*insert the name of a prestigious US university
For US admissions you need—1) Academics (SSC/HSC/A/O level) 2) Tests (SAT, SAT II, TOEFL) 3) Extracurricular Activities (ECA) 4) A Story
But if you stop there, you’ll never get into Harvard/MIT! As we get this question on our facebook group ALL THE TIME, I just wanted to address this.
First, why do you want to get into Harvard/MIT? This is a question that you must ask yourself because Harvard might not be a fit for you and you’d be unhappy. Education quality-wise, many US top colleges will have similar quality of education, but the networks and other opportunities make these prestigious places, well…so prestigious.
How do they select?
First, let me tell you how places like Harvard/MIT build their “classes”. They take people from different fields and try to find the promising ones (or already young stars) in their fields. So if you are in the 12th grade and have nothing to show that you are that great in something, maybe you have no chance of getting into those—I will be honest. However, if you are in grade 8, 9, or even 10, you might have time to invest in something, improve yourself, and achieve greatness. Do something that really interests you, be really good at it, and make it your story. So what is your story?
The reason admission into any US university is hard is because they take a holistic approach—they look at all your scores and extracurricular activities and try to find how you used your time and what your caliber is. For example, if you judge a kid from a village in Africa with a kid from a rich family in the US, you are not being fair. The US admissions people know that.
Let me tell you my story, I went to a school in a small city called Kushtia. There we did not even have a debate club. So I was one of the members who started that. This is the kind of initiative and passion that show your true passion and quality. I was very lucky to make into the national math team several times and won a bronze medal at the International Math Olympiad (IMO). These kind of international honors help a lot. But look—to get there I used to do Olympiad math for 5 hours average (sometime 15-18 hours before IMO) for over 6 years. That is more than 10,000 hours of work. Do anything like that in any field and you will become so good that places like Harvard would love to take you. But are you willing to spend 10,000 hours?
Math Olympiad and Cloning
There was a very interesting post on MIT admissions website that says that if you follow someone who got into MIT and become exactly like that you might as well get rejected because “cloning is still for sheeps”!
“Some applicants struggle to turn themselves into clones of the “ideal” MIT student – you know, the one who gets triple 800s on the SAT. Fortunately, cloning is still for sheep. What we really want to see on your application is you being you – pursuing the things you love, growing, changing, taking risks, learning from your mistakes, all in your own distinctive way.” (http://mitadmissions.org/apply/prepare/highschool )
So just because I got into MIT/Harvard with Math Olympiads, that does not mean that you’d too. I had a lot other things that I did, but more importantly—I had an interesting story to tell relating to all these. It is not even true that just Math Olympiad kids got into Harvard/MIT/ other prestigious schools. People who won international debate contests, made a difference with their social work also got into those colleges. But see one similarity? They were all passionate about what they did and did something really well along with being good in academics and other stuff. So to make yourself stand out, do well in something you really love. That would make you happy in the long run.
Please don’t ask me “I have X in SAT, have done Y ECA, have Z gpa. Will I get into Harvard?” I can’t answer your question—because everyone has a different story to tell and that’s why in the essay you write your story. If a kid from a village in Bangladesh started a business that helped a lot of people that would be more impressive if the kid of bill gates did the same, right?
Finally, nobody is sure to get admission to MIT/Harvard. Historically, Harvard rejected many IMO gold medalists and even IMO perfect scorers. Because they were not a good fit or had severe lacking in some of those 4 fields. So instead of trying to get into Harvard/MIT try to improve yourself and be world class at something. Then you’ll realize that it doesn’t matter whether you got into Harvard or not, but the path you took to become a master is what matters in life.
p.s. If you have more questions:
1. Jon our group: Bangladeshis Beyond Border: Undergrad Admission Info Portal
2. READ the files in the file section.
3. For more info about Ivy league admissions read this excellent blogpost by Nazia.