Exploring four MVHS teachers’ unique college experiences
As students navigate through their four years at MVHS, thoughts of college and careers undoubtedly brew in their minds. But amid the bustle of projects and exams, there is one group of people that is often drowned out — who have come from vastly different walks of life, pushed through college experiences of their own and arrived at a common point in their careers: MVHS teachers. Read on to explore the experiences of four staff members and their unique paths through college.
A change of heart
“My high school experience was really up and down,” Perry said. “I had made some pretty bad decisions and I was really on a path to not even graduate high school, which is funny to me now. But I was just on the wrong path and college was a million miles from my mind.”
During his first two years in high school, Perry was in a state of deep depression. One night in the fall of his junior year, Perry was pushed to the verge of contemplating suicide. While he was resting on a couch in his basement, Perry turned to prayer for any help he could find.
“It’s kind of hard, scientifically, to prove what happened there in the middle of the night down in the basement,” Perry said. “I just basically said ‘If anyone’s out there, please help me.’ There was this presence in the room that felt like this voice said ‘You’re loved. It’s okay.’ I just felt this forgiveness and love … and I wanted to keep being part of that.”
Perry’s attitude changed completely after his traumatic experience in his junior year of high school. He hadn’t been to church for several years, but the Sunday immediately after the incident, he began to return to church each week. The experience in his basement impacted his life in many aspects, shifting his entire perspective.
“Even after many weeks and months people were like ‘What happened to you?’” Perry said. “‘You used to be so hateful and now you seem so loving and peaceful.’ And it really did change me. It changed my outlook and then my whole high school career changed. I went from having D’s to B’s and A’s. So college was a reality again.”
After graduating from high school, Perry entered Bethany Lutheran College, a Christian junior college in the city of Mankato, Minnesota. He transitioned from attending one of the largest high schools in his area to a small college with 300 students among two graduating classes. He later transferred to Minnesota State University-Mankato (Mankato State University) and studied there for three more years.
“I was one of the first to go to college on the Perry side, as my dad grew up on a farm in Wisconsin in the Great Depression and WWII years,” Perry said. “College wasn’t an option for most people in that time. My dad distilled in me a love for learning though.”
The road to seminary
After graduating from Mankato State University, Perry travelled to Taiwan and spent three years teaching ESL (english as a second language) and completing volunteer work at congregations. When he returned to the U.S, he was faced with a dilemma. As he pondered his future, he couldn’t decide between pursue another teaching job or attending a seminary, a college which trains students to become pastors or ministers. Seminaries provide an accreditation process for work in congregations, Perry explains, similar to how universities like Santa Clara University are authorized by the state of California to credential teachers.
“I drove from Minneapolis to St. Louis to begin my seminary education feeling torn,” Perry said. “Making career decisions wasn’t easy for me for some reason. I was fluent in Mandarin Chinese at that time and really wanted to go back to Taiwan, but Taiwan didn’t seem to offer long term career opportunities apart from being accredited somehow.”
Perry eventually decided to enter Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis, Minnesota to become a pastor. He worked towards receiving a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) credential, which is a four year program focusing on four areas of study: Exegetical, Systematic, Historical and Practical. The Exegetical aspect focuses on learning languages including Hebrew, Greek and Latin to study the Bible and ancient texts. Historical study centers around analyzing the history of the world and of Christianity. The Systematic branch aims to synthesize Christian education into a diverse but coherent whole, and the Practical branch trains students to carry out theology in “pastoral, counseling and care, teaching and congregational administration and leadership” settings. Looking back, Perry greatly enjoyed his time at seminary, from his classes to the resources accessible to him.
“I loved the library at my seminary,” Perry said. “We had 250,000 volumes, and I had my own study cubicle, where I kept all my books. I would get up very early, like 6 a.m, to try to beat the traffic… I loved that I could just be in the library all day.”
The majority of Perry’s classmates had entered his seminary after majoring in theology at colleges in a group known as the Concordia system, consisting of eight colleges across the United States. These colleges were sponsored by the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), a large Lutheran body in the U.S. To Perry, these students were most comfortable at seminary, since they had already been immersed in similar preparation and testing environments at their previous colleges. Some of Perry’s other classmates had left their primary occupations to pursue a new career in congregations, often selling their homes to travel to seminary. Perry shares that many disciplines in seminary were similar to those of traditional colleges, requiring students to write research papers and take numerous exams. His seminary required a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts as well as a grade-point average (GPA) of 3.5 or higher at a previous college to attend, so most of his classmates genuinely loved to study theology and competition at his seminary was very intense.
“I can understand what MVHS students go through with all the AP tests and how [they] push yourself to be number one,” Perry said. “It was very challenging. Some of my classmates … had to leave because they couldn’t learn the Greek and Hebrew.”
Perry personally enjoyed his counseling and psychology classes, while his least favorite classes were Greek and Hebrew. After he graduated from seminary, Perry would eventually pursue a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Communication Studies at San Jose State University (SJSU) and a master’s degree in education at Santa Clara University (SCU), obtaining three master’s degrees in total.
Careers after seminary
Immediately after graduating, Perry was unsure about the next steps in his career. He had taught in Taiwan for three years and originally planned to continue teaching, but he chose to try out a path through seminary. Perry ended up entering a career he never thought he’d pursue — becoming a pastor.
“It was really interesting,” Perry said. “I went to seminary and they were like, ‘Well, we do have all these positions open in the churches’ and I swore I would never do that. And I ended up doing and enjoying that for 16 years.”
Perry recalls a special service in which him and his classmates received their assigned churches. He had been assigned to Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Los Gatos, California, and having grown up in Minnesota, he had no impression of Los Gatos beyond finding it a “cool name”. As he took on a career as a parish pastor, he found himself playing many unique roles.
“You’re one of the main leaders of the group,” Perry said. “And there’s an expectation of being a very caring individual. So when people are sick, you’re called upon. You’re called to speak at all the official functions of the group. And then sometimes you’re fixing toilets, and you’re taking care of the facilities, working with the staff, and you do weddings and funerals.”
After 16 years of working as a pastor, Perry returned to his original track to teaching at a high school. He is grateful he explored a career working in congregations, and is glad he had the chance to experience several different types of schooling.
“It’s interesting,” Perry said. “If I would have just gone into teaching at that time, then 16 years later, who knows? I might have said, ‘You know, I never did go to seminary.’ So It’s just been a lot of schooling… And I don’t regret it.”
Throughout his schooling and career as a pastor, Perry has gleaned several analogies and skills he applies in the classroom when teaching.
“I really strongly believe in critical thinking,” Perry said. “I want all my students to just be able to think critically, ask questions about the world. That’s half the battle, if you can just ask the questions.”
Perry has found various overlaps between the content he covers in American Literature and the concepts he studied in seminary. When discussing the American Dream, Perry saw many connections to philosophical questions covered in parish settings, such as the true meaning of life. When teaching about Thoreau and Emerson, Perry emphasized their message of the “need to wake up and pay attention a little”, finding the message very similar in both religious and non-religious contexts. One final message Perry continues to spread is a reminder to take a step back in life and put things into perspective, regardless of religion.
“I think that it’s important for students to feel like ‘Wow, this is connecting in my life,’” Perry said. “So I want them to learn skills companies are looking for: communication, good speaking, listening, writing and reading skills, but the big thing is to think about life a little bit, don’t just cruise through life.”
Correction 6/2/19 3:13 p.m: Information about Perry’s college timeline has been corrected and clarifications about his quotes have been incorporated.
Correction 6/2/19 6:10 p.m: The four branches of the M.Div. certification have been updated for more accuracy.
Growing up, Autran’s mother always wanted her to pursue medical school, and while she loved to study biology, Autran was a squeamish child.
“I remember, I saw an accident where motorcycle riders flew over the air and fell on the ground,” Autran said. “And we were walking nearby and saw this. And my mother said, ‘Oh, my God, what happened to these young people?’ And she grabbed me by the hand and I was shaking, terrified.”
Instead of pursuing a path to medical school, Autran found an unexpected calling: the arts. As she progressed through elementary and middle school, she found a love for drama and music, eventually entering a unique high school dedicated to the arts.
A culture of art
Autran entered her first drama class while in middle school. She quickly fell in love with it and admired the process, teaching and activities involved.
“I think that changed the way I saw my future in a way,” Autran said. “I kept saying to my parents, I want to study something related to the arts, because this class is fascinating, and I [would] go on and on about the class. And very interesting, my parents would listen, they wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, no, you’re crazy. Who’s gonna study arts? What are you talking about?’”
Autran notes that her parents probably had reservations about what she wanted to study, but they always listened to what Autran wanted for herself and rarely told her it was infeasible. After telling her parents about her hope to attend a high school dedicated to the arts, her parents and her sister began searching for such a school, brainstorming and asking friends whether they knew of any. For a while, they made no progress towards the high school Autran envisioned.
“Until my father saw this [advertisement],” Autran said. “And I thought it was just a coincidence. My father opened the [newspaper] and it said, ‘auditions and application’... my father said, ‘Okay, let me go find out right now.’ And my mother was very excited to help me take some pictures for the applications.”
Autran ended up entering CEDART Luis Spota Saavedra, a high school dedicated to arts in Mexico City, Mexico. Classes included ballet, guitar, piano, painting and sculpture. Rather than focusing on one form of art, the school aimed to spark the inspiration and curiosity of its students, hoping to train them to become multi-faceted art teachers in the future. Growing up as a timid child, Autran is very grateful that she was exposed to fields she was genuinely interested in and excelled in.
“I could play some piano,” Autran said. “And if I would do it right, then the teacher and my peers would say, ‘Oh, that’s very good.’ Before, I didn’t have something that I could feel confident in… I would do my best because I liked it so much. And then… you get this feedback.”
Autran gradually gained self-confidence and began to develop a reputation as an overachiever in the eyes of her teachers and classmates as she showcased her abilities to dance and draw. Once she immersed herself in opportunities her high school offered and received positive feedback for it, she found it far easier to reach her potential.
An early decision
In Mexico, students begin to think about college from a very early age, according to Autran. When students finish elementary school, their parents and teachers begin to ask them about careers they’d like to study. In middle school, students enter a process of career exploration, and schools will often invite professionals from different fields to present about careers.
“The reason why they do it early is because many kids … will finish middle school, and they would have the choice of going into a technical career,” Autran said. “They would learn to type so they could use the typewriter. Or they would learn to cut hair or things like that. We have these technical careers, but the students can [either] choose to go to high school, or to study this technical career.”
Autran explains that the decision is never easy. Going to high school means that a student will likely enter university as well, studying for four years and pursuing a career in a field such as law, which requires higher education. Having to make a decision about college and careers very early on does have its benefits though, Autran notes. Students won’t need to switch majors in college out of misjudgement and they will also be able to gauge their parents’ support for their career goals early in their lives.
In Mexico City, Autran’s hometown, students wishing to attend college often aspired to enter the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), commonly considered the most prestigious government university in Mexico. The school had an acceptance rate of 5.9% from June 2011 to June 2013, which was identical to that of Harvard University. There is a high level of prestige surrounding college in Mexico, Autran shares, and the university one attends plays a significant role in the jobs they are able to find.
Hardships and inequalities
From elementary school to college, Mexican students of different socioeconomic backgrounds have vastly different experiences in school. In elementary school, all mandated books are free, but there are supplies such as notebooks and writing utensils which students are required to purchase. In middle school, students begin to pay for their own textbooks. For poor families, parents often can’t support their children financially past elementary school simply because they don’t have the means to purchase required books.
“And then in high school... my high school in particular was very intensive,” Autran said. “We had to read drama books, one book every week. So the teachers would ask for all these books, and my parents always said that money had to be available for books and for shoes. Because the shoes would take [us] to school, and the books we needed to read and learn.”
When Autran was growing up, textbooks weren’t simply temporary books which could be sold once classes were over. The books served as a reference if Autran ever needed to go back and review, and they were often crucial for aiding in learning new material. These books often determined whether students were financially able to attend school. On the other hand, wealthy families were given a lot of options for schooling. Prestigious private schools were reputable and featured a high quality of education, which often benefited students when applying to college and beyond, according to Autran.
“If your kid is going to that school, you know that they have good scores, and they will place well [on the] placement test,” Autran said. “And you also ... can afford to go to that university. And when one is in private school, and you have money, that gives you the most prestigious [status], that is how the society sees that.”
College in two countries
Autran applied to college in both Mexico and the United States. Before she got her results from Mexican universities, she chose to travel to the U.S. for college as a backup plan. She intended to study at Foothill college, but got pushed back into high school since she wasn’t familiar enough with English since it wasn’t her first language. As soon as she entered high school, she noticed several differences between her high school experience in Mexico and in the U.S.
“When I came here to high school, my first week of class was the homecoming week, where kids dress in different attires and costumes,” Autran said. “I came and everybody was wearing pajamas. So I couldn’t understand what was going on. Oh, what a relaxed culture!”
Autran attributes her ability to relate with students while teaching to her own high school experience in the U.S. At the time, Autran had no idea where her future in America would lead her, but in retrospect, she believed all of her education leading up to college had prepared her for her life later on.
When applying to college, Autran had to make a choice of what to study and pursue as a career. She had attended a high school suited for the arts, but she was at a crossroads between pursuing her passion or a more practical career.
“It’s funny because I went into the arts, and although I enjoy very much, and I knew I wanted to study it, in the back of my mind, I said, ‘I don’t know how I could make a living with drama,’” Autran said. “I always thought, maybe I can do two things at the same time.”
However, Autran realized that she couldn’t manage pursuing both drama and a separate career full-time. Her “common sense,” and practical thoughts of needing a stable career and a source of income largely influenced her. Though she knows many classmates who would have prioritized their passions, Autran took her parents’ financial conditions into heavy consideration.
“My friends didn’t have a lot of money, but they left [to pursue their passions],” Autran said. “And they thought about themselves. But I was thinking mostly ‘Okay, how could this benefit me?’ And maybe I [could] help my family to pay back, because [my] parents spent all this money, buying [my] books. So I think that’s why I kind of obeyed what my mother wanted me to do. And that’s why I came here [to the U.S,] thinking that maybe this is the right thing to do.”
While she was studying in the U.S, she received an acceptance to UNAM to study psychology and pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching), but chose to remain in the U.S. She studied at San Jose State University (SJSU), earning Spanish language teaching credentials to prepare for her career as a teacher. She worked as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in Community and Adult Education for seven years after graduating. Almost 10 years after she received her Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree, Autran’s friend encouraged her to pursue a Spanish teaching credential, which eventually led her to teaching Spanish at MVHS.
Throughout her college and teaching years, Autran has still kept in touch with her passion of drama, often using the same gestures she learned to personify vocabulary terms in class. In addition, Autran continues to reflect on her past and muses at how every little step of her life brought her to where she is today. Even now, about twenty years after her college admissions experience, Autran ponders how one change in her schooling could have impacted her life today.
“I went through my papers looking for something and I found my schedule of classes and the receipt of the university I had been accepted to,” Autran said. “I saw it and I published it on Facebook: ‘What would have happened if I had studied there?’”
Correction 6/2/19 6:22 p.m: Information has been added to clarify Autran’s transition from graduating college to teaching at MVHS.
In China, a typical student’s college preparation begins as soon as they’re born. Their parents will purchase a home or rent an apartment in a reputable elementary and middle school district. The student will enter extensive extracurricular courses in English and science to avoid falling behind. Their first taste of college will arrive when they take an entrance exam for admission into selective high schools in their province, and their next three years of high school will be spent ramping up their studies to prepare for the gaokao, a standardized college entrance exam taken by nearly 10 million students annually.
Liu grew up following this track, but eventually ventured away from it when she entered Wuhan Foreign Languages School in Wuhan, Hubei, China. As she learned more about college options in the United States, she made the decision to apply for college overseas, risking the loss of a stable path to college in China.
An unusual high school
Wuhan Foreign Languages School was established in 1964 by former prime minister Zhou Enlai. The school was designed to educate students in different languages, preparing them to become ambassadors, translators or communicators with other countries. The school offered exchange programs with countries such as the U.S, Australia, France, the U.K. and Japan, allowing students to gain exposure to different cultures and engage in a learning process whose focus lay beyond solely preparing for the gaokao.
It wasn’t easy for Liu to be admitted to the school. Chinese schools place a large emphasis on learning English, and Wuhan Foreign Languages School is particularly strict about its requirements. The school requires students to take an additional English exam before they take a unified high school entrance exam. Students who pass the English exam are then given an English interview, and only when they meet both these criteria are they given an opportunity to apply for the school. If students pass a threshold score, they receive free admission to the school. Since English is not Liu’s primary language, she studied extremely hard to receive a high score on the English and unified high school exams to gain admission to Wuhan Foreign Languages School.
“It’s supposed to be free because the public school system is free,” Liu said. “But if you don’t get to that [score], and you still want to go to school, you will get on the waiting list depending on how far away you are from that line. And I know some of my classmates that didn’t make it, [but] they paid thousands of dollars to get in.”
For many Chinese high schoolers, performing well on the gaokao would mean admission into a prestigious college and a financially stable career — essentially, a student’s whole life depends on the exam.
“Every second of your high school life is you [being] reminded of how many days you have left until the gaokao,” Liu said. “The counting down starts in your sophomore year. It’s very serious.”
Chinese students were motivated by “sick” but effective methods, according to Liu. Student exam scores were often highly transparent, and large posters of rankings would be posted in hallways for all students to see. Liu’s school had 12 classes of about 50 students each, for a total of approximately 600 students taking each exam. Students were judged based on their class rank — students ranked in the top 10 would be placed in the first classroom and were well respected, while students in the last few ranks would be placed in the twelfth classroom and viewed as less capable.
As the gaokao approached, students were often overcome with anxiety. Liu recalled her experience leading up to her high school entrance exam — despite only being in middle school, she knew that if she didn’t perform well, it would matter for the rest of her life. The students who faced the most pressure, however, were often those who consistently performed well.
“The top students, they may likely be the ones who couldn’t fall asleep,” Liu said. “Because before gaokao there are a million model tests, which are very similar to gaokao. So in the end … it was like you’re taking the gaokao every day and then by that point you’re numb. The school knows who will likely be the top one, or top five or top 10 [students] because the [scores are] kind of consistent. But those students who are on track, they always have a lot of pressure because the school and the teacher would tell them ‘You’re our only hope. You’re our hope to be number one in the whole city or the whole province.’”
Looking to the U.S.
As Liu advanced through high school, she began to discover the option of attending college in the United States. Each year, several students from her school took the SAT exam and applied to colleges in the U.S. Liu recalls reading lists of SAT perfect scorers on the newspaper, and noting students from Wuhan Foreign Languages School who received acceptances to Ivy League universities including Harvard, Princeton and Yale. She then began to research the U.S. college path on her own.
“Thanks to the internet, I [could] just look up information,” Liu said. “And there are forums for high school students like me who are interested or people who have done that path to post their experience on the forum… At first, I thought it was easy. But then the deeper I was getting into this, the harder it became, especially for the SAT and the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), which I took multiple times.”
Though Liu had initially convinced her parents she would take the gaokao exam while applying for college in the U.S, she realized in her sophomore year that it would be impossible to handle both at the same time. She would need to balance studying for the SAT and TOEFL exams, navigating U.S. college applications and continuing to study for the gaokao. Eventually, she made the decision to focus on applying to college in the U.S, despite the risk of needing to retake her senior of high school if she didn’t succeed.
“What one of my head [teachers] did was have me write a contract [that] no matter how I do on the gaokao, it’s none of his business,” Liu said. “If I [did] badly and I didn’t end up going to U.S. and I decided to go back to take gaokao, [it’d be] none of his business.”
As she immersed herself further into the U.S. college application process, she realized many of her previous expectations were infeasible. The colleges she was considering typically charged around $40,000 each year in tuition and living costs, which equaled approximately 300,000 Chinese RMB at the time. Many middle class families couldn’t afford that amount, so they would sell houses or obtain loans to support their children. Liu’s goal was to sidestep the cost of a college education entirely.
“That was my dream at the beginning,” Liu said. “My parents were not rich. We were middle class but not the middle-high class that could easily pay a million dollars. My dad was always telling me, ‘So and so relatives or acquaintances got a full scholarship into the US.’ So I thought that was the only way I was going to go to the US. I was going to get a full scholarship, I was not going to give my parents any financial burden.”
But as Liu began the application process, she realized she was comparing herself to an exceptionally high-performing pool of students. In order to obtain a full scholarship from a U.S. college, students typically needed near perfect SAT and TOEFL scores. Liu’s English skills could not match those of U.S. high school students who were native speakers, so she didn’t achieve the exam scores most students needed to obtain full scholarships.
“I had regrets,” Liu said. “I feel like I could do better, I could study harder. But at that time, it had come to a point that I [couldn’t] necessarily compare myself to people from that pool.”
Full scholarships were rare even among students who scored highly on standardized exams. Liu hadn’t been aware of the importance of extracurricular activities prior to applying for college in the U.S, so she was at a disadvantage. According to Liu, many Chinese students who did receive full scholarships to schools in the U.S. were those who pursued a track in mathematical or scientific olympiads and were often admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Liu persisted through her application process and eventually received a half scholarship at DePauw University, majoring in English writing. She was relieved she would no longer need to take the gaokao and had solidified her future in the United States. She later attended Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, obtaining a master’s degree in Secondary Education and Teaching. Liu has no regrets about her choice to come to the U.S. for education, and prefers its learning culture in comparison to China’s.
“[China’s] totally opposite from how education works in other developed countries like the US and Europe,” Liu said. “Here [in the U.S,] you have to be a top student to get into a top university, and when you go to top university… you’re basically going to excel more, you’re going to challenge yourself more and build out more in the best time of your life. But in China, you work your brain out, you get into the top university, then you can just relax. I just feel like that’s not worth four years of the best time of my life.”
From elementary to middle school, Gupta loved the occasional arts class she was offered. Gupta cherished the moments she spent away from her academic classes as she explored the depths of drama and choir. However, the practicality of pursuing a stable career and picking a reputable major outweighed her love of art, and her art classes would soon fade into the background as her high school journey began.
Preparing for college
After students in India graduated from middle school, they were faced with a heavy decision: they could focus on a liberal arts, a STEM-field or a commerce stream for the rest of their high school and college education. Those who chose the liberal arts pathway attended classes pertaining to the humanities, such as geography, political science and history, while the STEM path consisted of classes such as mathematics, physics and chemistry and the commerce path included classes such as economics, accountancy and business. This system of streams is based on a similar British system which also requires students to choose one path toward future careers.
Gupta was drawn to the STEM route, and when she entered high school, her schedule featured classes in five subject areas: English, mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. There were no social studies or foreign language classes offered to her, which she now wishes she could have taken.
For most of high school, students in India focused on preparing for their college entrance exams. According to Gupta, technical courses for students looking to become engineers and doctors were especially important, as they could help guarantee a stable earning in the future.
“There were still entrance exams to become an engineer or doctors, and high school scores or GPA didn’t really play an effect in that,” Gupta said. “So a lot of the students who wanted to go into the technical fields, they didn’t pay much stock to their high school journey. The grades didn’t matter as much. What mattered [was] the learning. They [would] take extra tutoring outside to prepare for these entrance test, which weren’t necessarily exactly aligned with the high school.”
In India, students are required to take different college entrance exams for different professions, and even within the same field of study, colleges may require unique entrance exams. Students often heavily prioritize preparing for these exams, and in some instances, they take a year off of high school to attend residential preparation courses. In fact, the private tutoring industry has reached $45 billion in India, with certain organizations boasting high admission rates and increasing their prices. There is substantial reason these college tutoring programs exist, according to Gupta.
“India’s system is so, so competitive,” Gupta said. “It is more competitive, getting into the elite [Indian] colleges, than any competition here [in the U.S.] Here, they will take top 6% [for an Ivy League college] and in India it’s top 1% [for top colleges]. And just the sheer number of students that apply... it’s more competitive than Harvard or anything that you have here [in the U.S.]. Just because the population is much bigger, and so many kids want to go that route.”
When Gupta was growing up, there were three or four top tier colleges which nearly all her classmates aspired to enter. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) has an acceptance rate of 0.7%, nearly seven times lower than Harvard University’s acceptance rate of 4.5%. At the time, second tier or less prestigious colleges did not provide the same medical options, employability or quality of education. However, Gupta claims that the college system is evolving and second or third level colleges now provide strong employability and education similar to American colleges.
Throughout high school, Gupta was meritorious, consistently performing at the top of her class. However, she never wanted to pursue technical fields, so she chose to pursue a Master of Science and a Bachelor of Science degree. She personally chose not to invest her time and energy into solely preparing for her entrance exams, and instead focused on her education holistically. She eventually attended Lucknow University studying Biochemistry.
Gupta moved to the U.S. after she had completed her master’s degree and had worked in a research lab. When she arrived, she needed to go through a new credentialing process and earn a new master’s degree, since her credential from India wasn’t valid in the U.S. She studied extensively through online classes and also took courses at San Jose State University (SJSU), eventually acquiring a CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test) credential.
Reflections on college admissions
Through her time in both America and India, Gupta has found value in the educational systems of both countries and has personally thrived under both.
“My ideal education system will be a mix of Indian system and the education system here,” Gupta said. “I would love for students to develop the work ethic and the study skills that the Indian system breeds. And I want the holistic nature of education and ability to develop yourself … by taking many classes and different options. I love that part of Western education.”
Gupta believes that life for young people in America is full of options. Students are free to choose their own majors and pursue their own dreams, while remaining employable and leading stable lives. Her idea of freedom extends to non-academic pursuits, which were simply infeasible for her during her childhood.
“The competition for these top colleges [in India] is mostly academic,” Gupta said. “It is insane if you’re a well rounded kid, to keep that balance between the things that you’re passionate about, maybe soccer, maybe cricket — to do that and to perform at the level of someone who’s just single dimensional.”
But Gupta also points out that no college admission system is perfect. After she heard about the recent 2019 college admissions scandal in the U.S, she lost some faith in the American college admissions system and is concerned for students who greatly prioritize college admission. She wishes there were a college entrance system which allowed students to avoid stress and develop their individuality.
“The hard part is that that students attach their self esteem around these admissions. They put their faith in and assess themselves for a process, which is so rigged. It’s just kind of disheartening… I wish colleges somehow will have a more holistic criteria for admissions. And de emphasize the grades and emphasize the passions of the kids. I’m sure that will filter on to high school and reduce student stress and help them develop more in all dimensions of their lives.”
Wound throughout all four teachers’ high school and college experiences is a common thread: regardless of obstacles in their journey or pressure from those around them, they carved out a unique path for their lives, which extended through college and beyond. Despite Perry’s slipping performance in high school, he turned his life around and paved a career as a pastor and teacher. Autran pursued her love for arts despite her worries about a career, and eventually pieced together a path teaching Spanish. Liu chose to travel to the U.S, venturing out of her comfort zone and risking the loss of a stable career in China, a decision she doesn’t regret at all. Gupta studied in a field she genuinely loved, choosing not to treat her schooling as a time period devoted solely to training for entrance exams. These four teachers show that no matter the circumstances in high school or college, students will always be able to find success in their future with the right mindset.