Elite past not a must to get Ivy League berth

Athena Education, a tech-enabled education consulting venture, is helping students enter top universities in US and UK

Poshak Agrawal, co-founder, Athena Education
Poshak Agrawal, co-founder, Athena Education

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Indian high school students submit applications to prestigious universities in the US and UK. The competition is the stiffest in the computer science (CS) stream. Socioeconomic advantages are almost crucial here: alumni relationships, high school’s reputation, expert connections. Did young Aamish Ahmad Beg, 22, with his modest background and school in a tier-II city, stand a chance?

Athena Education, a fast-growing, tech-enabled education consulting venture – promoted by Princeton graduates Poshak Agrawal and Rahul Subramaniam – is enabling high-school students to “gain admission into Ivy League institutions and other elite universities worldwide, and become the best version of themselves,” says Agrawal, the co-founder. In the March-April period, it saw close to 68 students getting admission in elite universities in the US and UK.

Athena’s working on a proprietary student-parent dashboard that will allow members of the Athena family to track everything related to their profile, projects, and essays (PPE). “Apart from the tech platform we are building, we use extensive data analytics to come up with the best application strategy for our scholars. After operating for years in this field and collecting a huge amount of data, we are leveraging the data to provide groundbreaking project ideas and execution frameworks to our scholars.”

Elite US colleges have traditionally operated with an implicit bias toward candidates with a great background. Hence, scholars from ‘non-branded high schools’ have found a way of appealing to their more egalitarian ideal: the genuine underdog story. “Fundamentally, American admissions audiences are looking for potential – potential for growth,” says Agrawal. Aamish had founded a tech club, AlphaDev, that went on to become Lucknow’s largest app development society. Another testament to Aamish’s potential was Socale, a project-based professional networking platform. This simple yet astute idea of connecting people with similar interests eventually gained international traction.

Leading a 10-member team from UCSD, UCI, and Dartmouth, he conducted market validation interviews with HBS and Yale stalwarts. Socale was even funded by UCSD Blackstone LaunchPad.
Now ready for college, Aamish had transformed himself into a virtuoso CS applicant with a profile distinct from those who shared his demographic. In the application essays, he presented his personal journey “as a meaningful intergenerational triumph”.

The most successful applicants, privileged or not, have always needed to make some powerful personal impact upon the admissions officer. As the admissions process becomes more democratic, with less weightage for standardised test scores and more need-based scholarship offerings, there’s hope for more kids like Aamish to get their slice of an ever more competitive pie.

Firms like Athena Education can play a crucial role here. “Our robust team of writing counseling experts, in-house tech, research, and art mentors, and Harvard admissions consultant provide one-on-one support in all areas—from extracurricular profile development to college applications to even essential life-skills building,” stresses Agrawal.
Aamish just received acceptances from Georgia Tech and Dartmouth along with a scholarship of `57 lakh.

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