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Priten Shah: Debate’s Role in College Admissions and Personal Development

February 6, 2013

Priten Shah is a debater for Walter Panas High School and competes as part of the Lakeland District Debate team. Recently, he won the Barkley Forum Service award and competed in the Korea Winter Cup in Seoul. He was admitted early to Harvard University’s class of 2018.

With confidence, I can state that the best decision I have made has been to become a member of the debate team. I began debate my freshman year and partnered with one of my good friends. I was hooked from my first tournament. After that, the exhilaration, excitement, and exhaustion only increased. I was amazed at the opportunities I was presented with; the ability to travel all over the country, meet new people, and win trophies made me work harder. Just this year, my partner and I won around eight different awards and earned a bid to the Tournament of Champions.

To say I am devoted to debate is an understatement. The past four years, I attended debate class around two times a week, originally to learn and later to teach. I spent hours researching, scouting, organizing, and practicing to prepare for tournaments. Some weeks I spent as little as three hours and others I spent over 30 hours preparing for upcoming tournaments. Practically every other weekend is consumed by a debate tournament with over fifteen tournaments this year. As captain of our team, I also spend time running an informal website, working with younger debaters, and helping manage the logistics of the team.

An essential part of the debate experience has been attending debate camp. I attended four-week workshops all three years of high school; the final one being Harvard Summer Workshops hosted by the Harvard Debate Council.  Summer institutes are the best opportunity to prepare for the next year by honing in on crucial skills and leaving with a greater knowledge of argumentation theory.

Debate definitely played a major role in my admissions process. My Common Application activity essay focused on my participation in debate, which ended up going well over the word limit. Not surprisingly, my Harvard interview spent approximately half the time discussing debate, both in terms of my high school participation and college interest. In fact, my current of choice of concentrations (government and philosophy) was single-handedly influenced by my debate experience.

Being around the motivated and talented youth of the debate community was the impetus for involvement in many other activities. Besides participating in debate, I run my own non-profit organization, the Teach to Learn Foundation, which aims to increase educational opportunities for the underprivileged. The StandUp For Kids organization recruited me to serve as Co-Executive Director of their New York City branch, which works with runaway youth. Additionally, I was elected president of Regional Youth Leadership Organization and vice-president of Spanish Honor Society.

Clearly, debate has played an essential role in my academic career thus far. The oratory, argumentation, and persuasion skills learned work well beyond the classroom walls of a debate round. Looking back at the last few years, I can draw a line from debate to every other part of my life, from my leadership positions, ability to write essays, and even my SAT score. I truly believe that my participation in debate and achievements are not simply a mere correlation but an obvious causation.



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