Al Ain-based student Simran Bhatia is on his way to the Wharton School of Business in the US. He tells Notes how he got through and the factors students should keep in mind when applying to universities abroad

When Notes received an email from Simran Bhatia, the editor remarked, “Confident girl”. It was rather disquieting then when our confident girl turned out to be a tall, rangy, 16-year-old boy sold on basketball. We were right about the confidence, though.

“My mother chose the name even before I was born,” Simran says with the practiced ease of explaining for the nth time. “I guess she wanted a girl. And I disappointed them,” he added with a grin.

A grade XII student in Al Ain, Simran has been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in the US.

He has enrolled in the university’s double degree programme called the Jerome Fisher Programme in Management and Technology.

Under the programme, he will earn a bachelor’s in science and economics and a bachelor’s in science and applied science. “I will basically complete in four years what would actually take eight years.”

How did he get through? “I have a funny story behind this,” he says.

“I applied for the normal Wharton programme. About three weeks into my application, I got an email from them, saying, ‘we are wondering if you want to consider this programme’. I thought it might be rude if I said no so I went along with it.”

Until last September Simran had no clue where he was headed. His mother was keen that he become a doctor and his father wanted him to get into finance. He opted for business. Training to be a doctor can be pretty tedious, he says.

Besides economics has always been his strong point. Simran hopes to become an entrepreneur some day, Donald Trump and the Ambanis being his role models.

He began his college search on the internet scanning college rankings. He discovered that when it came to undergraduate business programmes in the US, Wharton was the best.

“Most people would go with Harvard because Harvard has a name. But what they don’t know is that it doesn’t have a ranking.” Its masters programme in business is, however, the best.

He went through the early decision programme under which he applied in November and was accepted by mid-December.

Taking the SAT

Simran is probably one of the last batches of students to take the old SAT, getting a score of 1,530 out of 1,600. He believes most students underestimate the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

“It’s a very easy exam, the problem is people don’t prepare for it. In school, the point of an exam is to test what you know. SAT tests how well you take it, how good you are under exam conditions.”

He feels the new SAT is probably better for smarter students. “Those who are good in school will probably do better in the new one. The math is a bit more advanced.”

Another good feature of the new exam, says Simran is that the “totally senseless section called analogies” has been removed.

As for the new writing section, Simran goes against widespread opinion. “Some people are scared of it, but I think it is an opportunity to improve your grade.”

The personal statement

Besides the SAT, Simran says the personal statements that applicants attach with their applications are very important.

“Most of the Ivy League institutions like Harvard, Princeton and Wharton ask pretty direct questions. And I can’t overstate the time you must spend on these. I must have written mine at least seven or eight times. These essays give the university the first glimpse of you as a person and student.”

Students also tend to take extracurricular activities including sports and school leadership roles lightly, says Simran.

He, for instance, is head of academics in school, a role in which he oversees the academic performance of fellow students. He has also been Sportsman of the Year for the last three consecutive years, and has captained the school’s basketball and volleyball teams.

“Make sure what you do is accounted for,” he says. Get school authorities to put it into your letters of recommendation.

Simran also feels that establishing early contact with a university works in your favour. He advises calling the university up for clarifications so that they get to know you.

Why did he choose the US, when there are so many higher education destinations opening up around the world? “Call me prejudiced or biased, but I think America is better.”

Incidentally, Simran will do one term in Cambridge, UK, in his second year if he maintains his grades.

Students are also likely to feel a lot less homesick because chances of finding your own community people in the US are much greater than say in Australia, says the only child of a doctor couple.

Simran’s mother Rupila is a consultant gynaecologist, his father Vipin a consultant urologist.

“And the UAE, particularly a city as modern as Dubai, is not that different from the US,” says Simran.

“In this globalised world, kids know the kind of music they are listening to over there, the clothes they wear. It’s a different story for a student going from a city like Riyadh or Kuwait.”