At the stage of your life when you're about to graduate from high school and enter university, you may find yourself stuck in a haze of perpetual confusion. You've just started grade 10 or 11, but your peers already seem like they have pulled ahead of you. There's a flurry of action and everyone is looking into prospects that they can cram into their repertoires to make themselves seem more “interesting”, “pro-active” or, the worst, “worldly”.
There's no need to panic though. Being confused or unaware of what to do, or how to go about an activity, is not uncommon. There are multitudes of extracurricular activities that can aid you in your quest for self-improvement. You can learn how to play a musical instrument, practice martial arts, learn a second language, or choose from a wide array of different alternatives available. Here are just a few options that you might consider trying out, or use as a guideline to discover your own preferences.
THE KENNEDY-LUGAR YOUTH EXCHANGE AND STUDY (YES) PROGRAM
Funded by the U.S. State Department, the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program provides scholarships for secondary school students to spend an academic year in the United States of America. The accepted applicants reside with a host family for a year, attend high school in the States, learn about their culture, and engage in various social activities, while acting as ambassadors for Bangladesh.
The application process is quite straight forward. You can apply for the program online, or collect the form from various locations listed on iEARN-BD's website (iearnbd.org), and submit required documents by post to their offices along with the signed application. If you are shortlisted, they will conduct a phone interview, a couple tests, and then have a final interview.
The benefits of the program are much longer lasting than the one year of experience gained. Ifreet Taheea, alumnus of YES Batch of 2015, outlines some of the advantages of the program she experiences years after she completed her exchange.
“Members of the YES Alumni Association in Bangladesh get exclusive newsletters which give us access to international opportunities such as internships, scholarships, and volunteering projects. I have been able to conduct multiple social work projects by myself which were fully funded by the U.S. Department of State and were huge achievements for me, as I was able to carry out projects on causes I truly cared about without having to worry about the financing aspect as much,” she says.
For students who are highly focused on their university applications, this is a stellar addition to that list of achievements.
BYLC – BUILDING BRIDGES THROUGH LEADERSHIP TRAINING
This program for A Levels, H.S.C., and Alim students, as well as first and second-year university students is a 10-week long training program by Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC) that aims to educate students in the art of leadership and help them develop a problem solving attitude. The program also attempts to build bridges between students from various backgrounds as it accommodates participants from English and Bangla medium, as well as Madrasa students.
The application procedure for the program is outlined thoroughly at the BYLC website (bylc.org) under the BBLT headline. The program, divided into two phases, begins with students conducting group experiments in class, and facing deeply rooted prejudices, which they learn how to overcome. In the second phase, they apply what they have learnt by implementing community service projects in underprivileged communities.
Inshirah Azhar, currently a student of Green Life Medical College in Dhaka, speaks highly of the benefits of the program. She says, “It genuinely changed my approach to group dynamics and what leadership is as a concept; taught me basic skills for launching an event like budgeting and fundraising. There is an Office of Professional Development which assists you with everything from job applications to recommendations. They also have a very useful graduate network for everyone who has completed a BYLC program. I found a mentor with similar academic history and ambitions. Many people worked together on start-ups. It's a launching pad for great things.”
The experience that students take away from this program falls right into the requirements of sophistication that universities seek from their applicants.
VOLUNTARY WORK – ROTARACT CLUBS; PDF SUMMER CHALLENGE
There are hordes of voluntary events happening constantly all over the country, such as distributing warm clothes in winter, or iftar during Ramadan, or simply cleaning up the streets. However, as Sakib Ar Rahman, a student of University of Waterloo in Canada and a member of Rotaract Club of Dhaka Reds reveals, not all these voluntary programs are what they seem.
“There are always the superficial events that last for a day and give out certificates. Some voluntary organisations that spring up out of nowhere do these. They'll advertise online and you sign up for an event, wear a given t-shirt, and receive a certificate. However, a one-day event is just that and hardly showcases your passion – certificate or no certificate. It's definitely better to do something more long term and meaningful to strengthen your university application,” he mentions.
Since not all students have the time nor the ability to invest in such long-term activities while keeping up with their rigorous daily routine of schoolwork, Sakib suggests the PDF Summer Challenge, a month-long programme, as one that is meaningful and helps you grow while adding significantly to your résumé. It is an annual competition where 20 teams of 10 people each compete to bring positive changes in society. You can sign up for the project through PDF's website (www.pdfbd.org).
When asked about how students should keep up with all the voluntary opportunities going around, Sakib says, “Word about events that happen is spread by word of mouth and through Facebook events and groups. So you need to keep your eyes and ears open.”
The Rotary Club of Dhaka is another organisation that Sakib recommends. A Rotaract is a service club for the youth, sponsored by a local Rotary club. The world is divided into multiple Rotary divisions and to join a Rotaract club in Dhaka, you have to search for which division you fall into, and contact them or apply online.
Above all though, Sakib advocates proactively joining NGOs and perhaps teaching briefly at a school for disadvantaged children. Such activities go beyond just a university application, into the realms of making a real difference.
OLYMPIADS AND OTHER COMPETITIONS
Alongside voluntary activities and social projects, competitions such as Olympiads and MUN conferences are also beneficial for high school students.
Olympiads are an internationally recognised platform. Just recently, Ahmed Jawad Chowdhury from Cantonment English School and College in Chittagong won the Gold Medal for Bangladesh at the International Mathematical Olympiad 2018 – the nation's first gold medal in this competition. Biology, Chemistry, and other Olympiads are also held across the country annually. The websites for these Olympiads are well maintained and all applications can easily be done online. These competitions are great for showing off your academic chops.
Not all students are the same, and not everyone can be academically inclined, regardless of what society would like us to do. However, university applications don't always have to be about academic prowess. Schools around the world, especially in the United States have a lot of opportunities open for sports scholarships.
Rahbar Khan Sharan, a fresh graduate of Siena Heights University (SHU) in Michigan shares his story of gaining a scholarship by way of his passion for football. Around the end of his high school career, Sharan knew he wanted to pursue football professionally, regardless of all the criticism such a prospect invites. He looked into universities abroad and that led him to SHU. He had to email the coach at the university directly.
“He asked me to send him a proper video, in order to evaluate my ability to play at a higher level and to see how much scholarship I would be able to get. In Dhaka, I never heard about making videos. I only knew that 'certificates talk louder'. But here's the truth: you believe what you see with your eyes. I quickly went to the field, and made a video showcasing some of my skills. I received about 30% scholarship based on that video,” he recalls.
This path however, isn't as easy as it may sound, as Sharan elaborates on the requirements for acceptance.
“The most important requirement is to be fit; to be able to compete with athletes all over the world. I had never worked on my stamina or strength. In fact, I didn't even have access to a proper 11-a-side field to practice my vision and game play. I had to do different types of conditioning programs and training drills. I went to the field by myself, taking the same shot a hundred times just to be a little better than yesterday,” says Sharan.
Alongside the athletic aspect, for a sports scholarship to stand, a student must maintain a constantly high GPA, or be kicked off the team. However, if one has the talent and determination to make it, this is also an entirely viable option to be explored.
Lastly, these attempts may not get you into your desired university. However, that doesn't render them futile. The point of these programs isn't to deceive a university into thinking you're eligible. It is to actually build yourself into an all-around better person. It can be a daunting task, putting yourself out there for the first time, trying to fit in with a bunch of other people who seem to eat confidence for breakfast. Conquering this fear however, is part of the process. Take that leap. You're a lot more presentable than you think, and knowing that you are is the first step to being exactly that.
Rabita Saleh is a perfectionist/workaholic. Email feedback to this generally boring person at firstname.lastname@example.org