Varun Sikand ’18 had plenty of reasons to celebrate last spring, as he was admitted to six Ivy League Universities (Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth) as well as Duke, Johns Hopkins, William & Mary, and waitlisted at Stanford. In addition to these remarkable acceptances, Varun was one of 36 students selected as a finalist for Duke University’s A.B. Memorial Scholarship (awarded to the top .097% of students who applied)and he was admitted to Columbia University as a likely candidate- accepted in early March as a John Jay Scholar. “My guidance counselor, Mr. Adam Materasso [Dean of College Counseling and Student Services], was extremely influential in my college process, and without him I do not think I would have had the same results,” said Varun. Dr. Vandna Sikand, Varun’s mother, shared, “The college office is there to guide you from the beginning, not just when you sit down to apply for colleges. They recognize what the students need and work to provide it.” What makes Ranney’s college counseling experience unique is that it starts before ninth grade with predictive scheduling, supports students through college selection and applications and does not end with their acceptances. Varun’s College counselor Mr. Materasso meticulously guided Varun to really consider all of his wonderful options carefully before deciding with confidence to matriculate at Yale.
As Varun developed his college profile, he took full advantage of Ranney’s student-centered, flexible approach by petitioning to drop a foreign language so that he could add computer science and more AP classes. In addition, Ranney supported Varun’s passion for history by giving him the flexibility to commute into New York City twice a week during his senior year to participate in an internship with The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. As part of his internship, Varun assisted with the Teaching Literacy through History Professional Development program, conducted research projects at the New York Historical Society, and published articles on the Institute’s website.
In addition to receiving a stellar education in the Ranney classroom, Varun took advantage of Ranney’s vast student Activities program. He was a four year member and Captain of Ranney’s highly competitive varsity History Bowl team, finishing at Nationals as a quarterfinalist in 2017 and a semifinalist in 2018. This past July, Varun continued to represent Ranney at the 2018 International History Olympiad in Germany where he received a bronze medal competing against 22 countries. Varun was also the founder of Ranney’s chapter of National History Day and competed throughout high school at the local and state levels. In addition, under the mentorship of English Chairman Doug Felter, Varun was Captain of Ranney’s Academic team and led the Varsity team to Nationals in Atlanta. As a Ranney Scholar- athlete Varun played varsity golf for four years and varsity soccer for two years. Varun was a New Jersey Scholars Program finalist, an AP Scholar with Distinction, and a member of the National, History, Spanish, Math, and Science Honor Societies.
One of the hallmarks of a Ranney education is the nurturing faculty, who strive to know and value every child to help them reach their full potential. Varun shared: “Because of (History faculty) Mrs. Curry’s unwavering encouragement to pursue history beyond the walls of her classroom, my passion for the subject blossomed in all directions.” During his summer before his senior year, Varun attended the “Introduction to the Digital Humanities” course at Stanford University’s Pre-collegiate Summer Institute, and continued his research remotely throughout his senior year. The summer between sophomore and junior year, Varun participated in the competitive Waksman Student Scholars Program which selected 35 high school students to conduct an authentic research project in molecular biology and bioinformatics. This research experience ultimately resulted in Varun’s publication of his gene sequences in the NCBI database.
In this established pattern, it is no surprise that when Mrs. Curry introduced her AP US History class to the Knights of Labor, Varun became immensely interested and spent many months researching and writing a paper on this topic. Through his research, Varun was excited to discover The Concord Review, the only journal that publishes history papers of secondary students (publishing only 6% of submissions from 50 states and 40 countries). After months of writing and editing, Varun submitted his paper and was selected to be published in the summer 2018 issue. In addition to this great achievement, the editor of The Concord Review awarded Varun with the “Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize” for showing, “outstanding promise in history at the high school level.”
Varun has carried what he is passionate about to college, competing on the club golf team at Yale, competing on the Quiz Bowl team and is involved with the Yale Political Union. Varun discovered his talents and interests on Ranney’s campus, but because of the skills and confidence he developed as a life-long Panther, he was able to easily continue his extracurricular involvement at an Ivy League college. Varun echoed the sentiments of many returning alumni who say that Ranney’s accessibility to their faculty helped him develop the confidence needed to approach and collaborate with College professors and advisors. Varun also firmly believes that because of the strength of his superb academic foundation developed at Ranney, he was selected into Yale’s Directed Studies program, where he continues to study topics that were once introduced to him in the Ranney classroom.
The Sikand family credits Ranney with giving Varun, and his siblings, Rohan ’20 and Riya ‘24, a solid foundation in all disciplines. His Ranney education provided each piece to successfully solving the college admissions puzzle: standardized testing, AP courses, subject-based tests, thoughtful and meaningful extracurricular activities, and essays that stand out. With tens of thousands of students applying to competitive schools, Ranney had taught Varun to not only write well, but how to write in a way that would differentiate him from the other applicants. Mr. Felter, Ranney English Department Chair, helped work with Varun on his personal statements and with Mr. Felter, Mrs. Curry and Mr. Materasso, the Sikands felt as if they had their own team and decided not to retain any outside services for help in the application process.
“I started Ranney as a three-year-old, and graduated this past May as a young adult and cultivated citizen of the world,” said Varun. “I developed a solid foundation in many realms of academia at Ranney since I had wonderful teachers across all three divisions. My lower school years were particularly important because they framed long-standing friendships that I still enjoy today. Ranney’s middle school was a great prelude to high school, as I took advanced math courses that allowed me to take Multivariable Calculus as a senior. During my high school experience, I was able to build upon old interests and explore new ones, ultimately leading me down the path of becoming a history enthusiast. Ranney has inspired me to succeed in many ways and I leave the school knowing that I will be prepared for the challenges that awaited me in college and the real world.”
Through Varun’s first semester at Yale, he has already been back to Ranney’s campus twice to visit with his teachers and advisors, and checks in with them often. Although Varun made connections through his various activities, clubs, and teams at Ranney, he continues to keep in touch with not only the students on campus, but with students across the country. In his time away from Ranney, Varun has been able to see the effects of being a lifer in many ways and has had the opportunity to reflect on how being a Panther successfully shaped the trajectory of his academic career.