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The Mission after University Admission

There is a widely held belief that being admitted to college implies being prepared for college. This is a belief that remains unquestioned until one gets there and realizes that one does not have the skills to deal with the demands of a liberal arts education. One is quickly left exposed and struggling to keep up. So how to leap into your higher studies well and truly prepared?
BY Farhad Anklesaria |   06-05-2013

Imagine you have decided to climb a mountain. You have picked a rather challenging looking one in the Himalayas. You got in touch with a travel agency and they agreed to take you on their next group expedition. You are thrilled at the prospect of climbing the mountain, making new friends, breathing the fresh air. But then, you reach the mountain and realize very quickly that you were expected to come prepared, to be trained in mountain-climbing, to have brought your own tent, your own equipment, your own Sherpa even. In this unprepared state, you might huff and puff your way up the mountain, quit mid-way through, or discover you are a rare natural at mountain climbing.
 
I huffed and puffed through university. 

There is a widely held belief that being admitted to college implies being prepared for college. This is a belief that remains unquestioned until one gets there and realizes that one does not have the skills to deal with the demands of a liberal arts education. One is quickly left exposed and struggling to keep up.

When I got to Yale University, I felt quite exposed when I realized, to my horror, that I did not have a clue about how to write a research paper, how to critically read a book, or even how to be an active participant in a discussion. The Indian curriculum, of which I was a product, does not cultivate these qualities and skills in students; it is focused on test-taking and rote-learning. Nothing can be further from the requirements of the U.S. liberal arts institutions, which rest on the pillars of critical and interpretive reading, academic writing, and active discussion.
 
To make the matter clearer, I can give you a 'real life' example. During my freshman year at Yale, I took a Philosophy class called 'Death'. Below is the description of the class taken from the Yale Courses website.
 
'There is one thing I can be sure of: I am going to die. But what am I to make of that fact? This course will examine a number of issues that arise once we begin to reflect on our mortality. The possibility that death may not actually be the end is considered. Are we, in some sense, immortal? Would immortality be desirable? Also a clearer notion of what it is to die is examined. What does it mean to say that a person has died? What kind of fact is that? And, finally, different attitudes to death are evaluated. Is death an evil? How? Why? Is suicide morally permissible? Is it rational? How should the knowledge that I am going to die affect the way I live my life?' (Class: Philosophy 176; Death)
 
The choice to take this class was a result of my desire to 'broaden my horizons' - a decision many of us make when we get to college - and who wouldn't sign up for this class on reading that description! As part of the first assignment for the Death class, we were asked to write a paper making an argument for or against the existence of a material soul. I clearly recollect the moment when I sat down to write this paper because it reminded me of when I first tried to write my college application essay. I had the feeling of being completely stumped. 'Where was I to begin? What questions should I be asking myself? How should I research the topic? How do I make an argument?'
 
My attempts at reading the course material got me nowhere because I soon realized that my ability to be a critical reader was very poor - in spite of my decent SAT scores. In short, I wrote a terrible paper, got a terrible grade, and discovered I had long way to go if I wanted to make the most of my college education. It took me the better part of two years and some very embarrassing moments before I really figured it all out.
 
It’s not just for a U.S. education though – at the end of the day, being able to ask critical questions and understand certain elements of a discussion enables one to better handle the daily requirements of a career and enables success in other fields of life.
 
Moral of the story: Be prepared before you go off to climb that mountain – you might enjoy the view a little better when you reach the top.
 

Farhad Anklesaria graduated from Yale University in 2010 with a major in Sociology and International Studies. He recently returned to India to write a novel, and works in education. His company - essai: www.essai.in - inspires students to write unique application essays. Farhad also runs a 'bootcamp' for students who have gained admission to university and want to be prepared for what lies ahead.
 
 
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