May 22, 2024

Winning the most competitive merit-based scholarship in Egypt! My entire experience at Upenn


Ali from Egypt πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬

Campus Image of University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
Winning the most competitive merit-based scholarship in Egypt! My entire experience at Upenn

Hello! I am Ali from Egypt. I graduated from STEM High School for Boys - 6th of October in 2019. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2023; this is my whole journey!

STEM High School for Boys - 6th of October

I was in a private elementary and middle school in Giza, central Egypt. In grade 8, I was scrolling through Facebook, and I came across a post talking about a school of outstanding students (Egyptian STEM schools, but it is known in Egypt as a school of outstanding students). I loved the idea of being in a boarding school with academically outstanding students. The school took the best 1,500 students in Egypt who excelled academically in grade 9 and passed the entrance exam to pursue high school in it. I finished grade 9 while achieving the STEM school conditions. Then, I applied for the STEM school entrance exam. I got into STEM High School for Boys - 6th of October.

Why I decided to study abroad

Actually, I did not have a strong motive to pursue my career abroad, but as a direct consequence of being in a competitive community like STEM High School for Boys - 6th of October that defines success by getting into top colleges in the world, I felt I had to push myself on this path besides the traveling attractions for teens. For example: better education, learning about new cultures, and earning a prestigious degree.

Why I chose the USA as a study destination

At first, I wanted to go to Germany because I love the German language and I had learned it since middle school, but it was a barrier that forced me to give up on it, which was putting 11,000 Euros in a private bank account to pursue your studies there. On the contrary, I chose the US because it is the country that I know the most information about the admission process. Moreover, most of my schoolmates were applying to the US, so I could easily find help if I needed it.

Stats, Grades, and Test scores

My GPA while in high school was 4/4. I took the ACT twice. My first trial was in December 2017. I got 31, but I was not satisfied with it because I was beginning to think about the Onsi Sawiris Scholarship Program, which is the most competitive scholarship in Egypt. So, I decided to take a second trial in April 2018. I scored 34 in it. In July 2018, I took the TOEFL, in which I scored 116 out of 120.

My journey through applying to the Onsi Sawiris Scholarship Program

As I said, I was beginning to think about the Onsi Sawiris Scholarship Program while taking my second ACT trial. The scholarship conditions were at least a 3.5/4 GPA, 32/36 ACT, and 100/120 in TOEFL. The scholarship covers all costs through the years of study. I knew the student who won the scholarship in the older school class, Mostafa Ihab, and another student, Natili, who was with me in the Competitive Club College (CCC). They recommended the scholarship for me, especially after I got 34 in the ACT. I remember the scenario when I was walking with Mostafa in the dorm corridor; he was persuading me with the idea that getting into an Ivy League university was doable. I began a mentorship journey with Mostafa and Natili. Mostafa was helping me prepare for the interview, and Natili was helping me with the scholarship essays. I submitted the scholarship application on 31/7/2018. After a few days, I received the letter of passing to the first interview at the Amideast organization with coordinators. After that, I passed to the last filtration, which was the interview at Orascom (Orascom is a large construction company in Egypt owned by the Sawiris family). I remember the number of people who interviewed me was 12, some of them on the Orascom board and the others were Alumni from the scholarship-offered universities (UChicago, UPenn, MIT, Stanford, and Harvard). I got accepted into the scholarship in September 2018.

Why UPenn?

The scholarship was offered only for UChicago, UPenn, Stanford, and Harvard. Firstly, Harvard is need-blind. Thus, applying for it as an Early Decision (ED) applicant with the scholarship did not make a difference in the decision. Secondly, I did not prefer UChicago because I did not love its vibes and did not feel it fit for me. About Stanford, there was a friend who was accepted into the scholarship that was planning to apply for it. So, I did not want to compete with him. Furthermore, my mentor Natili was at UPenn, and she recommended UPenn to me. Consequently, I put UPenn in the ED application.

Extracurricular Activities

My extracurricular activities were not the strongest part of my Common App. They were designed to be well-rounded rather than being a spike in a specific field. As I was applying for Computer Science and Linguistics, most of the activities were related to them or to something I adore, which is teaching. I was a translator for the "I Believe in Science" journal. "I Believe in Science" is a popular science journal that contributes to simply delivering science. Moreover, I was working as an IT assistant at school. I was not the official IT staff of the school, but I was working in it to gain experience in this field. Nevertheless, the extracurricular activity I felt was most valuable was being a Capstone Project assistant at the school, helping freshmen and sophomores. Furthermore, I was teaching English and German through night sessions for the freshmen and sophomores and preparing them to ace standardized tests. I was experienced in this field as I got outstanding test scores. Furthermore, I was the head of social media at TEDx October, putting the plan for the campaign. I was also the vice president at the Competitive Club College (CCC).


My personal statement was not as strong as it was unique. The personal statement was a prose fiction about loving the experiences of three girls and the pros and cons of each girl. At the end, I revealed that I was talking about learning Arabic, English, and German experiences, with each language referring to a girl.

Resources I recommend

Firstly, the most helpful resources were my friends. Mazen Kazem, Ahmed Abd Elkader, Kerolos Nagah, Rewan Elsafty, and Abdallah Gaber helped me a lot in structuring the application process and reviewing essays. They helped me a lot in applying to the Competitive Club College. After that, as I mentioned, Mostafa and Natili had a huge impact on my acceptance into the scholarship.

UPenn Experience

I am grateful to UPenn; it was an overall amazing experience. Nevertheless, my freshman and sophomore years were troubled, and I returned to Egypt due to COVID-19, but my junior and senior years were adorable. I love how supportive UPenn is. Every initiative I took in college, I found support from students and professors. For instance, in the last semester at UPenn, I was teaching a whole subject for my class. It was an Android development course. I did an interview with the professors, and they approved my request. Moreover, UPenn is more dependent on group projects than final exams, which is something I loved.

Plans After Graduation

I preferred working in the industrial field rather than applying for a master's degree. It allowed me to explore my passion for working as a software engineer. I planned that if I did not love that career, I would switch to applying for a PhD, and then teaching at universities. However, I am currently working at a startup called AYDY. AYDY is a startup in the agriculture field that boosts the productivity of farms by offering software systems that track workers and agricultural machines.

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from Egypt πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬

Duration of Study

Aug 2019 β€” May 2023


Computer Science

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University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)

University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)

Philadelphia, USπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ


✍️ Interview by

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Youssef from Egypt πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬

High school student & Neuroscience passionate

Learn more ->