ULTIMATE INTERVIEW/SELECTION WEEKEND GUIDE – TIPS FOR THE UWC APPLICATION PROCESS
I have promised to do this for way too long now and never actually got around to it- but since I’m at home in lockdown and college doesn’t start until August, I’m finally writing up my tips for all things regarding the UWC application, interview and selection weekend. I think, since I got rejected the first time I applied and I went through the whole process twice, I probably have at least some useful insights to share. !DISCLAIMER! Remember that these are all based on my own experience going through the Austrian selection process- the one in your country might be different. These are all things I wish someone had told me before starting/during the application process, so I really hope that you’ll find some of these helpful😊
1. THE WRITTEN APPLICATION
Your first step towards your greater goal of attending a UWC! It may seem daunting, but this is the one thing in this whole process that you have complete control over, so really you should take full advantage of that fact! You can spend as little or as much time as you like writing and tweaking your application and have family or friends help you. Interviews, selection weekends, group activities etc. is where other people come in, but this step is under your control, so don’t stress yourself out too much! 😊 Here are my top tips for the written application.
1. Get your letters of recommendation early
Take it from someone who left it until it was almost too late. It doesn’t feel good to have to (politely) stress out your teacher/whoever is writing you a recommendation because the application submission deadline is soon, and it will definitely not make them feel any more inclined to write it for you if you’re forced to pressure them to do it quickly. Just figure out who you want to ask for recommendations as early as possible and make sure they have all the time they need to write you a great letter!
2. Don’t compare yourself to others
It’s so important to be honest with yourself. Know yourself, know how long it takes you to write an essay and how many times you might need to edit it to be satisfied. It doesn’t matter whether that one UWC youtuber said you should take 3 months to write the essays, or that maybe that one friend of yours who is really good at essay writing said they wrote them in one day. Just because you’ve read or heard somewhere that someone wrote it in 2 days doesn’t mean you should and just because you heard that someone took all summer to write them doesn’t automatically mean they’re good. Obviously, it’s easy to give the tip “Start early!” but I think it is more effective to just be realistic and honest with yourself. Personally, I wrote up my application and edited everything in the span of 1-2 weeks, and it worked for me that way. But, let’s say you tend to be a perfectionist and also want your mom, your best friend and your dad’s brother’s cousin’s daughter to read over your stuff, starting early is probably a good idea.
3. Don’t be afraid to contact your national committee
Applications vary from country to country so I can’t talk about any specifics, but generally, if there is anything at all that you are confused about, don’t be afraid to write an email to your NC! They will be happy to assist you, and there is no such thing as stupid questions (cliché but true in this instance). A personal example would be that the first time I applied, I wasn’t sure which things on the application should be answered in German and which in English, but instead of contacting my NC I just kinda did it and changed it again and after submitting was scared that I did it the wrong way. Don’t be like me! If something is unclear, ask for clarification. It will spare you a lot of stress.
4. Just send it!
Send off your application, even if you have doubts and think it may not be good enough. First of all: you have nothing to lose and everything to gain! And second of all, I assure you that everyone hitting that submission button doubts themselves at least a little bit. I sure as hell did.
So now you’ve made it to the interview- congrats! I know that this is a nerve-wracking part of the application process, but just try to see it as a way to share more about what kind of a person you are with the National Committee.
1. Be yourself
I know what you’re thinking. Wow, how cliché, thanks, never even thought about this totally obvious thing! I agree, it’s cliché, but if you take away one thing from this whole blog post it should be this. Now, this should also be taken with a grain of salt. Yes, you shouldn’t try to act any different, for example if you’re usually a bubbly person-it’s okay, you don’t have to act all serious. If you’re a naturally funny person, you could include a little (appropriate) joke here and there even though we tend to think this is an extremely formal setting (which yes it kind of is, but again this may vary from national committee to national committee). However, “be yourself” doesn’t mean “stay in your comfort zone”. As an introvert, I know it can be hard to speak up, and I’m not saying you should change and act like an extrovert. What you have to make yourself realize is that this interview is about you. These people (the number of people interviewing you will vary) are sitting there to listen to you talk and occasionally ask some questions, they are trying to find out what kind of a person you are beyond those stiff essays from the application. If you’re an introvert, it’s fine to not talk loudly or whatever, but be confident about your opinions and don’t be afraid to talk about yourself! And even if you’re not, just act like you are confident and before you know it you will feel that way too (fake it till you make it). Believe me, I know it can feel super weird to just talk about yourself, but in some ways that is the point of an interview.
2. Don’t be scared of the interviewer(s)
They aren’t trying to trip you up. They will ask questions about your essays and things you indicated on your application in order to get an idea of who you are as a person. They might challenge something you said, but just stay true to your opinion, they don’t want to hear a certain answer they want to get to know you. If they ask you to elaborate on something, you should see it as a great opportunity to talk even more about something that you obviously already like discussing, since otherwise you (hopefully) wouldn’t have chosen it for your essay! In my case, the interviewers even made a joke here and there. The whole thing isn’t quite as formal as you might think.
3. Be passionate
I kind of touched on this earlier, but again: these people are there to listen to you talk. They will ask you questions about stuff you wrote on your application to find out more about you and whether or not you are a good fit for UWC (and whether or not UWC is a good fit for you.) They want to know what kind of a person you are, what makes you get out of bed in the morning and what things light up your eyes when you talk about them. No matter what you are passionate about, make sure they know it and feel it!
4. Don’t read too much into facial expressions
Seriously, don’t. During my interviews a lot of my stress came from me overthinking the interviewer’s facial expression. You don’t know what they’re thinking! They are just listening intently or taking notes, if one of them looks bored to death don’t let it affect you or discourage you. They are there to listen and take notes and maybe think of additional questions, but during the interview there is absolutely no time for value judgements anyway. Just do your thing and try not to read into it too much.
5. Be honest
This one is kind of similar to “Be yourself”. Don’t try to psychoanalyze the interviewers to answer in a way that you think will please them. They aren’t looking for a specific answer from you, they genuinely want to know your honest thoughts. If they phrase a question weirdly and you’re like ‘okay maybe I should answer it differently…’ No, stop right there! Stay true to what you think and what you believe in. Be honest in giving your opinions. Also, be ‘honest’ (maybe that is the wrong word) in terms of your feelings. UWC is an intense experience, that can be hard to adjust to and they want to make sure to send people who they think will be able to work through that and deal with it, which means they might ask you personal or emotional questions that could strike a chord. It’s okay to be emotional in that case, I was asked a very personal question and got teary-eyed. It’s totally fine to say “This is a hard question, please give me a second to think about it” or something along the lines of that.
6. Don’t try to find out what they asked the other people
When you’re sitting there waiting for your turn and someone who just had their interview comes out, don’t ask that person what questions they were asked. The questions you get are based on what you wrote in your application, so there’s no point since they most likely won’t even ask you that question. It will only make you more nervous.
3. GROUP ACTIVITIES/SELECTION WEEKEND
1. Arrive early
Of course, being early is always a good thing for these kinds of situations, but as an introvert this truly made a big difference for me. The first time I applied, I had really bad luck and ended up arriving late to the selection weekend. Picture this: 15 year-old, very introverted me opening the door to see groups of people seated at tables, already deep in conversation with one another and since I was the only person left, once I had arrived everyone got up and the activities started straight away. This led to me being super ‘stuck in my shell’ and stressed out from the get-go. The second time I applied, I made sure to be (maybe even too) early, which enabled me to be calmer since I wasn’t stressing about having to find my way in a big city I don’t know too well, I wasn’t stressing about whether or not I’d be late and make a bad impression, and I got to be the first one to sit down at the table and then have a chill introduction and conversation with the first person who arrived after me, and then the next etc.
2. Don’t be afraid to talk in group activities
After I received my rejection the first time round, I also received an email with feedback and insight as to why I didn’t make it into the final selection. It said something along the lines of: “We often had the impression that you wanted to say something but in the end you didn’t. We know that you have opinions, and we would have loved to hear them more often.” If you are a naturally ‘charismatic’ person you probably don’t have to worry too much about this, but for my fellow quieter peeps: just dive head in! Make a conscious mental note to SAY SOMETHING, to force yourself if you have to, during group activities, to contribute in any way, don’t be scared of what the other applicants might think of what you’re saying because, frankly, they don’t matter that much. Say what you’re thinking, if you are playing a group game and you have an idea for a strategy that might work, propose it to the rest of the group! It might not work, but that’s not what matters. What’s important is that you are contributing and trying to get the whole group to succeed by providing ideas and that you can show that you can work with others. UWCs are all about sharing ideas and brainstorming together, trying new things and tweaking what doesn’t work to try and find solutions to problems. That’s what they are trying to ‘simulate’ in these group activities, so speak up when you have an idea, even if it’s just a small one.
3. “Who wants to start?”
You do! Or at least I think you should. At least once or twice. On my first selection weekend, we had activities in small groups where we would get some sort of an ethical dilemma and had to do a ranking for example. In the end we would all go around in a circle and share our ranking with the group. What happened was, everyone ended up kind of having very similar rankings and I always ended up saying mine last, so I was left pretty much awkwardly repeating what we already heard 5 times. I learned from that experience, and during my second selection weekend, when it was time to share our ranking and one of the ‘evaluators’ asked “Who wants to go first?” I just went and said “I can go!”. For people who don’t want to seem too dominant this may seem daunting, but I promise you, in practice it’s not as bad as you think. It shows you are not afraid to say what you think and you don’t need to run your rankings by the other people first.
4. Stick to your opinion
In group activities and games, it may be that you suggest something and everyone is on board right away. But, it’s also very possible that the others in the group are skeptical of your idea and quietly look at you with confused looks. If this happens, don’t despair! The worst thing to do in that situation is drop your shoulders and quietly say “But we can do something else too”. Instead, calmly try to explain what you were thinking and why this might work or how you arrived at the conclusion that this might at least be a step in the right direction compared to the last thing you all tried to do. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” In those games, it’s good to have everyone contribute new ideas, even if the idea itself isn’t the solution, someone else might bounce off of it and think of something new and so you will arrive at the finish line much faster. Obviously, don’t be unnecessarily stubborn and insist on your idea because you think it’s the very best- remember that it’s a group effort and you have to compromise.
Just don’t instantly give up on something you said just cause people aren’t agreeing to it right away.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: HAVE FUN!
The selection weekend is your first opportunity to experience the UWC spirit, and you will truly meet some great people there who share the same values as you. You will have great conversations over dinner, question your own beliefs over challenging discussions and just get to hang out with really interesting people. Above all, it should be an enjoyable time, and even though I was very anxious during my first application process, I still had so much fun and I hope you will too.:)
If you are rejected but you are not too old yet, APPLY AGAIN NEXT YEAR! In the Austrian system, you are allowed to apply twice.
If you are 15 and get rejected, APPLY AGAIN NEXT YEAR, and I cannot emphasize this enough. I’ve heard before that people think “Oh, if I didn’t make it this time then why should I get in next year?” but just look at me- I didn’t even get into the final selection the first time I applied. People evolve, things happen, you change. A year is a time where a lot of stuff can happen, you can collect new experiences and work on yourself, so don’t just write it off. Also, if you are applying a second time it is definitely a positive, since the National Committee will see how much you want this and how dedicated you are.50