My very favorite success story is that of a young woman I’ll call Ursula. An international student, she really wanted to transfer from her current college in her home country to one in the U.S. Especially Harvard.
When she and I met, we discussed at length her dreams and hopes, and pinpointed several universities that matched up to what she wanted to do. She needed a flexible curriculum environment to get to the career path she wanted. But above all else, she dreamed of attending Harvard.
I never discourage my clients from reaching for their dreams. After all, there’s no harm in applying to a school like Harvard – the worst that can happen is to be rejected, after all.
We then set out to get her application together. The first thing I noticed was that Ursula fell into a common trap of many transfer students: the essay question. Most transfer applicants tend to badmouth their current school as to how they can’t get classes, or find the right campus opportunities, etc. and spend little time on how they are a good fit to the application school.
I advised her to look at the essay with a different equation. We spent ninety percent of the essay on why Ursula was a great fit for the target school and what she brought to the table with her. The remaining ten percent was spent on how her current school did not provide what she needed in order to pursue the career vision she had.
The reason we did this was to show the target school just what her particular contributions would be, by highlighting what she’d been able to accomplish at her current one. It’s important for the admissions committee to see what you’re capable of doing, even in less than ideal circumstances.
Another issue we came up against was the tone of Ursula’s essay. A very prolific writer, she nevertheless tended to ‘separate’ herself from her story, which didn’t help the reader really connect with her passion and drive. That disconnect could be a deciding factor of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ offer from an admissions committee, so it is important the point of view be as personal as possible. Once we cleared that hurdle, we were ready to submit her transfer applications.
Ursula was turned down by a few schools at first – which can be discouraging. But then she was asked to an interview at Harvard, which is a rare thing for a transfer applicant. During our mock interviews, I reminded her that she needed to remain positive, and focus not on how bad she thought her current school was, but what she could offer Harvard. It’s important for applicants to not get intimidated by a university’s ‘aura’ and instead focus on the positive things they bring that can change and affect the university.
While Ursula did manage to get accepted to several great schools, the crowning moment was when she received an official acceptance letter from Harvard! By being confident in her accomplishments, constructive about her contributions and positive about herself, she was able to make a great impression on the committee and attain her dream.
And that is what makes my job as a consultant so rewarding!