April 15, 2023

3 gap years, art spike: how I got into Union College in NY with full financial aid

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Eva from Russia 🇷🇺

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3 gap years, art spike: how I got into Union College in NY with full financial aid

Why I wanted to study in the US

From a very young age, I have been fascinated by cinematography and photography. During high school, I gained hands-on experience by attending a photography school. Over the years, I've come to realize that I'm truly interested in the process of making movies. The most intriguing questions for me have always been: "How can one create all kinds of interesting visuals?" and "How can one convey various social issues through media and film?"

I always wanted to study abroad, and the US was the most enticing option. In my opinion, the entire art field is best developed in the US, particularly in the context of filmmaking. It seems to me that other countries and continents cannot boast such a scale. That's why I decided to go to America!

3 gap years

I first applied this year, after taking three gap years since graduating in 2020. I had only one shot, and it turned out to be a good one.

I graduated from school during the covid-19 pandemic, so the dream of going abroad seemed to be on hold. I put the idea aside, took a year off with the goal of gaining hands-on experience in the field to ensure that this was truly the direction I wanted to pursue. My gap year was planned thoughtfully and strategically, as it was important for me to be confident in my choice.

Preparation process

I began investigating the American admissions process two years ago, initially taking small steps such as researching required exams and different types of universities. However, a little later, I started delving deeper into the details and exploring non-obvious aspects about a year and a half ago. During the research process, it's important to consult various sources and be open to changing your mind from time to time.

So, for those currently in middle or high school, keep this in mind: researching and understanding the steps to gain admission takes a considerable amount of time. Ideally, start in 10th grade, or in 11th if you're willing to take a gap year if things don't work out promptly.

As for resources, I can't point to just one. Familiarity comes with exposure. In terms of blogs, it's essential to read a variety of perspectives and always approach them with a critical eye. Compare information from different bloggers before drawing conclusions. It's also important to read the stories of real, self-made individuals with backgrounds similar to yours, rather than relying solely on long articles from promoted agencies.

Why I chose Union College

This year, I was accepted into Union College for Early Decision 2, Class of 2027! My financial aid covers 90% of all expenses, which is exactly what I needed. I was able to cover the remaining 10% on my own, as I had explained to the college.

It took me a long time to decide where to apply for ED2. I initially applied to Denison University, but they turned me down. Union College had two more days before the deadline to switch from RD to ED, so I contacted them and transferred my application to ED2. It turned out that, subconsciously, my heart was set on Union College—it seemed like a special sign.

My choice was influenced by their close-knit community. This college focuses more on collaborative projects and joint activities rather than extreme achievement, which aligns with my values. Located in New York State, Union College is considered a minor Ivy League institution and follows the liberal arts concept. I was attracted to the research opportunities, which are very well-developed here.

My major is Sociology, and my minor is Film. I particularly appreciate that my minor has a focus on post-production, offering courses that cover the practical aspects of filmmaking. The location also played a role, being only two hours away from New York City, which presents numerous opportunities.

I believe our interview contributed to the admissions committee's positive decision, as the Common Data Set listed it as "Important." It was one of the longest interviews I've had, lasting about an hour. I had approximately seven interviews, and the one with Union College went particularly well. I was interviewed by a senior student in the same field as me, and the questions she asked resonated with me, creating a strong connection.

Union College campus
Union College campus

Stats, grades, honors

I didn't apply with SAT scores, as I was test-optional. My IELTS score was 7, and my GPA was 3.8/4. All of my honors were earned during my time in school. I didn't have any international-level accomplishments, only school and district ones. These were mostly academic awards, but one was related to photography school.

Not all of my achievements were obtained during the gap years; some were earned while I was still in school.

Personal brand

I aimed to present a diverse case by showcasing my involvement in both film and sociology through my extracurricular activities. I strove to demonstrate practical experience in acting, video editing with Adobe Premiere Pro, producing, serving as a director's assistant, and studying photography for two years. I believe I succeeded in exhibiting consistency and perseverance in my application, as I gradually improved my directing skills in small steps over several years.

In my Personal Statement, I discussed the journey of finding myself and how, with the tools of video and film, I can achieve my goals and overcome challenges.

My photography work
My photography work

Preparing for freshman year

My college does not offer a Pre-College Program, so I am to arrive in August. Until then I plan to be productive: working, seeing my friends. In general, a lot of work, but also a lot of rest.

I'm from Russia, so I have to fly to another country to get a visa: the American embassy here has been closed since covid. The process itself is quite confusing, but it’s okay, just requires some time to investigate it. In theory, the college can help, but so far I am able to manage. For Russians, the best options are Armenia, Serbia, and Kazakhstan.

Mistakes that applicants make

A common mistake many applicants make is not knowing how to effectively describe their activities. Often, they write about them in a flat, dull, and uninspiring manner. In reality, an activity might seem insignificant, but it can always be presented in the right light: without exaggeration, but with a clear explanation of its practical relevance. I'm grateful to my mentor for helping me present myself appropriately.

Advice for students on a gap year

To those going through a gap year, I encourage you not to get discouraged or give up. Remember, getting into a U.S. college can be like playing Russian roulette. Your application might be excellent, but the college may not need such applicants in a particular year. It's impossible to predict the outcome.

My advice is to work on yourself: gain unique work experience and avoid following the crowd, like attending endless speaking clubs. Don't think in patterns, such as, "How can I fill this space on the application..." Instead, focus on the following thought: "What experience and opportunity do I need right now to develop myself as a future professional in my chosen field?" From there, search for interesting and unique opportunities.

Getting into a creative major

For those pursuing a creative major, I would advise gaining a clear understanding of why they are doing it. Many people struggle to provide a constructive reason for choosing a specific creative field. While some professions may be lucrative, that motivation alone is not enough in the U.S. It's important for applicants to have a life mission and a passion for their chosen field. This mission should be connected to their college application. Everyone must decide for themselves how their creativity will contribute to fulfilling that very idea.

I am currently actively running a Telegram blog in Russian, where I discuss pursuing an art major, art professions in general, and learning English. I am so happy to share my experiences because I feel a strong connection to the community of prospective students. I genuinely enjoy helping others by providing information and clarifying various aspects of the process!

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from Russia 🇷🇺

Duration of Study

Aug 2023 — May 2027


Sociology + Film

Learn more ->
Union College New York

Union College New York

Schenectady, US🇺🇸


✍️ Interview by

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Lera from Russia 🇷🇺

Gap year student captivated by human rights

Learn more ->
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    1 year ago

    Eva's story gives me so much hope!

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      1 year ago

      This amazing interview was done by our ambassador @lerrie.gg!

      1. 🦕


        11 months ago

        Привет! Мне очень понравилось твоя история так как я тоже взяла gap year и буду поступать в этом году. У меня есть несколько вопросов которые я бы хотела с тобой обсудить. Могу ли я с тобой связаться и как?

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          10 months ago

          Привет! В посте указан канал Евы (последний раздел), можешь связаться с ней там :) Всё получится ♥