Throughout high school, I was motivated by my teachers, friends and family to apply to and go to highly ranked STEM programs for college. A part of my family wanted me to go to the well-known schools in India, the rest wanted me to go to the United States for a more rounded education, while counsellors at school suggested me to consider going to schools in the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Canada.
Some people ride on two boats; I had a whole fleet to crew. My study room was full of books on physics, chemistry, and mathematics, whether they were written for school students or for reference in college. I was preparing for the one and only standardized test, my score on which would determine my college as well as the engineering courses that I could take in the whole of India. There were no in-person components for getting into these schools – none other than my name, my gender, and my class category, which is based on the earnings of a family. Did I really want to be treated as a score among millions taking the test to get admitted to an institution?
Second, I had to learn the difference between "color" and "colour" to get a "good enough" SAT score to have my applications considered as "good enough’" for the college admissions offices in the United States (I was taught British English at school, while the SAT conforms to the American English rules). I was repeatedly counselled to spend time taking SAT Subject Tests and Advanced Placement tests in various subjects, even though these classes were not offered at my school. Did I really want colleges to evaluate how qualified I was as an applicant primarily based on these standardized test scores?
What did I really want? I was tirelessly looking out for a college which would admit me for what I felt passionate about and would follow a teaching process that aligned with how I like to learn – by doing and exploring.
Living in India, I always tried to think of ways to use technology for the benefit of people who are unable to help themselves due to cost barriers, language barriers (a lot of the technology and devices still don’t have support in some of the local languages in India), educational barriers, or accessibility barriers, alongside others in fields such as healthcare and education. To be able to do this, I needed not just my physics, math and software, but also a grasp on accessible design, user-centered design and ethical design. I wanted to maximize the amount of time that I spent on building projects and exploring things that I really cared about, such as electronics and accessibility of technology. I wanted to be in a community of learners who were motivated in similar ways as I was.
While talking to an Olin alum, I realized where I wanted to go. Olin was the closest to what I had always wanted to experience – the level of collaboration in class projects, the close-knit community, and the focus on "do-learn" engineering over the traditional theory-based engineering. The level of engagement with faculty that Olin students experience was something that I found unique, and I wanted to be part of teams that welcomed new ideas and where members were open to learning from each other, rather than competing for the highest percentile.