Instead of having it "all figured out", take this piece of advice from Voldemort

University applications are about more than getting a place; they’re an opportunity for self-discovery

April Xiaoyi Xu |

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Use this chance to reflect on who you are because of your past

Last year, in my final year of university, I applied to several graduate programmes and fellowships in politics, law school, and business school. Most people apply for either a graduate fellowship, or to law or business school.

Many of these application essays were the result of an overnight writing spree – something I did not foresee as a first-year. Then, I had promised myself that I would spend months on each one, writing and rewriting them until they were perfect. In any event, in spite of the speed with which I wrote them, they were good enough. With the exception of two scholarships, I was admitted to practically every programme I had applied to. Here are the lessons I have gained, and the advice I can offer to others about to go on the same journey.

Firstly, know thyself. I know I am a fast writer, so the thought of writing many essays was not a scary one. I noticed that the more applications I worked on, the more I got to know myself. Many application essays push you to do a lot of soul-searching. If you already know yourself, this isn’t going to be too much of a problem.

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Second, reflect. I felt a strange mix of frustration, joy, and nostalgia as I looked back at all the documents I’d produced, past emails I had written, and old photos of my younger self. Yes, the essays are all about your future, but I’d highly recommend using this chance to reflect on who you are because of your past.

Lord Voldemort, the villain from the Harry Potter series, got many things wrong, but he did get one thing right: it’s important to know your “past, present, and future”.

Finally, don’t worry about decisions being final. As young people, many of us are convinced that there will come a moment when we will have it “all figured out”. For students in Hong Kong, that might be in the final year of secondary school. For students in the US, that might be when we are making our decisions on our major/minor at university, or the summer before the final year application cycle kicks off.

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Like many of my fellow students, I hoped I’d have that near-magical moment when I would simply know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. In reality, my essays taught me that, perhaps, we are meant to – as one of my professors said – “meander through our 20s”.

That’s not to say we’re all wandering around blindly, but it does mean you shouldn’t panic too much if you are. Keep an open mind, good luck, and bon voyage!

Edited by Ginny Wong