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Ahmed is a first-year student at Harvard University pursuing a bachelor's degree in Government and International Relations. Originally from Aleppo, Syria, his family sought asylum in the U.S., which has been a source of inspiration for his academic concentration. On Harvard's campus, he is active with the Harvard University Foreign Policy Initiative, working with prominent government agencies and public officials to research policy and draft proposals pertaining to the United States' relations with other regions of the world, particularly the Middle East. He also led a program in his hometown to provide virtual lessons to students affected by COVID-19 school closures over the summer before his freshman year in college.
A former H&C Education student, Ahmed is now our first Brand Ambassador and has been promoting and introducing H&C Education to international students interested in attending top universities in the U.S. He has an incredible story that we’re excited to share with you. Read below for an interview about his insights and advice from his own college admissions journey.
Where are you from, and what started you on the path you're on today?
First off, thank you for the opportunity to talk about my experience in applying to college and studying at an Ivy League school. I hope that many find this interview helpful while they navigate the college admissions process!
A little bit about myself, my name is Ahmed Alsheikh. I am a rising sophomore at Harvard studying Government while being on a Pre-Med track, and I aspire to work in the medical field while combining my passion for policy. I was born in Saudi Arabia, which is where I spent a lot of my childhood, and I was raised in my hometown of Aleppo, Syria. As a child growing up in both countries, and especially with the eruption of protests and the start of the civil war in Syria, I became more aware of the political atmosphere in my home country. After seeking asylum in the United States with my family, I developed an interest in politics and public service, hoping that one day I would be able to influence change not just in my home country, but also in the United States.
What were your extracurricular passions and favorite academic subjects while you were in high school?
It took me a few years to figure out what I enjoyed participating in the most. During my freshman and sophomore years, I was involved in Robotics, Drama, Student Council, and Journalism. I wanted to explore the various opportunities my school offered and eventually narrowed down my list of extracurriculars to 3-4 that I dedicated most of my time to. Toward the end of my high school career, I had been elected as a Senator to represent the state of New Mexico in the annual American Legion Boys Nation Program, a mock Senate program that convenes in Washington, DC. I ran a successful campaign for the office of 2nd Vice President of the New Mexico Association of Student Councils, organizing a statewide health-focused service project. At my school, I also served as my student council’s president, where I focused on partnering with local organizations to implement community service projects.
In terms of academic subjects, I enjoyed taking math and history classes. I tried to take advantage of every class pertaining to government that my school offered.
Why was Harvard the best fit for you? Did you always know that Harvard was your dream school, or did you decide to apply later on in your high school career?
I’ve always known about Harvard being a prestigious university with incredible research opportunities. However, I didn’t decide to apply to the university until my junior year of high school, when I met a recent Harvard graduate at one of the government conferences that I was involved in. Hearing about his experience at Harvard and life in Cambridge encouraged me to consider Harvard as one of the universities I wanted to apply to, and it even became my dream school! I started researching the government department at Harvard, reading about professors and their works, and watching YouTube videos of Harvard’s Institute of Politics. I immersed myself in Harvard’s climate and made it my dream to be accepted to the university, and I am more than grateful to have spent an incredible year in Cambridge.
What do you think was the central piece of your college application? How did you create a brand for yourself?
Perhaps the best advice I received during the college application season is that colleges aren’t looking for well-rounded students — they’re rather looking for a well-rounded class with students who have a particular interest. In other words, schools would rather see that you have narrowed down your list of extracurriculars to a few that you are committed to and that pertain to your interest by the time you are a senior than have an applicant who was involved in 10 unrelated extracurriculars. I was able to maintain a common theme throughout my application, stemming from my background and my extracurricular involvement. I made sure to emphasize that my participation in Boys Nation and my work as a statewide student council officer were a product of my life story, which drives my passion for government and international relations.
Which was your favorite college essay that you wrote? What was it about, and how did you approach writing it?
My favorite college essay was my supplemental essay to Harvard, which was a letter to my future roommate. The essay prompt was general, which allowed me to set the scene and take it in whichever direction I wanted. I think that this was my most personal essay, I wrote about things I cherished doing and objects that were valuable to me and made sure to tell the story behind their value. I joked about how I wanted to build a “republic” out of our dorm room with my roommate, just like my sister and I used to build a fortress out of our bedroom. I talked about reviving my hobby of collecting currencies around the world after I had left my collection in Syria, and I asked him if he was interested in trading currencies from South America at the end of my essay. I actually showed this essay to my roommate at Harvard, and he was more than happy to contribute to the collection!
What did you struggle most with during the college application process? What was the most helpful piece of advice or feedback that you received?
Writing a college application essay can be one of the most daunting tasks because of how broad it can be. I certainly found it to be the most difficult part of the application and was stuck in many instances trying to figure out the best direction of the essay. It was assuring to hear that there is no such thing as a perfect essay that guarantees acceptance to a college. You will find yourself struggling to put together a strong essay, especially in the initial drafts, but you have to understand that this is a part of the process and that it shouldn’t discourage you from devoting more time to work on it.
Why did you want to work with H&C Education? How do you think it benefitted you throughout the application process?
While I was struggling on my Common App personal essay, I searched for college essay review services online, hoping that I would find help on my college application at a reasonable price. I stumbled upon H&C Education’s offer of 20 minutes of free consulting, and I quickly signed up for a time slot. After our call, H&C Education generously offered me its services pro bono, and especially helped me in crafting the most compelling essay to the admissions office. I found that consultants at H&C Education had many strategies to tackle the different components of the college application, helping me brainstorm topics for the essay and guiding me in approaching the different sections of the Common App. The dedication of H&C Education’s consultants was instrumental in making me the first in my high school to get into Harvard since 1992.
If you could do it all again, what would you do differently in your college applications? And what advice would you give to someone who is just starting the process?
The college application season is an overwhelming part of your senior year, and it certainly was for me too! Thinking back to when I was working on my essays, I wish I had started brainstorming ideas and drafting the essays earlier to avoid conflict with other commitments. If you have more than 10 schools on your college list, I highly suggest looking at each college’s essays, grouping those with similar prompts together to save yourself time, and setting internal deadlines to make sure that you are making progress.
Interested in setting up a free consultation to talk about your college application? Contact us today.