recognize each accomplishment for what
it is - one step closer to putting Olin 'on the map,' and to being recognized
by more people around the world.
Congrats to Senior Ilana Walder-Biesanz, the first Olin
student to be named a Gates Cambridge Scholar! It is especially impressive that
Ilana is currently only 18 years old, having arrived at Olin at the age of 15. She'll be studying at the University of
Cambridge, England to earn her Masters degree in European Literature and
Culture. I had the opportunity to speak with Ilana and glean some of her
insights into the fellowship application process.
Ilana submitted applications to seven different prestigious
fellowship programs in Europe - the
Gates Cambridge, Rhodes, Mitchell, Marshall, Fulbright, DAAD and Erasmus
Mundus. The application process for
these fellowships starts early and each one takes A LOT of time. According to Aarti Chellakere*, Assistant
Director of Post Graduate Planning and Admissions , "It was a pleasure to work with Ilana!
She met every single internal deadline and was without a doubt the most
organized student I have ever worked with."
Ilana began to prepare herself to apply to these fellowship
programs during her freshman year, when she started attending events at
Wellesley College. Each fellowship program looks for specific profiles and
accomplishments, and knowing early on what each program requires helps build a
"strong story for why the fellowship fits in" with an applicant's background.
While Ilana was aware of these fellowship applications
throughout college, she started working on them in earnest at the end of her
junior year. Over the summer, she worked on her essays, getting feedback from
various people and writing multiple drafts. Olin College puts together a panel
of faculty and staff to help with the review of these applications, and Ilana
was able to shape her essays with their help.
Ilana recalls that in the beginning she was very "cutesy" in
her essays, and the panel helped her tell a story in a way that showed her
personality but still had a serious, straightforward tone. Ilana also began to
gather recommendations from professors, employers and others during the summer
after her junior year. Generally, programs accept between seven or eight recommendations
and the school's endorsement.
Most of Ilana's applications were due in early October,
after which she started to hear back about interviews. Not everyone who applies
get an interview - in fact, about less than 10% of applicants do. The interview
for Gates Cambridge lasted about 15 minutes, and they asked regular interview
questions. (Bill Gates' parents were in
the room, observing her interview!) Interestingly, Ilana felt that her
interview with Gates Cambridge felt more natural than some of the others did.
One thing to note about these fellowship programs is that
there is a quick turnaround for everything, leaving very little room for
weighing options. Ilana heard back within days after her interview, and in turn
had only a few days to make her decision! She was more than happy to accept the
Gates Cambridge Scholarship.
What advice does Ilana have for Oliners thinking about
applying for the Gates Cambridge or other
awards? She firmly believes that
"more Oliners are good fits [for such fellowship programs] than they think."
Most important to remember, though, is that while it's important to have a
compelling story, one should not define their Olin path by a fellowship
quest. Ilana definitely didn't when she pursued her
interests, and she did just fine! Ilana is taking another leap by pursuing
further studies in a field other than engineering, showing once again how
diverse the interests of Oliners can be.
*Aarti Chellakere assists students with the application process for graduate school and
several prestigious scholarships and awards. If you are interested in learning
more or in developing a plan for your application or in assessing your
eligibility for applying to these scholarships, get in touch with her!