Words of Wisdom: Seniors Share College App Advice

Shreyas Rajesh


As the 2017-18 school year comes to a close, so does the laborious, intensive, and challenging college application process for AES students. While the seniors ‘grind’ through their IB and AP exams – well aware that United Kingdom, South Korea, and Hong Kong Universities (among others) make college offers based on those scores – students bound to the United States (US) can rest easier. Their time at high school has come to an end, but they most likely know where they will be heading in the fall. And many of those seniors now have some wise words of wisdom to share with the class of 2019 and all other underclassmen at AES. So, let’s get into it.

Karan Bhasin (Northwestern ’22) wants students to know that the “GPA and ACT (or SAT) get admissions officers to read your application. Everything else only gets you in from there”. Laila Rodenbeck (Brown ’22) encourages juniors to take the SAT early so as to avoid stress later in the year. Certainly, with IB and assessments, getting the SAT or ACT out of the way can be a huge relief.  

It is not necessary to hire a tutor for this as well. Karen Carlson (USC ’22) used the free SAT services provided by the Khan Academy to boost her score 170 points. The company, as she put it, “saved her life”.

Now the SAT and GPA are certainly extremely important, but it is the qualitative factors like the CV and personal statement that differentiate you from the thousands of candidates with similar academic credentials. Joya Kapoor (UChicago ‘22) says that “If you’re applying to top colleges, every student is going to have top grades and be generally well rounded. It sucks to say that doing well academically and basic service, action and art isn’t normally enough, but it’s true. The best thing that you can do is give yourself an x-factor. Take the activity that you are most passionate about and push it to an entirely new level. I don’t mean more hours, I mean crafting an entire new project based on the activity. Now you have the grades, the expected all-roundedness, and a new x-factor to write about in essays and pinpoint you as special and memorable. And make sure to document this work, through websites and publicity. Most importantly, just don’t let yourself give up. It’s HARD, but it’s only a few intense months and afterwards you will feel so good and have grown so much.”

Other students shine through what they write in their personal statements. Karen’s “top advice would be to write about something you are passionate about for the common app essay. And to write a passionate and truthful rough draft even if you think it is not the essay you want to send. … it’s the content about you that they want to see and what sets you apart from everyone else”.


The University of Southern California

Photo Credits


When it comes to making a list, Jhujhar Sarna (Vassar ’22) cautions against applying to ivy-league schools, “just because they are ivy-leagues”. “Don’t chase a name”, he reminds us, “chase a passion”. Daniel Lee (Yale-NUS ’24) similarly warns against going in with a narrow mindset. “Look around you”, he says, “find 4 people. Ok yes, those 4 people will get into their dream school. You will not. Take those “joke” schools seriously, try to talk to every college rep that comes. It’s an unfortunate reality (how many students get rejected), and the sooner you grasp it, the easier it’ll be for you to become more open minded about where you might possibly spend the next 4 years of your life.”


Rejection is a part of the process – as is acceptance – but the most important thing is not to take it to heart.


Orsi Bardos reminds us “that it is ok not to apply to the US. Since most people at AES apply to the US it is very important to do some extra research at each University where you want to apply because the application process is different for all of them. You might not have to take SATs or ACTs to European universities however you might have to do other things so make sure you are aware of all the requirements. Also, when you see all the Facebook posts about people getting in to well-known US universities, don’t be upset or feel left out! Europe is just as good (probably even better) even if none of your friends have heard of the places you’ve applied to!!”

Finally, we leave you with a powerful message from Arnav Gulati (UCBerkley ’22):

“When it comes to the commonly feared college process, I’d say the most important and in fact, valuable part of it all is introspection. Before my senior year, I’d always thought of myself as a ‘nerd.’ I’d be the kid stuck on the books and playing, quite frankly, the most posh and non-athletic sport possible.


When these applications came along, I began to bring all of it together. My natural weirdness and the personality I had developed had taken shape in my essays, and it had resonated into my mind, too. That learning and understanding of yourself, albeit a stressful and arduous process, brought light and understanding to my life. I hope it does to all of yours too!”