E2 Talk – Interview E2 Alumni: Apply to top universities

How did one of our long-time students, Johnny, get accepted into one of the most competitive universities through the Early Decision process?  Going abroad for studies continues to get popular for students for college and high school In this excerpt from a full-length interview, Johnny shares his personal journey on:

  • How do you overcome “good” grades and test scores to stand out for great universities?
  • How did he choose the best essay topics to write about?

Johnny is currently studying at Northwestern University, an elite private university located in Illinois, USA.  Prior, he was a student with Everest Education in 2014-2015, and he graduated from Saigon South International School (SSIS).  He scored two perfect scores on AP exams and achieved 2260 on his SAT.

Below is our interview, and a transcript that has been edited for clarity.


Tony:  Hi Johnny, I want to cover a couple of topics related to your personal experience, a little bit on the application process itself, and what it’s like to be at school in the US.  Academically, you’re a strong student, but you did not have the highest scores. Yet you ended up in one of the most elite, hardest universities to get into in the US. What worked for you to overcome what on paper might be considered a shortfall?

Johnny:  I realized at the very beginning that some of my credentials were not the strongest.  E2 and I understood that perfectly, so we were realistic. How college applications work in the US is that your grades and your credentials serve as a benchmark, and admissions officers look for other things that you might bring to their community.  So, apart from having an okay GPA and an okay SAT score, I was committed to extracurricular activities. I did everything I could to show that on the college applications.

Tony:  You want to tell about your experiences.  Admission officers want to see from your essays and from your letters of recommendation what you are going to be like as a student in that school.  Those things are super, super important, and most essays don’t bring out those attributes clearly enough.

Walk us through the application essays and how you thought of different topics to write about, because I feel so many students get really stressed out and overwhelmed.  These schools are asking you really big questions, like: “What do you want to do with your life?” and “What are you most passionate about?” Many students I talk to don’t feel like they have a lot to write about.  How did you handle that stress?

Johnny: On stress management, on managing time, and on budgeting a specific timeline to write my essay, I received a lot of guidance from both high school counselors and Everest.  I explored a lot of ideas starting in the second semester of my junior year.

We ended up with 40 or 50 different essay ideas and approaches that we could take.  I don’t think that as a really young student, we understand this enough. We often don’t sit back and just reflect on who we are.  Through the 40 or 50 ideas that I ended up brainstorming about, I was able to reflect and learn so much about myself. I began to understand my personality and who I am.

My advice to students right now is if you’re around that time period, don’t really be stressed out on getting an essay done. Instead, focus on finding yourself, talking to a lot of people who are more accomplished than you, and who would be willing to give you honest advice.

Tony: Let’s be a little bit more specific there.  Who did you contact?

Johnny: It was a mixture of Everest and my guidance counselor.  You guided me through much of the process. But apart from that, I reached out to a lot of my Everest teachers.  I reached out to my high school counselor. And I reached out to people who I really looked up to in my high school as well.

To be continued…

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