a month ago

A Notredamian’s journey to a top US liberal arts college

Zubair Hossain
Zubair Hossain

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"Although it's hard to pinpoint exactly which component(s) helped me most to stand out, I've received a lot of positive feedback about my essay from everyone who read it. They all thought that it was very intimate and depicted how I grew as a person with examples," says Zubair Hossain about his acceptance to Colby College with an enormous financial aid package.

Zubair Hossain, who completed his HSC from Notre Dame College, is going to attend Colby College, one of the top liberal arts colleges that is also known as one of the "Little Ivies" in the United States, this fall. In a conversation with the writer, Zubair discusses the application process, his experience, profile, etc., and ultimately suggests resources for future aspirants.

As a student of the English version of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB), Zubair was used to seeing people sitting for admission tests in Bangladesh. However, when attending Notre Dame College, Dhaka, he came to learn about US admission as an option in his intermediate first year. He believes that it was very late for him, as US universities consider a student's achievements from the 9th grade. In this regard, Zubair suggests to fellow applicants, "You need to prepare beforehand, and US students plan and prepare for university applications as early as class nine."

About starting the preparation for the application, Zubair shares, "I was in a Facebook group called 'Bangladeshis Beyond Borders' and that is where I saw people applying through websites called Common App and Coalition by Scoir. I learnt the basics from the posts there. Some previous successful applicants also created messenger groups to help you, so I'd suggest joining one of those as well whenever they are inviting members."

For USA undergraduate applications, there are a lot of things to know, but the most important and extensive topic is "Making Your College List." As the US has three types of colleges, such as Liberal Arts Colleges (LAC), private research universities, and public universities, students often feel baffled by researching colleges. The most known difference is the size, as LACs have a small student body, while private research universities are mid-sized, and public universities are larger.

In support of why Zubair chose a liberal arts college, he says, "My main reason for choosing an LAC is the liberal arts curriculum. I am interested in taking classes on economics, policy, international law, the ethics of technology, and artificial intelligence while exploring more. A liberal arts curriculum allows me the room to explore. A misconception is that private universities don't have a liberal arts curriculum. In fact, most top private universities have a liberal arts curriculum as well."

While Zubair had the top grades from the NCTB curriculum, US colleges typically want more than that, as they evaluate applicants holistically, i.e., grades, extracurriculars, essays, and the overall context of applicants. And the good grades part is a prerequisite that only helps you go to a certain length, not acceptance.

Zubair delves into other sides of his profile: "I believe that my extracurricular involvements show initiative, as I have founded Open Eyes Bangladesh (an organisation to talk about experiences such as harassment) and Crash Course Bangladesh (an SAT mentorship programme) and built WSEH (a platform to practice speaking English) from the ground up."

He also achieved some national awards as Best Delegate in several MUNs and other competitions; all of this contributed to Zubair's profile as he applied to US colleges. Yet, as US colleges take a holistic approach, your passion for making changes and background play great roles as well.

"My involvement with The Front Page has also helped, as they provided me with a letter of recommendation elaborating on my role and contributions. My passion and involvement in taking part in and mentoring students for Model UN, both as delegates and organisers, were also a big part of my application." Zubair explains how letters of recommendation help in the application process as well as the passion of an applicant.

"Although acceptance rates would be a good starting point for sorting universities, they don't paint the entire picture. An acceptance rate of 30 per cent does not mean your chances of getting in are 30 per cent. In fact, your chances of getting in at that university could even be 70 per cent if your profile is strong, or 2.0 per cent if your profile doesn't fit what they're looking for." Zubair Hossain puts it this way about making a balanced college list of reaches (harder to get into), targets (reasonable chances), and safeties (easier to get into).

In US college applications, there are three popular intakes: early decision (ED), early action (EA), and regular decision (RD). While ED has a higher acceptance rate, students have to attend the university if they get in. Also, a student cannot apply for multiple EDs at the same time; only if someone gets rejected from ED1 can they apply for ED2. So choosing an ED college is a tough task.

Zubair speaks about choosing Colby as his ED1. "I struggled a lot, but with the help of some mentors, I decided on Colby College, as there were people with similar profiles and backgrounds who got accepted in previous years. The two Bangladeshi students who are currently studying at Colby College are also from Notre Dame College, Dhaka."

In addition to applying to ED1, Zubair also applied to 12 more colleges through Early Action (EA), and he did not have to pay the application fees for a single college. He says, "A lot of US universities don't have application fees at all, and most of them waive it when you apply through the Common App with a fee waiver approved by your counselor."

As for future applicants who are about to go through this hectic college application process, Zubair suggests, "Browse subreddits like r/ApplyingToCollege, better known as A2C. Browse r/Sat for an idea of how to prepare for the digital SAT. Find mentors who have gone through the process to guide you, and reach out to them whenever you have issues. It is very hard to brave US applications just by yourself, but make sure to take advice from credible people only. For example, I learned from some random comments in 'Bangladeshis Beyond Borders' that you cannot take AP exams in Bangladesh, when in fact you can. So just do not always depend on others and search up information yourself from Google and subreddits."

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