18 Feb, 2017
10 : 00
Year 13 IB student Alice Wang, has recently received early conditional offers from Cambridge, HKU, LSE, UCL and many other leading universities. Adopting a carefully considered strategy with Nick Strong, her University Guidance Office Counsellor has been an invaluable part of the process. Alice discusses her early offers and shares her experience of university application procedures around the world.
What will you be studying at university?
How did you work with our University Guidance Office to submit your applications? My counsellor, Nick Strong is very familiar with UCAS and Oxbridge applications. He is an expert in UCAS personal statement writing, so he was able to offer me tonnes of useful tips and invaluable advice. When I was invited for an interview at Cambridge, my counsellor arranged for me to have a mock interview with two teachers who were Oxbridge graduates. The mock interview was way more interesting than I imagined. The questions included solving logical puzzles, mathematical problems, commenting on global affairs, and analysing large data sets. To a large extent, the difficulty and style were similar to my real interview and having this mock interview significantly helped me to familiarise with the process.
Did you apply to many universities?
I applied to universities in three countries. For Hong Kong, I applied to HKU, HKUST and CUHK, and (so far) received offers from the former two universities. For the UK, I applied to Cambridge, LSE, UCL, Warwick and Bath, and received offers from all of them. For the US, I applied to 12 universities, and I’m still waiting for decisions from all of them. It’s a very exciting time.
On this subject, I have to thank my counsellor, Nick again for supporting me all the way through. Applying to these many universities was a huge amount of work for both of us.
Was Cambridge your first choice and why did you choose it?
As an Economics student, I have always considered Cambridge to be one of the best universities in the world. The academic excellence and resources of the university are unquestionable. Funnily enough, both of my IB Economics and IB Mathematics teachers graduated from the Trinity College of Cambridge too so they definitely inspired me. They gave me lots of information about Trinity College, so I had a good idea of the learning environment way before I started applying.
What was the hardest part of the application process?
For Cambridge, the hardest part was the interview. My interview was 45 minutes long with two Economics professors. I went into the room, greeted the interviewers, and they immediately started throwing economics questions at me. I’d strongly recommend to anyone that for the process of solving problems, it’s a good idea to try to write or speak out the process of your thoughts, even if you are not entirely sure. The professors will try to direct you towards the correct path. I talked to several other Economics applicants on campus that day and realised that the interview style varies largely from college to college. For Trinity, I only had one interview, and I was given a news article to study an hour before the interview. The interview had two parts, the first part being a discussion on the news article, and the second half was to solve a set of logic problems. For Economics at some other colleges, like Girton and Pembroke for example, there are two shorter interviews: one on Mathematics and one on Economics. You may be wise to consider the different interview styles before choosing a college and select the one that suits you best.
What tips would you give to students applying to university for the first time? A good starting point would be to think about the country you want to study in. For the US, I applied through the Common App system. So I do not know much about the new CAAS application system. For CA, it was a huge undertaking as there were so many essays to write. I wrote a total of 15 essays for my application to 12 US universities. I really advise you to start early. By the end of Year 12, you should have started drafting the Common App essay. Otherwise, the essays will clash with all the deadlines of IA, EE and TOK in Year 13, and trust me, I tried that and I regretted it. Though essay topics vary from school to school, a lot of them share broad ideas: an object, an idea, an event and a person that means the most to you. Brainstorming these broad ideas will help you later during the writing process. Another type of essay topic is the “Why this university?” which would require hours of research from you, but this process does indeed make you know much more about the university other than rankings. There are also many US universities that do not require extra essays, such as University of Washington St. Louis, Northeastern etc. For Hong Kong and the UK, the personal statement is key. I strongly advise you to at least finish the first draft of the personal statement by the beginning of Year 13. Thus, even if you are applying to Oxbridge (deadline usually on Oct. 15th), you will have sufficient time to revise the personal statement again, and again, and again, consulting (bothering) counsellors whenever you have new edits. It took me eight versions in total to finalise my personal statement. And within the personal statement, there should be a combination of academic achievements and extra-curricular activities (note: the activities better be somehow related to the major you are applying). Some significant activities may include internships, extra readings, business competition (for Economics major) etc. And if you have participated in debates or written for literary magazines, these two activities can fit for almost all majors, because they sharpen your ability to think critically and express yourself through writing or public speaking.
How do you think you will cope moving to another country?
I hope everything will go well. I’ve always found that joining the student organisations has helped me to fit in and make new friends, so I think I will do exactly the same in university. I also want to travel to different places in the UK during holidays, to get to know the local culture.
What are you looking forward to most about going to university?
I want to try out new things – new musical instruments, new sports, new books, new food as well as venture to new places. I hope university life won’t be too busy and that I’ll be able to find plenty of time to enjoy these new experiences.