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UPenn Alumni Interview w/ Jan N. | Part 2: Always be Sincere

Updated: Aug 6, 2022

Jan N. is a master's student at the European University at St. Petersburg studying Russian & Eurasian studies. He is also an honors graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in International Relations and Russian & East European Studies. In the Fall of 2019, Jan studied abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, at Saint Petersburg State University where he undertook intensive language coursework in Russian.

This is the first part in a 5-part series featuring Jan's advice and experience.


Important things Jan shares:

  • "You can’t fake motivation or sincerity on your profile, so you might as well learn––by means of experience––what you enjoy working on and go from there."

  • "Don’t worry about how “normal” or atypical or “useful” something is as long as you care about it."

Q: Why did you choose Penn, and what did it have to offer you specifically?

A: Frankly, I ended up choosing Penn because it was the best school that I got into. As a high schooler, I had no idea what I was looking for, what I was truly interested in, and what different college experiences would be like at various universities. However, when I visited Penn I had a weird feeling that I could and would spend time walking down this campus a lot––a feeling I had nowhere else.

Q: What type of person/student do you think would fit well going to UPenn?

A: Someone who is ready and willing to challenge themselves in every sense of the word––socially, intellectually, professionally, personally, etc.––and who derives enjoyment and satisfaction from such challenges. Penn is not an easy environment and there are few people I have met who thought it was an “easy” experience. Penn is not a nightmare, nor is everyone cutthroat (as I heard some people claim)––it is, however, very competitive and high-strung, and will challenge you.

Q: What type of special requirements did Penn have that were unique/considerable?

A: To my knowledge, Penn has fairly standard academic and graduation requirements for a liberal arts education.

Q: How did you spend your free time in high school?

A: I was really into long-distance running, and track/XC comprised the majority of my commitments. Other than that, I visited family abroad and worked.

Q: What type of leadership positions did you hold in high school? Do you think this affected your acceptance?

A: I was the captain of the Cross-Country team in high school and didn’t really hold too many other leadership positions. Leadership was probably the weakest aspect of my application.

Q: How did you make sure your essay stood out against others?

A: I directly emphasized my unique applicant profile and made sure that my narrative was cohesive and did not spare any emphasis on that which made me “special.”

Q: What type of projects did you undertake on your own in high school?

A: I worked as a museum intern in Poland and the Dominican Republic the summer before senior year, wrote for the school newspaper, went to a foreign Saturday-school until I was 16 (upon which I received a diploma), and participated in sports and clubs as per my interests.

Q: Were you able to win any scholarships? If so, how?

A: I did not, although I did not apply––I was not confident enough to apply for any such awards. I regret thinking that honors and distinctions were reflections of intrinsic “intelligence” or positive virtue, rather than (in most cases) hard work and time investment.

Q: What would you say played a bigger role in your success? The environment or self-motivation?

A: I have always been motivated, though I did not know what I wanted to do and as such, I prevented myself from pursuing many goals and endeavors. In the end, it was a combination of motivation (I took lots of classes, dedicated myself to my sport, and involved myself extracurricularly), environment (my high school was very competitive), and luck (I was able to take advantage of opportunities that were not always available to many of my peers).

Q: Where was your main focus or priority in high school and how did you set them?

A: Academics––I took lots of APs, two languages, and all the honors classes I could. I also went to a Saturday school.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone who aspires to get into a top school?

A: Identity what things interest you and pursue jobs, classes, internships, or any opportunities in those realms. You can’t fake motivation or sincerity on your profile, so you might as well learn––by means of experience––what you enjoy working on and go from there. Don’t worry about how “normal” or atypical or “useful” something is as long as you care about it.

Thanks for reading!

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