This letter was written by EF Academy alum Peter F. Grinde-Hollevik to this year’s graduating seniors.
Dear EF Academy Class of 2020,
Congratulations on all of the college acceptance and rejection letters you received this peculiar spring. Whether or not you got into your top choice, I’m certain you’ll make an impact in the world.
I’d like to start off by saying what this essay won’t be about. This is not a How I got into Berkeley story, nor is it a Look at me, I’m smart story. If you’re interested in that, just ask our good friend Google our cousin Quora on how to get into a top-tier college. Besides, I’m not at all qualified to make any assertions like that, whatsoever – I still haven’t realized how I passed the acceptance bar for international students. Thus, I’m carefully awaiting a ‘Sorry, we made a mistake’ letter from the school!
Instead, I’d like to shine a light on some of the challenges of college applications and how to address them. Yeah, I know it sounds depressing. And it can be, at least sometimes. Still, do not let this stop you from pursuing your college dreams in the States – if that is what you really aspire to.
Deal with rejections
The reason I started off by congratulating you for your rejection letters is simple: Behind every college rejection, there is a lot of hard work and dedication. Sometimes they’re disappointing, other times they’re upright mysterious. Personally, I applied to Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Duke, UCLA, & Berkeley. I got rejected from six of them, and for many seniors, this might be the first time you’ve had a feeling of not being good enough, or ‘not the right fit’ for some sort of institution or organization. No matter if you’re the kind of person who decides to smash your laptop in anger or sit down with a cup of camomile tea, a disappointment is still a disappointment. A great piece of advice would be to brace for impact and just hope for the best. That way, every upside becomes a through-the-roof positive experience.
Deal with the costs
The American comedian, Fred Allen, once said, “I learned law so well, the day I graduated I sued the college, won the case, and got my tuition back.” I wish this was the case for everyone, yet sadly it isn’t. College in the US comes with a great cost, especially for international students. Still, this does not have to serve as a barrier as long as you’re up to taking the road less traveled. International scholarships are few, but give the ones you find a shot. Look into your close network; have you gained enough goodwill to get a private sponsor? Look at your major; can it be relevant to a specific firm or a cause? Would they fund parts of your education in exchange for your research or a summer internship?
Instead of telling yourself “I can’t afford this,” I recommend putting your most valuable asset – your brain – to work by asking yourself: “How can I afford this?” That’s when the magic happens.
Deal with the application
Oh, the application – I almost forgot! Recommendation letters, essays, and SAT prep. A lot of SAT prep. Spending your Friday evening on Khan Academy, enjoying some historical analysis of the Suffragette Movement and a couple of centuries-old Congressional debate memos. Some find the essays and the letters of recommendation a daunting experience, others struggle with nerves on test day. What is special about the application process is that you’re never quite sure if what you’re doing will amount to something. Will I get into my dream school? Is it worth all this?
To tackle this, convince yourself that the process itself is worth it – regardless of the result. By doing so, the rec. letters suddenly become an incentive to network, the SAT a source of fun-facts, and the essays an opportunity to look inwards – something we rarely do these days. Besides, chances are high that you’re not the only one heading to the US – a great advantage of our international community. Make a study group, or ask alumni for advice!
With this, I hope that you’ve gained some new perspectives on the challenges you will be facing on your road ahead. Most importantly, I hope you’ve learned how to turn those challenges into opportunities for personal growth and prosperity. At last, just remember what Robert Frost said:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Peter F. Grinde-Hollevik
EF Academy Oxford, Class of 2018