Book by 2014 grad urges students to discover purpose behind going to the elite colleges they are applying to

November 1, 2018 — by Daniel Bessonov and Ashley Feng

Class of 2014 alum Nikhil Goel recalls the moment he got into Stanford as one of the single-greatest exhilarations of his life.

Four years later, Goel, now a 2018 Stanford University graduate with a computer science degree,  has self-published a 71-page manifesto — “Dreaming of Stanford: How to Rethink High School and the Pursuit of College” — urging students at competitive high schools like SHS to reconsider their motives behind seeking admissions to the nation’s top institutions and showing them a roadmap to greater happiness. He wrote the book with his freshman year roommate, Sanjay Kannan.

The book, Goel said, isn’t a step-by-step guide for students looking to get into prestigious universities. Rather, it’s meant to stress the importance of finding an individual’s unique path. Goel emphasized that he and Kannan want to alleviate some of the unnecessary pressures that exist at competitive high schools, helping readers come to their own conclusions through a framework of difficult but necessary questions.

“Most of all, we want to stress that college is not the end goal,” said Goel.

The book is now available in paperback on Amazon for $9.99, and as an eBook on Amazon and iBooks for $6.99.

The inspiration for the book came from cumbersome, repeated introspection, both during and after high school, he said. The final decision to write it, however, came after a call Goel received in his senior year of college.

“I got a call from a family friend looking to get into Stanford,” Goel said. “And I asked him to tell me about himself. But a few lackadaisical responses later, it was clear he had no idea what he was interested in or why he wanted to go to Stanford.”

Goel was left feeling frustrated and decided to write down his thoughts and ideas about high school and the often mindless pursuit of trying to get into elite colleges.

Goel and Kannan then went to work deconstructing their insights into a succinct manual of advice for current high schoolers.

“Starting late sophomore year of high school, there were a lot of questions that were going in infinite loop in my head,” Goel said. “How do I define success? Am I spending my time correctly? After the call, I decided to finally put down six years’ worth of ideas onto paper.”

The book provides systematic approaches for students seeking to figure out what they want to do based on how many interests they have. There’s the “scattershot approach,” which consists of working through a list of everything a student might even remotely be interested in; the “1-month approach,” which investigates how to decide between a few, competing interests; and the “moonshot approach,” which encourages students who already have a particular interest or two to master them.

The book also emphasizes the importance of students betting on themselves and their own interests. Often, according to Goel, students will attempt to fit themselves to an invisible mold, meant to set them on a path to some externally prescribed notion of success. What students have to understand, however, is that the circumstances they grow up in are likely drastically different than those of their parents; although parents mean best and want the best for their kids, the “mold for success” they so often preach likely doesn’t exist.

As both a Saratoga alum and Stanford graduate, Goel hopes that his age and background will give weight to his advice.

“Back when I was in high school, all the advice I got about relaxing and taking it easy from my parents, teachers, and counselors went right over my head. I had a mentality of ‘they didn’t go to high school in the Bay Area, so what do they know?’” Goel said. “But since I’ve both graduated from SHS and went to one of these schools, I hope that I can be someone that people listen to and relate to.”
Goel hopes that the book will help students shape their own futures and put things into perspective.

“If a student goes through the steps outlined in the book, and arrives at the conclusion that Stanford is still their dream school, all the more power to them,” said Goel. “But the real value in the book is getting rid of the voice in the back of your head that says, ‘what if?’ You should do things because you want to, not because of external influences like teachers or parents. Ultimately, you get into Stanford, spend four years there, but what happens after you graduate?”

 

 

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