MILPITAS, Calif. — Hundreds of high school students throughout the San Francisco Bay Area gathered at the India Community Center here to get a leg up in the college admissions process Oct. 8 at India-West’s fifth annual McDonald’sEducation Expo and College Fair.

The event, held in conjunction with education consulting company Synocate, allowed students and their parents — primarily from the Indian American community — to get a better perspective of what to expect with the college admissions process and some companies they can turn to as an aid to propel their chances at getting into a top-tier institution.

Among the vendors that had booths at the event, attended by more than 700 people, included Synocate (partner), Wells Fargo Bank (gold sponsor), Insight Education (gold sponsor), Ilumin Education (silver sponsor), FLEX College Prep, U.C. Eazy, Mindful Test Taking, ID Tech, Prep Expert, Zenith Tutoring and Marcella De Laurentiis.

Many of the vendors in various rooms throughout the ICC were also holding speeches, panels, one-on-one meetings and assessment tests concurrently with the daylong expo.

Additionally, a number of dignitaries and keynote speeches were held in the ICC main hall, giving the event-goers an all-encompassing opportunity to inundate themselves with information to establish solid footing as they begin the admissions process.

Among the dignitaries included a representative from Congressman Ro Khanna’s office, Milpitas City Councilman Bob Nunez, Fremont City Councilman Raj Salwan, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health chief medical officer Dr. Vanila Singh, and California state Assemblyman Ash Kalra.

Singh, in her remarks, told the students to “dare to be great” and “be outside the box,” adding that the people in Washington, D.C., are extremely interested in the minds coming out of the Bay Area.

“Education only enhances your ability. But you are your ability. You can go and achieve anything,” she said. “Think independently for yourself. Be willing to go against the herd. Education, embrace it, love it, it’s just the beginning. It isn’t just you, it’s what you make of it.”

Kalra noted the importance of education and how the youth can help the community grow.

“Our young people are extraordinary and we have to give them the space and opportunity to find their own way,” the first-time assemblyman said. “I can almost guarantee that they are all going to be OK, especially if we give them the opportunity to find out what it is that we’re passionate about.”

Salwan, meanwhile, noted that “education is the great equalizer,” in commending all the organizations involved to put the event together, adding that he looks forward to supporting the event in the future, pushing hopefully to have it once again in Fremont. The fourth annual expo was held at the Fremont Marriott Hotel.

Also speaking at the event was Miss Silicon Valley Sabina Chaudhuri. The Indian American pageant winner, who also serves as a Cisco Systems employee, brought immense energy to the main hall as she explained to the students and parents what it takes to be successful.

Chaudhuri said she enters every day with three goals: lend a helping hand, always try to put a smile on other people’s faces, and do something today that will make tomorrow you proud. Additionally, she advised students to take on challenges, be a risk taker, have an open mind, give back, seize the day and be selfless.

Throughout the event, many heads of the companies which were vendors at the event had keynote addresses.

College admissions counseling and SAT test prep and tutoring company Insight Education, one of the vendors and a gold sponsor of the expo, provided keynote speeches and other helpful information to the attendees at the event.

Ajit Jain, Indian American co-owner of Insight, as well as senior counselor, explained how Insight can give students the guidance to help them achieve their college dreams.

“At Insight, we impress upon students the importance of thinking ahead to what their college application will look like on submission day,” Jain said. “Take control of the process and ask yourself what you would like the heart of your college application to be, and take the necessary steps throughout high school to make that a reality.”

Ilumin Education chief executive officer Elton Lin served as another keynote speaker at the expo. Lin explained how Ilumin, another admissions consulting and counseling company, breaks down admissions.

In his speech, he pushed students to consider the early application process to boost their chances at getting into a college they aspire to attend. He noted that to stand out more, when applying for a specific major, focus their high-school career on related activities. To do that, he added that a student should hone in on the major early in the process.

“Colleges are looking for unique individuals for a well-rounded classroom, not necessarily a well-rounded student,” Lin stressed.

Synocate founder Ishan Puri explained the importance of specificity with regard to a student’s activities throughout high school to get an advantage with their applications.

Puri said his view of the process is a pyramid structure that gives the bulk of importance to academics, next more to activities, and least, but also relevant, to a student’s vision. All those put together lead to what Puri says is a student’s one-sentence about the person. “Build your story,” he said.

Also speaking at the event in the main hall were Casey Galindo of Wells Fargo, who explained the student loan and financial aid process with the attendees; Grayson Giovine of Zenith Tutoring, who meticulously broke down the differences between the SAT and ACT tests; and Marcella de Laurentiis, a former admissions reader and interviewer who now runs, explaining an insider’s perspective of what colleges look for in applicants.

The daylong event was emceed by India-West publisher Ramesh Murarka and also featured a McDonald’s booth with interactive games.

(See separate photo-spread in this week’s issue for additional photos.)

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