Nabila Chitalwala speaks to HT Horizons about doing community service at a leprosy colony and staying with families in Lahore to promote bilateral harmony, all in her quest to make it to Yale
When did you decide to go to Yale?
I decided I wanted to study at an American university during the tenth grade. I was undecided about which one. However, after researching universities and talking to seniors and counsellors, Yale became my first choice. Despite getting admission to numerous other Ivy League universities, I chose Yale because it provided me with stellar academics, a wide range of extra-curriculars and an environment that would allow me to develop not only academically but also personally. The structure of the academic programme — a liberal arts education which allows you to explore subjects both in breadth and depth was extremely appealing to me.
Tell us about the process of application at Yale?
In order to apply to Yale and most other American universities, one needs to fill out an application called the ‘common application’ and individual college ‘supplement’. It’s a form that gathers personal information about the student as well as academic information, including high school grades, SAT scores and information about extra-curricular activities.
The form also allows a student to convey more information about him or herself through the two required essays and also requires letters of recommendation from two teachers and a counsellor. Through the ‘supplement’ individual colleges seek additional information and may also require you to write further essays or answer short questions. Yale allows ‘early action’, for which the deadline is November 1 or ‘regular decision’, for which the deadline is December 31. If you are very certain that Yale is the place you want to be, and your application requirements are met by the deadline, then apply for early action. After the submission of your application, you are offered an interview conducted by local Yale alumni who besides interviewing you, will answer any questions that you may have about Yale as well as share their experiences at Yale.
Did you apply at other places too?
I applied to seven other American universities.
Tell us what made your application stand out?
I believe that in addition to having consistent and good grades and good SAT scores, I had a very strong and diverse range of extra-curricular activities.
Tell us about your school life. What did you do apart from studies?
I was an active member of the student council — I started off with positions like vice house captain and athletics captain and was finally nominated to the position of head girl.
I was an active participant in Model United Nations (MUN) — held the positions of secretary general and president. I am part of an organisation called ‘Seeds of Peace’ which aims to develop future leaders in conflict zones and empower them with the skills necessary to facilitate peace and co-existence. As part of this organisation, I had participated in the summer programme in Maine, USA, and a home-stays programme in Lahore, Pakistan, experiences which helped foster dialogue between Indians and Pakistanis, besides attending weekly meetings and workshops in Mumbai.
I was also a facilitator at ‘Paigaam’, a student-initiated peace conference hosted by my school which brought together students from different schools from all over India and helped build ties between them and raise awareness about our country’s diversity.
I also volunteered at an NGO, Bombay Leprosy Project, which provides free treatment, medicine and rehabilitation services to leprosy-afflicted patients living in the slums of Mumbai and other outlying areas — an experience that opened my eyes to the plight of the public health system. In addition, I helped tutor underprivileged teenage girls at a slum rehabilitation centre near my school.
I also participated in drama and debates and numerous sports — track and field and rugby, amongst others.
I got a 96.7% in the ICSE and a score of 45 in the IB Diploma Examinations.
Tell us what advice you want to give to those wanting to study in American universities? And also please tell us what they should avoid while sending out the applications?
My advice would be plan ahead. An application has numerous components — SAT scores, high school transcripts, teacher and counsellor recommendations and essays in addition to the actual filling of the application forms — and it can get overwhelming in addition to one’s normal school work. So stay on top of it from the very beginning.
Universities look for consistently good grades or improvement in grades over time, so keep your schoolwork updated throughout the year — not just during exam time. Make sure you take SAT as early as possible, taking into account your school schedules, and make your first attempt count as it will save you the time and bother of reappearing for the same.
The essays are a very important part of one’s application. Many students hurriedly write their essays, not realising how integral they are to the application process. Also, send recommendations from teachers who know you well as a person as that is reflected in their letters of recommendation and not just from teachers in whose classes you do well.
How has your Yale experience been?
My Yale experience has been phenomenal! Yale has a separate orientation for incoming international students, besides the regular freshman orientation. The diversity on campus in terms of geography, experiences, interests and talents is astounding. Every day I meet someone new, someone who is interesting, and someone from whom I can learn.