Student Spotlight: Nalini

In this series, we spotlight a student who worked with Vanguard on their college admissions process. Here is our interview with Nalini, who applied to college for the fall of 2024 and was accepted to UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Washington Seattle amongst others and has committed to Cornell University!

What were you most nervous about going into the college process?

I think I was most nervous about not getting into my preferred major for schools. I was pretty sure that I was going to go to UT Austin, but I put Computer Science as my major and I was afraid that it was very competitive and that I wouldn’t get in; but I did get in, so that was nice.


Why did you choose Vanguard to work with you during the college process? When did you start the process with us and what programs did you participate in?

I chose Vanguard because I heard about their college process after doing test prep with them. I was confident in my statistics to carry me forward, but I was worried about my essay not being detailed enough. I am a competitive swimmer, so that had to be part of the essay, but everyone always tells you "don’t make it a sports essay." I liked the guidance that I had navigating that essay process. 


What was your experience like in Vanguard’s Test Prep program? 

I heard about Vanguard's Test Prep from my friend and figured it would help me with my Algebra 2 course. I also heard that it had reading and writing, which was great because I was worried about writing. They took individualized time with me and we worked on my needs, letting me pick the strategies that worked best for me. I ended up getting an SAT score that was way higher than I thought I would get, and was able to be a national merit finalist too, so that was really cool.


What was your experience like in Vanguard’s College Counseling program? 

I really liked my experience with Alina because she made extra time for me to make sure that my resume had better details and fix my word choices. Having her help me choose the order of my Common App activities was really helpful too.

My Essay Specialist was amazing! She always asked me questions and chatted in a way that made it feel like I was actually just talking to someone; it didn’t feel impersonal but I still felt like I was talking with an admissions counselor or something. The questions she asked helped me to tell my story better. 


How did your College Counselor help you through the process and with the anxieties you had going into the college process?

A lot of times, we just had a conversation where I told her all the things I was stressed about and she would tell me how it was okay or could help me with my essays somehow. It always felt like a conversation to help me. 


Was there anything else Vanguard helped you with during the college selection/college counseling process that you would like to highlight?

I didn’t know a lot about applications and how to get recommendation letters or stay on top of deadlines, so having the personal tracker and listing out reach colleges as opposed to safeties was really nice; Alina planned it out with me. I am the first child, so it was nice that my parents didn’t need to step into the process because Vanguard took care of me. I remember so many of my friends were so stressed during the November and December college application season and I didn’t feel any of it, because it was done! I realized that when I worked ahead and was prepared with Vanguard, it wasn’t stressful and could even be fun. I only had to wait for application results instead of stressing out. 


What was essay coaching like at Vanguard?

My Essay Specialist would give me a list of questions that were thought -provoking and I would braindump into them. I wouldn’t even read through it again, I would just write. I obviously didn’t use that directly in my essay because it was so rough, but later on, when we were rebuilding my essay, we used quotes from that braindump to help me write it. It was great to have those to pick through to create the picture I wanted and help me think. I had already done the work and didn’t realize it.

It was kind of funny, both my Specialist and I were on the same page about where we wanted the paper to go, but later we totally flipped it. So I had an essay by August 1, and I didn’t really like the essay. I felt like it wasn’t representing most of my life and didn’t feel connected to it the way that I wanted. I told her that, so we worked on it and we got a new essay ready to send to the Supervisor. I want to say it was, like, five days before the early deadline for Texas A&M. I had accepted that I would use my old essay instead, but not only did we get it in but I really liked the new version and was so confident in it. I am so glad that they let me talk about what I wanted to and share my story how I wanted. 


If you are willing to share, what did you end up writing your college essay about and how did the end result turn out? How does the essay you wrote with Vanguard compare to what you would have written about on your own?

I did apply to a few schools on my own. I wrote paragraphs that were almost like an English essay that I didn’t space out or think about. They were really raw. I didn’t even know I could write an essay a different way because all I had ever seen were traditional English essays at school.  

At Vanguard, we opted for a nontraditional style essay where I didn’t feel like I had written an essay; I had written a story. We used a cool repetition structure and talked about three things that are important in my life, swimming, crocheting, and a little bit about my allergies so it was a lot to pack into an essay. Still, it ended up being less than the word count and I wrote everything that I wanted to put in there. 


Do you feel your writing abilities improved because of your time with Vanguard?

I do. I learned to show the story by providing detailed examples rather than just stating things. I couldn’t actually process how to do ‘show vs. tell’ until I read through examples of essays with my Specialist and decided on my own structure. It helped, because you can find essays online saying "this is what will get you into Harvard," but they aren’t always that good. It can be overwhelming, but here I could see what past Vanguard students did for college essays and create my own.


Have you accepted any offers yet from Colleges? If so, what are you planning on majoring in?

Yes, I’m going to Cornell with a double major in Astronomy and Computer Science.


What are your future goals with your degree?

A lot of people ask if I want to work for NASA or SpaceX but I'm not entirely sure. I picked something that aligned with what I was interested in, but I don’t know about my future yet.


What was your favorite part of working with Vanguard? Is there anything else you would like to highlight about your experience? 

I always looked forward to sessions with my Essay Specialist. It didn’t feel like extra work because it was just telling my story and that was fun to me. I’m not a huge writer, but it felt engaging rather than a chore, which was great.


Essay Specialist Barbara F.

Swarthmore College

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