With campuses closed to visits from prospective students, the Indian SCENE is bringing its own college tours to you.
This week, The Indian SCENE spoke with Rohan Kansagra of Warren, New Jersey, a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, studying environmental engineering and economics. WashU, as it’s known, boasts an impressive student to faculty ratio of 7:1. Undergraduate enrollment is around 7,800, and estimated cost of attendance before financial aid is around $80,000 a year for students living in on-campus housing; 100 percent of students’ have their financial need fully covered.
The Indian SCENE: Tell us about your high school experience.
Rohan Kansagra: My biggest extracurricular activity in high school was competitive gymnastics. I’ve been in the sport since I was 6 and have been competing for almost as much time. My best achievements throughout the years were qualifying for national championships 3 times, and placing 2nd on rings for my age in 11th grade. I was also an academic All-American for all 4 years of high school. I participated in my school’s diversity club between 11th and 12th grade and in my senior year I was a part of the entrepreneurship club launchX.
IS: When did you begin your college search? What aspects of a college were important to you?
RK: I first began my college search during junior year. I knew I wanted a school with strong academics in a variety of fields because at the time I was unsure of what exactly I wanted to study. To pair with that I wanted a school that was flexible in allowing me to switch majors once I got there. I preferred smaller colleges, however I wasn’t sure exactly what size but I didn’t want something as big as state schools. I would’ve liked to go somewhere in a warmer climate that had a traditional campus feel while also being near a city, but these preferences were less important to me than the previous things.
IS: Did you visit campuses? If so, when did you start? What were your takeaways from these visits?
RK: The summer after my junior year, I visited a few schools in California like Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, Pomona, Harvey Mudd and Occidental, and then I visited Duke and Emory during my senior year. While on the college tours I found that a lot of information is thrown at you and to make it more digestible it helps to do a bit of research beforehand to prepare questions and also listen for relevant information. I’ve also heard that many people look for that “one” school and they just get “that feeling” when they’re on the campus of the school they really want to go to. I’d never believed in that and also had never visited WashU before getting there but I still ended up loving it. However, there is definitely truth to the idea that each school has its own vibe and trying to articulate what about schools you like and don’t like, as well as what feeling you did get while there can help you make final decisions on where to visit, apply and ultimately go.
IS: Tell us about the application process. Did you apply early decision or early action anywhere? How many schools did you apply to?
RK: I applied restrictive early action (REA) to Yale which meant I couldn’t apply early to any other private schools but I did apply early action (EA) to a few public schools including Michigan, Rutgers, Penn State, NJIT, UT Austin and University of Washington. My final application total was 19 when it was all said and done.
IS: How did you eventually decide to attend your college?
RK: I picked mostly based on what school “checked more of my boxes,” or what school fit more of the criteria I originally looked for when choosing where to apply. My final two options were originally UT-Austin and University of Michigan, and I ultimately picked Texas because of their strong engineering program (I didn’t apply to UMich’s engineering school), I liked warmer weather, orange is my favorite color and I’d heard great things about the city of Austin. I then got off the waitlist at WashU last minute and based on what I had researched about the school I knew that it would be a better fit for me. I actually never visited UMich, UT or WashU and so all of my decisions were made primarily off whatever information I could find on Google.
IS: Tell us about campus life (e.g. ease of joining clubs/greek life, diverse population, ease of meeting with professors, workload, getting registered for classes, anything else you’d like to include).
RK: WashU provides a ton of things to do on campus. Most clubs are very open to new members and the few I’ve joined and tried out have been super welcoming to first-years. Some clubs do have a lot of members which can make active involvement on projects a bit competitive at times and some organizations do have selective admittance processes like some dance and acapella groups, the emergency support team, and Greek life (but that’s not to say it isn’t worth trying for). The fraternities and sororities can be pretty selective, especially the ones that many people list as their top choice, but the business frats are the most selective with them only taking a small group every year. WashU has a racially diverse population that is becoming more diverse as the years go on, and in terms of socio-economic diversity, WashU has come a long way, but still has definite room for improvement.
Most professors and advisors I’ve encountered are very accessible and personable and I have yet to meet one that wasn’t willing to work with a student’s schedule. While the workload can be difficult, especially for some majors more than others, there is a great collaborative environment among most students as well as many university sponsored resources to help you when you need it. The registration process for classes is relatively easy as the software is not overly complicated and usually pretty intuitive to get the hang of. The largest issue is that your time to register is given at random so if you don’t have an early registration slot then you may end up in a class section you didn’t prefer.
IS: Give us an overview on housing as a freshman and how you found your roommate.
RK: The housing at WashU is great (I believe we got ranked #1 on the Princeton Review for it). I actually went with a random roommate and ended up really liking him, which is definitely not an uncommon story I’ve heard from friends I’ve made. All the rooms are suite style for first-years which means that about 6 kids will either be in singles, doubles, or triples joined by a hallway and 1-2 bathrooms. The rooms are spacious and a cleaning service cleans the bathrooms once a week (not to mention the mattresses are Tempurpedic). All freshmen live on an area called the South 40 which is a 40 acre plot of land just south of the main campus with an open field, basketball courts, a small playground, a mini-gym, dining hall and small-scale grocery store. Kids love to joke that we almost live in a resort.
IS: What’s some advice you wish you got when you were going through the college application process?
RK: I would say to people starting the college process to not be afraid to apply somewhere just because you or someone else thinks you can’t get in. You’re most likely not going to get another chance like this and for some of the more selective schools there is no shame in not getting in – most don’t. I applied to several of the (supposed) top 20 schools in the country according to the US News and Niche lists and got rejected from all but one and even then narrowly didn’t get in. So you never know. Also I would encourage casting a wide net when applying to schools. You may be set on going to a big school near a city with a good business program but you change a lot as a person in the time leading up to application deadlines, to decisions, to going to school. So throw in a smaller school or one that’s in the suburbs or a school that is strong in engineering or the humanities as well as business just in case so that when May 1st rolls around, you’re not staring at schools that were going to make you happy 8 months ago but not in the future.
IS: Tell us about your major/planned field of study and what you hope to do with it.
RK: My primary major is environmental engineering with a second major in economics. I’m uncertain about what exactly I hope to end up doing but I’ve been interested in the start-up world as well as the business of environmental protection. That might mean working for a consulting firm, impact investing hedge fund, or even a start-up. These fields are ever-changing however and I don’t doubt I may end up doing something I never imagined.
IS: What advice would you give parents of high school students when it comes to the college process?
RK: I would tell parents to support your kids if or when they want it, but to respect their space. You’ll most likely see your kids experience emotions they’ve either never felt before or felt to such an extreme, and every kid handles it differently. Whether they need to process on their own or talk out their frustrations with you, you should understand their needs and listen to them.
IS: Anything else you feel is important?
RK: People often have concerns about the safety of areas around campus and St. Louis itself. While there is definitely validity to these concerns, proper precautions and common sense can go a long way. There is a lot worth doing, seeing, and experiencing in the city and simple things like travelling in groups and updating your friends on your location can go a long way.
…favorite thing to do with your family? Eating dinner together while my sister and I tease our parents about the hilarious things they say.
…favorite type of food? Kraft macaroni and cheese
…favorite artist (actor, singer, author, painter, etc.)? Mumford and Sons
…favorite vacation spot? Kenya