Published: 27th November 2019
This Oxford University graduate can help you find the perfect course, as per your strengths!
Namita Mehta has established an institute that helps aspiring students identify the right kind of university to pursue their academics abroad
It’s that time of the year when aspiring students in India are desperately trying to secure their admissions at prestigious universities abroad. Whether it’s an MS in the US or an MBA in the UK, it isn’t exactly easy to finalise the institute that you really want. What if a team of professionals could do that for you? What if they identified the courses that suited you the best, made a list of the best universities suited to your interests and even gave you training on how to prepare for it? Enter The Red Pen, a novel education company that brings out the scholar in you. We speak to its President, Namita Mehta, to learn more about their modus operandi. Excerpts:
Tell us about The Red Pen?
The Red Pen is an independent global education consulting company that advises applicants to identify best-fit educational options at the school, university and postgraduate level. Additionally, we help high schools develop a student-focused, scalable university counselling infrastructure that addresses the academic needs of varied communities. Since our inception, The Red Pen has supported over 5,000 students with admissions around the world – be it Ivy League universities, M7 business programs, global management and technical Master’s programmes, specialised colleges, small liberal arts institutions or boarding schools.
What kind of system/module/methodology is followed at The Red Pen?
At The Red Pen, all students are assigned a consultant who serves as their main point of contact. However, to ensure that we give the best advice to our applicants, we employ a team-based approach. We are a collaborative organisation and have processes in place to ensure that managers, along with the management, are involved in key steps of the process.
What are the programmes that are offered at your establishment?
We have six distinct service lines at The Red Pen — Early Advising, Boarding School, Undergraduate, Postgraduate, MBA and Institutional Support. Each vertical has a manager and a team. We do not teach students anything, we counsel them to find the best-fit institution for their needs. We recently launched a mentorship programme where we conduct workshops on various topics such as critical thinking, résumé creation, interview preparation, introduction to STEM, amongst others, outside the classroom. Besides offering educational advice, our mentorship students are also gaining these critical skills which will help them in their onward educational journeys.
The Red Pen also offers several information sessions on subject selection, the difference between curricula, understanding the global higher education market and more. We believe in conducting large-scale sessions to share our knowledge with as many people as possible. We have conducted these sessions in eminent and landmark locations like the National Stock Exchange as well as sports clubs, schools, colleges, exhibitions in India and abroad.
The trio: The founders of The Red Pen believe that each student is unique, and that they should pursue those courses that cater to their academic interests
What makes The Red Pen stand out from other similar companies?
At The Red Pen, we employ a collaborative team approach. We leverage our consultants’ experience and knowledge to serve our clients. We are also process-orientated, which ensures that nothing falls through the cracks. We have been one of the pioneers in the education consulting space in using various technology-based tools, one of which is a project management system called ‘Cialfo’. We also keep ourselves updated with what is happening in the education space by attending conferences, speaking with admissions officers and personally visiting campuses ourselves. The Red Pen adheres to strict ethical norms. We do not write essays for our students, nor do we accept any kickbacks from universities for placing students. We are an independent education firm and have memberships in prestigious organisations like AIGAC, IECA and IACAC.
Do you have any partnerships or associations?
The Red Pen has many partners. We work with sports consultant CASE, who specialise in sports admissions, Curiosity Gym, a leader in the market space, Indian Raga, a global community of performing arts, and others. We also work with several summer school providers; programmes that we carefully vet before recommending them to our students.
Tell us about the ACT exams.
The ACT is a standardised test used for college admissions in the United States. It is divided into four sections. In the past, if you wanted to retake the exam, you had to redo all the sections. The new rule allows students to retake a particular section. This is a benefit as students can retake only the sections in which they need to improve, rather than the full test. But it is also a disadvantage as this will cause students to take the test multiple times, hoping to improve each section each time. This is not only expensive but wastes a lot of time as students will be more focused on ‘improving their score’ rather than improving high school grades or working on extracurricular activities, which are also key components in the application process.
The team at The Red Pen appears to consist mostly of women. Is there any specific reason for this?
The company’s employees are 65% women at every level, from top to bottom of the talent pipeline. The organisation focuses on offering favourable opportunities and maintains flexibility in meeting the specific needs of women returning to work. Having said that, when it comes to work, we are very serious about not living up to the stereotype of ‘women conducting a hobby business’. We affirm that maintaining high standards of professionalism, discipline, quality of work, responsibility and accountability are critical expectations of every employee.
What are your immediate plans?
We plan to grow The Red Pen into a global brand, partnering with likeminded individuals to offer our services to students all around the world. We have already moved in that direction by partnering with Sneha Mehta and have opened an office in Nairobi, which will give us access to the whole East African market. I look forward to engaging in similar partnerships in the domestic and global canvas in the future.
What is the Indian education system currently like?
The Indian and British education system is very similar. Both systems encourage students to choose a stream/major early on and study it in-depth. This is very different from the US education system, which promotes holistic learning and breadth of study rather than depth. British universities are currently, however, a lot more diverse, have more research opportunities and receive much higher funding than Indian ones.
What are the challenges that the next generation of Indian students will face in the upcoming years?
With the rapid disruptions in economy and technology, young Indians face an uphill task of constant adaptation and being future-ready. While the higher education sector is slowly but surely adapting to more global trends such as liberal arts degrees, the gap between the recruiter’s mentality and the holistic mindset of these students will need to be filled. At the school level, it is important for educators to focus on consistently building on the students’ core skill-sets, such as collaboration and critical thinking, regardless of the school’s board. The education system across the various boards needs to inculcate the ‘want’ to learn, one that makes students self-reliant. Schools need to move away from rote-learning and the ‘tuition culture’ to encourage reading, writing and lateral thinking. This will help instill future-readiness among young India.
PM Narendra Modi, in a recent election manifesto, has promised to ‘make more foreign students come to India to study,’ as opposed to sending Indian students abroad. What are your thoughts on this?
Indian students prefer to study abroad due to the holistic learning environment, campus life and better job opportunities. By gaining international work experience, they become more attractive to Indian employers if they choose to return home. In countries such as the US, the curriculum is more flexible. Students do not need to declare what they want to major in until the end of their second year of college and, therefore, students can explore different subjects before deciding what they want to major in. Colleges in the US also have great research opportunities.
Even though India has some world-renowned institutions such as the IITs and IIMs, the acceptance rates are extremely low, leading to fierce competition, both for Indian and international students. Apart from this, the education system in India is still restrictive as compared to many international destinations. Many state exams consist of rote-learning and memorising facts rather than application of concepts. While there are some colleges that are moving towards a more holistic and liberal arts-based education, making them attractive to both Indian and international students, there are still improvements to be made until India is seen as a global study destination.