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College 101

Advice from Other International Students
Article Type: Connect

Student at Harvard University from New Zealand

  • Concentrating in Computer Science
  • Passionate about art, photography, and drawing 
  • Took her SAT's in the "summer" in New Zealand
  • Fun facts: Can shear sheep and bungee jump

Q: How do you think international students can distinguish themselves from US students?

A: I think the biggest way they can stand out is by having diversity of experience; since we have grown up in other countries, we offer a fresh perspective on issues and come from different cultural backgrounds which formed our outlook on life. Many of us have had what are considered to be interesting or out-of-the-ordinary experiences in the US, even if they are fairly commonplace in the country where we reside, which we can then share with peers -- for instance, it was part of our school curriculum to learn Maori, the native language of the indigenous people of New Zealand. Though I am not at all fluent, it's still a pretty cool party trick I can pull out at times. Other typical things New Zealanders may have done include bungee jumping, shearing sheep or visiting the Shire (the set for the Lord of the Rings movies). Having a different atmosphere to grow up in really makes international students different from US students and thus can help them stand out in college applications, especially if they have gained national or even international recognition for things they have accomplished. That being said, there are also a lot of international students that apply to big name colleges in the US. 

Q: How easy was it to get A's in school? How do colleges look at these grades?

A: It depended what kind of courseload you subjected yourself to in high school -- in New Zealand, there was the core curriculum which everyone had to take (some 5-6 subjects of your choosing in junior and senior year), which would have national exams needed to get into university. I'd say if you stuck to only this core then it wasn't too difficult to get "good" grades as long as you paid attention in class and studied before exams, though I went to a pretty good school so our teachers were very supportive; I know at a lot of less privileged schools students would definitely have to work harder to get the same grades. There were also I guess our equivalent of AP exams, called "scholarship subjects", which you could take on top of the core, which were extra exams you could take at the end of the year with additional material, and the top 3% of people taking the subject would earn some money toward their university degree. Those were harder, but I think colleges in the US take them into account more when considering applications from NZ applicants since they ranked you nationally in the top 3% of students if you got them. That being said, I definitely work harder in college now than I did in high school. 

Q: How did you manage SAT/ACT/AP/IB exams?

A: I sat my SAT reasoning test during the summer between sophomore and junior year (in January), I took my two subject tests one in junior year (math) and one in senior year (chemistry. Actually the material tested was congruous with what we had learned in class so that was lucky, but I did have to put in extra study time for the SAT reasoning test, which is why I did it during my holidays when I had more spare time. I took a preparation class with some friends two weeks before the exam and then sat it and got it out of the way that summer.

Q: How do universities in New Zealand differ from universities in the US?

A: There are only 7 universities in the whole of New Zealand, with the most major being in my hometown of Auckland. Most people I knew from around the city, not only from my high school but from all high schools in Auckland, ended up going to the University of Auckland. The university is split into different faculties, and when applying to university, one specifies which faculty they would like to study in. There are something like 40 different bachelor degrees you can get, which is different from the US colleges' almost exclusive BA or BS -- I attended university in New Zealand for one semester before moving to the US, where I was part of the Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Arts at the University of Auckland, working towards a conjoint Bachelor of Engineering and Arts degree. Another big thing is the fact that most students live off campus, since there isn't much university housing so it's usually for out-of-town or international students. Most people continue to live at home or move into flats with a few close friends. In this way, school life and personal life is kept a lot more separate compared to in US colleges. Another thing I found was interesting was the fact that most people already had friends from high school before they went to university, and since most people went to the same university within the city, many did not bother to make new connections -- my experience in the US has been that nobody knew many others at the same school when they entered freshman year, and I met more people in my first two weeks of college than in a whole semester in university in New Zealand.

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