Advice to College Hopefuls: Start Planning In Eighth Grade

Community News

MCC Seminar Brings Real World College, Career Advice to Youth

Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association, in collaboration with the MCC Youth, arranged a College Admissions & Career Guidance Seminar on May 31, 2014 for middle school and high school students at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Springs, MD.

Previously, the organization has held similar workshops with packed audiences at the Islamic Center of Maryland, the Islamic Society of Frederick and at MCC.

The panel was a mix of professionals and current students, from Ivy Leagues to local state institutions.

Sayed Naved led the panel; he is the President of Banyan Technology Solutions and of the association. He studied engineering at University of Maryland and in 2010, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley appointed Naved to the Maryland State Board of Education.

He is a current member and former Chair of the ICM Board of Trustees. He also served as Principal of the ICM Sunday School.

Sarah Mir, Esq., an attorney with the Law Offices of Hass Bashir, LLC, where her practice focuses on divorce, child custody, and domestic violence in Montgomery, Frederick, and Prince George’s Counties, also sat on the panel.

Mir was raised in Maryland and is a graduate of Connelly School in Potomac, Maryland. She studied at the George Washington University and received her JD degree from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.

Minhaj Siddiqui, a cancer surgeon and an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland Medical School completed his undergraduate studies in Chemical Engineering and Biology from MIT and then attended medical school at Harvard. Siddiqui, a pre-med adviser for MIT who enjoys working in career guidance, also sat on the panel.

Another panelist, Irma Hashmi is currently pursuing the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree. A graduate of Centennial High School, she moved several times and spoke about her experience adjusting to new school environments. “I realized that I needed to adapt quickly,” she shared.

She studied at University of Maryland, Baltimore County where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Modern Languages and Linguistics. “I want to be pre med, but also wanted to [explore] outside the world of science; to develop skills make sure you take classes outside your field,” she said.

Rabia Ahmad is a rising senior majoring in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology at Loyola University.  Ahmad was raised in Anne Arundel County and is a graduate of Roland Park County School in Baltimore, MD.

Some of the panelists had experience as exchange students: Ahmad studied at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and Hashmi at the University of Malaysia. They discussed their experiences and how it broadened their vision and helped them become better students.

Bilal Naved, a senior majoring in Bioengineering at University of Maryland College Park, is a member of the Integrated Life Sciences Honors Program has contributed to many of AMU’s panels. He started with an icebreaker about his favorite book, the Great Gatsby, where reality, dreams and a little magic intersect. He played with invisible deck with a middle schooler to stimulate the audience’s imagination and encourage them to actualize an idea into reality.

S. Naved, who moderated the panel, explained the college admissions process and the importance of the complete application. “They don’t see you or meet you, they make the determination if you will be accepted or not based on the application. That [college] application should be reflecting you.”

The panelists agreed that students need a game plan and should start planning for college starting from 8th grade on. They should know when they are going to take the SAT or ACT exam (latest October of senior year) and who will give them references.

Naved said that there is no substitute for good grades. An automatic sort is done by computer programs to categorize students according to their GPA.  He urged the students take as many AP courses and participate in extra curricular activities ie. sports, and SSL hours (volunteers hours).

Volunteering is an important part of development of a student. It helps develop skills and reflects your commitment to the community.

The attendees elaborated on their internships and volunteer experiences. Bilal volunteers at Montgomery General Hospital and has volunteered abroad in medical clinics in rural villages of Ecuador.

Internships and volunteering also give the student opportunities to meet people who can mentor them and give them references and provide work experience.  They can help narrow down where one wants to work after they graduate, conveyed Ahmed, as she reassured a father in the audience whose daughter was trying out several different internships in high school as the variety of experiences helps students find potential careers. She herself has interned both in a school and hospital setting.

Being an active member of a wide variety of clubs in schools shows diversity in an applicant. And rounds up the candidate’s application and personality, advised the panel. Actively involved in student and dorm government and his college Muslim Student Association, Dr Siddiqui said this experience helped him grow.

Develop your writing skills, suggested Hashmi, as the essay is an integral part of the college application. A good essay has a good story.

“You build upon your life story [and they] want you be candid. Let [the admissions office] learn more about you in your essay.”

Siddiqui had a lot of success in his academic career. In high school, he enjoyed playing basketball, and didn’t graduate at the top of his class, but says that he had great mentors. He competed in many science and debate competitions and says that those activities help push a candidate up to the next level.

“Develop what you are good at,” stressed Dr Siddiqui. Aside from good SAT scores and AP and honors classes, he conducted research in tissue engineering and believes that is what got him the admission into the prestigious schools he attended. “I did something interesting.”

He stated that it should not be the expectation that everyone will attend Harvard Medical School. Answering a question from the audience, he said that if a student will excel in a state school than that institute may be a better choice for him or her than an Ivy League, where competition s cut-throat.

Bilal Naved said he dabbled in a million and explained the difference between interests and passions. “You will know when you have found your passion; you will dream about it at night,” he stated.

A key issue discussed was that the Muslim community cannot continue producing just doctors and engineers, if we want to have an integrated community. Muslims communities need students in diverse fields to fill the needs of the Muslims and of other faiths.

Alternate careers were discussed. Ahmed shared that she started out as a premed student doing several internships at the NIH, but once she experienced college, she realized that her passion lay elsewhere. She has a sister who is autistic and decided to study speech pathology.

The panel was well received by the audience. Homeschoolers, Islamic School students as well as students from other private and public schools attended the forum.

The Imam of MCC reminded the audience to also consider the final destination in the after life and make sure all career choices reflect Islamic values and bring the student closer to God.

An attendee did complain about the lack of ethnic diversity in the panel, as they were all of South Asian background.  Since the sponsoring organization was an educational institute from South Asian, others in the audience understood.  But the references to the immigrant experience made some convert and indigenous Muslims feel excluded from the discussion. The organizers listened to the suggestions and appreciated the feedback. When communities intersect at forums of mutual interest, that is when understanding is fostered and needs are evaluated.

The panelists discussed career options and their experiences of parental involvement in their career and school choices.  The panel did include a young man who had dropped out of university to follow his artistic passion and was successful. One panelist said that she was forced into a medical career by her parents and was not given an option.

Mir said that she didn’t plan on becoming an attorney. She created a resume for herself while in school and chose activities that aided her making her resume robust, which included journalism, starting a book club, and managing her high school volleyball team. Along the way she realized that she wanted to study law. She completed law school while juggling marriage, babies, and helping her mother set up and run an assisted living center.

A major takeaway for the students attending was that hard work, passion, and a commitment to the community can reap rewards academically.