In recent years, students have started to believe that they need to found an organisation, not for profit or company to get admitted to top universities.
Crimson Education's Director for USA and Canada, Anjali Bhatia, argues that this isn't the case and in fact, being a founder could potentially hurt your chances of admission. She also outlines what Admission Officers are actually looking for and what you can do to improve your candidacy.
Podcast Host 00:00
Hello, and welcome to college tips. On today's episode, I chat with the managing director of crimson education USA and Canada. Anjali Bhatia, a graduate of Duke University and Wharton MBA program until he reflects on recent admissions history and challenges the belief that you now need to start an organization to get into a top university. Let's chat with Anjali. Hi, Anjali. Welcome to College Tips. It's fantastic to have you on the show. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?
Absolutely. Thank you for having me, Alex. I'm so excited to be here. Sure. So my name is Anjali. I grew up in northern New Jersey right outside of New York City. And in high school, I actually became very passionate around this concept of social entrepreneurship for high school students. So I ended up starting a nonprofit initiative that was designed around helping high schoolers learn the right skills of social entrepreneurship, and make the impact in the causes they cared about. So this is going to date me but this was in the early 2000s. So we actually made our program on DVDs. There's a DVD based lesson plan, and we were selling it to high schools around the country. And it was a really great experience. And that led me to Duke University where I was a Robertson scholar scholarship given for leadership. And I stayed very passionate about education. So when I graduated, I worked in strategy consulting for Accenture's education practice, mostly worked with the US Department of Education in DC. So it was an amazing experience. And then, after a few years, went back for my MBA at Wharton, and when I graduated, I wanted to find a company that was exciting and education that was really using technology and was data driven. That was specifically helping high schoolers with leadership. So I came across Crimson, and I've been here ever since. And my role I oversee Crimson for the US and Canada.
Podcast Host 02:22
Awesome. Yeah. Well, it's such a journey. And I know a bit about your story, of course, as being your colleague for the last number of years. But it's awesome to kind of hear it laid out that way. And I didn't know you didn't MBA at Wharton. That's pretty cool, too. Which one do you think was more formative in terms of the person you are today?
Oh, absolutely. I'd say Duke. I think that's a function of undergrad really being your first love. You know, you, you build that connection, it's your first time away from home. I absolutely loved Wharton too. And I think having worked prior to doing my MBA, it was so rich, being able to connect what I was learning to my experiences. So I think both were phenomenal. But I'm a huge Blue Devil fan. And yeah, I wear Duke gear all the time.
Podcast Host 03:08
Nice, nice. Stay true to the Blue Devil. Fair enough. Now, what are we talking about today, what's near and dear to your heart that you'd like to share with students.
So I noticed the last really 10 years, high schoolers are very focused on this idea that you need to start a club or a nonprofit, or some sort of initiative to get into a top school. And you know, as someone who did start a nonprofit in high school, and now I support a lot of our Crimson students in their passion projects throughout high school. I actually have a lot of thoughts on this. And I, I don't think it's necessary for you to start your own organization. So yeah, I'd love to chat a little bit about that.
Podcast Host 03:50
I think that's a super relevant topic. And certainly something that I come across a lot because obviously hosting the podcast as well chatting to a lot of founders, co founders, students who have intentions to be founders, co founders, etc, of different initiatives. And it does certainly give the impression that you need to be a founder of these amazing clouds, because that's often the stories that I think students hearing when they look at, you know, students who get into all eight IVs, or students who went from their school across to the Ivy League, or to Stanford or MIT or whatnot. So where do you think that trend started to originate? And is it so far gone now that like, it's even in the minds of admission officers?
Yeah, that's a great question. So let's go a little bit into admissions history. So yeah, I think prior to the 80s, there was this idea that you had to be a renaissance man or woman, but you had to be that varsity athlete plus editor of the newspaper Plus, you know, having some sort of music, you know, being taught in the piano and having all of those made you well rounded. And then I feel like when we get into the 90s, what we saw was a lot of pursuit towards being extraordinary in fewer things. So this term well lopsided. So you start to see that people were not needing to be completely well rounded. But instead, they did really well in a few things. And that became interesting. But then it kept pushing, right. So then it became, Oh, you didn't just do well, and things, you created your own club. And now it's really escalated to this idea of having created an organization, it's just getting more competitive than ever, and you want to keep upping the bar in terms of what you've done. Now, you had this question, you know, like our admissions officers just looking for that. And I think it's actually gone the other way, where admissions officers are becoming jaded, they're like, Okay, this kid has started yet another club. But what have they really done? And I think now we're at this point in the 2020s, where they don't care if you have that term founder anymore, because everyone does. Instead they're looking solely at impact. You know, how much did you actually seem to have cared about this? When did you started? How many years of commitment did you have? And what was the actual amount of work you did? And how did that result in helping others, or you know, the amount of revenue or amount of app downloads. So what we're seeing is those kids that you hear about that are getting into all of the Ivy's and getting all the scholarships, the initiatives they started were extraordinary, you know, they often had international impact, they have really high numbers. You know, apps have 40,000 plus downloads. And that's not something that people are just doing and have their junior year, right. It's something built over time. But what I have actually seen being really effective. And maybe this doesn't get as much of that press and coverage is people who take this like concept of entrepreneurship, but they also build it within existing organizations. So perhaps they volunteer with an existing nonprofit, instead of starting their own dealing with all the paperwork and trying to recreate the wheel. They'll go into that nonprofit and start something new for that nonprofit, and really build and scale and initiative that way. So it's creating less waste. And it's really creating a much more sustainable model of helping versus a club that only stays around for two years and has 20 members.
Podcast Host 07:29
Yeah, yeah. So it's really interesting to kind of understand for students that being a founder may actually end up backfiring for your application, because it looks as if it's a box that now needs to be ticked, I need to be a founder of an organization. Is there any time where you've seen that in a student that's come to you and said, Hey, Angela, like, I've got a great application? What do you mean, look, I'm the founder of an organization and you're like, I can kind of see that that's not really achieving what you think you might be achieving through the admissions process?
Oh, absolutely. And I find that students kind of repeatedly default to working on the exact same ideas. So I think this is like, understandable. Because you're all in high school, you've had very similar experiences. But I've seen a lot of nonprofits focused on STEM education, for example. So you go to perhaps underserved areas, and you try to teach STEM concepts. And that itself is a great thing to do we need more STEM education in a lot of communities. But do you need to create a whole separate nonprofit for it? Or can you do it within an existing organization? You know, what are ways for you to really accelerate things that don't don't mean that you have to kind of, again, create everything from scratch?
Podcast Host 08:46
Yeah, because in reality, you could probably have more impact in an existing organization and doing a lot there and kind of having that intrapreneurship, you know, kind of innovating within the existing organization, then you would having to fluff around starting a new one, all by yourself with a couple of friends. And, you know, you might have half the impact that you would if you were using the existing organization, is that something that you've seen as well, where you're like, why didn't you just join this organization? Why do you feel like you needed to start your own?
Absolutely. And I think it it takes a little bit of acceptance that you won't have that founder title, but understanding how you can accelerate and within an existing institution to you have a lot more resources guidance. And again, you have that default that they can continue a program even after you leave. So creating initiatives with the intention of sustainability after you're gone means that it's not really just about you. It's much more about the mission to and I think that's very impressive to admissions officers.
Podcast Host 09:48
Yeah. Well, I'm interested in how students can recreate that founder type of leadership. I mean, like it does show leadership I guess, in some respects to show initiative in some respects as well. So how students can show that in other extracurriculars as well, because I think that's probably the reason why perhaps they're trying to gravitate towards that founder leadership role, because they're like, this is what it shows admissions officers, it shows that I've got initiative and leadership, when in actual fact, I probably could use those qualities or show those qualities and a lot of other different ways. So what are some of those other different ways that they could show those founder like qualities?
Yeah, I would say the first thing I would really encourage students is to look up the concept of design thinking, you know, books that are very famous, like the lean startup, give you a lot of those tools of how you can actually identify problems that exist versus what you perceive exist. So let's say you find that you're really passionate about homelessness, rather than just saying like, Okay, I'm going to start an initiative for the homeless, spend that time volunteering at a homeless shelter, you know, volunteer with a couple of different organizations and see what they're doing. Once you actually are able to understand what they're going through their limitations, you'll notice more problems that are designed to really help your target audience. So by volunteering in the shelter, for example, you can have communication with people who are homeless, you can understand what they're going through. And that's where your best ideas are going to come. And I think at that point, you can very eloquently point out to the nonprofit, you're volunteering with a new idea of something they can try. And by saying you'll take ownership of that, they're going to be quite excited, right? Like people want high schoolers to take initiative, and they're always looking for more help. So I think it's a matter of being able to accurately convey what you plan to do and how you'll do it. And then people are very eager to have people get involved,
Podcast Host 11:47
right. And that's a good tip.
But if you go to an institution, and they seem very uninterested to have a high school, or help, that's when you can go and kind of start something from scratch, that's when you can try and bypass and become that founder. And you have that reason of why you needed to do that. versus just kind of again, going for that title.
Podcast Host 12:06
Yeah, fair enough. Well, for students who are very keen on being a founder and want to have that experience and want to feel like that is part of their identity. What are some of your recommendations for students who say, I hear you, I don't need to be a founder necessarily, but I really want to I really want to stand out not in the application necessarily, but just back that is central to who I am. And I'm really passionate about teaching stem in in underprivileged communities, for instance, whatever it might be, what advice would you give to them to make sure that even among all the students who are putting found on their application that they actually do stand out as a founder,
I think it all comes back to measuring impact. So from the beginning, you don't want your accolade to have been starting this organization, you want to have really clear metrics of what you're hoping to achieve. And think about how you can make it scalable. So let's say you design 10 lesson plans around stem and you deliver it to a local school. What are other ways you can take those lesson plans and bring it to communities around the world. So start thinking really big, because ultimately, it's that scale of the impact. That's quite impressive in admissions. But beyond admissions, that's where you're helping 1000s of people versus, you know, a few in your community. So I'd say think big, but think really efficiently. Think about ways that, you know, you can really partner with an existing larger organization to get your lesson plans out there, for example, or you know, how you can partner with people around the world, which we see a lot with our Crimson students, right. You know, they have some excellent initiatives, and we can pair them together around the country around the globe. They can bring it to different places, which is incredible.
Podcast Host 13:54
Yeah, yeah. Well, this actually reminds me Actually, you pretty much described one of the students that was on the podcast, como Vich, who runs biz back and founded biz back and then created chapters in other schools. And now it's an international organization with all these different chapters and about 11,000 students participating in biz back, but they partnered with deca, which is obviously the one of the big organizations there in the US. And it all started by her, like feeling that there wasn't enough initiative or wasn't enough teaching of like basic life skills for high school students, and even for younger kids as well. And then High School, and she kind of created a lesson plan gave it to a local primary school principal. And the principal was like, Yeah, let's do it after school program bank, that was the very first, you know, biz back chapter. And then since then, now, it's all around the world. So I guess that's a really great example of students who have extended Far, far beyond their original idea. So for students who are interested in a great example, check out combo vigils episode and then there was also another great student Stephanie, who wrote a book wrote a curriculum donated 1000 masks from the sale of the book. And she also taught the class to 1000s of students in Texas, which was about epidemiology. So, yeah, there's definitely some great examples out there for you hearing those just briefly, obviously, and they the examples that you think would impress admission officers.
Oh my gosh, absolutely anything here you're talking in the 1000s. You're talking students who've created things. That's so cool. Like, I want to sit down and meet them like you did. And that's how admissions officers feel. They aren't looking for some, you know, metric. They're not trying to tick boxes on your application. They want to meet students that inspire them. And those are both incredibly inspirational stories.
Podcast Host 15:41
Yeah, fantastic. Oh, Angela, do you have any final advice for students who are thinking about wanting to go to the US and trying to think about how to craft the most impressive extracurricular portfolio?
Absolutely focus on what you truly care about, if you just really love to play soccer, or you love to play video games, or if there's one cause that you've seen on the news, and it really bothers you learn more about it, explore that area, because you are much more likely to work on an initiative if you are enjoying it. And a lot of students instead try to kind of follow the path of someone else they've seen or do what they think they're supposed to do. And I'll tell you, there really is no right path so you can do what you enjoy and still kind of make an impressive profile. So I've seen, you know, people who are addicted to things like fortnight, still come up with awesome ways to give back to the community. So we had a student who did this whole video game tournament for charity. So for every additional hour, they played video games, they were raising more money for charities they selected.
Podcast Host 16:47
Yeah, I've seen people masterfully use Instagram for causes. You know, they love social media, and they owned it. So figure out what you enjoy, and just go for that. And it's going to be a great experience for you as well, in that case.
Podcast Host 17:02
Yeah, I love that advice. I think so many students try and shoehorn their particular passion or bypass their particular passion, because they don't think it will show up as well on an application. But there you go, fortnight charity event and just play games for charity, which is I think many students are like, that's an extra curriculum where you can you can be a great initiative. You know, that's awesome. I love that advice. Well, for students who are interested in working with amazing people like Anjali on their applications, there's going to be a link in the show notes for a free one hour consultation. So be sure to click on that if you would like a chat with one of our lovely academic advisors from all around the world. But Anjali, it's been awesome having you on college tips. Thank you so much for your wisdom and advice, and look forward to sharing the episode far and wide.
Awesome. Thank you for having me.
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