March 26, 2024

From Bangladesh National Curriculum to one of the finest liberal arts educations in the US: My Grinnell acceptance story


Mohammad Mufrad from Bangladesh 🇧🇩

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From Bangladesh National Curriculum to one of the finest liberal arts educations in the US: My Grinnell acceptance story

Hello there! My name is Mufrad and I’m from Chittagong, Bangladesh. Initially, I had eyes on Canada when I first began my application. However, once you do your research, it is not long until you realize how important it is for the place you pick to align with your future goals. In that sense, I realised that Canada would only be the best option for me if I aimed to go for PR upon graduating, which I didn’t. In fact, I always had plans to return to my own country. Moreover, I was also looking for institutions that offer good scholarships compared to those in other countries, like Canada. Ultimately, I found myself navigating through the US application process.

Beyond that, my personal motivation to apply to the US was, of course, the plethora of opportunities! With a passion for entrepreneurship, I aimed to step into a world that thrived in the realms of venture capital, tech, startups, etc. The US is definitely a very good place for that, especially in comparison to Bangladesh, which lacks sufficient resources to offer similar opportunities. Therefore, the US was essentially my medium for obtaining what remains scarce in my country.

Why Grinnell

So, first and foremost, I do not have an exact vision of what I want to do. I can speak to three different people and tell them three different stories of what I want to do because that’s how diverse my interests can get. Secondly, while I knew that I wanted to pursue something along the lines of Computer Science and Economics, I also anticipated being intrigued by other subjects, such as courses in linguistics or anthropology. Likewise, I considered the possibility of changing my mind regarding my top major choice once classes began. Believing that life is ever-changing, I did not wish to be stuck in such a situation.

Secondly, I found the idea of a close-knit community very enticing. I love that student-teacher dynamic where you can approach professors whenever something does not make sense and they’ll closely guide you every step of the way. Moreover, as an international student who would not know anyone there, I felt that such a community would be easier to settle in.

The offerings of liberal arts colleges, above all others, obviously fulfilled these preferences.  

I chose Grinnell for its renowned reputation for providing an excellent liberal arts education. Also, beyond their welcoming community, close class sizes, and countless research opportunities, their graduates are known to have exceptionally high acceptance rates for top-tier masters and PhD programs, which appealed to me.

High School Background, Stats

I went to Cantonment English High School in Chittagong, Bangladesh. There, I studied under the national curriculum, which is basically a form of Bangla version, but all the textbooks, question patterns, etc. are in English (apart from the Bangla book, of course!). This curriculum definitely benefited me in the sense that I did not have to sit for IELTS, TOEFL, or DET since I studied in a school where English was the primary language of instruction. As for my stats, I consistently achieved top grades throughout high school and obtained solid GPA 5s for the public exams. I did sit for the SATs, but I ultimately went test-optional due to my initial performance falling short of my desired standard.


My activities section had a balance of both national and international-level extracurricular activities. One of my most significant EC’s was co-founding an EdTech startup called Initiative Bangladesh, which became one of the country’s largest youth-led non-profit educational platforms online. Through this initiative, we contributed to assisting 500+ students with study queries and educational tutorials. In fact, a good chunk of my EC’s were based on social justice, as that is what I mostly focused on in the aspect of community service. I believe that this part of my application resonated strongly with Grinnell, as they prioritize social justice immensely (they have a whole civic engagement quad in downtown Grinnell!). 

While I was involved in numerous voluntary activities, I made sure to explore many academic-oriented activities as well to gain a balanced set of skills from both worlds. Regarding the latter, my activity list was mostly dominated by competitions and activities in the fields of Marketing and Debate. Furthermore, I pursued additional endeavours that met academic criteria. For instance, I led a NASA settlement project in collaboration with my team, producing a 3D video on how to live- on Venus, how you would plan to do that and so on. I also conducted similar projects for Cities in Space, a tech-focused non-profit organisation.

On a side note, I would like to stress how important it is for high school students to explore extracurricular opportunities beyond the classroom. Aside from gaining experience that enhances your skillset, it definitely helps you deal with rejections. For example, whenever you participate in a debate or business competition, you don’t always win first place, despite working very hard towards it. As these experiences gradually accumulate, you will come to realise that this is not the end but the time to try again and work harder. I believe that this sentiment helped me personally when I was coping with college rejections.

Preparation and Resources

Before beginning an application, it is crucial to find an overall theme that should be maintained consistently across all sections. Using this approach, my focus was on voluntary activities revolving around social justice, like I mentioned already. This singular theme was coherent with all of the activities I listed and even resonated with my common app essay, where I shared my experiences with my father in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. These experiences significantly broadened my perspective on social justice and inspired the initiatives I have taken and continue to take in support of it. By maintaining this coherence throughout my application, I believe it enabled my admissions officer to better determine whether I was a good fit for Grinnell. Since Grinnell is heavily involved in social justice, my application was structured to pinpoint how those correlate to my passions and priorities.  

As for resources, a particular Facebook group named “Bangladesh Beyond Borders” was my hidden gem. This group was created for high school students in Bangladesh who wish to go abroad for undergraduate studies. Through this portal, I was able to connect with a lot of alumni, jot down all my queries and take suggestions and feedback. BBB was my primary source of knowledge, while the Common Data Set was my second. I think CDS reports of schools are one of the most undervalued resources out there, and every applicant should make their best use of them to actually understand the university that they’re applying to. Personally, I was able to determine many crucial factors, such as the acceptance rate of SAT-optional applicants in contrast to that of those who submitted their test scores.

In addition, I highly prioritised demonstrating interest to the colleges that tracked it. I know that many people claim that optional steps like interviews or virtual events don’t play a big role. I completely disagree with that. I believe that it is my job to humanise my application, which is best possible through one-on-one interactions with admissions counsellors, faculty, etc. These are real people reviewing your application, so when they interview you and catch your name in all the virtual fairs, they know you’re interested. Likewise, it is likely even more difficult for them to reject you, as you’re not just another applicant. I remember showing strong, demonstrated interest in Grinnell and consistently emailing my admissions counsellor and professors with any little query, and they really appreciated it!

Financial Aid

Grinnell College is committed to meeting 100% of the institutionally determined need for all admitted international applicants. Hence, when I was accepted during the ED round, around 80% of my total expenses were covered by financial aid, leaving me with a deficit of 12,000 USD and an additional loan of 6,000 USD per year.

Why I took a Gap Year after my acceptance

Upon being admitted to Grinnell, I actually requested a gap year. My HSC (Higher Secondary Certificate) exam, which was supposed to be held around April that year, got pushed towards November instead due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, my freshman year was supposed to begin in the middle of this time range, in August. After assessing my situation, I was given the option by the admissions committee to attend Grinnell without sitting for the HSC exams at all. While I did consider the thought of doing so, I soon realised that I wished for that high school degree; I wished to gain some more experience and do an internship; and I wished to spend some time travelling as well. Eventually, that is what I ended up doing, and I do not regret it at all. I feel like the time I spent in my country during my gap year doing the things that I love and care about—I don’t think I’d ever be able to experience that otherwise due to the increasing responsibilities in life.

Grinnell: Academics, Community, Student Life

The academics Grinnell offers appeal mostly to those who consider themselves very research-oriented. However, if you are someone who is eager to step into the job world as soon as possible, Grinnell would not be the strongest choice, in my opinion, considering many aspects like location and courses. I will note, though, that there are many great alumni from Grinnell who went to very good places. You can always connect with them regarding these matters without issue. After all, Grinnellians always help Grinnellians. We also have the Center for Life Services and Careers. Over there, you will obtain support in building your resume, finding jobs, and other helpful resources.

From a general perspective, Grinnell has the type of community where people are genuinely curious about you and your story. They would not question you to put you down, but to know more about, say, your culture or history. Grinnell puts a lot of effort into representing our individual cultures, holding events every other week where we might, for example, hold presentations about our own countries.

Beyond the classroom, there are over a hundred organisations catering to our many diverse interests. I, myself, am part of two to three clubs, such as the programming board, where I am responsible for hosting events every single week. Besides that, I also do two jobs on campus,which keeps me very busy overall. Outside that big bubble of academics and activities, parties are thrown every other weekend as well. So, in my opinion, whether you want a stable work-life balance as a Grinnellian entirely depends on you and how much you want to remain involved with the community. For instance, time is harder for me to manage as I choose to spend a lot of time working.

Post-graduation goals

So, I have no plans to pursue a master’s degree because, well, I'm not particularly fond of studying. Instead, I envision myself entering the world of tech, venture capital, or private equity. When it comes to post-graduation goals, I've come to realise that the institution you graduate from only plays about a 30% role. Even if you attend Harvard, I believe you'll still need to take on the remaining 70% role in utilising all available resources to secure internships or programs of your dreams.

To the future applicants

Please, start early. Do not procrastinate; it’s just not worth it.

I’d suggest you begin with having a clear conversation with your parents about your Estimated Family Contribution, location, etc. Put sufficient time and effort into your college search, as it is key to understanding where you see yourself and which place sees you as a good fit as well. Mind how much you submerge yourself in information only from college websites and data sets. I would always encourage you to reach out to people who are already studying at your dream destination. People who have experienced the admissions process know how taxing it can get, and they are more willing to help you than you think. Hence, take the extra step and reach out to others instead of navigating through it all alone. Indeed, you will get the personalized insights and suggestions you need.


Mohammad Mufrad
from Bangladesh 🇧🇩

Duration of Study

Aug 2023 — May 2027


Computer Science and Economics

Learn more ->
Grinnell College

Grinnell College

Grinnell, US🇺🇸

✍️ Interview by


Sarina from Bangladesh 🇧🇩

Gap year student & Published Author

Learn more ->