Ayush Sharma became an overnight celebrity when he was awarded a full 1.4 crore scholarship by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT – the leading university of the world. From humble beginnings, this young KVIIT school student decided to follow his dreams and landed himself a spot in the exclusive undergraduate program at MIT. As people hoarded to congratulate Ayush, we convinced him to find some time to speak with us and tell us about his journey from Kanpur to MIT. Read on to know what this young poet at heart did, the problems he faced in the exams and the application process and how he was awarded the full scholarship.
Well Ayush, to begin with many congratulations on this stupendous success. We all have read about your selection in MIT with a full scholarship no less. But I am sure people want to know so much more. To begin with, how did you start for MIT? Did you always think about going to America?
Truthfully, I never had any ideas that I would be applying abroad. In fact, when I started my class 11, I did not know what SAT was. It all started when I joined Avanti Learning Centres at the beginning of my class 11. It was there that I met, a Yale 2012 graduate. He shared about the Yale Young Global Scholars which is an annual program at Yale University. It is one of those very selective summer programs for high school students. He sent out a general email to every student and shared the details and application process. So, I did not have any hopes that I would be selected for a US program or even apply but as things turned out, I was amongst the 4 students from India who were selected.
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It was a wonderful experience for me. Especially for a guy like me, a boy who had grown up in a city like Kanpur and completed his schooling from this city. The kind of education I saw and experienced there, the kind of learning environment there, really impressed me. So when I came back, I told my mentors that I was thinking of applying abroad. I was really lucky that everyone was very supportive of me. They offered me to help me understand the process, which was very similar to the application process for the summer program. So I decided that I would be applying to America. They got me in touch with the people who helped me understand the process and apply.
What all did you prepare for and what was the experience like?
I was told that I had to prepare for additional tests. I was already preparing for my school and the competitive exams in India. But since I was applying to Universities in America, I had to prepare for as well as understand SAT and TOEFL.
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How was the exam preparation for you? What did you score in SATs?
The maths section was very nice for me. But I had to manage my mistakes and improve my critical reading section. At first it was very difficult for me and it took a lot of effort. I was able to find a good score.
My total SAT score was 2170 out of 2400. The break down was, a perfect 800 in maths, 760 out of 800 in critical reading sections, for which I had to work very hard. I kind of messed up my writing section and managed to score 610 out of 800.
Splendid. So, why MIT? Did you think about going to a specific college or just aim at any college in USA?
When I went to US I was already preparing for IITs and was doing really well. Had I continued on that path, I would have cleared the IITs for sure. So, for me, it made no sense to aim for tier 2 or tier universities in USA. So my aim was to apply to top tier universities and the Ivy Leagues like Harvard and MIT, which are better than IITs.
How many applications did you send?
When I began the application I was thinking about 3 or 4 applications. But my research made me realize that I would be needing scholarship, so it made sense to broaden my selection. Finally I ended up applying to 12 Universities in USA... all top tier universities like MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, etc.
And I got through Columbia, MIT as well as University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Which course are you planning to take up in MIT?
The course in MIT works like, you get to decide once you are there. To begin with, it is mandatory for undergraduates to come undecided. No one can declare their major in the beginning. Students are free to choose their own courses. What I have in mind is to explore the subjects which I like, which is physics and mathematics. What I plan to do is explore these areas as well as some areas outside of my interest for the two years. And it would make a lot more sense to just go there with an open mind, explore and then decide what field I wish to do my major in.
But are you more inclined towards engineering or would you consider pure sciences?
That is something I am still not sure. I was always interested in physics and maths but for the past one and a half years I have been interested in engineering as well. So MIT is giving me the opportunity to actually dwell on what I want to do.
When did you write your SATs?
I sat for my SATs in November.
Which part of the application process was the most daunting for you?
The most difficult thing was the essays. I found out that these essays were completely different from whatever we have ever done so far. Their essays require you to think about yourself, what you have been doing and more importantly why you have been doing the things in your field, and what you have done in your life.
These essays took me a long time. In reality I started to prepare for my essays as soon as I came back from Yale and decided I wanted to go to America for my graduation. I edited and refined my essays till the time I finally submitted them by end of December.
Ayush, tell us about the scholarship which everyone is talking about!
I personally believe that scholarship is not that big an issue. The thing is, MIT is one of the handful universities which follow the policy of Need Blind Admissions. What this means is that once they are considering an application for admission, they do not look at your financial situation.
So, when I submitted my application to MIT, they did not take into account that I would need scholarships. The admission process in itself is so high and difficult in these universities, that if you have to get in, then you need to be really passionate about. And if you get selected and fit their criteria, then these universities have the resources to give you the amount you would need to be there.
So, did you have to give any extra information once you were selected, for the purpose of scholarship?
No, not really. The process of getting a scholarship is not that difficult. Applying for financial aid requires the student to submit what is called a CSS profile which has all information about your family expenses, incomes, taxes, etc. This is used to calculate how much money the student would need to complete his education.
So the profile already helped to calculate how much money I would need. They already had my academic scores, research papers, Essays, letters of recommendations in my application and they needed nothing more to evaluate me. They found me a fit candidate and offered me a scholarship as per my CSS (College Scholarship Service) profile.
I am really thankful to MIT for this!
This is truly a wonderful achievement Ayush and you should be proud of yourself. Any message for our readers?
I would not tell people how to study. What I want to say is - do not ever confine yourself in boundaries. I mean, we often limit ourselves. I found out that if you are willing to take chances and step out of your comfort zones, there are many possibilities. Be ready to work hard, explore the possibilities, take chances and something really big might come your way.
I took that chance and risk and am going to MIT. You never know where your life might take you!
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