Along with all the opportunities we have at FS, our obligatory semester abroad is probably the biggest milestone before we graduate. During this time away from home, we make new friends and contacts, learn about other cultures, and mature. It shapes us to be the people who will later take leading roles in the business world and our society.
When I came to FS, I set the goal to study at one of the renowned Ivy League universities in the United States. But how does one apply? And what is it really like to study at one of these prestigious universities? This question has been raised so many times since the application process started. Well, here is my answer along with some advice I’d like to share with you:
FS has over 100 partner universities worldwide, but you can also choose to attend a non-partner university, which is what I chose to do. In fact, we send the second most visiting students to Harvard every year, but also to many other institutions like MIT, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Tip #1: Better safe than sorry
It’s a good idea to keep your options open when applying to non-partner universities and to always have a back-up plan. Don’t restrict yourself!
Tip #2: Check your deadlines
You should always keep an eye on each university’s deadlines! Especially for documents like the TOEFL, which have to be handed in as originals.
The application process differs depending on where you want to apply. I started in late March and I kept sending my CV, letters of motivation, and recommendation letters around the globe until the end of April.
Tip #3: Recommendation letters need to represent YOU
When it comes to letters of recommendation, try to ask professors who know you very well and who can portrait you authentically rather than professors who might be famous for their work but who do not know you that well. They should be able to write about your personal goals, values, and activities.
Tip #4: Authenticity, Authenticity, Authenticity
Authenticity is not just important for your letter of recommendation, but also for your letter of motivation. Especially at universities like Harvard as they go through thousands of applications every year and will know how genuine you’re being. Most of these applicants have grades above 90%, were leaders of students clubs and had other outstanding abilities. For these universities, it is important to educate the future leaders of tomorrow. They want to hear why you are special. Your grades (75%+) only open the door but once you are in, the process your goals, your values, and your character is what counts. How will you enrich your class and how do you want to use what you will learn there? From which mistakes have you learned the most? What motivates you and how did you become who you are today?
In late May you will hopefully get your first letters of acceptance. If you are not that lucky, you might get an email telling you that all places are gone, but you are a candidate they would like to have and that they will keep you in the process.
Although I had already received a letter of acceptance from Columbia University, I still went ahead with my letter of motivation for Harvard. I made it very clear that a rejection would only increase my efforts and they would see my application again the next year, for a master’s, MBA, or PhD. Finally, I got a message, they offered me a direct place for the spring semester and I happily accepted it!
Tip #5: NEVER GIVE UP
This is the most important advice I can give you for the application process. Without my motivation and determination, I never would have been given the opportunity to study at such prestigious universities. I am really looking forward to the experience!