Name: Chahat Sajnani
University & Graduation Year: Barnard College, Class of 2025
High School: Dubai British School Emirates Hills, Class of 2021
Major/Program: Psychology

1. As a first-year student, what was the biggest surprise about college life? Were there any specific challenges you faced or adjustments you had to make?

As an international student, my first year in New York, a city that is always bustling with people, definitely felt like a culture shock. Besides the city itself, college life in the US was very different from school in Dubai. I think the biggest surprise was the complete independence that I had over my time and schedule. The biggest challenge was finding the right balance between my academics, extracurricular activities, and my mental health. I appreciated the many facilities and programs that my college has in place to support first year students. Realizing how many resources I had access to definitely eased my doubts and worries. Even though the college offered this level of support and guidance, it did not interfere with my newfound sense of independence.

2. What makes your college special? What is your favorite thing about it?

The fact that Barnard College is a women’s college makes its history special. It has a roster full of impressive female alumni who have paved the way for future generations. Another significant advantage of attending Barnard College is its affiliation with Columbia University, which gives me access to an Ivy League university. That said, there is a lot more to Barnard beyond its association with Columbia. Each graduating class in Barnard has just 800 students, which gives us individualized attention from our deans and faculty. A lot of our clubs and societies are also focused on creating a positive impact on the community. For example, one of my favorite programs on campus is Well Woman – a health forum that allows students to take a moment out of their busy schedules to reflect, talk to peer mentors, or even just grab a snack. It is a firm favorite among students, especially during the stressful exam period. I’m also grateful that Barnard has such a close-knit community where everyone feels free to express themselves

3. Are there any misconceptions out there about your college? What would you like to share with students who might be considering applying?

Barnard College was founded at a time when many colleges and universities in the US did not admit women, including Columbia University. Even after the college began its affiliation with Columbia, Barnard decided to remain an all-women, liberal arts college. One of the biggest misconceptions about being at a women’s college is that students only interact with females! In reality, the only time that I actually feel like I am in an all-women’s college is in the dorms. The rest of the time, whether in classes or in clubs, the environment

is very diverse! In fact, Barnard’s Milstein Center library is a popular study spot for many Columbia University students. Another misconception, in my opinion, is about Barnard women being perceived as “snobby,” “rude,” or “competitive.” I have met an amazing, supportive group of women at my college who inspire me every day.

4. Are you involved in any clubs, teams, or other extracurricular activities? If so, tell us how this has shaped your college experience.

This semester I was a part of the McAC (McIntosh Activities Council) team, which is responsible for hosting events for the entire student body. I was also involved with the Wellness Committee. I think that both these clubs were especially beneficial to the student body during winter when the extremely cold weather can be a real downer. As part of the McAC team, I helped organized several indoor activities to ensure that students had opportunities to socialize. My favorite was the Just Dance event, where students could take a break from studying for finals to come to a school-sponsored dance party, with a DJ and food. Planning these activities has allowed me to meet some wonderful people.

5. If you could give your high school self any advice about college admissions, what would you say? Having been through the college admissions process, what is the biggest lesson you learned?

The college admissions process can be brutal! I think it’s important to remember that admissions officers want to know what you are like as a person, not just as a student, so be true to yourself and rather than portraying an image you think they will like. The admissions teams read thousands of applications every year and can tell when someone is not being genuine. My advice is to trust the process, and understand that a college/university will pick you if the admissions team feels that you are the right fit for their institution. It’s important to focus on your academics and activities to the best of your ability and hope that the right school sees a good fit in you!

6. How has COVID altered your college experience? Do you have any specific advice about attending college in the post-pandemic world?

One of the most important things to remember is that you have to respect everyone’s individual boundaries and limits. There are certain individuals who choose to continue to be COVID-aware and limit their interactions for a multitude of reasons. COVID-19 continues to impact certain aspects of college life, however we have learned to move around it and adapt. For example, one of Barnard’s traditions is Midnight Breakfast, a breakfast event organized by McAC at midnight during the exam period. This year, we hosted the event, but ensured that students wore masks and regularly sanitized.

As an international student, COVID-19 worries me mainly when I have to travel home. My advice would be to clearly set and define your boundaries and discuss them with your peers so that they can understand and respect how you feel. In my experience, most people are extremely understanding and supportive!