The school year may be kicking into high gear, but our valuable summer experiences will undoubtedly continue to inform our decisions both in and out of the classroom.
Here are a few words from Sabrina Ghouse, a Sri Lankan international student at Harvard who started Sri Lankans Applying to the United States (SAUS), an initiative to help and inspire Sri Lankan high school students who dream of attending university half a world away.
1. What inspired you to take on/start this initiative?
During the school year, I work at the Harvard Admissions and Financial Aid Office. Every day, I speak to nervous, lost and confused high-school students about the application process, and this only reminds me of the days my friends and I struggled through the college application process as international students. One of my best friends at Harvard, Lucas Freitas, told me about his efforts to help students from his country (Brazil) apply to the US through a website and facebook group that offers students a forum to ask questions, a mentor program for the application process, and a reservoir of documents and information to help students understand what they need to do to apply to college. I felt the need to do this to help students from my country—Sri Lanka–with the application process, especially because more than half of the applicants from Sri Lanka are unaware of the education system and financial aid that colleges in the US have to offer.
2. To your knowledge, has anything similar to this been done in Sri Lanka before?
Yes, in 2005. It is called SL2College and was founded by a few graduate students from Stanford. It offers help with the application process to colleges in many countries, including the US. One of the directors of this NGO found out about my initiative and asked me if I wanted to be part of their team. This gave me the infrastructure and support I needed to continue running what I had started. After joining SL2College as their Country Director for USA (Undergraduate), I’ve met many inspiring Country Directors and volunteers.
3. What have your main responsibilities been to get this off the ground? Tasks and workload?
It’s a full time job, really. I manage the facebook group, which means I monitor and, with the help of my other mentors, reply to all the questions posted by students on the forum. Every 2 days, I post an article or link on the site that contains helpful information or inspiring success stories about the application process, so the students on this forum are motivated to perfect their college application. I also receive applications for the mentorship program on a daily basis, which requires me to match students who have applied with mentors who will guide them through the application process. Apart from monitoring the mentee-mentor matches that I have made, I also have my own mentees to advise. The facebook group also contains a “files” section where all the documents I have made are stored, like an application checklist, information about SATs and TOEFL, Financial Aid advice, etc, that I update and add to whenever I can. In August, I also organized an information session for students applying to the US, with 10 of my fellow mentors. We invited over 70 private and public schools, and will be broadcasting this conference on TV in September for the students who were not able to attend this conference.
4.What has been the response to your efforts so far?
The facebook group has over 650 members, with many people posting questions about the application process every day and mentors replying to them constantly. I also receive applications from mentees for the mentorship program all the time and emails from Sri Lankan college students in the US who want to join our team of mentors. Hundreds of people attended the conference SL2College held in August and I’ve received only positive feedback and requests for another conference similar to this one, soon. Our conference was also sponsored for over $700.
5. Who are your strategic partners? (basically, who’s helping you out)
Every member of SL2College has been very supportive, especially Nayana Samaranayake, the SL2College Director, Yoshani DeSilva, the Country Director for USA (post graduate), Amila Wijesekara, the Country Director for Sri Lanka who organized the logistics of this conference, and all the US college students from Sri Lanka who have signed up to be mentors.
6. What do you envision the future of this initiative to be?
The conference SL2College hosted was one of its largest and most successful. I’d love to continue to plan events like this one, and continue to bring what I learn at the Harvard Admissions Office back to Sri Lanka.