S. Zafar, who attended Carnegie Mellon University, earned a 35 on her ACT, took 13 AP classes in high school, events' chair for FORGE (refugee empowerment club), the president of high school Amnesty International Chapter, and the president of Undergraduate Economics Journal at Carnegie Mellon.
Key points S. Zafar shares:
"Someone who is self-motivated, intellectually curious, and unafraid of failure. College is different from high school in that there aren’t many systems in place to hold you accountable, and it is incredibly easy to fall behind."
"I tried my best to showcase myself as someone who would seize the incredible resources and opportunities the school has to offer."
"As cliche as it sounds, to be yourself rather than following the typical road-map people often list when attempting to get into a top university."
Q: Carnegie Mellon is well known for its programs in computer science, business, and mathematics. What about it stood out to you in particular?
A: What initially drew me to Carnegie Mellon University was how interdisciplinary the curriculum is. For example, a student can enroll in multiple colleges through CMU’s BXA Intercollege degree programs. Although I am not currently enrolled in a BXA program as a Stat+ML and Economics Major, I’m currently enrolled in Economics, Statistics, and Machine Learning courses through the Tepper Business School, the Dietrich School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the School of Computer Science. As someone who wanted to learn more about the intersection between Technology and Economics, I felt as if CMU was perfectly suited for my interests.
Q: What type of person/student do you think would fit well going to Carnegie Mellon?
A: Someone who is self-motivated, intellectually curious, and unafraid of failure. College is different from high school in that there aren’t many systems in place to hold you accountable, and it is incredibly easy to fall behind. Furthermore, GPAs at Carnegie Mellon are not inflated, and everyone has experienced failing a test or two. CMU is very rewarding in that it offers an incredible amount of resources and attention to students interested in learning more about their field of study; however, it is not a great choice for someone who solely relies on extrinsic motivation (getting an “A”) in order to study for a class.
Q: What do you think made you stand out for Carnegie Mellon?
A: I tried my best to showcase myself as someone who would seize the incredible resources and opportunities the school has to offer. Detailing how you would take advantage of the resources available demonstrates your interest in the school you are applying to, and portrays you as an ideal candidate. I mentioned the different research opportunities (SURA, SURG, etc) Carnegie Mellon University has to offer as well as some areas of research I was interested in pursuing, and I believe it had a positive impact on my overall application.
Q: Would you say that the environment played a bigger role in your success or self-motivation?
A: Although I was fortunate in that my school offered AP courses, I found self-motivation to be the largest factor in my academic success. I seeked out different resources for AP courses and standardized tests by searching on the internet for old exams and going to the local library for tutoring resources. Although having a supportive, academically focused environment is incredibly beneficial- one must ultimately seize the resources available to them by their own accord.
Q: What advice would you give to students who aspire to get into a top university?
A: As cliche as it sounds, to be yourself rather than following the typical road-map people often list when attempting to get into a top university. Colleges don’t want their entire student population to have the same activities and essays. In fact, if you’re passionate about something that isn’t a typical “academic” activity, it can sometimes make you stand out in a positive way as an applicant. Furthermore, I would encourage students to immerse themselves in a variety of subjects, as Last but not least, enjoy your high school years- they’ll fly by!
Q: How did you spend your free time in high school? (weekends, summers, breaks, etc.)
A: I spent a lot of my free time reading about politics, literature, and music. Although none of these books pertained to my classes at the time, they enabled me to broaden my perspective in the classes I was taking; furthermore, they enabled me to easily answer common college essay questions such as “What is your favorite book”, etc.
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