The University Admissions Game

By Kirill Naumov, Grade 12 student and Student Council President


My name is Kirill Naumov and I’m a grade 12 student at ISR. For the next four years I will be studying at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which is the best school in the world for undergraduate finance. This article is about how I got there and how you can too.

University admissions, like any contest, is a game that can be beaten. However, I did not know that as a 13 year old kid with a big dream and no distinct plan of getting there. Before grade 11, I only knew the basic theory: universities look at each applicant as an individual represented by their resume, not their scores. Therefore, I tried to do as many activities as possible and to excel in all of them. When, in autumn of grade 11, I realised that I was already late to the fight, I had to catch up very quickly. I rushed through my university research, choosing a range of universities, which were mostly ivy-league or similar schools (most of which, in the end, weren’t even what I needed). Like most applicants, I spent hundreds of hours studying for the SAT (standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States), learning biology from zero to take the SAT subject test, and writing the application essays.

All of the above resulted in me having to power through months of sleep deprivation and illnesses, which resulted from the weakened immune system. Yes, my approach worked and I got into my dream school. However, as I look back, I see numerous mistakes, which could have been avoided. Here are some of them and how you can avoid falling into the same traps!

  • When to start

Now! The sooner you start collecting information, the better. I started the entire university research process in winter of grade 11, which is way too late if you are applying to competitive universities in the United States. If you start thinking about applications later than in the summer after grade 10, you are already at a disadvantage. Start early, stress less later.

  • Research a lot

Knowledge is power. All of my mistakes in the college application process resulted from not listening to enough people who’ve been through the process and not doing my research well. In the end, I applied to numerous universities which didn’t even have the major that I wanted to study. Watch youtube videos, read various forums, talk to your counsellor and reach out to people who have already been through it for advice! The more you know, the easier the process will be.

  • SAT essays

While being optional, SAT essays are pretty much mandatory. Out of 10 universities you choose, at least one is going to require the essay and you don’t want to send in a score that’s 70 points lower than your best just because your best doesn’t have the essay. Always take the essay, it won’t hurt the application. And while we’re on the topic of SAT, remember that there are no trial runs! Give your best for every sitting, because you, once again speaking from personal experience, don’t want to have your best score being the one you considered a trial run and could have done much better on.

  • Building a resume

The most important part of your college application is the experiences you’ve already had. The most competitive schools reject more than 90% of applicants. Your experiences need to stand out, while at the same time being cohesive with your intended major of study. Leadership is valued very highly, so definitely start that club you wanted to start! Work on that business idea you came up with! Go to that international student conference! Do that mindblowing lab research! Start that youtube channel! Point is, do as much as you can. Sleep can wait until retirement.

  • Application supplementals and personal statement

Start early. Start early. Start early. I can’t stress this enough. You don’t want to be writing your essays one hour before the deadline. Take your time in the summer after grade 11, come up with various drafts, prepare your application in advance while you have a lot of time. Get people to give you their opinions on your work. Autumn of grade 12 will be eventful enough even without the essay stress, believe me!

In conclusion, information is key in the university application process. Honestly, if you’ve read until the end of this lengthy article, you’ve already taken a big step towards getting into the university of your choice. I hope that you’ve learned something from my experience and wish you the best of luck with the applications or any other life challenge you are up to! (You’ll need it)