With the number of international students tripling to 6.3 million over the last two decades, students of today must distinguish themselves from their peers as university applications become ever more competitive.
Hence, the recent hype when multiple Malaysian high school leavers were accepted by top American and UK universities.
However, the question remains: what makes these talented youth stand out?
Garden International School (GIS) proudly celebrates its students who once again secured spots at some of the world’s most prestigious universities. FMT spoke to 13 of these exemplary achievers and found four essential qualities which helped them overcome the toughest of application processes.
High-performing students have an innate desire to learn more about the world around them. This is what drives them to pursue broader perspectives of the world, beyond the classroom.
Sydny Lum, one of Malaysia’s three Harvard University offer holders for the undergraduate class of 2027, pursued her interest in Economics with active involvement in various research departments. She also initiated a self-driven project on the implications of Bitcoin on developing countries.
“Being genuinely interested in the subjects I’m taking is what motivates me to excel. When I’m really curious about learning more on a subject, such as how it can be applied in real life, I get motivated to study and wish to learn more at university,” she said.
Her peers, Aria Nadkarni and Sadhana Saravanan, scheduled to study Anthropology at the London School of Economics, and Medicine at Cambridge University respectively, found that they engaged better with learning by connecting the theories to their everyday lives.
“Anthropology is a subject that can easily become detached and theoretical, so my personal experience interacting with people of different cultures rounded out my university applications. Personally, I think you can’t enjoy a subject unless you see how relevant it is to your life,” Aria said.
Sadhana added, “Reading on related subjects in my own time really helped me to excel academically, especially since it gave me an awareness of enriching topics that I didn’t learn in school.”
Excellent academic performance
While putting in hard work is vital for achieving excellent grades, GIS students believe in a more holistic approach to improving academic performance.
Aspiring University College of London, Computer Science student, Declan Loo took steps to analyse his study habits. This led him to score straight A*s in his IGCSE exams and strong academic results throughout his A-Levels.
“Initially, I experienced some difficulties during my mock IGCSE exams. Doing a lot of past year papers really helped me identify and build upon my own strengths and weaknesses,” he added.
Lim G Zhi echoed the sentiment, confirming that reviewing multiple past papers enabled him to achieve three A’s in his first A-Level exams (or AS-Level) and being offered placements at Royal Veterinary College in London and the University of Edinburgh.
Scott Hong Tat Yang, who has an offer to study Law at the London School of Economics, believed being surrounded by the right people at GIS was key to his academic success.
“My teachers, as well as my friends, have been really helpful in achieving my academic goals. It is thanks to them that I have the support system and resources I need to perform well in my studies. I always have many different opinions and perspectives to draw upon, opening my mind to multiple solutions to a problem,” he said.
Unique experiences and achievements
Standing out to the best universities requires students to showcase their unique combination of interests and achievements in their university applications.
Khor Su Mae, who will be attending Carnegie Mellon University to study Computer Science, believes that pushing those interests as far as possible is what makes a compelling university candidate.
“Everyone has things that they are interested in; it’s about how far you are able to take those interests that universities look at. Having a combination of different interests is what makes a person unique in their experiences.”
Shreya Pillai and Aris Razlan who have both received offers from Imperial College, London believe that transferable skills from their extracurricular activities contributed to their academic success.
Shreya said her graphic design experience helped hone her attention to detail in chemical engineering. “With graphic design, you have to think about colours and how it catches people’s attention. With chemistry, you have to be very attentive to detail as well.” Shreya was also offered a place at UCLA.
For Aris, his active involvement in sports, especially as GIS’ football captain in 2023 helped him manage his time properly, creating a structured routine to balance both his studies and pastimes.
Passion and commitment
When someone is passionate about their goals, it pushes them to go above and beyond. Ever since he was a young boy, Ignácio Hersey – who plans to pursue Acting at the University of Northampton, nourished his dedication to the performing arts and pushed himself to become the multi-talented creative he is today.
“I joined a youth theatre for five and a half years when I was living in the UK, which played a huge part in growing my passion for theatre. I worked in multiple productions and learned many techniques about drama, theatre, and theatre technicalities like lighting and stage.”
Likewise, students at GIS are also given ample opportunities to cultivate their passions.
John Ling who will be studying Computer Science at University College, London, sought to push his capabilities by involving himself in the local programming space – earning him the EARCOS Global Citizenship Award last year for his charity initiative ‘Plugged in Malaysia’. He also took part in various programming tournaments under a class called Dragons Coding, which taught him important skills such as teamwork and how to persevere under pressure.
“Even though they were competitions, I was really competing against myself instead of my peers. I believe everyone is on their own journey towards their goals, and I’m on mine,” he said.
For passion to flourish, there must also be a strong commitment to always improve and hold oneself accountable. Mahan Vahabzadeh, studying Architecture at the University of Bath, and Gauri Gupta, pursuing Mathematics at Cambridge University are shining examples of these qualities.
Their efforts culminated in Mahan obtaining the school award for Design Technology and Gauri receiving a Gold Medal for the UKMT Senior Maths Challenge, as well as a Silver for British Maths Olympiad 1.
The achievements of these 13 students not only reflect their individual talents and hard work, but also the dedication and support of their teachers, families, and peers.
As GIS celebrates their acceptance into the world’s most prestigious universities, GIS is also inspired, and filled with hope for the next generation of students who will follow in their footsteps.
For more information about GIS and its curriculums, click here.