May 8, 2024

How I got into Stanford University with a full-ride as a low-income & first-gen international student

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Juliana from Brazil 🇧🇷

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How I got into Stanford University with a full-ride as a low-income & first-gen international student

My Background

My name is Juliana, and I'm 19 years old. I'm originally from Belgium, but I’ve been living in Brazil for the past many years. I attended a small Brazilian private school with a full scholarship, graduating at the top of my class with only 27 classmates. I'm a low-income, first-gen student, and also the first person in my school to go abroad.

Last year, I decided to take a gap year to reapply for colleges abroad after not getting a suitable offer in my senior year, as I was accepted to a couple of schools but didn't get any scholarships.

I took the year to get to know more about myself and go more in-depth on my specific interests like politics and the STEM field.

During my gap year, the University Placement Program from the Latin American Leadership Academy (LALA) provided invaluable support and mentorship, aiding me in the college application process. At the end of the year, I ended up applying to 20 schools.

When the decision round came I was waitlisted in four colleges and accepted in four as well.

Stanford Class of 2028
Stanford Class of 2028

Why the US

Since childhood, I’ve dreamt of attending a U.S. University, partly inspired by watching “High School Musical” throughout my childhood and wanting to experience that lifestyle. I also wanted to go to the US for college due to all the opportunities that studying in the US provides for students.

Academics

Major-wise, I want to study international relations but I’m still undecided. I have a strong background in politics, and I had pretty strong grades. I had a GPA of 9.4/10, I was first in my class out of 27 students, and I had a 1430 on the SAT. However, I went test-optional for most schools, including the ones I got into. I submitted the Duolingo for the language test requirement instead of TOEFL as I had a score of 135.

I also engaged in research activities, conducting three projects over the years, all somehow related to politics. One project focused on politics and philosophy through the Scholar Launch program, which provided me with an exceptional first research experience. In this project, I explored how socioeconomic backgrounds and moral luck influence people's perceptions across different political systems and used the Brazilian military dictatorship as a case study. In my senior year, I undertook research on political education curriculum development. Most recently, during my gap year, I conducted research on the use of samba, for which Brazil is renowned for using this style in Carnival as a tool for creating new leaders. I believe these research endeavors significantly contributed to my application, showcasing my academic interests while aligning with my major.

Extracurriculars

I think that the main difference between my application in my senior year, and the gap year was the focus I brought into my extracurriculars. Because when I got to know myself, I realized I had a really strong passion for immigration. I worked with refugees on their social integration of them within different aspects. Four of my extracurriculars were related to this subject, which included an app that I developed to have a fun time teaching Portuguese, and more.

My admission officer from Stanford University, for example, shared that my work with refugees was what highlighted my application.

Additionally, I am a dancer, which is a really big part of my life in general. I have danced since I was three years old and participated in multiple competitions and events. And also I was part of Interact Club for four years. There I was president of my club for a year and engaged in multiple leadership positions in my district. I also did work with harassment prevention as well, where we impacted thousands of people with it.

Dance performance
Dance performance

More into political education, which was the focus of my first application. I could develop it more this past year both by creating new opportunities and developing old ones. For example, I co-founded a political education project on my senior year where we would take kids from public high schools, especially from the last two high school years, to legislative assemblies in Sao Paulo. We took them to Rio de Janeiro for example. We even had the chance to bring bring important congresspeople to teach them political education. On my gap year, I also got a job for developing the political education curriculum in a larger scale. I think those contrasts of showing my passion and professional experiences were what impacted my application most.

Essays

The first thing I would tell anyone who is writing their essays is just to get to know yourself, not only for the application. It can be overwhelming, but also you are not only in the application process. I remember in my senior year, everything in my life was about my application and that was it. But in my gap year, I got to know myself and I think that impacted my essays and my strategy in general because when you are applying to a college, you have to build a profile that people remember you because of it. So your essays have to be connected with extracurriculars, with honors, with all different aspects of your application and yourself. So, how can the admission office know you as a person if you don't know yourself? So that's the first advice I would give to anyone. Something that I got passionate about in my gap year was watching crime-related series and crocheting. I even talked about it in one of my essays and interviews. Those little things that make you who you are are really important and have to be a part of your application, regardless of how serious and professional they are.

However, I would say for a personal statement it is important to be more emotional and connect it more to your extracurriculars. Connecting your personal story with your main passion can be like your extracurricular, your life goal, or something like that. In my case, I told my story through political education since I was little, my family background, and showed a vulnerable part of me. Most importantly, I showed how those little things made me get passionate about political education and how I want to go further. I think those things are really important when we are talking about essays. In your supplemental essays, try to bring out the other side of you that you haven't shown yet, you have to connect with extracurriculars or with your goals and things about your personal life. But it's also important to show that at the end of the day, you are just a teenager who is just going to college right now and you're getting to know yourself.

Why Stanford

The first school I got into was the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is an amazing school, and I was nominated with the Morehead Cain Foundation Scholarship, which is a full-ride scholarship with many opportunities. I was really passionate about it and even got the chance to go to Chapel Hill in early March. It was my first result, and I thought I was going to end up studying there. They have an amazing global studies program, a great community, incredible alumni connections, and many amazing opportunities.

Then right after, I got into the University of Notre Dame, which also has a really good international development program, and also got a full ride. But I didn't enjoy the location because it's like a more isolated school. So, I was set on going to UNC. Also, I got into Wisconsin-Madison but without a scholarship.

Later on Ivy Day, I was rejected by all Ivy Leagues. Stanford was the last decision I was waiting for before committing to UNC, and then I ended up getting in! At the end of the day, I was left with excellent choices, UNC or Stanford. Both had excellent programs, so I started to think about the community. I researched all my options and made many phone calls with Stanford students, UNC students, Notre Dame students as well, and alumni before making my decision. So I knew I could have the best experience possible in all of them.

I followed the advice of a student of just having a whole day to be with myself. Not doing phone calls with the students, just focus 100% on myself. I remember looking at pictures of myself when I was a kid and thinking, oh my God, Stanford is the dream that I had since I was six years old. So why give it up right now? So I had this feeling I had to go to Stanford. Usually, people focus on the opportunities, financial aid, and all that the university has to offer. But that was not my case this time as all three schools had amazing programs and gave me a full ride.

I truly believe going to Stanford was the right choice for me! They have amazing programs uniting technology and politics, human rights, and many research opportunities. I really love the idea of working at the Immigration Policy Lab and taking a few practice classes on human rights. Additionally, Stanford has many opportunities for low-income and first-generation students, which will help me in this college transition. Stanford is also a school that values art, which is great for me as a dancer. Lastly, Stanford's community is just great, extremely welcoming and collaborative. Those are just a few things I love there, but honestly, I just couldn't choose the school I was going to because I listened to my heart saying to go there, as I was really passionate about the others too.

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Gap year

My biggest advice to everyone who is taking a gap year is to get to know yourself and figure out what you want to do in the future. I'm not saying the college you want to go to, but what's your life goal? Because your goal cannot be to go to a university in the US. You have to have a reason for doing everything you do. And that's the most important thing, regardless of the college.

Application-wise, try to not stress out too much. and always bring lots of numbers, especially on extracurriculars, and honors. Also, I think try to build a profile, so that you can connect everything to who you are. And make sure to highlight how this gap year impacted you as a whole.

My webinar for Borderless

Recently I gave a talk sharing more of my admissions experience:

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Juliana
from Brazil 🇧🇷

Duration of Study

Aug 2024 — May 2028

Bachelor

International relations

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Stanford University

Stanford University

Stanford, US🇺🇸

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✍️ Interview by

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Doha from Morocco 🇲🇦

High School Senior & Visual Storyteller

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