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Application Process Engineering Subject

Alice’s Application Process

What made you want to study abroad?

When I competed in robotics abroad, I saw how students in other countries were encouraged to put in their time and effort in something they truly love. They learned knowledge beyond what is taught at school and applied what they learn in the real world. I really admired their enthusiasm and courage to make their dreams reality, and decided that I wanted to earn my college education in that kind of environment. 

What’s the toughest part for you during the entire application process?

Definitely the essays. It was extremely difficult to write an intriguing story that still reflected my true experiences. As a student from a public high school, I also didn’t have as much experience in writing. However, I think there are plenty of resources out there, you just have to know where to look. 

Here are some resources that really helped me build up my personal statement:
College Essay Essentials, by Ethan Sawyer; 50 Successful Harvard Essays; 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays (link); The College Essay Guy Website (link)

What do you think helped you the most?
For me, it was asking someone close to me to review my essays (ie. my mom and sister.) College counselors or upperclassmen may know how to write a good essay, but they don’t know who you are. When my family reviewed my essays, they could really tell what topics fit me and the prompt the most, and they were able to provide comments that still reflected my identity. So I’d really advise people to ask their close friends, family, or teachers to review their essays, instead of going after expensive essay editors.

What are some things you think you did well during the application process?
Personal Statement: I had to revise my personal statement over and over again, ultimately rewriting it a week before the regular decision deadline, the one thing I’m most grateful for doing. The final version of my personal statement was something that truly represented who I am, what I’ve done, and what I dream of doing.

Interview: After 3 to 4 interviews, I gradually developed an SOP for interviews. One, prepare three reasons why I want to attend this school. Two, prepare three questions for the interviewer. Three, prepare one interesting experience I had in case I encountered a question I can’t answer on the spot. These simple preparations saved me from awkward silences. 

What’s the most regretful thing you’ve done during the process? What would you do differently?
Applying early action to my two favorite schools and not applying early to a safety school. This was a bad decision because my essays were pretty awful in my early applications. I wasn’t so familiar with interviews either. I ended up getting rejected EA from my two favorite schools and no acceptances from my safety schools. So for regular decisions, I basically applied everywhere thinking I wasn’t going to get accepted anywhere. If I could go back in time, I would start my essays early and apply to only one dream school. I would also apply early to one safety school, so that I have at least a safety net while applying for regular decisions.

One other thing I regret is not being proactive enough. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself that you can get accepted to your dream school, you just have to put in 100% of your effort. 

What do you think sophomore, junior and senior students should do right now?
Sophomores: Find activities you’re really interested in, and be committed.
Juniors: Take the SAT!!! Start going to college information sessions and build up your college list. You’ll find that there are a lot more schools out there, and more than one school is perfect for you.
Seniors: Write essays, prepare for interviews, draft resumes and create portfolios. Also, stop worrying and refreshing your portal. You’re going to be fine as long as you put in your best effort and believe in yourself 🙂

Alice Chen,
Columbia University ’24

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