💼 Incoming Freshman
⏳ Aug 2024 — May 2028
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How my study abroad journey started
This might be somewhat specific to Brazil, but I study at a school known as a Federal Institute with Portuguese as the language of instruction. It's a combination of a traditional school mixed with technical programs, from which you get to choose one. I opted for informatics, which is essentially computer science. I have a keen interest in technology, and that's also what I aim to study in college.
Ever since I was young, I told my parents I wanted to work at NASA. I've always been excited about going abroad, experiencing new cultures, meeting new people, and working internationally. However, in my small town, we lack resources, and no one around here has ever studied abroad. There was not much information on how to pursue this dream; I just had the aspiration.
Starting my freshman year in high school, I began to research and seriously explore this option. I knew I needed to get involved in extracurricular activities and maintain a high GPA. But I still wondered, "Okay, I participate in all these extracurricular activities and keep up my grades, then what? How do I actually apply?" That's when I discovered EducationUSA. They run a program called Opportunity Funds, available here in Brazil and potentially in other places around the world. They select 20 students who need financial support from across the country and provide assistance such as covering SAT and application fees. They also connected me with an advisor, and that's how I managed to pull everything together and submit my application.
As I am very interested in technology and research, I prioritized schools in these areas when picking colleges. Additionally, I knew I needed a full ride, so I looked for universities that cover the full need of international students. I focused on need-blind universities, but there are only a few of those, and Harvard was one of them.
On top of that, I love the Boston area – it's full of international students and there's a large Brazilian community, which is great. I also love MIT, and I applied there through Regular Decision too, but the decision has not come out yet. For Harvard, I applied with Restrictive Early Action. I might soon face a big question: if I get into MIT, do I go?
But my College List included not only Ivies. I have applied to places like MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, and then some safeties, like the University of Richmond, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Colorado Boulder.
I focused on creating an overarching theme of technology throughout my activities. The main activity I undertook was co-founding a nonprofit that offers digital education workshops and mentorship to students. It resembles Borderless in a way but is tailored for digital education. We're also on TikTok and Instagram, where we share tips and host live workshops.
Additionally, I engaged in several research projects in high school. My school emphasizes research and offers scholarships for it, and I was able to secure a few. First, during the pandemic, I coded an app that helps people verify whether news is true or not. I took this project to Brazil's largest scientific fair and won first place, so it served as both an extracurricular activity and an honor.
I also worked on a project for a national park near my area, which often suffers from wildfires. I created a fire detection system that automatically alerts the authorities, thus helping to speed up firefighting. This project was presented at Latin America's biggest scientific fair, and I ended up winning second place.
Another project I am proud of is on quantum physics. Around our national park, there's a lot of tourism, and some people mislead tourists with quantum healing and quantum coaching claims. I researched this topic and it got published in one of Brazil's largest physics teaching journals.
Lastly, I have some international experience; I participated in an exchange program to Japan called Sakura Science High School and was selected by the U.S. Embassy for the Youth Ambassadors Program to visit the U.S.
Stats: GPA, TOEFL, ACT
Starting with the TOEFL, I took it just once and scored 111 out of 120. I knew this score would be sufficient, as most schools only require a minimum of 100.
Regarding standardized tests, I opted for the ACT and took it twice. The first time, I scored a 32, and the second time, I scored another 32. I applied to Harvard test-optional because they do not allow superscoring for the ACT. When I superscore my ACT, I achieve a 34, which is quite strong, but a 32 did not feel sufficient for Harvard. However, MIT allows superscores, so I sent my ACT scores there.
About my GPA, in Brazil, we use a 0 to 10 system, and I didn't convert it to the standard 4.0 scale. My GPA is 9.86/10.
How I approached my Personal Statement
To be very honest, I'm not much of a writer, and I don't particularly enjoy the writing process, whether it's in English or Portuguese. The Common App essay was definitely a significant challenge. However, I did a lot of reading online, looking at other people's Common App essays, and noticed a certain pattern: most start with a background or childhood story, then delve into something deeper, and eventually tie it to their learnings or intended major.
For my Personal Statement, I decided to discuss toxic masculinity and how it has impacted me from my childhood to now. I shared the story of how my father had certain expectations and how I've grown from that experience. It's quite personal and isn’t directly connected to my major – it's just about me and who I am. I tried to keep it light, and even though I did mention my challenges, I focused more on how I overcame them, highlighting my resilience.
Financial Aid Details
As I mentioned before, when researching colleges, I prioritized those offering full financial aid, which is necessary for someone from a low-income background like myself. Some of the universities on my list didn't directly offer full scholarships, but I also secured an external scholarship from my country to cover that.
Harvard has offered me full financial aid, as I got accepted and my family income falls below their $85,000 a year threshold. The financial aid covers not just tuition – it includes everything: food, housing, medical expenses, books, supplies, etc.
To apply for financial aid, I followed the regular process, using the CSS Profile and submitting additional documents through iDoc.
My Harvard Interview Experience
The interview process for Harvard was a quite nerve-wracking experience for me, as it was the only college interview I had. I had withdrawn all my other applications, except for MIT, where I might have another interview.
However, the interviewer, a Harvard alumnus from Brazil, made me feel at ease, creating a comfortable environment. It seemed like his primary intention was to understand who I am as a person. He asked me about life in my hometown, dived into my extracurricular activities, and naturally, asked why I wanted to attend Harvard. There weren’t any trick questions or unusual prompts, like asking about my favorite movie or hypothetical time travel scenarios.
Resources that helped me
As a first step for assistance, I would recommend finding an EducationUSA office near you as they have amazing advisors. I'm not sure if Opportunity Funds is a global or just a Brazilian program, but it's worth checking out. It is a very competitive program, though, as I had to apply, write essays, get letters of recommendation, etc. Only 20 students are selected, but they provide substantial financial assistance with application fees and guidance.
For the TOEFL and ACT, I used official books, which helped to understand not just the content but also what the examiners were looking for.
Lastly, I also used Reddit and Quora a lot, mainly to find out about things you can't do on university websites, like the campus culture and party scene, or what the professors are really like.
Harvard asks for five supplemental essays, each a 200-word essay. The first one inquired about life experiences and how they'd contribute to Harvard. Here, I spoke extensively about my background, coming from a small town in rural Brazil, and the limited resources I had. But instead of just emphasizing the difficulties, I focused on how I overcame them and my plans to use technology to give back to my community.
The next one about contributing to Harvard was quite challenging. How do you say you're going to contribute when you haven't even been there? So, I opted for something more light-hearted, describing how I want to help create a space where people feel safe sharing their differences.
For the intellectual experience prompt, I discussed my quantum physics project. Quantum physics is quite a buzzword, and I figured it might impress the admissions officers. I explained the details of the project and its goals of preventing misinformation in the field.
Then, for the extracurricular activities essay, I chose to highlight my fire detection system project. It's not just about technology; it's about helping my community, which is an important value I want to communicate.
Lastly, regarding my education plans, I wrote that I want to return to Brazil and be a changemaker in digital education. I talked about enhancing technology in the curriculum of public schools, as there is a clear need for it. I tried to show a clear plan and a big vision of what I wanted to do.