Friday, August 29, 2014

No Need to be Perfect to Stand Out

By Yixin Zhao
MA Candidate at Columbia University

I arrived in New York City on 25 August 2013, which marked the beginning of my journey at Columbia University. As I walked around campus, it all seemed unreal to me. As a student who had been spending half a semester figuring what Columbia saw in me, I would like to share my story with you.

On the path to applying for college in the U.S, I benefited a lot from three years of hard work on my major study. Without worrying too much about my GPA, I spent most of my spare time preparing for the TOEFL and GRE tests because my intended major in communications required very strong language skills. Luckily, I earned satisfactory grades in the end, which for sure gave me some edge in the competition. Yet, looking back on those days of hovering over the keyboard and beating myself up with those unfamiliar words, I am truly thankful that I have been persistently learning English throughout college.

As much as I admit the importance of language skills, I firmly believe that the most important reason why I got into Columbia was because of my experiences and what I got out of them.

CV or curriculum vitae are a list of the professional experiences and achievements. In my case, I initially did not have the goal of applying to American schools in my head when I did all these things on my CV. Fortunately, I had relevant opportunities based on my interests, such as participating in a music group, research team, and two internships in a news magazine and newspaper. If I had the chance to start all over again, I would definitely make my decision to study abroad as early as possible so that I have time to make a plan in advance.

In addition, experiences are never about quantity or getting famous names on your CV. To me, what matters is whether or not I am able to learn from an internship that would have a positive effect in what I want to do in the future. As more and more stories are available on the internet about someone who got into a great school with excellent grades and impressive experiences, that seems to become the template for future applicants. Some applicants I knew tried to find their ways to get internships in famous companies and get their articles published in first tier journals in order to present a perfect application. However, I would say it is better to get inspiration from others’ success than to simply imitate.

On the contrary, the personal statement has more flexibility. It is a way to express in words the purpose of why you are the perfect candidate for the program you are applying to. Considering myself as a future storyteller, I found writing personal statement very challenging yet fun. The fun of balancing personal expression and communicating with your reader, the admissions committee, truly lies in how to wisely use your materials. My first step was to find stories that would best show my professional endeavor and unique characters. After a few rounds of editing, I ended up writing three major stories which made perfect sense of who I am and who I want to be. When the content part was over, I spent quite some time polishing the expressions to make sure the flow of the story was consistent. 

After one year at Columbia University, I still recall every now and then the time I was caught up in the application process. Coincidentally, the other day, I stopped by and eventually sat in the opening ceremony of Columbia with new admitted students this year. From different welcoming speeches, I heard a few lines that resonated with me and hereby pass them to you. “Through your struggles, difficulties, and achievements, we saw how much you believed in yourself and we saw Columbia in you.” Be true to yourself and I believe what you dream of will be sure to come true. Good Luck!


Yixin Zhao is a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University, majoring in Communication and Education. She previously studied Communication in Beijing Jiaotong University. In the pursuit of becoming a storyteller in media industry, she is currently an intern in SinoVision English Channel.

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