May 5, 2024

From Belarus to Wharton Business School with a full-ride scholarship

author image

Kristina from Belarus 🇧🇾

Campus Image of University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
From Belarus to Wharton Business School with a full-ride scholarship

Kristina is a high school graduate from Minsk, Belarus. By the age of seventeen, she had participated in Yale Young Global School, put her entrepreneurial talent into practice, and was admitted to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania with a full scholarship. All of her expenses, including airfare costs, are completely covered by the Opportunity program. Kristina told Borderless about her admission journey to the business school ranked in the top three around the world.

Start of the Journey

In grades 8-7, everyone started talking about their post-graduation plans. Back then, I never considered Belarusian universities. I knew that I wanted to study in an English-speaking environment. Where, how, and why didn't bother me.

In the summer after my 9th grade, I came across a TikTok of a Belarusian student from Rhodes College. It was the beginning of my immersion into the process. I started by diving into Telegram channels led by applicants and current students. Yet, I didn't do anything until the spring of my 9th grade. However, everything changed when I came to apply to the summer schools. My first summer program turned out to be NYAS, and it was conducted online. Then, when I was in the 10th grade, I learned about Yale Young Global Scholars. I managed to get in.

European universities were never among my options. In Europe, it's almost impossible to get all your costs covered as an undergraduate student, and I didn't really want to burden myself with work while hitting the books.

As for resources, I'm not sure if I can recommend something very specific. I was quite active in the Russian-speaking Telegram communities. Yes, few people shared really useful advice, but this experience still helped me. As I started getting into international programs, I made acquaintances with international students determined to study abroad. There were people from India, Canada. We're still in touch! Back then, I learned the most information about the admission process from them.

I'd say that the knowledge of the process came to me organically. Of course, I won't claim that I knew everything. Nevertheless, I understood a lot of things. The knowledge was layered as I searched through Google or took real actions: prepared documents, submitted applications... Also, Borderless resources were a huge help when I was completing my CSS profile.

Yale Young Global Scholars

I found out about Yale Young Global Scholars while researching summer programs. It was the end of my 9th grade. I was looking for those schools that could provide me with full financial aid. YYGS was among them. Moreover, it was the first year after the break when YYGS was to be conducted offline, not online. This was a sign to apply!

I knew about the deadlines, but thought that I wouldn't be able to make it for Early Decision. I'm a student in a mathematics class, so it was problematic to maintain high academic performance and apply simultaneously. I thought about applying through Regular Decision. My Belarusian friend applied there as well, so we promised each other that we would apply through Early Decision... we managed to fulfill it!

The Yale Summer School admissions process is similar to undergraduate admissions. You have to write a 400-word main essay, a couple of shorter essays, a few "quick take" responses (~50 character essays), and describe 3 activities and 5 awards.

My entire background is tied to business and ecology: many of my projects have connected these two fields. Consequently, this was an important part of my application. I suppose the way I presented it in an innovative way — that I could do something on a bigger scale for the whole, make an impact on the world — was a key factor in my acceptance. But the summer school application didn't have that massive emphasis on me changing the world: traditionally, summer school applications have lower expectations for applicants than university admissions.

Here are some of my other summer programs:

NYAS '22 , TKS '22, (a.r. of 15%), Stanford The Daily '22, BYond '23, BCCC '22&23, YYGS '23 (a.r. of 20%), HUIRS '23, Georgetown pre-college '23, Opportunity '23-24.

Offline programs are a boost of energy and a feeling of not being able to stop. Once you get on campus and learn from the faculty, it's like there's no turning back. You want to go forward and keep applying.

The program lasted two weeks. I had lectures, seminars, and, of course, time with students — activities with students took place outside of the core curriculum. I took a lot of AI courses; I got first choice everywhere because I filled out the form early. Machine Learning was taught to me by the author of this podcast. Basically, everything was close to ecology: health, food, consumption, and cutting back on consumption in general. It's cool: I came to deepen my knowledge, and the program helped me a lot. Speaking of community, a very cool environment appears online after going to the program. At the end of December, the decisions came out, and there were already groups in WhatsApp, and Instagram accounts. Both before and after the program, there was and is a feeling that your whole online world already consists of internships, development, and enrollment. For example, a friend of mine from Yale asked me to help design an item for her volunteer organization, officially registered in the US. It's very invigorating when those with whom you've socialized and lived together do such interesting things. The bar for myself is raised. Most people I met got into Top-10 and Top-20 through QuestBridge and ED.

College List

A lot of people expected me to apply to Yale for ED. I'm grateful for my experience at Yale; it was cool and worthwhile, but the university itself didn't really appeal to me.

(1) There's no business program there — only economics, which isn't really what I want to study. Although I applied to some universities for economics, there was an opportunity to take a major related to marketing, something else that would somehow dilute the pile of math, something more applied. And at UPenn, I would have a concentration in business analytics — that would allow me to spout creativity, ideas, and so on. I wouldn't have that at Yale: there are no majors there, and no opportunity to study business specifically.

(2) There's only Restrictive Early Action, so I wouldn't have been able to apply to any other university for early submission. For me, a gap year wasn't an option, so I ended up applying to 12 universities:

  • UPenn (ED, full funding);

  • Drexel (EA, accepted with 40% scholarship);

  • Minerva (EA admitted with max scholarship);

  • Etwon (45% scholarship by EA);

  • Simmons (50% scholarship by EA);

  • UWC (got in first round);

There were also some universities on EA I applied to but withdrew from after getting into Penn:

  • Berea;

  • Center;

  • Puget Sound;

  • UNC;

  • Lingnan;

  • Washington and Lee.

The Most Social Ivy

UPenn is the most social Ivy League university. Although, to be honest, when I was choosing, I didn't look at whether it was Ivy or not. My perception of the Ivy League is kind of interesting. Until my friend applied to ED at Dartmouth, I didn't realize that Dartmouth was an Ivy. So I haven't scrutinized Ivy League stereotypes and traditions. However, many people say that Penn is the most social university. This perception stems from the large number of pre-professional clubs (I myself have had both internships and jobs in the past and now, which also fuels an interest to grow both academically and professionally. Many other universities that focus solely on academics would not provide me with professional development opportunities). I also like the fact that I will be studying in the city. Philadelphia is not really safe, but still, studying in such a bustling city means having access to career opportunities and summer internships right in Philly.

By the way, the area by the campus is safe, but for what it's worth, there is a Citizen app that shows you where it's safe and where it's not.

Anyway, you don't have to write about the location in an essay. The biggest reason I like it is that only at Penn have I seen clubs directly related to Environmental Science and some other areas that I like.


School Profile for Public School

I am a student at a public school. Since last year, there are no private schools in Minsk at all. Even if I had studied in a private school, it would not have affected my admission. Up until the 5th grade, I studied at a gymnasium school; after the 5th grade, I passed exams and moved to a secondary school. My school is far from being at the top of the ratings, but the ratings constantly change and are quite biased for many reasons. The head teacher helped me compile the school profile: I am not an employee of the school, so I don't know about ratings/competitions, etc. She provided me with the basic information. Basically, I wrote about the number of Olympiad winners and the subjects we study.

Business and Ecology in essays

My essays were related to business and ecology. I don't reveal the topic of my Personal Statement — it's too personal.

My Supplemental Essays aligned with UPenn's values as a pre-professional university with an emphasis on career development. It offers many opportunities for development in the areas of business and environmental studies: a fair number of clubs and initiatives to work with professors on certain things. That's what I wrote about.

UPenn also asks you to write a Thank You Note:

«Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge. (We encourage you to share this note with that person, if possible, and reflect on the experience!) (150 — 200 words).»

I can say that this essay was not related to the main focus of my application. I demonstrated my creative side. Yes, business is business and marketing, but my application was not creative. So, with this essay, I demonstrated my creative thinking skill, which is useful in business. Through a certain person, I presented the story of my business idea that was actually used for a company that sells cookies.

About My Application to UPenn

My application was also based on the values of connection, leadership and analytical skills, working with people and communication, and I actively broadcasted this. However, this was not volunteering in my application. By working with people, I mean projects where I was not necessarily in a leadership position, where I was responsible for a specific group of people, but where it was evident that I could work and help others.

Two spheres — business and ecology — were evident in the activities. I didn't do anything specifically for admission; it just so happened that what I was doing came together in two categories that were evident throughout the application.

I didn't have any international Olympiads or any first/second places in national Olympiads. Overall, I didn't have the things that applicants scare each other with in chat rooms. I can't say that getting into any summer programs improves the application or helps much with Yale admissions. A friend of mine who got into Yale didn't touch on YYGS at all in her application.

There is a separate section for summer school in the Common App, so I didn't write about it in Additional Information. In the Additional Information section, I disclosed additional aspects that either related to what I had already mentioned in the application or brought novelty to the application.

I would not like to talk about my Honors, but I will say this: I did not have world-class Olympiads. My GPA is 9.8/10 and DET 135.

The Basis of My Application

I didn't list my channels and Instagram anywhere — I don't think these are worthy of being listed as extracurricular activities in my case: they're pretty personal social media. I got into marketing and SMM pretty early — at the end of 9th grade — as I wanted to save up money for college applications. I was taken on by a marketing agency where I managed a lot of things. In the same period of time, To Be, a project organizing events in Minsk, was launched. There I was responsible for the website and copywriting. Because a lot of time was spent on college applications, I limited my responsibilities to copywriting: I didn't have the time and resources to launch and organize events. Now I don't know how the project will develop in the future — with or without my presence.

Many things in my application were intertwined. Conventionally, in one section of the activities, I indicated that thanks to my role, I learned how to make websites, and in another, I mentioned that I created a ToBe website. That is, there were connecting features among the activities. However, there was no project that was the center of my application.

Tips for applicants

Top tips I'd like to hear:

  • Pay less attention to the applications of others. Don't think that after spending N hours on Reddit reading 10 applications, you will understand something. It's better to spend your time searching for universities or working on your own projects and activities.

  • Think about how you can combine your classes. When a person applies to a Liberal Arts College—think about why it's necessary and how you can connect past actions to it.

Diary of My Journey

I initially started my Telegram channel as a diary, even before the admissions process. I created it in the spring of 9th grade, but it wasn't until the end of spring that I started applying to programs. With this channel, it is interesting for me to analyze my path: from scratch, I can see my process of applying to programs and, later, to universities. It's good for applicants to see this. It is sobering when point A is not about dozens of programs and achievements but about the fact that everyone started from zero. I mean, any success can be achieved. I'm from a regular high school; I don't have SATs, just Duolingo, and I talk openly about the exams, my list of universities, and how I planned the whole process.

Borderless logo

Borderless makes Studying Abroad a reality for every student, no matter where they come from.

Applying to College? Contact us to get help ->

author image

from Belarus 🇧🇾

Duration of Study

Aug 2024 — May 2028


Business Analytics & Finance/Marketing

Learn more ->
University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)

University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)

Philadelphia, US🇺🇸


✍️ Interview by

interviewer image

Lera from Russia 🇷🇺

Gap year student captivated by human rights

Learn more ->