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How an original application can get you into a top university

Applying to universities or business schools can be a nerve-wracking experience when so much depends on the outcome. In a crowded and highly competitive field, what’s the best way to stand out?

How an original application can get you into a top university
Photo: Getty Images

By trying an unconventional application, you could give yourself a better chance to present your authentic self – and the chance to fully utilise today’s digital media. In partnership with ESCP Business School, The Local finds out more about the potential advantages of choosing to be different.

Interested in an international career in business? Find out more about ESCP Business School – and take this four-minute quiz to see if its Bachelor in Management (BSc) could be right for you

Put yourself in your candidacy

Anyone hoping to study at a top university or business school needs to demonstrate personal qualities, as well as a high level of academic achievement. In many applications – for jobs as well as further studies – the personal statement is your main chance to really stand out.

Charlotte Hillig, Head of Undergraduate Studies for the ESCP Bachelor in Management (BSc), says a personal statement should “present to us the character, passions, and aspirations of the young candidates in a genuine way”. Many applicants write their letters to try to please recruiters – and in doing so they fail to reveal who they really are, she warns. 

This is not a trap that Jad Zammarieh is in danger of falling into. The Lebanese student won a place on ESCP’s Bachelor in Management (BSc) after submitting one of the most original applications you could ever see.

Not content with a bold personal statement, he shared a collection of short films, poems, drawings, essays and even a video clip of a musical he wrote and directed.

“I really like to write, so I didn’t want to make a conventional application,” he says. “When a jury reads a lot of letters that look similar and then sees new ideas and a different perspective, that can make the difference.”

Jad received an answer from ESCP in under a week and was invited for an interview. “The interviewer told me he really liked my creative approach,” he recalls. “He asked me to explain a bit more about the musical I had written.” 

Jad says he raised $1,500 by staging the play, which he donated to an orphanage in Lebanon. So, what is his key advice to students now preparing applications? “Put yourself in your candidacy,” he says.

Take this four-minute quiz to see if the Bachelor in Management (BSc) could be right for you – then find out how to apply this summer (deadlines are in July or August depending on your country of residence)

Photos: Jad Zammarieh and one of his drawings

The digital dividend: make use of links and more

Depending on what you’re applying for (and the culture of the relevant country), you need to be careful to make your application the right length. How can you give an informative and engaging account of yourself – without any risk of it being so long that nobody wants to read it?

Fortunately, the digital world offers new ways to go about this. Jad, for example, created a blog page using WordPress with all his creative projects and simply shared the link.

“Sometimes in a letter you need to write so many things but still be concise,” he says. 

“Giving a link or even a QR code for something that can be seen online can speak a million words. We’ve all learned a lot about digital tools during the pandemic. It’s really not that complicated and it’s a good way to present yourself.” 

Build your personal brand

Whatever you’re applying for – in work or study – you need a growing awareness of your personal brand. Think you don’t have one? Think again.

According to Sofia Baldissera, a career advisor at ESCP who helps students on the BSc with their career choices, everyone with any online accounts has a personal brand. She offers three key tips: 

  1. Find out who you are – authenticity is key. Ask yourself (or your friends!) about your values, purpose and personal traits.
  2. Update and polish your online profiles – make sure they’re consistent with the authentic image of yourself you want to get across. 
  3. Get networking – whether in-person or online, networking events and career fairs are another chance to let your personality shine. 

Jad, who is now doing an internship at a music start-up in Berlin, says his unconventional style has also worked in other applications. It helped him through the first round of applications for an internship at a major gaming company (before applications were stopped due to the pandemic) and to secure a position on his upcoming Master’s.

Be your authentic self at ESCP

Students on ESCP’s Bachelor in Management (BSc) get to live in a different European capital during each of their three years of study – Jad studied in Paris, Turin and Berlin. Many have international backgrounds and are bilingual or multilingual. 

Applications to start in September this year are open until July or August; the exact date depends on the recruiting campus according to your country of residence. The prestigious business school is seeking highly-motivated candidates with an interest in different cultures, new ways of working and diverse points of view.

What will the future hold for Jad? He would love to work in the art or film world. He also says the style of learning at ESCP gave him constant opportunities to be “creative and innovative”.

“I think that’s more important in business than other fields,” he says. “If you follow the same rules and conventions you won’t create something new.”

Take this 4-minute quiz to find out if the Bachelor in Management (BSc) at ESCP could be right for you. Applications are open until July or August depending on your country of residence – find out more about applications and admissions

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EDUCATION

IES chain blocked from opening four new schools

Sweden's Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES) chain has been denied permission to open four new schools in Gothenburg, Huddinge, Norrtälje, and Upplands-Bro, after the schools inspectorate said it had not provided pupil data.

IES chain blocked from opening four new schools

According to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) has denied permission to the chain to open a new planned new school in Norrtälje, north of Stockholm, even though the building that will house it is already half built. The inspectorate has also denied permission to three other schools which the chain had applied to start in 2023. 

In all four cases, the applications have been rejected because the school did not submit the required independent assessment for how many pupils the schools were likely to have. 

Jörgen Stenquist, IES’s deputy chief executive, said that IES has not in the past had to submit this data, as it has always been able to point to the queues of pupils seeking admissions to the school. 

“The fact that Engelska Skolan, as opposed to our competition, has never had the need to hire external companies to do a direct pupil survey is because we have had so many in line,” he told DN.

“In the past, it has been enough that we reported a large queue in the local area. But if the School Inspectorate wants us to conduct targeted surveys and ask parents directly if they want their children to start at our new schools, then maybe we have to start doing that.”

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According to the newspaper, when the inspectorate had in the past asked for pupil predictions, the chain has refused, stating simply “we do not make student forecasts”, which the inspectorate has then accepted. 

However, in this year’s application round, when IES wrote: “We do not carry out traditional interest surveys as we simply have not had a need for this,” the inspectorate treated it as grounds to reject its applications. 

According to DN, other school chain have been complaining to the inspectorate that IES gets favourable treatment and was excused some requirements other chains have to fulfil. 

Liselotte Fredzell, from the inspectorate’s permitting unit, confirmed that the inspectorate was trying to be more even handed. 

“Yes, it is true that we are now striving for a more equal examination of applications. Things may have been getting too slack, and we needed to tighten up.” 

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