‘Groundwork Should Begin Early’

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Lack of preparedness and access to authentic information about options in higher education are factors that typically trouble students seeking education opportunities abroad, says Lisa Jain, India Representative of the College Board. Excerpts from an interaction with ENN

Lisa JainWhat does the College Board do?
The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization founded in 1900 with a goal to expand access to higher education. Today, the membership association is made up of over 6,000 of the world’s leading educational institutions. Each year, the College Board helps more than 7 million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success — including the SAT®, PSAT/NMSQT, and Advanced Placement Program®.

In India, we work closely with schools, universities, parents and guidance counsellors to help students plan and prepare for college.

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Students can take the SAT and Subject Tests at any of the 45+ test centers spread across India, with more centers being added as demand rises. SAT, a standardized university admissions exam taken by students in 180+ countries, is administered in India 6 times a year – Jan, May, Jun, Oct, Nov and Dec.

Along with universities in the U.S. and across the world, an increasing number of Indian higher education institutes are now using SAT as part of their admission process.

Indian students also have access to the PSAT or Preliminary SAT, which provides excellent practice for the SAT (and other similar assessments), and helps students identify strengths and weaknesses in the skills tested on the PSAT. PSAT is taken by students in Grades 9/10/11 in October at their school, or at US-India Educational Foundation (USIEF) centers.

The Advanced Placement Program (AP) has also been very well received in India. Many schools now teach AP Courses, and students are also able to take AP Exams independently at authorized test centres across the country, in May every year. AP Exams can help Indian students stand out in the university admission process, and earn college credit, which can help save time and money at college.

With the redesigned SAT, how is College Board moving beyond delivering assessments to delivering opportunity?
The Redesigned SAT aims to be more relevant in changing times. Each change in the redesigned SAT focuses on the knowledge and skills that are most essential for college readiness and success. Rigorous classroom work will, more than ever before, be the best preparation for the revised SAT. The College Board will be open and clear, taking the mystery out of the exam and providing a full SAT blueprint before the first administration in spring of 2016.

Some of the changes in the redesigned SAT, such as the use of only relevant words/vocabulary on the exam, removal of penalty for wrong answers, use of source texts from writings/speeches of world leaders, and the essay becoming optional, amongst other changes, will ensure that the SAT continues to be fair to an international and diverse body of test takers.

To deliver opportunity to all, we are partnering with Khan Academy to provide world class, free test preparation materials for the redesigned SAT. College Board and Khan Academy are building this material together for launch in spring 2015. This means that for the first time ever, students across the globe who want to take the SAT, will be able to prepare for the exam, practice, and diagnose gaps in their learning, for free.

What can schools do to support students who want to pursue their higher education abroad?
Schools play an integral role in the college admission process, and there are several steps they can take to create a support structure for students applying to colleges overseas.

First, schools should apply for a CEEB Code (aka International School Code), which is a unique 6-digit ID assigned to schools worldwide. Schools can obtain this Code from the College Board without any cost. The Code is mentioned by students on their college application forms, and is also needed when they register for standardized tests and exams such as SAT or AP. Colleges and universities are able to build a track record of the school with this Code. Acquiring the Code also enables schools to receive their students’ standardized test scores officially from the College Board. Schools can ask for a Code Request Form by writing to india@

Second, most college applications require a ‘School Profile’ to be submitted along with the student’s application. The School Profile provides admission officers with key information about the School and gives a glimpse into the uniqueness of the School and its’ student body. Schools should work on creating a strong School Profile that is an honest representation of the institute.

Third, schools should consider recruiting an experienced and knowledgeable college guidance counsellor who can guide students in their college application work.

Fourth, schools can organize information sessions by universities and organizations that work in the ‘study abroad’ space, to inform their students and parents about available options.

What are the future plans and vision of College Board to help Indian students?
The College Board is continuously working with schools and universities in India to improve opportunities for students who want to pursue their undergraduate studies in the U.S., other countries, and also in India.

Some of our efforts in the coming years will be to
(i) provide students with greater access to SAT and AP by adding test centers in more cities,
(ii) give high quality information to students, parents and educators about different higher education options available,
(iii) continue supporting schools who want to implement our programs such as AP or PSAT/NMSQT,
(iv) plan high quality professional development opportunities for teachers and college guidance counsellors, and
(v) work with Indian higher education to increase acceptance of SAT and AP for admission into Indian colleges and universities.

What are the lacunae of the market for students wanting to pursue higher education abroad?
In my experience, one thing that is sorely lacking in India, is access to authentic information about the different higher education options available. Students often get heavily influenced by published rankings or guidance given by ‘agents’. While both might add value, it is critical for students and their families to carry out independent research as well. Each student cares about different factors – availability of financial aid, access to research facilities, geographical location, etc. Students should acquire unbiased and reliable information from the college website, by attending college fairs, and through interactions with University Representatives, current students and even faculty, in order to decide which colleges are ‘best-fit’ for them. The College Board helps students with their college search process through www.bigfuture. org which is a free, comprehensive, college planning tool that allows one to search information about different colleges/ universities, and shortlist institutions based on self-selected parameters.

Students often get heavily influenced by published rankings or guidance given by ‘agents’. While both might add value, it is critical for students and their families to carry out independent research as well

The second glaring gap, is in the preparedness of students who aspire to study abroad. Students often start planning for it very late, in the 12th grade, whereas they should begin their groundwork as early as 9th or 10th grade. Students should work on building a strong personal profile, take their standardized tests in a timely manner, and also determine whether they have the emotional maturity to study overseas at the undergraduate level.

How do you think the education system can be enhanced to make Indian students more global?
In my opinion, the Indian education system has many strengths. It helps students develop a strong theoretical understanding of topics, handle high levels of rigour and competition, and build an ability to absorb large volumes of information quickly. However, the emphasis on practical learning and critical thinking can sometimes be low.

(i) Asking students to apply their theoretical understanding of subjects to real world situations,
(ii) encouraging them to be more creative and innovative while solving problems,
(iii) fostering a culture of discussion-based and collaborative learning,
(iv) emphasizing the importance of building communication and other soft skills,
(v) introducing a degree of flexibility and encouraging a multidisciplinary approach in course selection, and
(vi) a stronger focus on research, can all help make our education system more relevant in changing times, and global in nature.

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