A couple of weeks ago, while talking to my 15 year old brother, I found out that he wishes to get into an Ivy League university in the States. He then started telling me what they look for in an ideal candidate, and built a list of things he wishes to do in order to strengthen his application. He then tried to convince me that what he wants to study is the most appropriate choice for him. I have to say that for a moment I was speechless and couldn’t believe that a 15 year old teenager has built an entire strategy for his university applications, three years before finishing high-school!
The list below is the most sincere list of tips that I wish my parents and I had known before I applied for an undergraduate degree, and I hope it will be of good use for others too!
Applying for a good university is not crucial, but important
I believe there are two kinds of mentalities: those for whom top universities are crucial, and those who believe that if someone is good at something, it doesn’t matter which university they go to. To some extent, neither is wrong. There is one thing, however: the crowd. The people you’re surrounded by change how you are without you even realising. A top university won’t teach you better things, the professors won’t necessarily be more competent, but in a top university you will be surrounded by students who share the same goal: to excel in what they do, and this can act as a great motivator.
Grades are not all that matters
Statement letters are not just a list of grades with which you hope will impress whoever assesses your application. Extracurricular activities are a proof of the candidate’s ability to juggle their time between school, fun and passion. Doing something meaningful creates a strong application. Competitions look great, and so does any activity in which you demonstrate your interest in the course you are applying for! And if you wish to go even further, start your own club or society.
Consider the benefits of a gap year, if needed
Of course that after high-school, parents want to see their children in university, studying what they like and having great results. Yet sometimes, teenagers do not know exactly what they want to do, and this is not a bad thing! New experiences can be enriching. I, myself, graduated Sciences in the French School in Bucharest, after which I fled to the UK to study Graphic Design, without even knowing what exactly that meant. If I had taken a year to prepare my portfolio and take some drawing classes, not only would I have gotten into a better university, but I would have known that I liked Illustration more than Graphic Design.
Discover more of the real world
It is good to do what you like, and success comes from passion. When you are young you tend to believe that the world is at your fingertips and that passion is the only quality needed for a happy life. However, after you graduate and spend a couple of years trying to figure out what job you can find, that fits you and the degree you’ve finished, your happiness levels might be very low… It is important to understand the labour market before applying for university, to understand what careers there are in the topic you are interested in and assess whether that is a good choice or not. Fortunately, we can always, to some extent, go back and start new, but unfortunately, this comes at a cost: starting a new degree requires both time and money…
The “you can change your field of study in your master’s degree” is a myth!
I’ve always thought that studying something you like in undergrad and something practical in postgrad is the logical choice. Yet, once you have entered a field, it is no longer that easy to switch to something entirely different. If you study Chemistry in undergrad, it is very unlikely to be able to access a Master in Politics. To succeed, the student must demonstrate either experience in the field or serious amounts of passion and knowledge!
Summer internships are an absolute must
It is fairly easy: you can rarely find a job without any experience, as it is the most important feature in any CV. Summer holidays last three to four months, and using one for volunteering, internships or any other kind of experience is, in my opinion, an absolute necessity. The benefits are as follow: extra knowledge, the experience of a real working environment, networking and building connections. As a matter of fact, right after I graduated, I was offered a job in an agency in which I had done an internship two years before.
I hope this article was useful, and feel free to add any thoughts you consider important!