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Imagine the career you love, and work backwards: Career guidance counselor Dr Sonia Kapoor Soni

A headstart is crucial in striking success for students focused on higher education abroad. They must start thinking Univ as early as Class 8, career guidance counselor Dr Sonia Kapoor Soni tells Vedant Gupta

What do you want to be, is no longer a simple question, says Dr Sonia Kapoor Soni, head career guidance counselor, international faculty and psychology faculty at Tardeo’s Aditya Birla World Academy. Robotics to help with assisted animal care was the ambitious answer she recently received to that question.

Dr Sonia KapoorCareer guidance counselor Dr Sonia Kapoor Soni

The exposure the school offers its students ends up acquainting them with a universe of careers early on. “We have celebrated tennis players Boris Becker and Steffi Graf come and speak to the students,” she says of the institution that offers both, International Baccalaureate and A levels.

And early is good. To start pondering career choices as early as Class 8, Soni, the school’s chairperson Neerja Birla and principal Radhika Sinha, don’t consider premature. "They are interested and involved in every child’s career, not just education," says Soni. And with their students landing placements in top universities, the team knows they are on the right track. In edited excerpts from an interview, Soni slips into the shoes of international university stalwarts to discuss what goes on in the minds of those who decide a student’s destiny.

When should a student start working on their university application?
I would say, Grade 8. First, we ask them to imagine what career they see themselves pursuing and then work backwards. Which subject will help you get there and what college to study it at are the next steps. It’s not necessary that you look at universities abroad. There are good universities in India too. What’s important is to derive focus.

Does taking a gap year, which is a popular trend, hamper your prospect of landing a seat at university?
The perception of the gap year has changed. What’s important is how a student spends the year. Those whose applications become stronger after having taken a gap year are those who are academically strong anyway. They take on various internships to enrich their journey. This is what universities are looking for. They wish to know how students will eventually enrich the communities they are in.

How important is an internship?
A summer internship can change your perspective on a career. For instance, one student would tell us that art and colour was her life. She wanted to be an artist. But, after interning at a studio, she realised she was curious about the market and selling art. So, she ended up joining a management course.

How does a student ensure s/he picks the right university?
The choice determines your path to the right job, right career, right environment, even the right partner. Which is why you need to spend time weighing possibilities and seeing where you fit best.
In India, parents spend as much as 70 per cent of their income on their kids’ education. But, when a student spends four years at university, we need to ask ourselves, "will s/he be happy there?"

What does a university look for in the statement of purpose (SOP)?
They want to see more of you in the SOP. This is especially true of universities in the US and UK. Which is why I say, ‘do it yourself’. Don’t hire someone to do it. Even in our school, we get students to work on the SOP independently. We may help them improve upon it, but they must write it.

Any specific placements that you would want to highlight?
At Aditya Birla we celebrate each and every placement if we believe it’s a perfect match between the students’ aspirations and career prospects ahead. A budding chef at Les Rochees, to a musician at Berklee, an entrepreneur at NYU Stern, CITY, UCL, UCLA and University of Chicago, an ambitious researcher at Brown and Imperial, an aspiring engineer at Georgia Tech and Birmingham. And management at UBC, Warwick and USC — we celebrate it all!

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