Estudiante Alonso - Access USA

Student Stories – Alonso F. S.

Name: Alonso F. S.

Hometown: Madrid, Spain

Major: Huntsman Program – International Studies & Business (class of ‘27)

University: The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Hello, my name is Alonso, I’m 18 years old, and I am from Madrid, but I currently live in London. I attend school at The Harrow School and I was very fortunate to be admitted during the ED round to the Huntsman Program of University of Pennsylvania, majoring in International Studies and business, at Wharton School.

Tell us about your admissions process. Did you know from the beginning which path you wanted to take?

Yeah, I had general ideas. I did like the sort of intersection about business, international relations, economics and politics. I was sort of centered on that. But I was a bit lost on which universities to apply for, which programs are going to be right for me, or whether I should go for a more focused program… and it was mainly the help I got from David and Access USA. It helped me understand where my strengths were and what programs would be a strong fit for me and my future goals.

What do you think has been the key to your admission process?

Since I started school, I set myself a goal to not only commit to academics, which were clearly the central part of my application, and are essential for you to succeed, but also commit to my extracurricular activities. It was one of the big factors that I learned from David that helped me through my application process, how important extracurriculars were for my particular case, to be able to communicate and demonstrate my strengths, interests and goals

I led a few school societies such as the Economic Society, an International Fair Society, I also created a charitable program for kids from the local borough to have an opportunity to play tennis, a sport which they maybe didn’t have the opportunity to play… I also played sports for the top school teams in tennis, golf, football… 

So it was the diversity of the application, the commitment I had to diverse activities but also including some element of giving something back to the community, if that makes sense, what helped me demonstrate empathy, the things that were most important to me…  That’s what I think it helped contributed to telling my story more completely.

If you had to give advice to a student who wanted to follow in your footsteps or seek their own path and gain admission to a selective university, what would you tell them?

Well, I’d probably say a couple of things. First thing I’d say: start early. What I mean is starting to do extracurricular activities, or starting to put even more effort in the classroom from earlier on. You want to make sure you can put your best foot forward and that you have time to explore your interests, because if you don’t start early, it will be really hard to know what you want and what are the best options for you… and the chances of getting into school are narrowing down.

And the issue is that other people know, they really want to get into top schools, so you’re competing against them. You need to differentiate from them in some sense and there’s where the process and everything around it, besides the classroom, gains importance. Be committed to it, don’t rely only on academics. Obviously, as time goes by things may change, or you can do some things differently, try different activities but that main aim needs to be there.

Number two, I’d say if you can get someone to help you with your essays and your application strategy, like I was helped through Access USA, that would be incredibly helpful. The essay process is not only very different to the way in which English essays are written, also the school system in general is very different. So it took me quite a long time to figure out and see what the aims of my essays had to be and have a positive impact on the application and get me through that door. Those would be the two pieces of advice I would give someone to be a competitive candidate.

What are your expectations of UPenn’s Huntsman Program? What do you hope to get out of the experience?

Well, that’s a great question because part of it was one of the essays that I prepared with David. One of the things I spoke about was how I linked my future aims to the resources available at Huntsman and Wharton specifically, and the academic environment at Penn more generally. 

I said I wanted to be open and find all those opportunities, in terms of lectures, seminars… the wonderful and unique resources that Huntsman has for training people to go into international business or policy careers. When I could get into that professional world, I would have a cutting edge over those people that didn’t have the chance to study at the Huntsman program. 

I also spoke about how I wanted to take certain classes at Wharton and at Penn, that would help me prepare in a very multidisciplinary way for my career and learn more about the areas I want to focus, get through those four years and make me finish in a better position. It’s mainly that preparation aspect and being challenged broadly, what I was looking for.

What were your key aspects as a candidate to apply and differentiate yourself from others?

I’ve got to say that probably my social aspect differentiates me from other candidates. This is another important insight I learned from the admissions process with David, explore my interests broadly in everything I was involved in. Many times you get people that are doing incredibly well at the school, and getting incredibly high grades, but all they do is that.

And I think that one of the qualities that I had was, I gave my all at school and try the hardest at lessons, try to achieve top grades and reach academic excellence, but once school was done, I was very big on my social life,  meeting people, developing as a person and making those connections, also with my teachers and mentors, that one day maybe could help you.

I think that is one of the qualities that many of these top candidates lack and cost them university applications, like I’ve seen at my school. There are brilliant academic candidates that maybe didn’t get placed in these top universities, because they may just be focused on academics. 

The US process, unlike the UK process for Oxford and Cambridge, which is purely academic, is a broader process, where they try to grade the holistic application, which they call the «holistic person». And I think that my soft and hard skills, the combination of both, plus all the activities and communities I had the chance to be involved in, were key to my success in the application.

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