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Personalised LORs go a long way: MIT scholar advises study abroad aspirants

Alumna of Apeejay School, Pitampura, Ritika Sethi, shares her learnings



She is a dedicated and driven scholar whose educational journey has been marked by a profound commitment to learning and deep passion for the cosmos. From the very inception of academic life at Apeejay School, Pitampura, Ritika Sethi (23), forged enduring friendships and found unwavering support from an exceptional cadre of educators.

Through the trials of classes XI and XII, it was mentors in the school who provided solace and guidance to her, transforming the school into a sanctuary of both intellectual and emotional growth. Following this foundational experience, the scholar embarked on a remarkable trajectory, discovering an uncharted passion for astronomy that would shape the course of their academic pursuits.

Bolstered by supportive parents, she delved into the field, ultimately earning a coveted spot in the esteemed Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune. There, she honed their skills and values, setting the stage for a remarkable academic journey that would ultimately lead to a coveted acceptance at MIT’s Kavli Institute for a PhD. Embarking on this new chapter, she is poised to make indelible contributions over the next five years and beyond.

Edited excerpts from an interview.

Tell us about your journey.

I joined Apeejay School, Pitampura in kindergarten. I have been lucky to have had an extremely supportive environment in the school. Especially, in classes XI and XII, I underwent a very difficult phase in my life. During that time, my teachers encouraged me. Soon, they became like my extended family and words can never express how much they have helped me grow.

After completing my schooling with Apeejay, I wanted to pursue a course in Engineering. But the time period between JEE results and Boards, came as an eye-opener for me. In that time, I explored something that till date fuels my curiosity: Astronomy!

Even as a child, I felt fascinated towards the night sky and the million stars in it. So, along with one of my friends, I decided to pursue some course in the said field. Thankfully, we found something and soon began to take some lectures.

Did you find your calling at that time?

Yes. My mother was supportive of my endeavours. She boosted my confidence to register for an entrance exam at IISER, Pune. In about 20 days, I brushed up my knowledge and revised all the concepts. Luckily, I got a chance to be part of the prestigious institute. There, I took up the five-year BS-MS programme which is the flagship programme of the IISERs. It aims to integrate the conventional bachelors and masters programmes into a more holistic experience, bringing together conventional disciplines in the biological, chemical, physical, earth sciences and mathematics.

The college taught me some lessons for life and with it I carried the values learnt at Apeejay. I tried to give my best to the course. During the fifth year, I got a chance to be part of a project at Ohio State University, US too.  

Was doing a PhD always on the charts?

After getting an opportunity at Ohio, I was keen to pursue a PhD degree abroad. Credit to my experiences at Apeejay, I had sports, leadership skills, academics and co-curriculars in my profile already. I nurtured the same during my college.

Steadily, I began getting acceptance from some of the institutes. But I wanted something more. Finally, I received an email from MIT for acceptance to their programme. I recall, it was about 3-4 am and I woke up my mother in excitement. Later, I informed my friends and teachers, they were happy too. I started my session on September 1, 2023.

For those aspiring to study abroad, your tips?

Prepare in advance. Deadlines are usually at the end of November or early December for most universities. Hence, start from September onwards. In the US, most universities are keen to take in those who are balanced achievers. So, proof of leadership skills, social work, international or national-level competitions must be included.

Besides, the process of writing SoPs must go hand-in-hand with the letters of recommendation (LoRs). A personalised LoR will go a long way. With this, having a diverse set of people recommending you is crucial. So, take two such from the course advisor and next from someone who can vouch for your extra-curricular abilities.

In addition to this, adding a personal experience to the SoPs will help as well. I strongly recommend adding work or research-based experiences. The SOP should address the bigger questions of your work. And, in case one has teaching experience, that’s quite good to highlight. You must mention, in case, some work has been published with your name. Finally, never copy others’ SoP.  

Your expectations from the upcoming days at MIT?

I am very happy! I hope to make my teachers and family proud. This is a crucial chapter of my life. I am looking forward to collaborating with fellow scholars from other departments for my academic pursuits.  

Mrini Devnani is a Principal Correspondent and Marketing Coordinator at Newsroom. She covers student achievements, conducts interviews, and contributes content to the website. Previously, she served as a Correspondent specialising in Edu-tech for the India Today Group. Her skill areas extend to Social Media and Digital Marketing. For any inquiries or correspondence, you can reach out to her at [email protected].

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