Guest Post • Pre-College Advising

Speech & Debate: A Life Changing Journey

POSTED ON 01/10/2020 BY ​Rajiv Kacholia

Speech & Debate: A Life Changing Journey | The Red Pen

As a back-to-back State Championship Debater growing up in the US, taking part in speech and debate truly changed my life.

A powerful academic journey that can open opportunities, speech and debate is also valued by highly selective colleges. I believe that it was my involvement with speech and debate helped me gain admissions at seven US universities that were ranked in the Top 15 Nationally by U.S. News & World Report. My debate skills also helped me land prestigious roles at Goldman Sachs’ Mergers & Acquisitions Group and the quantitative hedge fund DE Shaw, which hires only one applicant out of 500.

Academic researchers have proven that no other activity stimulates a child’s development across so many core academic and life skills. Growing up as a shy kid, debate transformed my ability to exceed in the following ways:

  • The confidence to learn anything rapidly
  • Ability to communicate key ideas in interviews, discussions, presentations
  • The speed of outlining, writing
  • Training in note-taking, and attentiveness helped at school and at Stanford University
  • Capability to research and quickly process information on Wall Street
  • Balanced leadership, persuasion and creativity to negotiate US$22 billion of deals across five continents
  • Critical thinking and collaboration in entrepreneurship

The U.S. National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) has charted a 95-year journey and is embraced by 1,50,000+ students annually. Its alumni include successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, entertainers and government leaders, including four US Presidents. It is a journey deeply needed for the next generation to become leaders and visionaries, which is why I formed a social impact partnership to bring NSDA training and events to help students across India.

​So, why should you choose speech and debate as an extracurricular?

1) Academic achievement in English:

Debate students excel in written and oral communication while improving their reading speed, comprehension and vocabulary. Studies have shown that children are voracious readers at a young age, but begin to lose this interest as they approach middle school. By high school, the vast majority rarely read outside of assignments. Debate makes reading fun and engages students in diverse topics including economics, science, public policy, history and philosophy. Debaters are trained to process information quickly, improving reading speed, while being challenged with materials beyond their grade level, improving their comprehension through inferential learning. English skills ultimately weave their influence through virtually all subjects. Even in mathematics, the most complicated problems are often word problems! The ability to crystallise one’s thoughts into a concise outline, followed by clear and efficient writing is an invaluable skill, whether applied in taking timed examinations, submitting research papers, presenting at work or communicating with our family and friends each day.

2) College admissions:

Debate vastly improves thinking, processing, expression and organisational and communication skills, all of which are highly sought by colleges. Speech and debate can also improve performance in college interviews and the application writing process by helping students to become stronger persuasive advocates of their accomplishments, passions and goals. Debaters develop self-confidence to interview with adults.

3) Debate as the ultimate natural SAT preparation:

Debate naturally helps raise standardised test scores, boosting intrinsic motivation and performance on tests such as the SAT and ACT. In 2016, the College Board, the body that administers the SAT Test, reconfigured the test. The College Board’s President, David Coleman, is also a former State Championship Debater. The newly designed SAT was meant to reduce the value of traditional test prep and is now ideally suited toward the skills on which speech and debate focus. In particular, the evidence-based analysis and empirical research in both the English portion of the test, (away from prior vocabulary memorisation) and greater emphasis on data analysis and interpretation in the math portion, are something that debaters practice as they substantiate claims and impact with statistical evidence.

4) Life skills:

Employer surveys have cited that greater importance is given to a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and creatively solve complex problems, rather than their undergraduate major. Speech and debate nurtures these life skills in an engaging format for students during their formative years.

5) Developing lifelong learners:

Debaters become self-directed learners, allowing them to take charge of a lifetime of potential curiosity and learning as they encounter new educational experiences. With the rapid pace of change and technological innovation we already face, compounded by the exponential rise in data and artificial intelligence, the ability to re-train ourselves and remain relevant, is perhaps one of the most important skills that natural life-long learners will hold as a critical edge.

The combination of core academic skills and soft skills can empower students with confidence, adaptability, and an edge to succeed amidst a rapidly changing globe.

My speech and debate journey has given me a voice and I hope to empower thousands of students across India to find and develop theirs as we usher in a new decade.

Rajiv Kacholia is a guest blogger for The Red Pen and the founder of Speech & Debate India