September 27, 2023

Passion for Media: How I got accepted into NYU Abu Dhabi with a full-ride scholarship


Nurdana from Kazakhstan 🇰🇿

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Passion for Media: How I got accepted into NYU Abu Dhabi with a full-ride scholarship

My name is Nurdana, and I am 18 years old. I recently graduated from the Nazarbayev Intellectual School of Physics and Mathematics in Astana and have been accepted to NYUAD. For the past 5-6 years, I have been runing my own blog.

My background

Applying was a long and challenging process for me overall. I’m the first in my family to decide to apply for undergraduate studies abroad, so it was all pretty new. I dived into this in the 10th grade during quarantine, when we were all studying online. I participated in a bunch of webinars about studying abroad and learned the basics. After that, I realized I needed to take standardized exams like the SAT and IELTS.

I started preparing for them gradually and on my own, which was the most significant part of my application process. Initially, I studied independently, then had some private tutors, and finally attended group sessions. As a result, I got my exam scores just before the 12th grade. From the 10th to the 12th grade, I spent a lot of time preparing for these exams and took them several times. I was also building up my extracurricular activities.

I believe I started preparing for admission on time. Many students who were accepted say they wish they had started earlier, but two years were enough for me

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Everyone’s dream about studying abroad is different. Some people aim for the USA, others prefer Canada or Europe. For me, it’s always been the USA; European universities never caught my interest. My preference for American education comes from growing up watching American TV shows and wanting to experience their liberal education system.

Financial aid was my first big consideration in choosing universities. I come from an average family and needed full funding to study abroad, which mostly top-ranked universities offer. The availability of my major, Film & Media, was also crucial, and I wanted to make sure the necessary equipment and professors were top-notch.

I applied to 12 universities. For NYUAD, I applied Early Decision 2 and got the answer earlier than from others. The response came in February, and I was in! According to the rules, if I was happy with the conditions, I had to withdraw my other applications. So, I didn’t hear back from other universities. However, I made a small mistake and forgot to withdraw my application to Minerva University and found out later that I was accepted there too.

About Film and New Media major

I graduated from a school focused on physics and mathematics, so it surprised many when I chose a creative specialty. My interest in media isn’t new; my dad’s a journalist and has hosted various TV programs. I've seen the behind-the-scenes workings and found them fascinating, even attending journalism classes when I was younger.

Here’s a bit of a story: I used to go for various auditions, and once, I was sure I’d be selected as a host for a children’s program. However, despite fitting the role well, I was rejected, being told I was ‘too tall’ and didn’t meet the program’s standards. I was young, and it hit hard; I felt I didn't belong in the media world and started focusing on STEM.

But even after graduating from a school with a focus on physics and math, my love for media never faded. I see this passion reflecting significantly through my social media presence. Truth be told, choosing a creative field was daunting, especially when many around me opted for computer science, economics, and business. Still, I chose Film and Media. I see so much potential for growth in my country’s media industry, and this major’s interdisciplinary approach makes it versatile. So, I’m excited about the amazing experiences it’ll bring.

Why I chose NYUAD

NYUAD is a dream university for many, especially for us Kazakhs—there’s a substantial Kazakh student body there. It’s for good reasons too. First off, they’re really generous with financial aid for international students. And secondly, the location mattered a lot to me. I wasn’t looking at universities outside the USA initially, but NYUAD stood out with its unique approach and signs of promising growth. I’ve been following their social media and saw how innovative they are, and being someone who loves making changes, I found that very attractive.

In the beginning, my parents weren’t too happy about me studying abroad—probably a cultural mindset thing. My dad was especially concerned about me studying so far away. However, the location of NYUAD won us all over, and having relatives there helped. Plus, they offered my major and had all the best equipment needed.

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Financial aid

I was awarded a full scholarship (financial aid), and it covered all the expenses for tuition, accommodation, meals, health insurance, books - everything necessary.

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I have a 5.0/5.0 GPA. I took the IELTS twice—scoring a 7.0 the first time and a 7.5 the second. Since my scores varied by section, I sent in both certificates—one with a higher reading score, and the other with a higher score in another section.

As for the SAT, it was a challenge. I took it twice, earning my highest score of 1420 despite thorough preparation. However, I chose not to submit my SAT scores to NYUAD.


My Instagram blog and YouTube channel were my main focus. I position myself as a blogger and thoroughly enjoy it, which is why it was highlighted first on my Common App. Subsequently, I mentioned my role in the school council, where I served as a minister for two years—first as the Minister of Communication and later as the Minister of External Affairs. During my first year, I managed the school’s social media and organized online events throughout the quarantine. In my second year, my responsibilities revolved around organizing events. These two years allowed me to develop my life skills.

Additionally, I consistently worked during the summers, doing internships or assisting businesses with their social media management. Collectively, my extracurricular activities showed me as a sociable individual with a passion for media.

Advice for applicants

Watching interviews of accepted students and looking at their applications can sometimes make you feel inadequate. I've experienced this feeling myself; it’s normal. It’s important to realize that when we hear success stories, there’s a tendency to try to emulate them, to morph ourselves into what we think will be accepted, and it’s not healthy. I found myself doing this, but I came to understand that my uniqueness, my passion for social media and the media industry, was my ticket to acceptance. Everyone is unique, with their character and extracurricular activities. The application process aims to understand who you are, so be true to yourself.

Another thing I noticed during application preparation was a kind of unspoken competition among my friends and I. Especially if we were applying to the same places like NYUAD, and it created a somewhat toxic atmosphere. This shouldn’t happen. Your friends are the ones who truly understand what you're going through, so share experiences and remain supportive of one another.

I navigated my application process on my own, without relying on agencies or spending money. But, I did find out about EducationUSA, a well-known non-profit that guides students through the US application process, free of charge. My college counselor shared it with me, and post-acceptance, I worked with an advisor there on supplemental essays and my personal statement. Having an external perspective was incredibly helpful in maintaining objectivity in my writing. I strongly recommend reaching out to them; it's a valuable opportunity.

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from Kazakhstan 🇰🇿

Duration of Study

Sep 2023 — May 2027


Film and New Media

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NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi, UAE🇦🇪


✍️ Interview by

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Aru from Kazakhstan 🇰🇿

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    10 months ago

    This interview was done by our amazing ambassador @arulilac🫶

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      10 months ago

      Great job Nurdana! You proved that ''Follow your passion" is a nice advice :)