How we got into Duke and UChicago - Q&A with two recent Crimson admits from Sydney

Posted 3 months ago
Allie was admitted to Duke University during early application rounds this year.

A few months ago USNews - the foremost College Ranking Authority in the US - released its 2019 national college rankings placing the University of Chicago in the coveted spot of third (alongside Ivies Columbia and Yale, and MIT) and Duke in 8th (alongside another Ivy, the University of Pennsylvania).

Needless to say, UChicago and Duke attract tens of thousands of applications each year (32,000 and 37,000 respectively in 2017-18) - their most recent acceptance rates dropping to all-time lows at approximately 7.5%. This means the competition is tight and the calibre of applications high...but also that the excitement at being accepted all the more rewarding, given the great opportunities that lie ahead for those who are chosen to be part of - in recent Crimson admits Max and Allie’s case - the UChicago and Duke Classes of 2023!

As new admits to two of the best universities in the world, Max and Allie have shared the following words of advice as to how you can earn an acceptance to world class universities like these.

max samengo headshot Max was admitted to UChicago, class of 2023.

Check out Allie and Max's answers to some commonly asked questions below:

Q: When did you first consider studying in the USA?

Max: I think the idea of studying overseas appealed to me quite early - probably in year 7 or 8. Initially I thought I wanted to go to the UK but then I suppose I got busy at school and really didn’t follow up on it until year 11 and 12 after which I knew that I’d better get started. That’s when my family spoke with Crimson and things began to take shape. They told me a lot about the US liberal arts system and I liked the idea of not having to declare a major straight away. That’s how the US - or rather UChicago became my early application priority.

Allie: I think it was something that I've wanted to do for a long time. When I was 8, I went to school in Minnesota and I was exposed to the US school system as well as the college system. I think because I had a taste of it then, I knew going to college in the US would provide me with really great opportunities. When I got into my later high school years, my family and I took a couple of trips to the US to check out lots of different colleges. I think we visited close to 20: George Washington, Georgetown, UNC, Dartmouth, Notre Dame… But when I walked onto the Duke campus, I just knew that Duke was the dream school for me.

Q: How did you approach the personal essay part of the application? Was this challenging given it is unlike anything you had to write at school?

Max: While the essays are a little daunting, I feel that, having them as part of the application process is a really good thing because while you know your academics are important, you also know the admissions officers are listening to your personal voice. They want to know who you are. That being said, to be honest I had no idea what I was going to write about initially! My Crimson essay mentor was so helpful, I think we went through three or four different ideas and drafts and settled on some close friendships I made in my maths extension class. It's really hard to narrow it down to something that really says something about you but is still creative...but my mentor was so amazing, he worked with me 24/7 as the deadline approached. I remember calling him on Thanksgiving Day and we skyped with his family walking around in the background. He was incredible.

Allie: Well, firstly I think essays are a really great addition to the application process, because they show a student’s real passion for that school. The admissions officers, in reading every lengthy application, know that that student worked hard on every supplement, every essay, every response. And I think writing those essays, it really reminds you why you want to go to that university. I think that having that sort of passion and people praising you on that passion is so different than the HSC where it’s all about your grades. Of course, the essay isn’t easy. Even if you are good at English, it’s like nothing you’ve ever written before. But my essay mentor was so good. What I liked most about her was she helped me keep my essay real. She was right in there helping me but also she maintained this slight distance from the whole process as well - as she wanted to make sure the statement was ‘me’ which I really appreciated.

Q: A lot of students get fixated on the Ivy League universities, why did you decide to apply early to UChicago and Duke instead?

Max: I think universities like Harvard are just so famous that a lot of people can’t see past them. It’s funny, when I got into UChicago, people said: “Wow, why didn’t you apply to Harvard?” but what most people don’t realise is that UChicago is Top 10 in the world. I just liked Chicago. I suppose I was also looking at Columbia, Cornell and Michigan in the US as well and UCL, King’s College and Saint Andrews in the UK, but I found UChicago the most interesting. I also wanted to live in a big city so Chicago ticked all the boxes.

Allie: It’s funny. I knew nothing about Duke before I visited the school. I think a lot of people assume that American universities are all alike, that the Ivies are all alike, but they’re not. For example, everyone talks about the prestige of the Ivies but when I went to Brown, I didn’t like it. I know it’s an amazing university but I knew it wasn’t for me. But when we went to Duke, it’s hard to describe, but I had this feeling. My mum says that when we walked into Duke, that I turned to her the in same way that I’d turned to her when I first walked into my boarding school, when I’d said: “This is where I want to be.” And at Duke I turned to her and said, ‘Mum, I want to go to Duke’. I think that's when she knew that she was definitely going to support me in making Duke number one because she could see how much I loved it. In the same way that she’d helped me plan my road to high school.

Q: What advice would you give to other students thinking of studying in the US?

Max: I suppose firstly I would say, start early...my application was a bit of a rush in the end, which wasn’t ideal when juggling the HSC! And I would also say that, one of the great draw cards for me was that the US system allows you time to decide who and what you want to be because you don’t have to declare a major until the end of your second year. For example, I loved English at school, but I also loved physics and history. So maybe I could major in physics and minor English, but I don’t have to decide until I try lots of different options. I think, if you are unsure as to what you want to study, then the US is a great alternative.

Allie: I think I would say, and this may be a cliche, but look at studying overseas because it allows you to pursue your passions. It’s definitely a lot of work but it’s also a lot different than you would expect because the application is literally about yourself and not just about the HSC or your academics and that is really refreshing. I also think that, if you find the support like I did with Crimson, it definitely makes it a whole lot easier. With their support you sort of throw your heart and your soul into your applications. If you love the school you are applying to, and you can showcase it through your writing, the admissions officers will see that you are genuine about wanting to study there. They don’t just want to know about the numbers and you don't need the perfect score. Crimson encourages you to put your heart into your application and be proud of who you are, because that’s what differentiates you from others.

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