March 15 Deadline & Rush

Wow! In just one week, I received a rush of requests for Sciences Po application reviews from eleven different applicants— ten Master’s degree students and one undergraduate student.

Thank you to all of my readers for keeping me busy.

It has been a joy to read through all of your life experiences and motivations for pursuing careers in policymaking, development, international journalism, and more.

I am more than happy to help out anyone (applying to any university) who contacts me with their letter of motivation.

The Sciences Po international undergraduates still have until May 2 to submit their applications.

I look forward to hearing from those Sciences Po Master’s students who will be admitted in the coming weeks– and also to reading what the 2018 applicants will have in store for me, starting in just a few months.

Read my other posts:
Sciences Po Applications: Is It Bad to Submit at the Last Minute?
Can I Appeal My Rejection?

Can I Appeal My Rejection?

I recently received this message from a reader who wanted to know if she could appeal her rejection:

Hi Maija,

I would really appreciate your advice with an issue concerning my Sciences Po Application. Unfortunately, today I received my rejection from the University. However, I am very much confident that there must be some sort of mistake.

I know this might sound too self-confident, but I am sure that I had an excellent application. I prepared every single component in advance, from recommendation and motivation letter to a well-planned gap year that perfectly fits the Student Profile of PSIA.

Plus, I was really expecting an offer– especially since two students from my home University with worse grades, less practical experience and an overall average profile got admitted. I know that all sounds a little arrogant, yet I was very confident with my application and therefore really irritated about my rejection.

Could you give me any advice in this manner. How can I deal with this Situation. Would it make any sense to contact the Admission Office directly?

So, there are a couple of issues to be addressed here.
The first is “Can I appeal my rejection?”
The answer is that yes, you can always contact admissions and politely request that they take a second look at your application. As far as I am aware, Sciences Po does not have a formal avenue for students to appeal an admissions decision. Nevertheless, you can find the appropriate email addresses/phone numbers online quite easily.
The second question is “Will it work?”
The answer is probably no. It’s very rare for this tactic to actually work. There might be a compelling reason to try if there is some new and important information that you did not include in your initial application that you think will make the difference. However, it does not sound like that is the case in this instance.
Perhaps the more important questions here, though, are:
“Was my application not excellent?”


“Did these other two students with worse grades and less practical experience really have better applications than I did?”
If you think your application was excellent, then it probably was.

(I did not personally review this student’s application, nor did I review the applications of the other two students mentioned.)

Sciences Po is an extremely competitive university and, unfortunately, they often have to reject even some of the most qualified applicants. They just don’t have space for all of the excellent students who are interested in attending their programs.
Keep in mind that Sciences Po looks for much more than good grades and good practical experiences.
If you look at their international graduate admissions criteria, you will see that, beyond academic and professional background, Sciences Po also takes into account the applicant’s career plans and personality.

Did you accurately explain what your career plans are and how Sciences Po can help you to achieve them? Did you show intellectual curiosity and a strong capacity for leadership?

 Even given all of the admissions criteria, perhaps you truly were a better applicant than your peers.

Maybe you were just unable to express that clearly in words.

It is also possible that Sciences Po thought you were “too good” —
meaning that you are already able to pursue your career goals without first completing a master’s degree. While your peers need a Sciences Po master’s degree in order to continue in their fields, you are actually in a good position to go ahead and start working on what you want to do now.
Whatever the case may be, I encourage you not to despair. There is a great opportunity for you on the horizon!
Perhaps you will spend a year working in your field. Maybe you will travel and see more of the world. You could even decide that another university program is ultimately a much better fit for your particular goals. Rather than seeing this rejection as something negative, see it as something positive.
All the best,
Read my post about dealing with a college rejection.

Don’t Complement Your School on Its Rankings

Based on the 2016 QS World University Rankings, the following are the top places to study for a degree in Politics & International Studies:

  1. Harvard University
  2. University of Oxford
  3. London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE)
  4. Sciences Po
  5. University of Cambridge

WOW! Wouldn’t it just be the best to apply to one of these universities?

If you’ve started your application to one of these top schools, then you should be extremely excited about the opportunity to earn a world-class degree.

But you don’t need to put that in your personal statement!

The personal statement is an opportunity (with a limited word count) to express why you are a good fit for a certain program and why you plan to attend.

Of course, it’s possible you are only applying to a program because of its rankings. Yet, “I want to attend your school because it is the best” just isn’t a very good reason to apply somewhere. I see this all the time. Students write things like:

  • “Your university is the #3 in the world for politics and international relations, so studying at your prestigious university will allow me to achieve my dreams.”
  • “This school is in the top 10 for development programs in the world. It provides an excellent education and helps students to achieve great things.”

My reaction: “So, what?” The above lines are sentences that any student could write. They don’t provide any insight into who you are or why you are are good fit for a specific university or program.

Universities are looking for students who are talented and hard working. They want students that not only will do well in their classes, but will also go on to do great things after graduation– thereby giving an even better reputation to their institution.

If you make it sound like you are incredibly impressed by a school’s rankings, then the school may wonder if you aren’t applying to a program that is — quite frankly — out of your league.

Top universities do not give out positive admissions decisions to the students who most want to attend their school. They give them to the students who are the most deserving. Keep that in mind as you are crafting your application essays.

Grammar Quiz: A Nod to Some Grammatical Issues I See Frequently

I hardly consider a clickbait grammar quiz to be a good judge of whether or not you truly paid attention to your high school English teacher. English grammar is very, very complex! Moreover, I think that it’s under-emphasized in American high schools. (And one of these days I’ll probably write an entire post about that…)

Although many of my readers who contact me for help with their college personal statements are foreigners, I would say about 1/3 are native English speakers.

Regardless of nationality, this quiz touches on a few issues that I come across regularly, such as:
  • who VS whom
  • affected VS effected
  • that VS which
  • then VS than

Of course, a quiz like this makes things look simple. When I’m editing a personal statement, grammar is just the first of many things that I look at. Word choice, overall feeling, flow, and organization are also equally important.

Nevertheless, quizzes are fun! See if you can get a 25/25.

Nationality and College Admissions

I recently received this comment from a reader regarding nationality and college admissions:

“My education is [nationality] and it makes me feel insecure.”

Some countries are well-known for their great education systems, and others less so. You could be Malaysian, Portuguese, Moroccan, Syrian or Mexican. The exact nationality isn’t important. The question remains the same:

Should your nationality make you feel insecure about your college application?

And put another way: Should being from a country with excellent educational statistics grant you the right to feel confident?

As one of my all-time favorite quotes goes:

“Talent is universal. Opportunity is not.”

I always thought it was Hillary Clinton who said this. However, a frenzied Google search is making me second guess that. (I’d be grateful if any reader wants to investigate that one, but regardless of who said it it’s an excellent quote).

University admissions boards should understand that not everyone has the same opportunities.

Frankly, if you went to school in a wealthy neighborhood public school in the United States and weren’t president, vice president or secretary of at least one student club, then you’re probably not going to get into an ivy league school.

But if you are a bacha posh girl who grew up dressing as a boy just so that you could attend school in Afghanistan, then you probably weren’t trying to garner extra attention by running for student body president. Moreover, nobody would expect it of you. And it shouldn’t affect your admissions decision for college.

Some people are given a silver spoon at birth. Not just in terms of money, but also in terms of opportunity.

Universities want to accept the best and brightest. But they should also understand that it’s easy to be smart and accomplished when you have everything going for you since birth.

Any college where international relations or humanitarian issues are taught (or really economics or politics at all, for that matter) should be intimately aware of the disparities that exist between countries. More importantly, they shouldn’t discriminate based on nationality.

But do they?

Sciences Po claims that it doesn’t. In fact, like many other universities, Sciences Po strives to have a multicultural student body with individuals from many nationalities and many socioeconomic groups. Yet, there’s a caveat:

Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink) has a new podcast out called Revisionist History. I highly recommend it to absolutely everyone.

In particular, he has a wonderful episode called “Carlos Doesn’t Remember.” (It’s free by the way!) In this episode, Gladwell talks about how the American school system isn’t truly a meritocracy. Even though universities accept students based on merit, that “merit” is often a direct result of a student’s socioeconomic status. A child from a wealthier family will have more opportunities throughout childhood, and will therefore likely have more “merit” when it comes time to apply to college.

In other words, they might accept a bacha posh girl, but she would first have to apply and, second, at least need to make a certain minimum score on her college entrance exams. But she isn’t likely to have the forethought or resources to do that given the struggle she went through just to get a basic education.

Although Gladwell focuses specifically on the American education system, the same can probably said for most well-known universities throughout the world– Sciences Po, London School of Economics, etc.

Here’s the good news for you:
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably going to apply to college. You probably also have a decent college entrance exam score. And that means you have the upper hand.

If you have taken advantage of the opportunities that are available to you and– very important– can express that to the admissions committee, then your nationality and the school you attended should not make you feel insecure.

As far as larger life lessons go:

Regardless of whether or not you get accepted to your dream school, if you worked hard for your accomplishments then you should be proud of them.

Ultimately, the most important thing isn’t your nationality or your school’s ranking. Rather, it’s showing what you can do with the education and opportunities that you’ve had.

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