You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.
The journey begins. It’s now time for you to choose the story that you want to tell your audience, i.e., the admissions committee.
Here are a few ideas to get you thinking. You can choose and go ahead with the storyline that best fits your experiences and aspirations:
Connecting the Dots Approach
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
You may recognize these powerful words as spoken by Steve Jobs in his famous Stanford Commencement Address in 2005.* Steve Jobs dropped out of college, got fired from a company he created, and escaped cancer very narrowly. None of these events made sense to him when they were happening, yet they all connected perfectly in hindsight to build the life of one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time.
What kept him going was the love he had for what he did.
thinkSit for thirty minutes alone and write down all the disparate events that have happened in your life so far.
Do some of those events connect in hindsight to build a clear picture?
Can you pick some of them to give a justification for the major you’ve chosen now?
What has been a common thread?
As you begin to fill your paper, use the example below as inspiration, written by Sai based on his life’s story:
When I was in high school, I gave equal importance to sports, culturals, and academics. I wanted to be an all-rounder. After graduating with a Best All-rounder Award, I began to pursue my bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. While giving due importance to my major, I joined and excelled in my university’s public speaking club. Adding to that, I worked in a string of marketing positions at technical and cultural festivals. In hindsight, I realize that engineering management is a field that combines my passion for engineering with my interests in public speaking and marketing. Looking back over the past three years and connecting the dots, I can see why a degree in engineering management is the next best step for me.
Big Idea Approach
If there is one person who comes to mind when we think of audacious entrepreneurs, it is Elon Musk.
Everything Elon Musk does is tied to a big idea.
He founded SpaceX to solve the existential crisis of humankind and help us become a multi-planetary species. Tesla grew out of his goal to save the planet by pushing everyone to use renewable energy. Of all his ventures, my favorite is Neuralink, a recent startup he co-founded to help humans reach symbiosis with artificial intelligence.*
In a riveting post on Quora, Dolly Singh, the ex-Head of Talent Acquisition at SpaceX, describes what it was like to work with him after recounting a pivotal moment in the company’s history.* It was the year 2008. After pouring in millions of dollars, working 70-hour weeks for months on end, and making a wide-spread promise in the press that the Falcon 1 would have a successful launch, Elon Musk and 350 of his employees from SpaceX watched the engine fail during stage separation.
It was a devastating moment in the company’s history.
Yet, Dolly says that Elon walked out of his trailer to give a speech that changed the course of the company’s future.
I think most of us would have followed him into the gates of hell carrying suntan oil after that [speech]. It was the most impressive display of leadership that I have ever witnessed. Within moments the energy of the building went from despair and defeat to a massive buzz of determination as people began to focus on moving forward instead of looking back. This shift happened collectively, across all 300+ people in a matter of not more than five seconds.
I wish I had video footage as I would love to analyze the shifts in body language that occurred over those five seconds.
Less than eight weeks from that day, SpaceX executed a successful launch of Falcon 1, which became the world’s first privately built rocket to achieve earth orbit.
Undeterred in the face of all odds, Elon did it.
What keeps him going through it all are his big ideas.
Similarly, if you have always had one big idea of starting a food-tech company, writing a science-fiction novel, or curing cancer, then choose this approach. Below is an example template:
I grew up in a suburban setting with my family owning a 10-acre paddy farm. From a young age, I was exposed to the struggle that my family faced while employing manual farming methods. No matter how hard we worked, the yield was never enough. I decided then that I wanted to spend my career building low-cost technology to aid farmers with their yield. When I was in school, I never missed an opportunity to participate in science exhibitions and showcase my prototypes. After high school, I decided to pursue a degree in Production Engineering to continue on this path. I chose my internships carefully to be geared towards giving me a rounded education. I designed and built machinery, worked on optimizing the supply chain, and even spent a summer working with VTOL drone technology surveying farms. Moving ahead, I have a strong conviction that a graduate degree in agricultural technology and innovation is the next step in fulfilling my dream of developing low-cost automated agricultural systems.
If you’re propelled by one big idea, don’t be shy to center your entire video around it.
Universities love students who can’t shut up about something.
Linear Line Approach
There was once a young boy named Abdul, who was interested in aerospace engineering right from his school days. He displayed aptitude at a very young age by performing well in mathematics and continuously learning about rockets. He then went on to pursue many degrees in physics and aerospace engineering. Not surprisingly, he joined the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), where he slowly climbed the career ladder to eventually head the project that launched a series of satellites in near-earth orbit.
The young boy was Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, also known as the Missile Man of India.*
His life is a quintessential example of someone who followed a linear route to succeed.
Note that this approach might sound similar to the big idea one, but in fact, they are quite opposite. If you had a big idea from childhood, you center everything you do around it. You do everything with the end in mind. On the other hand, someone with a linear career does not start off wanting to be where they are today. Every experience they’ve had has made their conviction of an idea stronger with time, and slowly nudged them forward to eventually reach a big idea.
Below is an example template:
I focused on being an all-rounder in school. I took part in science exhibitions, volleyball tournaments, as well as debate competitions. I wanted to experience it all. When I had to choose a major in college, I picked Computer Science since I’ve always liked coding and I knew the major would give me the opportunity to work on projects in many verticals. Fortunately, before the end of my sophomore year, I had developed an affinity towards deep learning after working on a few data science projects and witnessing the power of a machine augmenting a human’s cognition. So I spent the next two years piling on courses related to big data and AI, participating in Kaggle competitions, and eventually earning a Master title. My proudest achievement was building an AI solution capable of human-like abstraction and reasoning with a very limited dataset. I want to continue on this path and eventually build a powerful model capable of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), freeing our time to focus on more creative pursuits.
These are the three widely used approaches. Use them as the backbone, but add your own idiosyncrasies on top of it to truly convey your story.
Production Stage: Being an Actor
First, you became a director by choosing the story and developing the content. Now, it’s time to become an actor (and possibly, a videographer).
Here are two ideas you can adopt while shooting the video:
Involve props that display your creativity and/or skill.
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