Before you read
To contextualize, in August 2020, I applied and was accepted into the Schwarzman Scholars program in Beijing, China. This article presents details, takeaways and resources that helped me on my journey to applying to one of the world’s top scholarships and fellowships that provide a full ride, housing, a stipend and even travel funding. Everything in this article is based solely on my own experience and it might not apply to everyone. This is not a guide for “Why you should apply to Schwarzman Scholars”. It’s meant to answer “How should I prepare for the Schwarzman Scholars application process”.
My Story — From Bucharest to Philadelphia; From Philadelphia to Beijing
About Schwarzman Scholars — Process & Takeaways: Essays; Three Letters of Recommendation; Resume; Video Introduction; Test Scores & GPA; Interview
Resources — Podcasts, Newsletters, Videos, Courses
From Bucharest to Philadelphia
I went to Colegiul National “Gheorghe Lazar” public high school in Bucharest, Romania where all the courses were taught in Romanian and all the coding was done on paper. Starting an online fashion store with my friends was what sparked my interest in business. Soon after, I started dreaming about attending a business school in the United States. The challenge was, I couldn’t afford it. But I didn’t allow that to stop me and made a list of all the universities in the US that offered financial aid and started looking at every single one of them until I shortened the list to 28 and applied. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania was only a dream until I received the letter of acceptance, but most importantly, it was scholarships that allowed me to move across the world and pursue my dream.
The lack of resources didn’t stop me from trying, but it made me work harder for what I knew I wanted. Sometimes lacking resources has the transformational power to make you act out of the box.
From Philadelphia to Beijing
What I didn’t know at the time was where my University of Pennsylvania journey was going to take me. I didn’t know that I would spend a summer teaching public speaking in Hong Kong, or that not getting a job in the United States would lead me to come up with another out-of-the box solution and conduct research in Moldova, Transnistria and Ukraine. On campus, I got involved in Wharton Council, the organization that oversaw 40+ students clubs and worked on developing a Centralized Application for club recruitment. These experiences and many others opened my eyes to a whole new path. A path that would enable me to continue studying the role of entrepreneurial development in enabling economic prosperity.
Therefore, after graduation I decided to move to Beijing for a year as part of Schwarzman Scholars, pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. As a Schwarzman Scholar, I hope to gain the skill-set required to drive socioeconomic development by leveling global access to entrepreneurship.
About Schwarzman Scholars
Schwarzman Scholars is a fully-funded, one-year master’s degree and leadership program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. “Schwarzman Scholars receive a world-class education through interactions with foreign ministers, political leaders, cultural luminaries and entrepreneurs.” At a glance, the Scholars represent 81 Countries, 294 Universities and 25 Industries. Although diverse on the surface, the Scholars share the values of leadership, character, academic aptitude, empathy, open mindedness and entrepreneurial spirit.
Process & Takeaways
- Must have an undergraduate degree
- Must be 18–28 years of age
- Must be proficient in the English language
- Application Deadline for US & Global Applicants: September 21, 2021
- Application Deadline for applicants with Chinese passport: May 20, 2021
Once you’ve decided on applying, there are 6 important sections of the application you should consider: Essays, Three Letters of Recommendation, Resume, a Video Introduction, Test Scores and, finally, the Interview. For all these steps, you can find detailed instructions here. The following paragraphs contain my experience and lessons learned in the process.
- Essays: a Leadership essay (750 words) and a Statement of Purpose (500 words).
Lesson: The essays were a moment of reflection. For me, the most important part of the writing process was getting feedback from friends and going back to rewrite passages over the course of a few weeks. I started by outlining the story I wanted to tell through my application and always kept in mind the question “Why China?”. After a few days of brainstorming, I decided to write about my leadership experience on Wharton Council and my Statement of Purpose around the importance of understanding different school of thoughts (the Western and Eastern perspectives). For me, the process took around 2 weeks of writing, reviewing and editing.
2. Three letters of recommendation
Lesson: Building relationships early on with advisors, faculty and staff is essential because they will be the ones talking about your accomplishments through the recommendation letters. When choosing your recommenders, think about what qualities and examples they will be able to showcase in order to add to your narrative. Choose people that can talk about your work and aspirations in different contexts — academics, extracurriculars, internships, global experience. I chose my recommenders from three different areas of my application: one professor that could shed light on my academic abilities, someone in the Student Life team at Wharton who could talk about my campus involvements and one of mentor and supervisor from my summer internship who could talk about my work ethic outside school. While asking someone to write a letter can be a daunting task, I found that scheduling calls with each of them ahead of them writing the recommendation letters in order to share with them my application essays and motivation for applying to the program was very helpful. For me, from initially contacting the recommenders (via email) to completion the process took a little over a month so I would recommend starting to contact potential recommenders early on.
Lesson: Get feedback from friends, co-workers and/or university advisors. Make sure your resume tells a story; for mine, I included an International Experiences section that emphasized my interest in Global Affairs. For structure, I consulted my university’s undergraduate Career Services website for examples.
4. Video Introduction
Lesson: Authenticity is important as the 1-minute self-introduction should convey your interests and personality. When filming my introduction, I focused on telling the story of how I became interested in entrepreneurship and global affairs, emphasizing how the Schwarzman program would help me achieve my future aspirations. This was the last thing I did before submitting my application because I wanted to draw from the essays I wrote.
5. Test Scores & GPA (Grade Point Average)
If your native language is not English, official English proficiency test scores must be uploaded in this section and submitted with the application. This requirement is waived for applicants who studied for at least two years in an English-speaking program at an undergraduate or graduate level.
- Acceptable tests and minimum scores are: TOEFL (iBT) 100, TOEFL (PBT) 600, or IELTS 7.
As stated on the website, the program is looking for students with demonstrated agility and superior performance in their academic studies, and the most competitive candidates will be among the top students in their graduating class. While the program doesn’t have a GPA cut-off, you are required to scan and upload official transcripts for each degree-granting post-secondary education institution you attended. If you did not graduate from a US institution or an institution that doesn’t provide a GPA, additional context or clarification about your academic program can be explained briefly in the Additional Information section of the application.
If you make it past the application stage, you will be invited to a 25-minute interview in front of a panel of professionals across fields.
Lessons: Know your application well and be ready to go in-depth on any of the topics you wrote about. It helped me to review the essays and think about what questions others might have about them. Make sure you are aware of the current events that are happening in the world and have an opinion on them. I found it helpful to follow current events and news leading up to the interview in order to be able to bring real-world examples into my answers. Some of the news sources I followed included podcasts, newsletters and videos listed below. I also prepared through countless mock interviews with friends with questions about my application, interests and current events happening in the world.
Below are some of the resources I used while working on my application and preparing for the interview.
- Caixin Sinica
- Global News Podcasts
- Knowledge at Wharton
- China in the World
- Crossroads by Joshua Phillip
- China Econ Talk
- Fareed Zakaria GPS
- Axios Pro Rata, World & China
- The Roundup
- SupChina Weekly
- The Roundup
- Beijing to Britain
- China In Eurasia (by Reid Standish)
- The New Yorker
- The Economist
- Council on Foreign Relations
- ChinaX course offered by Harvard’s EdX
Good luck applying,
If you have any questions, tips or recommendations feel free to leave them in the comments below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more stories and details about my adventures, you can find me on Instagram: @cristinapogo.