KARACHI : For a large chunk of international students there is nothing more satiating than when your family back home actually recognises the name of the university that you tussled so hard to get into. And let’s face it, Ivy League colleges characteristically fit the bill.
Ivy “Harvard, always Harvard!” says Zil Lakhani, without hesitation when asked which university is the most popular amongst her students and their parents. Zil is the CEO and Founder of The Edvisory, an educational consultancy that helps students gain admission to top tier undergraduate and graduate programmes in the US, the UK and Canada.
“Unfortunately, only a handful of students each year have a realistic shot at gaining admission to Harvard, but we believe in getting students into ‘great match’ colleges – for some students, these may be Ivy League universities, but others would be better off going to smaller, liberal arts colleges or possibly more focused programmes in Canada or the UK,” shared Zil, adding, “Since we only work with a limited number of students every year, we get to know them well enough to truly understand what kind of college environment they will thrive in.”
Herself a double Harvard graduate, she completed her undergraduate studies at Harvard College, and was then admitted directly to Harvard Law School, where she graduated as the youngest member of her graduating class. It’s not surprising that Zil has very quickly established herself as the go-to consultant for Karachi’s most ambitious parents, all of whom are looking to give their children every advantage possible in the increasingly competitive college admissions rat race.
Most of The Edvisory’s students come from Karachi Grammar School, Karachi American School, Nixor College, the British Overseas School, and the Lyceum School. The firm’s Dubai office, which was just launched last month, advises students from Dubai College, Jumeirah English Speaking School, the American School of Dubai, Dubai American Academy, Repton, Jumeirah College, Wellington International School, and the International School of Choueifat, among others. In addition, The Edvisory works with a number of students who go to boarding schools in the UK and Switzerland such as Malvern College, Sevenoaks School, Millfield School, and Aiglon College. The firm even counseled a handful of students based in Thailand over the past year.
“The reason we attract students from all over the world is because of our signature 4-day college application boot camps, which take place in the summer or early fall of the year our students apply to college,” explains Zil. During the boot camps, the students are taught to write all their main college application essays, and educate them on application strategies, interviews, and recommendations. We also work with them, both individually and in small groups, to complete their UK, US, and Canadian applications. “These are the only boot camps in the world that, to my knowledge, cover the admissions processes of all three countries,” confirms Zil.
She assures, “Students leave the boot camps with between 60-80% of their applications completed and we carry on working with these students one-on-one until they matriculate at their top choice universities. Because we have a boot camp centric model, we can work with students from all over the world – most of our students attend one of our Karachi or Dubai boot camps.”
Prior to starting The Edvisory in 2014, Zil served as a Harvard alumni interviewer for nearly a decade. It was during this time that she realised there was a legitimate need for credible, independent college admissions advice: “Year after year, I interviewed brilliant students, head boys and head girls of all the top schools in the country. It became very clear to me that there was a difference between a top student and a top applicant and that, for a variety of reasons, the country’s best students simply did not know how to present themselves from a college admissions perspective.”
After stumbling upon this realisation, Zil earned her college counseling certification from Rice University and went to work setting up The Edvisory and coming up with material for the firm’s boot camps. Since its founding, The Edvisory’s students have been admitted to Harvard University, Stanford University, Brown University, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Cambridge University, Amherst College, Pomona College, UC-Berkeley, the LSE, the University of Warwick, Imperial College London, McGill University, the University of Toronto, and a host of other competitive colleges and universities.
“In the last year, we have raised over US$ 2.5 million in merit scholarship money- none of these students applied for financial aid, so that really is saying something.” Zil adds emphatically: “I don’t want to give the impression that we only work with affluent families. For students with financial need, we have recently launched our Edvisory Owls Internship Programme that allows socially connected A1 students to earn free counseling. We have also started the Qamar Hasib Memorial Scholarship, the recipients of which are given our college counseling services gratis. We’ve already awarded our Dubai scholarship to an exceedingly talented Dubai College student, but are still receiving applications for our Karachi scholarship.”
The firm is expanding its UK application services for the upcoming year. Daniya Sardar, who heads the firm’s UCAS and UK foundation programme counseling, elaborates, “This year we are offering comprehensive testing and interview preparation services for our Oxbridge and Russell Group applicants. These services will be offered through a network of UK-based tutors with extensive experience in testing and interviews. We are the only consultancy in the region currently offering these services. In light of the recent A level reforms and Cambridge University’s new mandatory reasoning test, it is very important for applicants to pay close attention to testing. Also, no matter where they’re applying to university, we always advise our students to explore their passions in terms of the courses they select and look at university as an opportunity to grow, try out new things and be the best version of themselves.”
When enquired as to how The Edvisory differentiates itself from its competitors, Zil shared, “We’re different. Since we limit the amount of students we take on every year, we are able to shower our students with attention and this leads to applications that end up being highly unique and very focused from an academic perspective. As a result, our students stand out. Also, the fact we have bases in both Karachi and Dubai allows us to interact very closely with all our students in person, and on a one-to-one basis.
In addition, we truly are a one-stop shop and have depth in the UK, US, and Canadian university application processes. This is particularly important given the fact that many students are looking into applying to Canadian and UK universities as secondary or alternate jurisdictions this year given the general anxiety over President Trump and his immigration reforms – so far, the US is still our most popular study abroad destination.
As to how discreet is the agency, Zil clarified, “You don’t see the names of our students plastered on our walls or on our Facebook page. We respect the privacy of our students and their families and never disclose who we are working with in order to market ourselves.”
In hearing Zil speak, what becomes clear is The Edvisory’s genuine commitment to its students: “We grow very attached to our students. We speak to them all the time and, even after they go off to college, they come back and visit us during their holidays. We spend countless hours with them, helping them navigate a period in their life that is highly stressful and anxiety-ridden. In writing their essays, they’re forced to lay themselves bare and talk about things they don’t share with even their closest friends. Nothing is more satisfying that seeing them grow into confident adults who are leading purposeful and fulfilling lives.”
The Edvisory has a limited number of counseling seats available to rising seniors who will be applying to college in Fall 2017 and is also signing on students that are in their first and second years of high school. To find out more, visit their Facebook page at www.edvisory.net or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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