those who have done them (likely much higher, this is assuming every "more than 10" is exactly 11).

  • Of those who participated in MUNs, 38% won a Best Delegate award. 64% won a Best Delegate or Outstanding Delegate award.

I don't have hard data on this, but I'd estimate about 75% have teaching underprivileged students in their activities. Quizzing is another common one (which ends up being an essay topic a little too often). Cricket and football are the most popular sports, although that shouldn't come as a surprise.

Edit: answered first question


Q:

Are there any examples in your own personal experience that show the benefits of hiring you (or another American counselor) over ones in India?

A:

Other American companies offer similar services (and certainly high quality), but as far as I know, I am the only American counselor who spends more than a week or two in India per year. I don't think any other American professional counselor has the knowledge of the Indian education system that I do. The four advantages to hiring an American company are real admissions experience, American-trained writing professionals, a more extensive network of college grads and professionals, and dedication to customer service/responsiveness.

  1. We have former admissions officers consulting for us who have worked at MIT, Stanford, Cornell, UChicago, and other schools who have read thousands of apps and been in a decision-making position. They know what works and what doesn't. They don't work full time, but they provide invaluable insight and guidance. (They don't always agree with each other, by the way, which is revealing in itself to a lot of people. Other American companies have this.

  2. We have American writing specialists, all of whom have degrees from American universities in writing or a writing-intensive major/program. Many have advanced degrees and experience in creative writing and writing instruction. Our writing specialists pass a rigorous test involving reviewing, editing, and proofreading real essays. Again, other American companies have this, but thanks to the amount of work I've given my writing specialists from India, we know what to look for, including common mistakes. They're also familiar with culture in order to effectively brainstorm. For example, when I start my brainstorming interview, I ask about family members. I start off with the parents and where they from. Then I ask, "was it a love marriage or a regular marriage?" (You sometimes get interesting stories because "love marriages" aren't the norm.) [For non-Indians: a "love marriage" is simply a marriage that's not arranged. Lots of arranged marriages are full of love!]

  3. My personal network among elite colleges is far more extensive than any Indian counselor's. I attended Columbia and Yale, and I've lived in Philadelphia, central New Jersey, San Francisco, and Oakland and worked in New York City and Palo Alto. I also attend "Ivy-plus" networking events in both California and on the East Coast. Consequently, I have a lot of friends and contacts at not just the schools I attended, but also Penn, Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, and MIT. Last year I did a tally on Facebook. In addition to hundreds from Columbia and Yale, I have among my Facebook friends: 120 who attended Harvard 85 who attended Penn 50 who attended UC Berkeley 49 who attended Stanford 48 who attended Princeton 26 who attended Duke 25 who attended MIT 24 who attended the University of Chicago 3 who attended Caltech When I have a question about one of these schools, there's usually someone available to ask. One example is when a young woman got into Barnard college off the waitlist after accepting her offer at NYU. She needed help deciding where to attend. I posted on Facebook and tagged no fewer than 14 women who attended both NYU and Columbia University, including at least five who attended Barnard for undergrad. She was able to get help from a Barnard and NYU alumna! Other American companies certainly have well-networked principals. I don't know if my network is the very best, but it's up there. My board of advisors has been especially helpful. For example, I have a friend, Sohan Dasgupta, who attended Columbia with me and went on get degrees from Cambridge, Oxford, and UC Berkeley. This year I had a client applying to Cambridge. I asked Mr. Dasgupta to prep him for his interview, and they spent over an hour preparing. The client got in. It's going to be hard to get that kind of service from any Indian counselor or company.

  4. From what I've heard, I and my writing specialists have much more flexible schedules and are more responsive than most, if not all, Indian counselors. I'm probably too responsive for my own good. I care a lot about my clients' success, no matter where they are applying.

Edit: formatting


Q:

Do you speak Hindi or any other Indian languages? Do you find it difficult to communicate?

A:

I don't speak any Indian languages. As I'm sure you know, there is a wide range of English-language proficiency in India. I deal with a clientele that is able to communicate in English. The students I work with grew up on American TV, most commonly Friends and Suits, where people speak quickly. Parents, however, sometimes have difficulty understanding me; it's usually fine if I slow down. I try to have a local-language speaker present at meetings with parents who's also familiar with our services so that the student doesn't have to do the explaining.

In most major cities in India, English is enough to get around, but communicating can be difficult. I have people who work with me when I'm in India to handle communications with service providers (drivers, delivery people, caterers, etc.). On my first trip to India, I was traveling with a native Hindi speaker. We went to Chennai and very few people spoke Hindi there. We both had trouble getting around; for example talking to taxi drivers.

I've also learned many differences between Indian English and American English, but that's a little off topic!


Q:

For the High SAT and Low GPA students like me, Where do we typically end up? I personally have a 1510 and a 3.0W GPA, but I'm not very sure I'll end up anywhere decent. Have you assisted similar students?

A:

I've had more clients with lower test scores and high GPAs, and I can't recall helping someone with quite as large a "split" as you have. For schools that have a minimum GPA, once you're over the minimum it doesn't make much of a difference. I know that the Cal State schools will value your SAT as long as your GPA is above their minimum (which is 3.0). They have their own way of weighting it, so I don't know what your GPA would be there.

I had an international client with a 2.97 GPA and 1230 SAT get into the University of San Francisco. I think his IBs were in the high 20s or low 30s. A few of the Cal State schools told him his GPA wasn't high enough (for internationals the minimum is 3.3, but I think they were willing to be flexible).


Q:

Thank you for the response! I’m in Sri Lanka, not India, but our systems are quite similar, if I’m not mistaken. I’ll definitely ask my counsellor to mention this, and probably ask my teacher recommenders to do so too. I did both A Levels and O Levels. My results are pretty competitive, but I was worried about this ruining my application. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only international with this problem.

A:

Your international exam results (which can be compared to lots of other international applicants') will outweigh internal grades.

A-Levels are pretty rare in India these days, surprisingly. I think they used to be more common, and they're still common in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Most kids who do IGCSE go on to IBs or Indian boards.


Q:

I have perfect scores in class 9 and 10 but a 65% in class 11 (CBSE).. Am I doomed? Are you aware of anybody who got through with such a percentage? P.S- I need Aid

A:

Most of the schools that give a lot of aid care about 11th grade scores, but I don't think you're totally doomed. I don't know your profile and would have to have a consultation with you.


Q:

The client you're talking about, who got into penn, got in for the class of 2022? How many applicants get into penn with financial aid from India?

A:

Yes, ED. The number is not high, but I expect it to be higher this year. Penn is need-aware, but it's increased its financial aid budget for international students from countries other than Canada and Mexico (for which it is need-blind).

Dartmouth is officially need-aware, but its international-student financial aid award statistics are comparable to the need-blind schools. In addition, they promise to match any "peer school" (officially Ivies but also the top New England LACs), which is the kind of thing a need-blind school does. Because of this, I encourage international applicants to apply to Dartmouth with aid. Last year, three of my four clients who applied to Dartmouth got in, and both who applied for aid got in and received offers.

I don't expect Penn to be quite as generous (their budget still isn't nearly as big per international student as Dartmouth's), but this year I was more willing to suggest applying for aid at Penn. I've had three clients get into Penn this year (one from India, one from the US, and one from Italy). The one from India who got in is also the only one who applied for aid. We'll see what happens with my RD clients!


Q:

Is it impossible to get aid as an international from penn, with a 31 ACT but a compelling application, like everything else on spot? (I'm from Delhi)

A:

I'd be very surprised. If you're willing to risk not getting enough aid, then you could do ED. One of my two clients who got aid at Dartmouth had a 31 on her ACT. Penn (even with a larger budget this year) is significantly less generous than Dartmouth.


Q:

I have applied this year. My test scores are low but the rest of my application is compelling I'd say. I asserted that Penn is my first choice and I didn't apply ED because I had a even lower score. I am scared now because I already know of 2 who got in ED with aid. Not sure if their budget extends to more in the RD round haha so let's see

A:

I have a positive hunch about Penn this year, and unlike last year, I didn't discourage anyone from applying for aid at Penn. I expect Columbia, Brown, and Cornell to remain stingy. (At Cornell it's basically the TATA scholarship or nothing.)


Q:

What are the biggest red flags on a college app that most students aren't even aware of?

A:

Thanks for asking this, because it appeared on A2C a few days ago and I couldn't answer because of my ban!

One I believe, which is controversial, is any mention of past mental health issues. College is stressful and mental health does not improve. OCD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and trichotillomania are likely to recur even if they have been treated successfully. This isn't to say they can't be dealt with in college, but it's a burden colleges deal with.

Colleges already deal with a lot of mental health issues. Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia most often emerge after the age of 18. College officials really don't want kids dying on their campus (for reputation and legal issues), so at least subconsciously, mentioning past mental illness is a red flag. Perhaps this is a red flag not just that students aren't aware of, but admissions officers themselves aren't aware of. Can I or will I ever prove that? Probably not. But I advise writing about mental health only when absolutely necessary (you had to take a leave, or you were severely incapacitated for an exam).

Even mentioning family mental health history (immediate relative) is a red flag, as this puts you at risk. I did have a client who wrote about her mom's schizophrenia and got into Berkeley (off the waitlist) with an SAT score in the 1100s. So it's not an automatic red flag.

Another: I once had an Indian client named Aryan whose first essay draft (that I did not help him write) said he was proud of his name because the Aryans were a superior race of people. I kid you not.

Edit: typos


Q:

Actually, I kind of disagree with you on this. My personal essay was about how I overcame my social anxiety and depression, which was a result of my anxiety, and I think my essay was the strongest part of my application that helped me get selected to quite a few schools- Cornell, UChicago, Colgate, Fordham, etc.

A:

This is fair. As I said, this is controversial and a lot of people disagree. You can certainly write a compelling essay on the topic and there are admissions officers who believe mental health care are colleges is great (it's not). Your essay clearly didn't keep you out of great schools, but I'm wary of the risk.

One exception I've endorsed is if you demonstrate an ability to help others cope with mental health issues. In that case you become an asset.

With regard to risky topics, I'm the opposite when it comes to religion and politics. Many counselors say "avoid, avoid, avoid." But I think a sophisticated essay on these topics gives the reader a sense if who you are. The main thing to avoid is making it sound like you're going to impose your religion on others. Also, you can almost always get away with Trump-bashing--certainly at the elite colleges.


Q:

Can scoring a 60-69 in one subject (Physics) while still maintaining a 80+ overall percentage get my decision (i.e. if I get one first) rescinded from American Universities like GaTech, UCLA, UCB, UCSD, UMich, USC, UDub, UWisc-Madison, etc? [Considering my predicted score was 93% overall]

A:

Are you in India? What scale is your grade on?


Q:

Why do colleges send out likely letters? What does it mean to get and to not get a likely?

A:

Sending likely letters is a way to recruit. Everyone wants to feel loved and desired, and a likely letter does just that! It gets kids excited about the school and more likely to get into the mindset of attending before they get their other acceptances. That's why they're especially used for athletes, STEM students, and minorities.


Q:

Hey Ben! Just wondering, how would a college like Vanderbilt University fit into your computer science rankings? It is a T-15 according to USNWR and has really strong programs in STEM, excluding CS. Is there a reason it has been excluded from your rankings, and how would you compare a degree from a school like that with a degree from a top public school, say UCLA/U-Mich?

A:

Vanderbilt didn't make it into the top 50, which is as far as the rankings available on my website go. It happens to rank #60.

It was a little surprising that it ranked so low, but it's just not ideally located for employment purposes. Considering schools like Georgia Tech, Northwestern, Duke, and Carnegie Mellon do better, it's clear there's not enough to overcome the location bias.

I know a lot more UCLA and UMich grads than I do Vanderbilt grads by nature of where I've lived and my social circles. I'm not sure what you mean "compare a degree." Vanderbilt is tough to get into and academically rigorous. The campus experience will be different.

I happen to be a big fan of UMich (and not just because they offered me a full scholarship to law school). They have one of the best and most active alumni networks in the word.


Q:

How much weightage do colleges give to a 'spike' in the application? Will, say, a person with 86-88% in 11th grade, great standardised testing scores, and focused humanities and STEM based ECs (more emphasis on STEM) be favoured over a student with a 90%+ and average ECs? Also, does being a URM (gender wise) in the field I'm interested in help?

A:

I'm a little skeptical of "spike theory".

It's not just a "spike" you're after. You want to tie different areas of your application together with a common theme. A nice, well-rounded application will have at least one academic EC, at least one service EC, and at least one personal skill EC (sports, music, art). Some schools highly value leadership positions. Let's say you have a five-axis graph like this: https://i.stack.imgur.com/XgQDe.png but instead on the five axes you have Grades/test scores, personal skills, community service, leadership, and intellectual curiosity. Tying them together can really help you stand out. For example, I have a client applying to business school who did research on clay soils. He helps local potters improve their products and sell them online.

What do you mean "URM gender-wise"? URM stands for "underrepresented minority." Women and men are underrepresented in certain fields, but neither is a minority (there being slightly more women notwithstanding). Do you mean you're non-binary/other gender?


Q:

What was your GPA at Columbia? :p

A:

When I applied to law school, it was 3.83. I made Tau Beta Pi as a result. My GPA went down to 3.78 after my final semester and I missed out on graduating Magna Cum Laude (just plain old cum laude). Major was biomedical engineering.


Q:

Thanks for the AMA! I have two questions.

  1. Could you share the most interesting/ memorable essay that a client shared with you? It doesn't have to be one that was successful in terms of acceptances, something that just stuck with you.

  2. What was your journey to being an independent admission's counselor like?

A:
  1. Getting permission to share one of my favorites!

  2. I had left law practice in 2014, and by late 2015, after I had done some part-time legal stuff for friends, I needed something to pay the rent (which in San Francisco was very high). I started off on Reddit and I knew a bit of Google AdWords and Facebook ads, so I created a business model wherein I provided free reviews and then sold additional services. I had good credentials for editing. Reddit was the first place, and then specialized Facebook groups. It was already October 2015, and a few people purchased big packages to help them will all their supplements. I fell into a niche helping Indian students. I got some ED/EA results which led to end-of-December pickups.

My conversion rate was pretty high and my business model was profitable, but I needed to scale to make the business viable. I was able to raise seed capital, and I decided to to educate myself and market in India. Traveling to India and visiting seven cities on my first trip alone was enlightening (not in the Buddhist sense). I held free one-hour consultations and got to know many families around India.

In this job I get to use my editorial skills (which I developed being EiC of my high-school yearbook and a copy editor for the Columbia Daily Spectator during my freshman year of high school (along with Ariel Schwartz, who works for IvyAchievement as a writing specialist). I edited various journals in college and law school and was a submissions editor for the peer-reviewed Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law & Ethics. So these skills were not new.

As a law student and a later as a lawyer, I was also trained in witness interviews and depositions. (If you've ever seen Suits, it's when they set up a video camera in a conference room and the witness gets grilled.) My training included interview methods designed to elicit the most relevant information in the shortest amount of time. I apply these methods when brainstorming for essays. It works remarkably well. In 60-90 minutes, I usually have enough to create an outline.

I also enjoy using quantitative skills in this job. My UIUC CS analysis includes box-and-whisker plots and stuff.

I like doing what I'm good at, and I apply the skills I have to the task at hand. In this case, that means helping students discover their passions, build their profiles, choose colleges to apply to, and craft successful applications.


Q:

How would you say gap years in general are viewed for international students? More specifically, gap years where a student will work to earn money. Is it better to take a year of regular study in the specific home country before applying abroad for instance?

A:

In an AMA I did on Facebook, someone asked what the result of a gap year is. My answer:

More maturity, less stress, and a better college application.

If you enroll in a college, most schools in the US will require you to apply as a transfer. This is significantly more difficult than freshman admissions. It's much better to work.


Q:

Can you chance me for unis if I pm you my stats and ECs? Please?

A:

Sure.


Q:

@apphelper could I also?

A:

Ok.


Q:

How much student debt is worth to go to places like Georgia Tech or Purdue if I'm a CS major? How long does it take to pay off a debt of 40 to 60k dollars? Is it better to go to places like BITS Pilani in India for 12k per year or Purdue for 40k per year?

A:

First, people often ask me if something is "worth it." I can't answer that particular question because I don't know all the things you value. Second, I can't say how long it will take to pay off a particular debt without knowing the terms of the loan. Third, I can't say I think it's "better" to go to one place or another because I don't know your goals and preferences.

I will say that Purdue does not do well in my CS rankings (see link in OP). I would recommend Cal Poly or SJSU if you want to go into CS and your stats aren't very competitive (you still need high math scores). They're cheaper than Purdue.

Georgia Tech is VERY competitive for Indians. ROI is much better than Purdue.


Q:

Ghanaian here . Have completed undergrad BA computer science and management, please what is possibility of getting a fully scholarship for US, Europe , UK , Canada. Could you assist me ?

A:

Hi! Such a thing is certainly possible and would depend on several factors. You may sign up for a consultation on my website.


Q:

I'm expecting 95+ in all the subjects of CBSE Board Exams except for Physics. I didn't study Physics at all, and will end up getting around 60-70 marks. Should I take a gap year and appear for CBSE Improvement Exams or is it okay to have less score in one of the subjects? (I'm not expecting to get into any Univ,so I'd be applying again this December.)

A:

Anything below 80 is going to look pretty bad. Just think about comparing a transcript with a 65 to all the other transcripts with high board scores. Taking an improvement exam will do just that.

I know you didn't ask this and perhaps you didn't mean it literally, you shouldn't wait until December to apply. If you're taking a gap year, there's no reason to wait that long; you should get most of your apps done by October.


Q:

How was the Columbia experience as an undergraduate student? Columbia is one of my top choices and would like some insight from a past student.

A:

I enjoyed it immensely. The stereotype is that there's a "stress culture," but you don't have to fall prey to it. I was able to reschedule midterms when my grandfather died, for example.

I liked most of my classes (although there were a few with professors with poor communication skills) and the diversity of subjects I learned even while studying engineering was great. I also happen to like the Core Curriculum. I loved living in New York even if I didn't really go south of 14th Street until basically the end of my senior year!

Having also been on Yale's campus and been friends with many Yale undergrads (I went right from undergrad to law school, so I wasn't much older than the seniors), I have to say that Yale does have a more supportive undergraduate experience and Yale students do seem happier.

Edit: used a wrong word