The right move


Rishi Jalan, an alumnus of Cornell University, on how a stint at an American boarding school prepared him for an Ivy League education.

I completed class XII at Mayo College, Ajmer, after which I decided to enrol at Phillips Academy Andover, a boarding school near Boston, US. I spent a year at Phillips where I took courses in music, philosophy and maths among others – some of these courses being mandatory requirements to complete high school in the US. The single-year programme is called the PG year and mostly students opt for it who are either not sure of what they want to enrol in or athletes who want to improve their game. About half my classmates were athletes working on their game, the other sizeable chunk comprised international students, including me, most of whom were on full scholarships.

The suggestion of a boarding school was first made to me by one of Harvard’s coaches who was visiting India to train squash players and I was ranked number three in the under 19 list. I had decent SAT scores but not the best and there was a lot that I felt I could improve about myself. I decided to enrol at Phillips and given the rigour of the programme, the first three months were tough. But soon, I picked up and did fairly well. At Phillips, I was supported by the Davis World scholarship which paid for my tuition while the rest was taken care of by the academy, thanks to its generous endowments.

The USP of the academy is that it provides students an opportunity to explore subjects that interest them while providing them with academic support. I finished my squash season undefeated at Andover and was honoured as an all scholastic athlete by the Boston Globe.  For instance, while I was at Phillips, I did some preliminary research in game theory and went on to represent US at a conference on game theory in Poland.

My stint at Phillips prepared me thoroughly for my studies at Cornell University with the entire counselling team helping me to prepare my application. I visited nearly 15 schools in the US and received confirmed offers from three though I chose Cornell eventually. At Cornell, I had to take two mandatory writing seminars and scored straight As in both, thanks to my rigorous training at Phillips. I eventually received a double majors degree in economics and government. The Davis World Scholarship supported me through my undergraduate study as well though I received some aid from the university, too. At Cornell, as a varsity athlete, it was again tough to find the study-work balance but through the support of my coach, team and the Cornell family in large, everything fell into place. 

I have always had grades in the range of 85 to 90% and was strong in many co-curricular activities at school such as debating. While I was playing squash at the national level, I would say rather than one achievement, it is a holistic overview of my capabilities that both Phillips and Cornell considered. I believe it was rather competitive to get into Phillips than Cornell.

- As told to Sarah Zia

(This piece was published in the Education Times. Please read the complete story here)

The Student Athlete

Cornell alum and squash scholar Rishi Jalan on how a competitive sport can help you join your dream college in the US

The US admission process has always been competitive, but there are avenues that students can explore to make it to their dream college. Having been through the process myself, I have observed that there is a strong focus on extracurricular activities. I chose the path of sports, and squash helped me to get admission into Cornell University. But my story is not unique; there are many students like me.

American collegiate squash is going through a major transformation. With many teams looking at recruiting international players, India seems to be a favourite for coaches to scout for young talent. The recruiting process begins as early as class X when players email coaches to find a good mix of academic programmes, scholarships and location. While coaches scout for talent, it is up to the student-athlete to decide what are the best programmes and campuses suited for him/her. College coaches, however, do organise official college tours to give students a first-hand experience. 

Generally, students from India may find it tough to make a mark in other competitive sports offered by US colleges such as basketball, soccer or ice hockey. However, when it comes to squash, they may have an edge as not many high schools globally offer the sport.

US colleges boast of both nationally and internationally competitive sports teams and they require talented scholar athletes. Says former Indian junior champion Aditya Jagtap, also a Cornell graduate: “With more than 12-15 students on the roster for a single college, each one of them looks at recruiting two-three players every year.” 

A roster is a total number of playing and non-playing members in a team. Even though only nine players play against the other team in squash, generally, 15 to 16 players are on the team roster in case of any injuries. That increases the chances to atleast be part of the roster even if you cannot play for the team. 

Jagtap now works with an educational consulting firm in the US that helps children improve the game, connect with the right coach, and enrol in a college that match their interest. National-level player Shaheen Madraswala was eager for both the academic experience and the opportunity to continue playing competitive squash. “I knew right from the start that I wanted to go to a liberal arts college that had a strong squash programme. I contacted the squash coaches of all the schools that I applied to. It always helps to have someone rallying for you from the inside, especially when you are looking for a good scholarship or financial aid package,” says Madraswala, who transferred from Mumbai’s HR College to Mount Holyoke College.

And to sum up in the words of Siddharth Suchde, former Indian junior national champion and a Harvard graduate: “Both parents and students need to understand is that academic grades and SAT scores should not be compromised. As a student athlete in any college in America, it takes a toll mentally and physically. Squash helps but it cannot be a substitute for poor grades in school.”


(The original piece was written by Rishi Jalan for the Education Times. You can read it here)