Updated: Aug 12
On February 14th, 2020, I received my Hogwarts letter- literally. Alright, maybe minus the owls, but instead something equally as magical. I was going to UWC!!!
Now that I'll soon be heading over 4,000 kilometres away from my hometown (that's wild!), there's no better time to share my United World College application experience- and boy, what a journey it has been!
Let's go back to the beginning...
So what exactly is UWC?
The United World Colleges are movement of 18 global schools spanning across 4 continents dedicated to uniting cultures and nations around the world through education. UWC is a two-year, pre-university experience for students from over 150 countries who live, study and learn together pursuing the International Baccalaureate.
UWC college students are selected domestically, through UWC’s unique national committee system. In accordance with the UWC ethos that education should be independent of the student’s socioeconomic means, 70% of students in their IB Diploma years receive either full or partial scholarship based on their needs.
In August of 2018, United World College was the last thing on my mind. In fact, I didn't know it existed.
At this point, I had already decided to complete my last two years of secondary studies at the local high school before applying to an in-province university where I could hopefully secure an exchange year.
Studying abroad had always been my dream. I longed to challenge myself, submerse in new cultures, and experience the world through a different lens. Coming from a school system that was very linear (in the sense that I could always see what was ahead of me), the ardent desire to learn beyond the sake of simply graduating burned exceptionally bright.
The plan was to fund my future travels by teaching English overseas or enrolling in a medical program with the Canadian Armed Forces. For years, I'd always come back to the thought of living in a foreign country and I was entirely determined I would somehow find a way to do it. But for financial reasons and simply the lack of opportunity, it had never seemed feasible in high school.
So when I first heard about the United World Colleges on an otherwise quiet Saturday afternoon, it seemed too good to be true. Students from all over the world living together to embody the very same values I believe in! In a few hours, I went from having a solid plan to being confused, excited, and a little overwhelmed in the best possible way. From what I knew, UWCs were very selective and my chances of being accepted were slim. Fewer than 50 applicants across the country make it through!
Yet after a few more days of stalking UWC blogs (heehee), reaching out to alumni, and ensuring that UWC was, indeed, legit (lol), I decided I would go for it. I no longer had to wait three or four years to reach my goal. The opportunity was there- if I was willing to work for it.
Well...there was one setback. I spoke with the National Committee of Canada (NCC) and learned I had to wait another year before I could apply due to being 14 and having a late birthday...
During those 12 months I worked hard to keep my grades up while continuing the extracurriculars and sports I was doing at school. Grades definitely aren't everything at UWC but it's no secret that the selection committee wants to see candidates who demonstrate that they can handle the pressures of the IB curriculum.
Anyway, August finally came and it was soon time to write my long-awaited application. Each NC's process is unique, so I'll tell you a bit about my experience through the Canadian National Committee. Selection generally consists of 3 stages: written submission + references, an individual interview + Canadian history quiz, and group interview.
While the second two stages vary slightly across the country, the written component is identical. It started pretty simple: name, home province/territory, date of birth, passport, student transcript....your plans after high school...a little tougher but not bad. Then, "In 150 words, what do you consider your best accomplishment(s)? Explain why." Oh boy.
150 words is really nothing, even when you aren't sure exactly what you want to write yet.
In total, the submission consisted of ten or eleven mini-essay questions, their content ranging from my hobbies and weekly routine to my opinion on the biggest issue in my region. I also remembering stressing for weeks on the creative section where we were told to upload a drawing, photo, something written, or an audio/video that represented ourselves. Was I interesting enough? Would the NC even see it? (YES, they definitely do! My interviewers even asked me about it lol). In the end, I settled on a blog post about where I saw myself in 4 years.
The last requirement involved 3 references- one from a teacher, another from the school principal, and the last from someone outside of school. After writing and re-writing for several months (thank you so much to my parents and best friend for helping me edit!), I finally sent everything in a week before the deadline.
The wait was excruciating.
Months passed and I joined a couple of UWC forums, waiting in anticipation as applicants from other countries heard back from their NCs to schedule Skype and in-person interviews. By this point, I figured I hadn't made it through and reminded myself that I had given the application my best shot. Yet, I couldn't help but notice that no Canadians mentioned hearing back from the NCC and so I clung to the tiniest sliver of hope.
It was a particularly snowy afternoon as I was sitting in my last class of the day- french - when I got the email inviting me to interviews. They would take place on February 7th and 8th- only two weeks away! I was unbelievably excited but also a tad nervous. Turns out I didn't need to be because the people I met were amazing!
My individual interview was the last one scheduled for the day so I had an hour to chat with past UWC teachers and students who really helped shake off my last-minute nerves. The actual interview was in a separate room with 4 members of the selection committee (all alumni) and a mental health worker. They were incredibly friendly and really put me at ease. Before I knew it, my 30 minutes were up! I was handed a super brief Canadian History Quiz to complete and then it was time to make the drive home so we could get a good night's rest before returning the next afternoon.
Day 2 came and went just as quickly. It was the first time I got to meet the other short-listed interviewees, and we had a lot of fun getting to know each other and bonding over how terribly we thought our interviews went before doing some fun activities with the selection committee. At the end of the day, we exchanged contact information, promising to keep in touch and to let each other know if heard back from the committee.
If the wait before was excruciating, this was much, much worse. Luckily, it was shorter. Again, candidates from the UK got their acceptances and rejections while all we could do was fanatically reload our inbox every thirty seconds.
It was exactly one week later, February 14th, when the letter finally came- also a Friday. (A couple of my fellow co-years and I agree that Fridays are the unofficial day of NCC correspondence).
I had just arrived home after a long day of school when I felt a buzz in my jacket pocket. I didn't think much of it, considering I had just checked my messages on the bus not 15 minutes before. Instead, I went about making a nice afternoon snack to munch on while I got ready to start my homework.
It wasn't until I needed to call my mom a little while later did I even both to check my phone and when I finally did, I almost spit out my cracker (sorry for the visual).
Inbox (1) Re: "UWC Update"
Eeeeeek! I had made it through! ANDDDDD after reading the email several more times to make sure I wasn't seeing things, I finally sent in all my financial information and received confirmation of a scholarship to Pearson College in Victoria, BC!!!
So here we are. In a little over a month, I'll be waving goodbye to my hometown and boarding a plane heading to the start of a new adventure! It's taken a while for the news to really sink in. In fact, I've only just submitted my school transfer request. Sometimes I still wonder if this is for real...I can't wait!
More about Pearson College: https://www.pearsoncollege.ca/
More about UWC: https://www.uwc.org/about
Applying to UWC? Further questions? Reach out - I'd love to hear from you!
Until next time,