Name:Dishti Gopalani
University & Graduation Year: Vassar College – Class of 2025
High School: Repton School Dubai
Major/Program: Economics & English

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?

The biggest surprise about college for me was the structure of our classes. Before starting at Vassar, I imagined college classes taking place in a massive lecture hall with hundreds of students and one professor. To find myself in a twenty-person class, which is considered large by Vassar standards, was definitely shocking! Even though it is not the ‘quintessential’ college class’ experience, I really love being in a small group where my voice can be heard and I am able to genuinely connect with the professor and my peers. I suppose the one downside is that you can’t really skip class without reason, but hey we’re here to learn.

Initially, It was challenging to live in Poughkeepsie. My life in Dubai was always so packed with work and social commitments that the contrast of moving to a small town environment where I didn’t know anybody took its toll on me. I dealt with it by learning how to slow down, branching out socially, and keeping busy by joining committees and organizations associated with topics I am passionate about. I also kept a gratitude journal. I’m nearly two years into college now, and I can truthfully say it feels like home away from home, and there’s no place I’d rather be.

2. If you could do your first year/term of college again, what changes would you make and why?

I would have attended clubs and organization meetings more consistently. I’m currently on the board for Vassar Finance Club but I wasn’t an active part of it during my first term. If I had been, I would have made some amazing, like-minded friends earlier on. While I have a wonderful set of friends from orientation, I think it would have helped me to have friends with whom I could discuss topics related to finance, etc . Definitely join clubs you are passionate about and seek out like-minded people from the very beginning!

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

Vassar’s charm is definitely in its people. Everyone is so friendly; so willing to help out and have a conversation even if they have only just met you. Faculty, professors, and students alike have your best interests at heart, and it really shows in the way that we treat one another.

My favorite thing about Vassar, apart from the people, is its campus. Due to COVID, I didn’t get the chance to visit before orientation, so I had only seen it online. It kept coming up on ‘Top 50 Most Beautiful Campuses’ lists and honestly, I couldn’t see why based on the photographs. Now that I get to see it in person, I definitely agree. Nothing I’ve seen can beat the view of our quad after the snow, or the top floor of the library when it’s sunny.

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

The most common misconception about Vassar is that it’s a women’s college. While it was historically a women’s college, and is still part of the Seven Sisters, it went co-educational a while ago. I would say we have a good balance of men and women today – if you’re a man and are apprehensive about applying because you don’t think you’ll find a lot of male friends, I can assure you that they are not at all difficult to meet.

For any students that may be on the fence about applying, allow me to do a quick pitch – I have found that no matter who you are, Vassar has a place for you. I think that often people don’t feel like they can fit in here unless they fit the ‘scholarly and academic introvert’ caricature that is stereo-typically expected from our student body.

Don’t get me wrong, if that’s your crowd, you will love it here – I’ve met people who read sociological studies for fun, so there’s no lack of intellectuals. But I’ve also met gamers, models, hardcore partiers, film enthusiasts, and everything in between. All Vassar asks is that you come in with a friendly face and a curious mind, and it will welcome you in with open arms.

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

I am on the board for the Finance Club, Finance Committee, and Business Club. The meetings are probably some of my favorite parts of the week – I love discussing the things I’m passionate about, and I feel like I have learnt an immeasurable amount through my involvement in these clubs. It’s also a very social environment, and I have met some of my closest friends through them! And since we do a lot of events, I also get to meet really cool alumni nearly every week.

6. 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?

Just be yourself. There were definitely things I did in high school that were solely for college admissions – I wasn’t particularly passionate, and I went in half-heartedly, but I felt like I had to because I read that ‘this activity got x amount of students into Ivy Leagues!’ or ‘this is the one thing you HAVE to put on your college application.’ At the end of the day, if everybody does that one activity, it won’t set you apart at all. Investing in a hobby or a club that you love will not only give your application a unique edge, but it will make you happier than doing something that is not authentic for you. Do what feels right, and what is meant for you will come to you.

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

Thankfully my college experience has not been altered by COVID – at most I have had Zoom classes when a professor has tested positive. Therefore, I don’t have much advice to give – just take advantage of all the resources available online! There have been so many platforms, Youtube channels, and tools that have come into existence since the pandemic forced education online, so explore what’s out there.

8. In hindsight, was there any class you did or activity you participated in high school that especially helped prepare you for college?

Leading my school’s charity club and starting a food-aid organization was among the most meaningful experiences I’ve had, and it definitely helped me out in college. Those leadership positions were ones that, naturally, I had to take very seriously and invest lots of time and effort into. I feel like I’ve carried that work ethic and the soft skills I developed into all the other organizations I’m part of on campus, even if I may not be the sole leader anymore. The organizational and managerial ability has really worked in my favor for group projects too.

9. What has been your most memorable experience or activity of your college career so far? It can be academic or non-academic.

I would say that participating and winning the National Yale Hindi Debate has been the highlight so far. I started taking Hindi in college because I wanted to learn how to read and write, as well as gain fluency. I have never been particularly confident in my Hindi language abilities, and it always made me feel a little culturally disconnected. This was the first time that Vassar would be participating in the national debate, so I signed up just for the practice and to enjoy the experience. Although my teacher and I worked quite hard on my speech, I never expected to win – when the judges announced that I was Best Speaker, it had to be one of the proudest moments of the past two years.