From AES to Columbia University—Advice from an Alumni

From AES to Columbia University—Advice from an Alumni
Mrinalini Sisodia—Alumni

Mrinalini Sisodia Wadhwa (Class of 2020)—Alumni in conversation with HS Student, Meera J

Originally from New Delhi and New York City, Mrinalini Sisodia Wadhwa is an undergraduate at Columbia University majoring in History and Mathematics. Mrinalini graduated from AES in 2020 and was that year’s valedictorian. 

Recently, I interviewed her for advice on several topics for high schoolers at AES, including her thought process when choosing a college, how she studied, her extracurricular activities, and more! 

  1. What made you decide to choose Columbia?

Firstly, I knew I wanted to do an American liberal arts program for college because I enjoy both humanities and STEM, and I didn’t want a program that would force me to choose, so I liked the idea that in the US, you can do both. And so I wanted to keep that option open. That helped me narrow my choices down. Secondly, there were a few things about Columbia specifically. One is, that I loved that it was in New York City, I was from there and wanted to go back, and I also liked that it is a city where your life can be more than the day-to-day happenings of the college campus. I also liked the curriculum because it is a curriculum where you can study various subjects. They also have a Core Curriculum that is very distinct to Columbia, where all the first- and second-year students take seminars on many things, from literature to sciences, so it’s a shared experience you have, which is unique. Additionally, from your first year, you are in a seminar taught by a professor, which you only get as a senior in most other places. So getting this attention from faculty early in your college career makes a big difference. And so, because I was interested in law, I loved that they had a law school where you can do research, and at the same time, they had small classes and get attention from the faculty. Because of that balance, I liked it. 


  1. How did you feel when you got into Columbia?

I felt thrilled and relieved because I wanted to go there for a long time, and I got in early, so I was done in December with my college applications, and I could enjoy the rest of the year without worrying about them. I still remember getting up at 5 am and opening my email from Columbia. That day I had an English test in the morning, so I remember feeling grateful because so many people made it possible for me to get this far. I’m glad that I got the chance to go to school that day and got to thank my counselor. I [also] got to see Ms.Garg, Ms. Patterson, Mr. Collins, all the teachers who had an impact on my life in high school and continue to have that impact now. I thanked them and felt very grateful that so many people supported me.


  1. What did your schedule after school look like?

At AES, I was involved in a few things. I was part of MAD, so I’d be there on Monday after school. Then, because I was president, I would stay back on Tuesdays to ensure volunteers came. When I was not in MAD on Tuesdays, I’d have MUN. When I was in 11th and 12th grade, I’d often go to school on Saturdays [to work]. On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I’d stay after school for IB art. [As for] the rest [of my meetings], I would have [them] during lunch. I remember I’d usually end up in school till 5, and then in spring, I’d have MESAC. Once that was done, I would come home, and I’d take a walk; I still do that. Sometimes I’d procrastinate homework, so I’d do that later in the evening, but generally, after the walk, I’d try to eat something and start doing my work and get it done. Then I’d take some time off in the evening, and I’d watch or read something. But usually, especially if you are in IB, you’d end up doing a lot of work right after school. I also realized you have to balance when you step into leadership roles in clubs, you’d have a lot to do, and you couldn’t get late on doing that because people are depending on you to finish it on time. But, if you let it take up all your time, you would never finish your homework. So I’d have to make that call after returning from school. I find that even now in college, you have to get your academic things done early. So after studying for tests or finishing my homework, I’d do the rest either after[wards] or in the morning. So you have to figure out how to manage your time. Now and then, I’d hang out with my friends but that was more on weekends, not after school. 


  1. How many hours do you think you spent studying? 

I have no idea. I study more now. At AES, it was not as much. The academics at AES are manageable if you budget your time well and get help when needed. So, my biggest thing for high school is that you want to study smart not just study hours for the sake of putting in hours. I always tried to do that, and that skill will help you during college. 


  1. What advice do you have for a high schooler going to college, or who wants to get into the competitive Ivy Leagues? 

First, you want to know why you are interested in this. In high school, you don’t necessarily know what you want to do, but generally, [you may know] what you want out of your professional life. If you know very early what you want, go for the path that will help you serve that. For instance, if you want to be an artist, you want to develop a portfolio in high school, if you want to be a scientist you want to take higher-level science classes. And your college opinion shouldn't be based on the rankings because the rankings don’t make any sense. Like, if I’d talk about the Ivy leagues, Columbia specifically, I wanted a school that took academics very seriously, and I wanted to do law or academia. And so I thought, where can I get resources, and which university will give me individualized attention? That is how I based my college application. Once you have made that decision, [if you] step back from rankings and all the competitiveness, and know what you want, I think you are in a better position to start preparing. And that path looks very different for everyone. I mean, my passion was looking at gender equality or forms of the law, so, that was the narrative in my essays, and I looked at my community service work at AES and my course work and interest in history and framed it around those terms. It looks very different for different people. You want to tell them your story, what would you contribute to that school that would make them want to have you? And what are they investing in you for the future? When choosing the students, they think about you being there on the campus for three or four years, but they are also thinking about this network of alumni they are building. They want to invest in people who will serve in some way, whether in science, law, business, or anything. You want to think about what that looks like for you. Once you reflect on that independently, I would present that to the college. Also, I think with college applications, and generally with the workload in IB, you want to make sure you are managing your time well. I think I’ve gotten better at it because I do it more in college but even in high school, you want to list down the major assignments you have due and block out times so you will not get caught by surprise. Start everything early—same with [your] college application. You want to do things on time. You should also talk to people. Talk to alumni because it’s really helpful, and I’m sure they are happy to talk about it. Do your research and show that you have done the research in [your] applications because that will show colleges that you are invested in that college. Then, show your college application draft to people you trust. You could show it to a teacher or counselors, but make sure you do your college applications early because you cannot get feedback or advice if you are doing it last minute. Remember to trust yourself.