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Advice for Prospective College Applicants from a recent MIT and Duke Accepted Student!

22 Sep, 2020
Nima Hyolmo

Image Source: Unsplash

Hello Everyone!

I am Nima Hyolmo. I was accepted to both Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Duke University for the Class of 2024 with full financial aid. I have joined MIT this fall semester.

College application can be a challenging process, so there are few factors one might need to focus on before applying. In this blog post, I will share my experiences throughout the application process and some tips to help you when applying to colleges as an international student.

Maintaining a good GPA and standardized test scores is the first step to strengthening your college application because they are tools colleges use to predict your academic capabilities. Colleges seek students who can thrive in their rigorous academic environment. Therefore, the most effective way to demonstrate colleges that you can succeed academically in college is by getting a good GPA and SAT scores. I had satisfactory A-levels results (all A*s and A) and relatively good SAT scores which improved my odds of getting accepted.

Good grades and standardized test scores are essential, but not enough. Many colleges use a holistic approach, meaning they accept/reject applicants not solely based on empirical data like GPAs and test scores but after closely evaluating different aspects of applicants' personality like Extracurricular Activities, Essays, and Letters of Recommendation. Good recommendation letters and essays can improve your chances of getting into your dream college drastically. They are the only factors, aside from an interview, that truly reflects your soft skills (passion for your subject, your perseverance, willingness to give back to the community, and so on). 

Therefore, allocate enough time for your essays and have them reviewed by your teachers and seniors.  However, you should keep in mind that essays are not to test your writing skills: they are ways for the admission committee to connect with you and know you as a person beyond your achievements and honors. Remember, you are already unique! Everyone has a different background. Focus on unique aspects of your identity in essays and try to avoid unnecessary details that make you look no different than other applicants. In my essays, I focused on my own cultural and academic background. Being originally from a mountainous village, rich with peculiar culture and hidden from the outside world, I showed admission committees that I could contribute to the campus diversity. Besides that, I participated in various science Olympiads and competitions in and out of my high-school, learned music on my own, and continued singing throughout high school. Involving in activities that I loved contributed immensely to present myself as a valuable applicant. Olympiads and music might not be the cases for you, but you should be able to involve yourself in activities of your interest.

As for recommendation letters, ask the teacher/professor who knows you well enough to write a recommendation letter. Don’t ask a teacher to write your recommendation letter solely because you scored good marks on his/her class. I believe my recommendation letters were well written because my teachers were not only familiar with my academic abilities, but also with my strengths, and my personality.

All this reminds me of a quote by Confucius, "The man who says he can and the one who says he can’t are both usually right.” There simply is no one way to approach the application process. All you have to do is try your best while being yourself, and you will most likely succeed in getting into the college of your dream. 

The most important advice I will give to anyone who has a dream of going to any good college is to take a shot. You already have a solid chance, given you have good academic records and you are willing to put in effort throughout your high school years and during the application process. It's something that I have learned through my first-hand experience. Having grown up in an underprivileged community as a child of parents with little formal education, I was destined to do what others of my age did: manual work and not pursue academic careers. However, I always had a crazy dream of studying Physics at MIT, a dream that seemed impossible to me countless times. However, I believed in myself and persevered throughout the painstaking journey, albeit fun and gratifying one. As a result, I am writing this post. Believe in yourself, and you will be next to guide other applicants through this application process.