Friday, August 6, 2010

There Is More Than One Route To A High School Diploma! (Guest Blog Post By Maithreyi Shankar)

Maithreyi Shankar spent her senior year of high school at the University of Southern California as part of a special honors program. I was so proud that she was able to take advantage of such a unique opportunity to complete high school and start college at the same time.  I hope more of our students will explore non-traditional routes to graduation instead of the one-size-fits-all approach that we have become accustomed to.

Thanks to Maithreyi for sharing her story!

In October of 2008, I was a junior at Burlington High School and I was just about to take my PSATs. At this point I was a typical high school student involved in numerous activities. I was enrolled in an SAT preparation course at the Princeton Review, I was playing field hockey, dancing Indian classical dance, and doing as much volunteering as possible, on the path to a college I still had yet to define. Would I opt for Brown? Or was I more technically minded and should rather apply to MIT? Or should I follow my mother's urgings and just "go to Harvard!" ? I was trying so hard to figure out the answers to all these pressing questions (though they were not to affect me for another year) when a recruiting letter from the University of  Southern California arrived. 

Where is USC?
I had not even heard of the school except for some vague references to football, and I was very surprised to be in receipt of a letter from the school. It read along the lines of "Why not skip your senior year, and attend college instead?" Intrigued, I immediately sought out my parents, a computer, and began to learn all I could about this opportunity. That night, it was finalized; I would apply as a practice application. Why would I want to go to California anyway? It was absurdly far away, and they did not need to know how much I wanted or did not want to attend. I printed out the application, and sought to meet with the BHS Guidance Department immediately to begin the process and to gain approval. I was not going to enter the chance of attending without a guarantee that I would graduate.

Guidance On A Non-Traditional Path
My Guidance Counselor Mrs. Leary was so kind and helpful. That was probably the fifth or so time I had been to her office in my time at BHS, and that was plenty for a new junior. She was enthusiastic, yet apprehensive about this application. I mean, how legitimate can it be? No one in this town had heard of this Resident Honors Program before, and there was little published about the statistics and such. But nonetheless, she was behind me 100 percent as was Mr. Larkin. With their approval, I began my application a full year earlier than my peers, in complete secrecy. I did not know what people would say, and I did not take the opportunity seriously at first. I wrote as though I would be interested in attending, but it was all about the process initially. As I completed my application, however, I found other students who were also applying and became quite close with them over College Confidential, a social networking site for highly motivated kids and parents talking about getting admission to college and such. Through connecting with them, I also learned more about this opportunity and the University of Southern California. I began to see myself amongst the palm trees, and imagined going to college away from my parents.

Mixed Emotions
After I had finished applying on Thanksgiving weekend, with only my SAT scores left, I started to waver and falter in my decision-making. I still really loved some of the opportunities I had lined up for my senior year, and the options of schools near home like Brown, Harvard, and MIT were tantalizing. Weighing the options was beginning to become difficult, but my father and mother kept me in line by reminding me that I had not been admitted... yet. However, when the end of January rolled around, I received a phone call from Pennelope von Helmolt discussing visiting the campus come April, and I knew that I had been admitted. Deciding became the one thing on my mind. Should I stay or should I go? My opinion switched by the day, going from being appalled at the thought of leaving BHS to dying for the plane ticket.  It was clear that the visit was absolutely necessary.

California Here I Come
Over spring break, I went to USC's Explore program where they give you as much information as possible about the school, and then I had a Resident Honors Program student host show me around to her classes, and her dorm, and I spent the night. That visit clinched it at the time; I could not imagine myself anywhere better, and the fact that the host had given up her chance at the same schools I was looking at for the following year  was comforting.  The only reservation I had concerned the fact that more than half the students in the program were from California was not. I waited another week to decide before sending in my commitment deposit. My parents said I could still wait and decide, even up to August-- that is how unsure we all were of this decision.

More News
Around the same time, I had gained acceptance into the Institute on Neuroscience program through the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience-- a spot that I accepted almost immediately. A chance to research for 5 weeks after 3 weeks of intensive training in neuroscience in Atlanta, Georgia. Living on my own! The joy that this brought me completely blew my reaction to my acceptance to USC--probably because my early college acceptance baffled and shocked my family and me; we did not know what to make of it.
 I had taken my SATs again in May, and I had put down my housing deposit at USC the day before the scores came out. I had gotten a 2230. A very formidable score -- much, much better than my December ones for which I had stressed so much. I hardly studied at all for the May one. This again put my family into a state of doubt & questioning what could be if I would stay, but I was adamant that whatever decision I made would be the best for me.

Off To College
After my internship in Atlanta, I had a few weeks at home with my family before embarking on my voyage to college. I began packing and worrying if I had made the right decision, but never once did I question my readiness. I was independent. I had lived for two months in an apartment with two juniors in college, cooking for myself and taking care of myself. I had gone to live and learn in college dorms for five summers for three weeks each, adding up to a full semester in college in and of itself. Leaving my dad on Move-In Day was not emotional at all in my excitement and anticipation of my life at USC. I had already begun to meet extraordinary men and women and was having the time of my life. Over the days and weeks, I enjoyed my humanities classes, writing and rewriting paper after paper about the Odyssey and Othello and other great literature and worked hard at my science classes attending labs and lectures and midterms. I even took a television production class! 

Applying My BHS Education
It took what I had learned at BHS through BCAT and put it into even more application. I edited a television show every week as my assignment and worked on the crew every night. All the while, I was very involved in USC's Ultimate Frisbee teams, Interfaith Council, Fight On for Darfur!, Hindu Student Organization, and our Building Government. I went on two trips to Catalina Island; I attended a majority of our fabled football games, enjoying them so much more than I ever enjoyed watching a game on a screen, and participated in many of USC's cultural offerings like working on a paper at 3am at Leavey Library, and 12am trips to Trojan Grounds, our convenience store --both of which are open 24/7 and longboarding--riding a longer version of a skateboard that is built for transport rather than tricks that I found I cannot live without. After classes had ended, and a stressful two weeks of paper writing and a final, I ended my first semester on the Dean's List! Coming home at seeing everyone at BHS' Holiday Traditions felt utterly bizarre because although I had gone through all these changes, Burlington High had not changed all that much! Technologically, we had more netbooks about, and freedom to use cell phones, and of course there is the new Improv Club "Idle Hands", but the energy, if anything, just became more palpable. Everything was enhanced since the last time I had seen it. The Amnesty International club I had founded with Brinda Patel had raised new heights with 30 Hour Famine & even attended the regional meeting of the actual organization. Our service was better, our spirit, stronger, and the smiles, broader. It felt as though while I was working to my potential, so was all of Burlington!

I returned to USC for the spring semester nervous as my classes were harder than last semester. I encountered my first scheduling conflicts and add/drop requests. I ended up taking biology and chemistry, but also statistics for psychology as well as Anthropology: Culture, Gender, and Politics of South Asia which easily became my most interesting and liked class. I formed a great rapport with the professor Erin Moore, and I loved the other students and the material. Ultimately, I performed well in class and I had become more involved in the LA area, going to movies at LA Live!, and shopping at Beverly Center, and eating dinner at The Grove LA's Farmer's Market. My freshmen friends and I found LA less intimidating and were more confident about using public transportation together. On campus, I also enjoyed concerts like Bruno Mars and T-Pain as well as the Fray and Cold War Kids. My second semester was successful in that I had finally settled into USC, and Los Angeles is as much my home as Burlington is. I miss my friends there, and I cannot wait to go back. 

Final Thoughts
All in all, I may have missed AP Calculus and English, and I may not have gotten the chance to take Leadership and Social Change or Media Production, and I might not have gotten a chance to participate in the theater opportunities we had this year, or some senior events, but I am still very proud to consider myself a Burlington High School Devil as well as a USC Trojan. I am so thankful for what this school has given me, in support, friends, and education. I can see that the future for Burlington shines ever brighter. Good luck, and if any other students have questions or comments feel free to email me at! Thanks so much. 


  1. Wow!!! You're a remarkable student, Maithreyi!! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Thank you for staying connected to BHS. Good luck to you.

  2. That is such a strange idea, but it seemed to work out great for you! I can't imagine making the decision to go to college in less than a year though, going into my junior year now. That seems so intimidating. Thank you for this post!