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The Road to Sciences Po - Application to Acceptance to Admitted Students' Day

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Sciences Po has been my dream college since tenth grade. I made a radical shift in the first half of tenth grade and decided to drop culinary arts as my career choice and focus on politics and international relations. Sciences Po was the obvious choice. 

What made Sciences Po lucrative in the eyes of an Indian (international) student like me?


  • Their interdisciplinary program that does not restrict you to just Politics/ IR/ Economics/ Sociology etc. I have to choose my major in my third semester which gives me time to experience the different fields and make a suitable choice,
  • Their teaching methodologies (seminars/ lectures, civic projects, small-sized classrooms for discussions etc.)
  • All English courses - I must specify this because not all universities In France/ Europe teach in English. Even in Sciences Po, only 3 out of their seven regional campuses teach in English at the UG level.
  • The mandatory third year abroad at one of their 470 odd partner universities which will give me a wider and more 'international' exposure at the undergraduate level.
  • The ability to learn the sixth most spoken language of the world while living in a country where its entire population speaks it.
  • The ability to find an internship across the 27 EU countries during my education (adding to the 'international' exposure concept).
  • The tuition fees. While it is more expensive than the DUs or other local colleges, and also more expensive than liberal arts universities like Ashoka and JGU, it is cheaper than the US or even the UK. There is also the prestigious Emile Boutmy scholarship that all first-time applicants are eligible for.

Some more (minor) reasons


  • It is ranked second in the world for Politics, one below Harvard, tied with Princeton and above Oxbridge :). QS World Rankings 2020
  • The third-year abroad is a significant cost-saving move if you play your cards right. I can hypothetically study in the UK or US (where the tuition fee for int'l students is either 2.5x-5x more), paying Sciences Po tuition fees for an entire year.
  • A lesser known fact - the French Government subsidises housing for ALL students attending French universities. Most accommodations in Le Havre charge between EUR 350 and 400, and subsidies are in the range of EUR 100 to EUR 150!
  • Automatic acceptance into the highly coveted Masters Programs upon finishing my UG studies. 

The Application


I am not going to go in detail about the application process because it can be found on their website. The entire process is online and is quite simple but needs a fair bit of work, naturally. You can also reach out to their representatives (country-wise), and I found the India reps to be very prompt and helpful; I ran into some problems concerning being called for the interview, changing my preferences, selecting an interview slot to ensure that it doesn't coincide with my Board Exam and the likes. The reps were more than accommodating at every juncture. 

Although I have not yet begun courses at Sciences Po, over the last two months, I have been in touch with many admitted students, both who have accepted or are still considering their offer. Although our backgrounds are diverse, and we all have different aspects of ourselves that are interesting, I have noticed a couple of things that are common to a majority of applicants. Now, do not hold me accountable if you are rejected even after ticking off all of these bullet points but consider this to be a reference :)

  • Most are tri-lingual, if not at least bi-lingual. Not everyone knows French, but many are using their summers to learn it. I knew 4-5 languages (English, Kannada and Hindi pretty well, and Mandarin and Tulu to a minimal extent, although I can understand but not speak quite a lot of Tulu) while applying, and I began learning French in April.
  • Many have lived in different parts of the world, besides their home country - Indian origin but lives in Ukraine, Russian born but has lived in Austria for the past few years, native French living in Hong Kong, a British citizen living in France etc. The university adores diversity and ensures it by both picking students from different backgrounds, and those who have had diverse backgrounds themselves.
  • Model UN, debating, and public speaking are commonly practised, and many excel at these in competitive environments.
  • Have held leadership positions in schools. This is very important and somewhat the ethos of Sciences Po - identifying tomorrow's leaders by picking and grooming the best of today's.
  • Quite a few people have blogs like me, or have made attempts to write either online or offline - their writing is not restricted to politics but more often than not, includes it.
  • Have been a part of one or more internships.
  • Are involved in voluntary work and giving back to the community.
  • Have attended an exchange program (or 2/3/4 programs!).
  • Commitment to any extra-curricular activity.
  • Most have taken humanities-related subjects, but there is a handful who were inclined towards the pure sciences in school but have decided to make a radical shift. So, do not worry if you haven't done anything 'non-sciencey' but show passion towards the disciplines.

  • Besides these points, a persuasive motivation letter, and recommendation letters are undoubtedly necessary.

I am unaware of their application process for the 2021 cohort but based on my experience, they usually reply within six weeks, and if you are 'pre-selected', you are called for an interview. Before the COVID-19 situation, the interview happened in person all around the world, but they did accommodate those who couldn't attend in person by holding it online. I had to go to Delhi to attend mine, as it was the closest centre. 
The nitty-gritty of the admission process can be found on their website. 

The Interview


The interview experience was exciting. The format is simple. You are given an article from a reputable news agency (generally the Economist, NYT or Guardian) that is relevant to current affairs. In 30 minutes, you have to prepare a critical analysis of the article and present it to a three-member panel for 10 minutes. This is followed by a Q&A round on your presentation of the text, and then a chat on you and your application, and probably a few questions to test your general knowledge. The interview takes around 30 minutes in total. Due to the COVID-19 situation, all interviews have been moved online, and I am currently unaware about the structure of it for the 2021 cohort but for now, they have reduced the interview to 20 minute long ones on Zoom and have removed the article presentation aspect. 

My interview left me feeling both good and bad about my chances of getting in. It was good because I knew that I had presented the article well. Their website mentions what they expect you to follow in your presentation (do not just provide a summary, but also a critical analysis for example) and I knew that I had ticked most of those boxes. The panel also looked quite impressed by certain things I mentioned. My article was on the suppression of free speech by Chinese authorities and the death of Dr Li Wenliang. You can read the article here. 

My presentation exceeded 10 minutes by a bit. I tried as much as possible to go in-depth and speak about aspects of the article that others may have missed. For example, I talked about the symbolism of the use of the word 'martyr', indicating a shift in China's stance on the Dr. from being a threat to society to one that died for the country. I also spoke in detail about the last line of the article. 

"Surely it is time the international community takes this issue more seriously." 

The issue it is speaking about is the suppression of free speech in China. I spoke about how it is not possible because of the dominance China has over the world. Countries often turn a blind eye when there is money or power involved. To show off my knowledge, I gave the example of Uighur Muslims and how, despite the treatment meted out to them, China is the world's trading partner and countries are not doing enough to hold China accountable, for the simple reason being - $$$

There are two lessons you can take from these anecdotes:

  1. Reading the article and summarising it is not enough. You have to provide your own opinion, correlate it with other events, show them that you can make logical arguments and go way beyond the article.
  2. Anyone who has been pre-selected is smart. Making a difference by identifying something that is often missed or people may not know about is essential and will differentiate you from the rest. For this, prior information and knowledge is a must. I would have read the word 'martyr' and ignored it if not for having read an article earlier about how China is designating all doctors and nurses who die of COVID-19 to be martyrs. If not for knowing about how inhumanely China treats Uighurs, I could not have compared and come to a somewhat logical conclusion that the world is still going to turn a blind eye after all this because of the extent to which China is essential in our lives.

I can honestly write another 2000 words on just the first twenty minutes of the interview but will forcibly stop myself here.

When they moved on to asking me about my application, I found the panel to be slightly aggressive and hostile at times. For example, the first thing they asked me was how I would manage 'all these things that I do' (this was said with a hint of sarcasm as if they were questioning my achievements in whatever I claimed to be doing) when I am at Sciences Po since the coursework is time-consuming. They asked me questions like why I want to study in Sciences Po despite being an Asian and living in Asia when my regional campus focusses on Asia itself, about the composition of the university's students, the significance of Le Havre focussing on Asia etc., differences between Europe and Asia, what is ASEAN/ SAARC, the differences between the EU and ASEAN etc. They asked me about Le Havre (the city in which my Sciences Po campus is located in).

I was not expecting some of these questions and the tone was at times nerve-wracking. However, I must admit that I was warned that sometimes, interview panels might be hostile and try and push you against the wall to test how you answer under pressure, which is what I think they were trying to do.
I maintained my cool and answered everything by providing just explanations or factual answers. I stupidly did not know the significance of the Le Havre campus focussing on Asia but later found out that it is because the Le Havre port is the port where goods between Asia and Europe are traded from.

The interview was overall a crazy experience for me because the very next day, I had a Board Exam to write in Bangalore, a 2.5-hour flight away from Delhi. Due to a sudden withdrawal from my first choice of program from my end (the HKU Double Degree with Sciences Po), I was invited for the Delhi interview with barely a week's notice, so I was not at all expecting the crammed schedule. I reached home at nine that night and wrote my English Literature paper the next day, completely forgetting about a life-defining decision that was en route.

The Decision


The website mentioned that it would take six weeks to receive a response and just when I was about to go to bed because of the next day's exam, I received a notification on my phone. My heart began racing when I saw the words 'Sciences Po - Admission Results' and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw 'Congratulations' being the first word in the body of the email.

Admitted Students Day


It was held online and live-streamed from the Boutmy Amphitheatre in the Paris Campus, followed by a second meeting with just my campus-classmates, if I can call them that, and a couple of representatives from the students bodies and the university administration. They introduced the concept of a 'dual campus' that has been adopted because of the COVID situation, how the semester will look like and welcomed us all. We were also introduced to the various organisations and clubs and what we can expect during our time there!


Comments

  1. That is a nice summary of the admission process experience as seen from the eyes of a 2020 freshman who is admitted and waiting on the wings to join SPo.

    Hostility and sarcasm by an interview panel is often the defined behavorial intention to gauge how a candidate may respond during a situation like this. The subject that you are joining demands that you perform under pressure from all quarters!

    Congratulations and all the best , Sanjith Rao!

    ReplyDelete
  2. First of all, Congratulations on receiving an offer, I hope I get there too.
    Big fan of your article, I just have a few question I hope you would answer for me:)
    Do you by any chance know if the analysis portion of the oral interview is going to be missing for the class applying for 2021/2022 start?
    You mentioned many students come in with internships under their belt, how important is this and what if one has opted for summer school focusing on IR instead of the internship?
    Best,
    Hannibal Vad

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Hannibal, thank you for your kind words!
      From what I have been hearing, although the interview won't be scrapped in the 2020-21 admission cycle, there will be a few changes to how it's conducted. What are those changes? Well, my guess is as good as yours.

      A summer school focussing on IR in which you learn something useful is as good as an internship, in m opinion. Although I have forgotten to mention this in the body of my article, many incoming freshmans at ScPo have been to summer school too! Internships aren't compulsory or a necessity to get in, and as I said in the article, these are some common aspects that I found in a majority of people's applications, not in everyone's. Don't worry and best of luck!

      Delete
  3. Hey!
    First of all, congrats for your admission! I'm glad I stumbled over your blog while looking for other Le Havre admittees.
    It was great to read about another person's experience with the interview (in my case the interviewers were really nice! but I know they tend to be severe to see how you react (and I have them candy so that might have helped)). They must have given you their reply that fast because they knew you were a catch they couldn't miss! (at least according to your other articles on the blog).
    I've also been admitted to LH campus for 2020, but as I just got my admission results a couple of weeks ago, I didn't get to go to the "Admitted Students Day" you mentioned, do you think you could maybe tell me what they said at it about the "dual campus", the semester, the organisations... pretty please. (if you can't it's fine, but I'd be really thankful if you helped me be less lost for next year)
    Anyways, congrats again and my best regards from Mexico!
    Hope to see you there! (I'm sure we could have some nice debates!)

    Andrea Valensi

    Ps: According to my professors, to get into ScPo, the most important part is the motivation letter (it can even do for a lack of activities).
    And if you ever need help with french, tell me! I'll be glad to help!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey!
    First of all, congrats for your admission! I'm glad I stumbled over your blog while looking for other Le Havre admittees.
    It was great to read about another person's experience with the interview (in my case the interviewers were really nice! but I know they tend to be severe to see how you react (and I have them candy so that might have helped)). They must have given you their reply that fast because they knew you were a catch they couldn't miss! (at least according to your other articles on the blog).
    I've also been admitted to LH campus for 2020, but as I just got my admission results a couple of weeks ago, I didn't get to go to the "Admitted Students Day" you mentioned, do you think you could maybe tell me what they said at it about the "dual campus", the semester, the organisations... pretty please. (if you can't it's fine, but I'd be really thankful if you helped me be less lost for next year)
    Anyways, congrats again and my best regards from Mexico!
    Hope to see you there! (I'm sure we could have some nice debates!)

    Andrea Valensi

    Ps: According to my professors, to get into ScPo, the most important part is the motivation letter (it can even do for a lack of activities).
    And if you ever need help with french, tell me! I'll be glad to help!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Andrea, thank you for your inputs and comments, I'm sure that many people reading this article will find your two cents useful too :)

      Please get in touch with me by writing to me at sanjith.rao@sciencespo.fr, I will help you get connected with other newly admitted students!

      Delete
  5. Hey Sanjith!
    First of all, many congratulations on your admission! Wishing you the best going forward.
    It was great reading about your entire admission process and provided a valuable insight about what is expected from a prospective student at Sciences Po. I am currently in the final year of my undergrad and would love to get into the school.
    I am not that well acquainted with MUNs, debating and public speaking in general, though I consider myself proficient in pretty much everything else that you mentioned. How much of a factor do you think this is in the overall application? Also, as a complete beginner could you give me a few pointers MUNs and debating that would help me get started and ease into public speaking? Thanks for reading my message.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, I am really sorry for replying this late, I have not been too active on my blog recently. Great to get in touch with you, and best of luck with your application! Note: I am a incoming UG student, not Masters and do not know much about their masters program :)
      Do feel free to get in touch with me! Sanjith.rao2002@hotmail.com

      Delete

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