At one of Troy-based Finesse Academy’s monthly alumni sessions in early December, college counselor Arun Ponnusamy, the chief academic officer of college consulting company Collegewise, extensively explained the changing role of college counselors in students’ lives and offered advice for college applicants. The Indian SCENE caught up with Ponnusamy to discuss the daunting college admissions process.
College counseling: what has changed
College used to sometimes be as simple as going down the street to your local college. Ponnusamy mentioned that as late as 40 years ago, few people stressed out over where they were going to go to college. However, in the time since, high school administrators have stressed the importance of receiving a college education, which has been a critical factor in the increase of college applicants. While there are more people applying to college, the number of spots hasn’t changed. Competition amongst students applying to college surely has surged, not solely as a result of student ability or intelligence but mostly due to the growth of candidates. The job of college counselors has been majorly affected by this growth of competition, especially when it comes to managing student anxiety. At the same time, the realm of college admissions has shifted immensely as well. A counselor’s job in the advice and information they share changes as standardized testing, AP/IB scores, and kinds of essays change. Furthermore, college counselors are required to customize their advice and outlook on the admissions process based on the universities and programs a student is applying to.
“I have to go ________ college” might not be the right way of thinking
As competition grows, students have to understand that the top-tier schools aren’t necessarily the schools that may provide them with the best future. A couple years ago, when Ponnusamy took a look at where Fortune 500 CEOs spent their undergraduate years, he found that as many had attended University of Wisconsin–Madison as had attended Harvard. Schools that aren’t as hard to get into are still delivering great results. Students stress out over admission to certain Ivy League schools, but it isn’t necessary for them to go there to succeed. One simply has to be willing to take advantage of the resources at their disposal.
What’s the perfect balance between academics and extracurriculars?
The balance between academics and extracurriculars has been a long-debated idea and Ponnusamy states that there really isn’t a perfect balance. Everyone has completely different abilities and interests, and that balance may differ. What is important to consider is that you’re not taking classes just for college or overworking yourself to the point where you’re always fatigued. You want to participate in the extracurriculars you enjoy while also maintaining your performance at school. The idea of wellness and mental health needs to be emphasized in students’ lives, but a little bit of stress isn’t unhealthy. What matters is what you’re stressed about. Do all colleges admit students with a perfect balance between academics and extracurriculars? Not exactly. There is an ideal candidate for every different school. Some very selective schools may have the luxury of only admitting students with excellent grades and standardized testing as well as outstanding extracurriculars. Other schools may accept less well-rounded students because they may not be as selective. Ponnusamy says the majority of selective and private schools will be looking beyond grades and scores. However, it is important to remember that success follows passion, so it is pertinent that students don’t overly exert themselves simply to fulfill the requirements of an “ideal applicant.”
The quality of your community service matters.
When it comes to community service, Ponnusamy says there is a way that candidates can stand out: authenticity. If you can connect something you love to help the community, do it. Colleges like candidates that have authentic community service, especially when it has to do with something the students enjoys. Find more ways to do the things you love.
As a high school student, I’ve always thought that the primary reason behind the stress and anxiety amongst high school students was competition. I’m not sure, however, that anyone really understands where exactly this competition comes from. It has little to do with an increase in student intelligence or standardized testing scores and much more to do with an increase in college applicants. Colleges don’t want to see a thousand perfect candidates, Ponnusamy says. Ultimately, they want to see the best version of yourself, and that’s something that only you, by yourself, can make happen.
Krish Ghosalkar is a freshman at Troy High School who enjoys public speaking, learning taekwondo, and playing table tennis. Additionally, he is proud to be a board member on Key2Finesse, a student-run nonprofit organization.