The Key to Your Success is YOU

By 2020-06-24 14:37:29

Students at SUIS Pudong share experiences, tips, and advice on applying to the world’s top universities

For educators, there is no greater feeling than when your students achieve their dreams. In this school year alone, SUIS Pudong students have been accepted into a wide range of leading UK universities, notably Oxford, Imperial and UCL plus a great many others. Equally noticeable are the stunning offers that have been made by some of the most competitive universities in the United States, including top public, private and even Ivy League institutions.

As a school with a UK curriculum, there are those who question whether studying A Levels is a suitable educational path for students who intend to study at a university in the United States.

“Will American universities accept me?” “Would it not be better for my child to study the standard US curriculum instead?” “Do A Levels offer a wide enough range of subjects?”

With offers from the likes of Columbia, Cornell, Northwestern, Duke, NYU, UC Berkeley and many more, the answer to this is clear: with strong support from teachers and the correct guidance, dedicated and passionate A Level students will get great offers, not just from the UK, but from the US as well!

Tony Tian, a SUIS Pudong graduate who received offers from Duke University, University of Southern California, University of California, and Berkeley, talks through his experience of applying to university.

About half a year ago, I was scared. I was well-aware of the difficulties Chinese students in the mainland of China face when it comes to US admissions. Not only do you need to do more preparation than many other applicants (such having a wide range of eye-catching extracurriculars, hobbies, and skills, providing numerous essays, and achieving high GPA, SAT, or even AP and SAT II results), but you also need to show that you excel in every area of your life. To make matters worse, excellence doesn’t guarantee admission. University admission is like dating, the school chooses the students it thinks are a good fit for it, and the spaces for certain students feel way too limited in prestigious universities. For the first time in my life, I had to accept that all of my hard work may not pay off. Would I be rejected by all the schools, (it does happen, and it happens more than you think!), and would I come to regret my choice of only applying to institutions in the US? With these worrying questions in mind, I wrote my essays and submitted my applications.

I received my first rejection letter from my Early Decision school—Cornell University— in December 2019, which made me panic even more. However, with the help of my family and Mr MacDonald, the school’s guidance counsellor, I managed to write a new, more personal essay that focused on the years I had spent learning and playing the accordion. In January, I submitted all my applications with the hope that I would get accepted by some of the greats like UC or Berkeley.

In February, I was accepted by UVA under Early Action. The competition was tough, with an acceptance rate of around 15% for out-of-state applicants. This offer calmed my mind, and I began to realise that I was a competitive applicant. The biggest surprise came on 27th March. I can still remember waking at 4am, due to sleeplessness. At six o’clock, my screams echoed around the house upon realising I had received an offer from Berkeley. At seven, I read that Duke had also accepted me and on the 29th I received a congratulation letter from Duke’s Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions:

Besides academic excellence, Duke had accepted me for my passion for the accordion and that I had utilised that passion to help others. Initially, I felt that my acceptance was mainly down to luck, but I then thought about it another way - out of the 40,000 applicants, how many were willing to wake up at 5am to practice, and sacrifice their social life for their passion? My achievement was a testament to the belief that “hard work pays off” which I will continue to pursue in the future.

Dara, a SUIS Pudong student starting at Columbia University and Cornell University this autumn, shares some key tips on how to write a successful application essay:

Why Princeton? Why Cornell? Why Columbia? To us, this is self-explanatory. To the university in question, it really isn’t. Universities are aware they have world-class resources, facilities, professors, and opportunities, so none of these categories should be the defining factor when you decide which university to apply to.

Initially, I planned to apply to more universities, but scrapped the idea when I was unable to state a single reason why this particular institution was a great fit for me, apart from the fact that it had a high global ranking.

Prior to applying, it is essential to justify your reasons for studying at a university. Detailed research will not only provide you with the necessary information to write a compelling essay but will also help you develop an idea of the ‘vibe’ at the university. In an essay for Cornell, I argued that I would adapt well in their curiosity-driven student community, citing my interest in joining quaint societies (such as the Squirrel Watchers’ Club) specific to Cornell. More importantly, I discussed a particular programme that interested me, and explained how my experiences and passions would complement my studies in that programme.

In another essay (for a dual degree between Columbia University and Trinity College Dublin), I described how I would thrive under the tutelage of certain professors, and briefly discussed an idea from one of the professors’ academic reports (that I had deliberately researched beforehand). To maximise efficiency, I would set the timer to two hours and try to gather as much information as possible about a single institution, using the internet and resources provided by my guidance counsellor. This should be repeated multiple times over several weeks for each university. It is a quick and effective way to collect material for writing engaging essays.

If you look beyond the rankings, you will see that some renowned universities are more suitable for you than others, and through sufficient research, you will be able to pinpoint the exact reasons why that is. Think of each application essay as a date—you shouldn’t just outline the unique qualities of a university that compelled you to apply, but should also attempt to convince the university that you are an attractive applicant who will make the most out of your opportunities there if admitted. This is why it is so vital to acquaint yourself thoroughly with the universities you are most passionate about. Meticulous research will set the foundation to writing an exceptional essay that is likely to grab the attention of your admissions officer, improving your chances of acceptance.

Naturally, we are incredibly proud of these students for rising to these challenges so successfully. We firmly believe that their success demonstrates just how attractive the A Level curriculum is at an international level, with the students studying a varied range of subjects including geography, Chinese, history, physics, art, maths, further maths and computer science. Congratulations to all our graduates, and we hope that their success will inspire our younger students to aim high no matter where in the world they wish to study.