May 12, 2024

Detailing How I Got Into The UPenn Huntsman Program as an International Student From East Africa

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Queren from Burundi 🇧🇮

Campus Image of University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
Detailing How I Got Into The UPenn Huntsman Program as an International Student From East Africa

About Me and My High School

Hello Everyone! I am Quéren, an international student hailing from Burundi, a nation in East Africa. I am currently studying at Kigutu International Academy, a bilingual (French and English) boarding school located in Burundi. My academic interests are primarily in international studies and finance, which I plan to pursue in college.

I joined Kigutu International School in the 9th grade through a rigorous two-stage examination process. This process included writing essay responses and undergoing an interview with a panel of judges, comprising both Americans and Burundians. The school, managed by both nationalities, continues to select approximately thirty students each year through this process.

In Burundi, the educational system mandates a broad curriculum. However, my school adopts a slightly different approach. While our curriculum is liberal, it emphasizes certain areas - sciences, entrepreneurial studies, global perspectives, and languages. My fascination with international studies was sparked by my global perspectives classes, where I was introduced to world news, philosophy, societal structures, and more. We, as students, were constantly encouraged to step up as the future leaders of Burundi and the world. My unique first step in this direction was to gain a comprehensive understanding of global affairs. After all, one cannot aspire to solve a country's problems without a deep understanding of the country itself.

Me in my Penn Merch 💙❤️
Me in my Penn Merch 💙❤️

Why I Want to Study Abroad

When I was younger, I would often express to my father my aspiration to study in the USA. He would always encourage me to work diligently, as he understood that education in the United States is quite costly. For many Africans, the United States is perceived as the epitome of success. This perception is largely influenced by the media we consume, which often portrays the USA as an ideal place. This goal and my natural curiosity motivated me to teach myself English at the age of ten.

Four years later, this belief was put to the test. As a student at Kigutu, I was introduced to various study abroad destinations. Despite this, my heart was still set on America. However, this decision was not without its doubts. Last summer, I was selected for an exchange program in the United States called the Pan-African Youth Leadership Program. We spent a week at Emory University in Georgia, where we learned about American culture, leadership, and more. During this program, I did not feel the excitement I had anticipated. It did not occur to me that I was actually in the country I had dreamt of.

Eventually, I realized that you can pursue higher education anywhere if you are ready to work for it, and I began exploring different study abroad options. It was then that I discovered my dream school in the US.

Extracurriculars & Stats


  • GPA: My GPA is 91.85 out of 100. With the help of my school counselor, we converted it to the American 4.0 scale, resulting in a GPA of 3.71 out of 4.0.

  • Digital SAT Score: 1430 out of 1600

  • Duolingo English Test: 145 out of 160.

  • National Leaving Exams: I am scheduled to take these exams in July.

Top Three ECs:

  1. Finance: I dedicated significant time each week to studying finance concepts through online courses and books. I prepared and managed financial records for a small business and interned at an international NGO under the guidance of a mentor.

  2. Entrepreneurship Club: I managed an entrepreneurship club at my school. I taught weekly lessons on entrepreneurship and leadership, increased membership by 150%, and managed start-up funding for students who won the termly business pitch competition.

  3. Student Government: I was elected as the events prefect at my school. My responsibilities included planning ceremonies, organizing guest speaker series and donor visits, founding school charities and intellectual contests, and interviewing applicants.

In addition to these activities, I also enjoy slam poetry.

 My School Here in Burundi 🇧🇮
 My School Here in Burundi 🇧🇮

Preparation Timeline, Resources and Support

In 2022, my school counselor instructed me to take my first SAT (paper-based) practice test, and I scored a 1280. However, my official preparation for the test began in June 2023. I took the Digital SAT in November 2023, and my preparation primarily involved practice tests, Khan Academy, and Schoolhouse. I participated in the Schoolhouse learning sessions, where fellow students shared practice questions related to the topics they taught and various test strategies. I also utilized the question bank on Khan Academy.

In July, my counselor arranged for tutors from the US to help prepare us. When I took my first Digital SAT practice test, I scored a 1280 again, which was quite frustrating. It felt like my efforts, including waking up at 2 am for the Schoolhouse classes due to time zone differences and answering numerous questions on Khan Academy, were in vain.

However, I did not let this deter me. During the summer, we had in-class sessions and took numerous digital and paper SAT practice tests. What benefited me the most was developing my own test-taking strategy. This strategy was formed through familiarity with the SAT via practice questions, researching tips/tricks/hacks from past test-takers, and developing effective time management skills.

Regarding other aspects of my application, I owe much of it to my counselor and my school. My counselor provided extensive application assistance and motivation. My school also played a significant role, with the management providing numerous amenities (e.g., computers) and extracurricular opportunities. The teachers and administration were very hands-on and involved, which resulted in glowing recommendation letters that significantly aided my application.

Why I Applied Early Decision to UPenn + Other Colleges

My fascination with the University of Pennsylvania was sparked when I discovered my passion for finance. I began taking online finance courses and found a mentor at a hospital close to my school. He guided me through various financial concepts, and we had enlightening discussions on finance-related texts he provided. This experience fueled my desire to attend the best university for finance, and the Wharton School of Business at UPenn is renowned for its excellence in this field. I was determined to maximize my educational experience and make both myself and my parents proud. Interestingly, I can not recall the other colleges on my list. Prior to receiving my decision from UPenn in December, I submitted an early application to the University of Richmond and opted for regular decision applications to Bates College and Vanderbilt University. In the end, I withdrew all of them.

The Huntsman Program is a coordinated dual degree program offered by UPenn. I will be attending classes at both the Wharton School and the College of Arts and Sciences, and will be earning degrees (BS in Economics and BA in International Studies)  respectively from both, while still being able to graduate in 2028.

     A Part of My Acceptance Letter
     A Part of My Acceptance Letter

Shedding Light On My College Essays

The process of writing my Common App essay was lengthy but rewarding, as it necessitated a great deal of self-reflection. I ended up rewriting the entire essay two weeks before the Early Decision deadline. Back in 2022, I had written several practice essays that I ultimately did not use. However, when I finally drafted my first essay and sought feedback, I was told that I had primarily listed my achievements, which did not provide the admissions officers with a sense of who I am. I received most of the feedback on my essays and supplements from my counselor and some Ivy League students from Burundi whom I connected with on LinkedIn.

My essay primarily focused on my journey towards embracing my authentic self. While attending a boarding school, I found my passion for learning about a wide array of topics to be somewhat peculiar. I harbored interests in numerous areas that my peers deemed unusual, which led me to conceal certain aspects of myself. For instance, I would read finance books and, when questioned, tell people they were works of fiction. I also touched upon how being the top student in my class influenced their expectations of me. I concluded by detailing how I grew weary of suppressing these significant parts of my identity, overcame the fear of disappointing those around me, and ultimately revealed my true self.

For my UPenn supplements, I had to write four essays of varying lengths (150 - 650 words). The first was a thank you note addressed to my counselor, expressing gratitude for the motivation she provided me, especially during my tenure as events prefect. The next was a community-centered essay, in which I linked my current interests to clubs offered at UPenn. I expressed my desire to join various finance and economics clubs, the American Sign Language club, and share Burundian culture on campus.

The subsequent essay was for Wharton (my second choice school after Huntsman). I primarily focused on the significance of foreign investment in Africa, using examples of different African countries' GDPs before and after implementing foreign investment practices.

Finally, for those applying to the Huntsman program, an additional 650-word essay was required. This was unplanned, as I initially intended to apply only to Wharton. The word count seemed daunting when my Common App essay was still unfinished, but my counselor eventually persuaded me to apply two weeks before the deadline. I initially decided to write about the issue of sanitation in Africa, but it wasn't an issue I was particularly interested in addressing. Ultimately, my essay focused on the allocation of resources in Sub-Saharan African countries. Observing the stark difference between my life and those living in rural Burundi led me to question how the country's income is distributed to address poverty. I cited significant texts on this topic, one of which was a book by a professor at UMass Amherst, focusing mainly on Burundi. I concluded by expressing how my motivation to address this issue has led me to want to concentrate on public policy and economics while in the Huntsman program.

Financial Aid & Application Fees

In terms of financial aid, I initially had to submit an appeal for additional financial assistance as my expected family contribution (EFC) was not feasible. My appeal was granted, as UPenn commits to meeting 100% of demonstrated need for all students. As a result, I am only responsible for paying $2,950 per year for the next four years. Regarding application fees, my counselor secured a Common App fee waiver for me, which made all my applications free of charge. Additionally, my school covered the costs for my CSS profile and Duolingo English Test fees. The only expense I had to bear was the fee for taking the SAT.

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Advice to Future Applicants

My advice to others is to deeply delve into their interests and find their unique niche during high school. I understand that this might be challenging given the limited opportunities available to African international students. However, many programs are online or offer online options, so I encourage you to leverage these. It is commendable when you take the initiative to seek out or establish your own extracurricular activities.

Looking Towards August and Beyond

Upon receiving my updated financial aid package, I initiated the process of applying for my F1 visa, which I am eagerly hoping to obtain. Despite feeling a bit anxious about leaving home, I am thrilled at the prospect of meeting other members of the Huntsman program, making friends from diverse backgrounds, and discovering all that Philadelphia has to offer.

Thank you for taking the time to read about my journey, and I wish you the best of luck on your own!💌

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from Burundi 🇧🇮

Duration of Study

Aug 2024 — May 2028


Coordinated Dual Degree in International Studies and Economics

Learn more ->
University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)

University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)

Philadelphia, US🇺🇸


✍️ Interview by

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Christabel from Nigeria 🇳🇬

Gap year student interested in bridging cultures

Learn more ->
  1. 😀


    2 months ago

    hello im from Rwanda and i wanted know any tips to help my journey, i'm currently in grade 10 but i dont have many ec's

    1. User Image


      2 months ago

      Hy! Just DM me on my Instagram and we'll talk.

      1. 😀


        2 months ago

        hello! thx for responding, i just sent you a request.

        1. 😛


          2 months ago

          Hi queen I also just requested too thanks

      2. 😀


        2 months ago

        Hello Queren. I am Socrates OKONG'O. I am from Kenya. I realized that we shall be classmates as I am also in the Huntsman Program' 28. I have reached out to you on IG, I shall be in Burundi for work as from 3rd of June. Hopefully we can link up. ig its_socrates

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          2 months ago

          Hey Socrates! Aaron told me about you, thanks for reaching out. I just accepted your request on IG.

        2. 😶‍🌫️


          1 month ago

          hii! I'm from a Kazakhstan high school and am interested in applying for the Huntsman program. Could you possibly share your successful essays?