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.