Price of Admission!

A couple of days ago, I expressed the view that there is nothing more satisfying in life than seeing the next generation mature into people you can be proud of. In that post, The Good Son and his Secret Trial, I narrated the story of Amar Wala. If you recall, in that blog, I had also mentioned that I know a whole bunch of youngsters who are life’s successes in their own right, and who deserve to have their story told.

Well, today, I am going to tell you the story of Rahul Trada and his Price of Admission.

Actually, I had recounted Rahul’s Price of Admission story once before when I was Managing Editor of The Smart Manager, a management magazine. But at that time, I had refrained from revealing his identity as I was concerned it may go against him. More than 4 years later, his story can be retold with due credit given to the student I had mentioned in my editorial piece in The Smart Manager issue dated December 2009 or thereabouts. Here it is, reproduced in toto with a few modifications largely to remover references to the issue contents:

“Our talent search should identify those who have braved adversities; those who show guts, passion and perseverance, and who would like to think of themselves as internal entrepreneurs – people with a spirit of wonder and a sense of adventure. Entrepreneurs do not come in well-defined packages. How many companies in India – or for that matter anywhere – hire a college dropout as Bill Gates was? Google and Microsoft hire people who are truly unusual and would probably not make the cut in more staid organizations,” writes Kumar Mangalam Birla in his cover article Redefining Entrepreneurship.

Truer words were never spoken! Birla’s observation also reminded me of a recent, rather disturbing personal experience. A Malaysian student who’s life dream is to build a career in mathematics, physics or applied fields had been seeking my counsel on the admission essays he needed to submit to universities in America. Now, this student harbored grave doubts over his essay writing skills but was nevertheless determined to write the essays himself. The only help he sought from me was really in the area of discussing essay ideas. His insistence that he go it alone won my respect straight away, making me feel that this youngster had the makings of a real professional.

My Malaysian student friend also impressed me with the integrity of his approach in that he was clear that the essays’ content had to be a true reflection of his personality and life and not a figment of his or someone else’s imagination. And this is where the trouble began. In his anxiety to leave no stone unturned in his efforts to gain admission into the hallowed halls of an Ivy League school, the student in question had retained the services of a firm in Kuala Lumpur whose only raison d’être was to guide aspiring entrants through the American universities’ admission process. The role this so-called service provider seemed to play was largely in the area of putting essay attempt after attempt through the wringer on grounds such as “too simple,” “monotonous story,” “needs more highs and lows,” “lacks variation in pacing,” etc. After some rounds of this kind of feedback, I wondered, “Are these universities testing a student’s essay writing and dramatic skills or are they reading admission essays with the purpose of gaining an insight into a student’s worldview, value systems and other personal attributes?”

 Unfortunately, I suspect that it is the well-written essays that make the cut more often than not even though the evaluators may not be able to entirely ascertain the authenticity or authorship of the essays. If “entrepreneurs do not come in well-defined packages,” neither do budding geniuses. Admission committees would, therefore, do well to remember that while communication skills are undoubtedly important, the admission essay method has been set up to try and distinguish students with special qualities. An essay may not be Booker material but that in itself may be proof of the author’s honesty, as long as the content has substance! Of course, authors of Booker or Pulitzer worthy essays could perhaps be counseled into trying for degrees in literature!

And, oh, for those of you who are wondering what my Malaysian friend finally did, he decided to submit the essays he was comfortable with. To quote him, “I am an ordinary guy who has been lucky in that he has led an ordinary and peaceful, if boring, life!”

Today, Rahul Trada has just started his first job after graduating from NYU (New York University). I have no idea on which paths Rahul’s footsteps will tread on in future. But I do know Rahul will not agree to the Price of Admission the world often demands.

No ordinary guy, this!

Post Script: I was reminded of the editorial I wrote on Rahul Trada and his ‘Price of Admission’ by these words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile – “In school, I had figured out that when one could write essays with a rich, literary, but precise vocabulary (though not inadequate to the topic at hand), and maintain some coherence throughout, what one writes about becomes secondary….”. Made me wonder about the price of admission our systems make young people pay and what exactly we are teaching them – that style is more important than substance?

#admission #IvyLeague #Antifragile #Parenting #Parenthood #Success #Successfactors

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You may also like to read these posts, related to the issue covered in this one:

Throw away the mould!

Redefining Corporate Social Responsibility

The Art and Soul of Leadership

The Good Son and his Secret Trial


Featured Image Credit: Rahul Trada on holiday in Dharmshala (image by Lata Subramanian).

 

 

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