x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Grades not only requirement to win coveted Ivy League spot

Pupils told to impress top US universities with 'your personality'.

Students and parents attend the US study counselling session at the Emirates International School in Dubai yesterday. Satish Kumar / The National
Students and parents attend the US study counselling session at the Emirates International School in Dubai yesterday. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // As the application deadline draws near, students hoping to go to America's best universities were told yesterday to broaden their extra-curricular activities if they were to stand a chance.

Academic scores alone were not enough, said Marc Zawel, author of Untangling the Ivy League, a guide to getting into the US's top institutions.

He said it was largely a case of how a student's personality added to the community, be it with a record of doing voluntary work, playing sport or having artistic talent.

Mr Zawel and his colleague, Stephen Friedfeld, the former assistant dean of admissions at Cornell University and associate dean of admissions at Princeton University, are in Dubai for six days, meeting students hoping to study in the US next year.

The most popular courses here - business and engineering - were similarly in demand in the US, so students had to offer something different. Sanjeev Verma, the director of Intelligent Partners, the education consultancy that has brought the counsellors to Dubai, said: "Outside the classroom, students here tend to falter but schools are becoming more open to this."

Mr Friedfeld said: "Art and music are terrific ones. The university wants to know who the student is and what they do for fun, what talents they have."

Yesterday the pair visited Emirates International School and today they will go to Modern High, many of whose students go on to study in the US. Tomorrow they will give a presentation to 300 eager students at The Address hotel at Dubai Mall.

Key for students' preparation were the standard assessment tests (SATs) expected of all applicants.

Mr Zawel said they were "a driver in the admissions process", but most UAE schools did not carry them out.

The annual Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education said that in 2008 to 2009, there were more than 1,200 Emirati students in the US.

But only about three per cent of international admissions to US universities were from the Gulf and Middle East.

Sanmita Patel, who came to the UAE from India as a baby, wants to do a master's in architecture at an Ivy League institution next year. Ms Patel, 26, took her undergraduate degree at Mumbai University and now wants advice to help her prepare the best possible application.

"Ivy League schools are obviously looking for that edge so for architecture, I want to know what that requires of me."

Like many others, she looked at the cost - about US$250,000 (Dh918,000) for four years of study, board and living expenses - as an investment for her future.

Many parents took out loans, said Mr Friedfeld, hoping the money would translate quickly into high salaries for their children.

Tuition at US state universities was far cheaper at about $15,000 to $25,000 a year.

Mr Verma added: "There's no denying the fact it's more expensive than going to study in the UK but if you do your homework there are cheaper alternatives."