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)