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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

Why ETH Zurich has been ranked the ‘best university in continental Europe’

A new international survey of universities has ranked Zurich’s Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) the highest in the world outside the US and the UK. How does this school excel?

Why ETH Zurich has been ranked the 'best university in continental Europe'
ETH's main hall. Photo by Zurich.ch

The Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2022 have placed ETH in the 15th place (out of 1,600 surveyed worldwide). The school dropped from the 14th-place ranking the previous year.

Universities in the United Kingdom and the United States hold all of the top rankings ahead of ETH Zurich.

But as the top 14 are not in continental Europe, this means ETH has the unofficial title of the of best in Europe.

What is ETH and what does it do?

It is a public research university focusing exclusively on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

It has a “sister” school located in Lausanne, the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), which specialises in natural sciences and engineering. 

The EPFL ranked in the 40th place in the survey.

Why has ETH scored so high in the study?

“Our strategy is derived from our federal mandate to conduct fundamental research, train specialists and transfer new knowledge to the economy and society,” said ETH President Joël Mesot.

University ranking methodology is based on scores for high-​level indicators relating to teaching, research, international perspective, and collaboration with industry.

“ETH’s overall scores show improvement in teaching, research, and publication citations”, the university’s rankings expert Paul Cross said.

However, it dropped slightly in terms of industry income and international outlook.

“Competition is fierce at the top tier of the rankings”, Cross noted. 

Here are some interesting facts about ETH:

  • It was founded in 1855 by the Swiss government to train engineers and scientists.
  • Today 18,000 students from over 100 different countries study at ETZ, 3,800 of whom are doctoral students.
  • So far, 21 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to researchers who have or had a connection with ETH Zurich.
  • While tuition in the top-ranking schools in the UK — Oxford and Cambridge — costs well over 10,000 francs each year, and in the in the US universities, such as Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Caltech, the annual tuition exceeds 50,000 a year, at ETH it is 1,460 francs.

In all, Switzerland is home to seven of the world’s top universities. Aside from ETH and EPFL, they are University of Zurich (75th place), University of Bern (101st), Universities of Basel and Geneva (103rd), University of Lausanne (176th).

Complete ranking can be seen here.

READ MORE: Why Switzerland leads the world in innovation (Partner content)

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