Thousands of students from India will be starting university or college in two months from now. If you’re one of them, you may be freaking out. Settle your nerves and consider what you can do to prepare, other than the obvious — because you’ve already applied for student loans, paid tuition and picked your courses, right?

For those who are still a year or two away or for those parents whose kids are vying for admission in top universities in India and abroad, I would encourage you to think now about the intended outcome of a high school education. Ask yourself whether the goal of high school is collecting a portfolio of certificates, scores/grades and SOPs to get into a premium institute, or a stress-laden pursuit of cracking NEET or JEE.

Sstudents and parents need to think differently. They should think beyond the SoP (Statement of Purpose), essays and portfolios; instead, they should prepare for university and for life. The intended outcome of any university prep programme is to think beyond the short-term goal of admission and strive instead to thrive in a global campus and achieve long-term academic objectives.

High school students around the worldshould create a ‘portfolio of experiences’ rather than a ‘portfolio of certificates and scores’, and then put those experiences into productive use for securing admission and for preparing for the university.

Crucially, we believe in enjoying the experience of preparing for the admission and using it as an opportunity to find out who a person is, and who they want to be. Post-admission, an academic team helps students adjust to academic and cultural challenges. Many students and parents believe the work ends once university admission is received, but it has been my experience that this is the easiest phase for a student to stumble; one has to just look at the dropout rate of international students in elite schools to see the evidence of this.

Academic research shows that high school students going through a structured university prep programme have a higher chance to succeed academically in a university setting and move into productive careers. This approach has been found effective in reducing stress and anxiety among high school students.

In India, a debate is building about the limitations of the entrance exam and the flaws of the student training industry built around that model. With the advent of schools offering IB (International Baccalaureate), AP (Advanced Placement), and Cambridge programmes, Indian students are now having options in how they want to approach their high school careers.

India is witnessing a shift in perspective, but it is not arriving fast enough. The goal of an Indian high school education should not be mere collection of certificates; rather, it should produce well-rounded adult citizens capable of success in their respective fields.

And this is exactly what Indian students should begin to think beyond the SOP. 

The writer is Prof. N N Syam Chandra, Academic Director (SEP, Iowa Schools Board



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