The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Meet the Interviewee: Catherine Hu
Catherine Hu is an incoming first-year student in McMaster University’s Arts & Science (commonly known as “ArtSci”) program. She hails from Glenforest Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario. Admitting only about 70 students per year, ArtSci is one of the most competitive programs at McMaster University. I got the opportunity to interview Catherine about how she approached the supplementary component of the application.
What sparked your interest in the program?
“I was personally looking for a program where I was able to continue exploring different avenues and not heavily specializing in one stream such as science. Upon many other aspects, the course requirements each year as well as the tight-knit community that was established because the program only accepted 65 individuals really spoke to me. I wanted to be in a learning environment where I would be able to expose myself to multiple disciplines while also feeling supported throughout the journey which is why I immediately gravitated towards ArtSci and its vision.”
What was your grade average upon applying to the program?
“My top six average including the prerequisites was approximately a 97% when I was applying to the program.”
What things were you required to list in the supplementary application?
“ArtSci, similar to many science programs, does not have any supplementary components that require applicants to list their achievements/involvements. I think this is probably because they assume that the lessons you have learned from all your experiences will be evident and prevail through your writing and the ideas you are trying to convey in the five essay response questions that have to be answered. I did, however, start my application for the five essays a few weeks before winter break so I was able to use my time off school to edit and try to create a response I thought was authentic and highlighted my personality.”
How did you answer the essay questions?
“As ArtSci is an incredibly small program, the admissions office required all applicants to fill out a supplementary application consisting of five questions that had a maximum of 1500 characters (250 words) each. The questions were designed to show who you were as a student and person which is why I found this application quite daunting and overwhelming to fill at the beginning. However, I received a piece of advice that I found really helped guide me through this process: “All they want to know is who you are and see if you would fit the program so you can’t do anything except try and be as authentic as possible. Don’t think you need to write a creative story or use big, fancy words to look appealing if you’re not accepted that just means it wasn’t meant to be.” I tried really hard to take this advice to heart while writing my responses to questions such as, “Why do you want to be in the Arts and Science program at McMaster” or “What book, read in the last year or two (but not any assigned school reading), has had a significant impact on you?” were representative of who I am.”
Honestly, why do you think the program selected you? What do you think set you apart from other students who applied?
“I honestly don’t know… just because everyone I have met in ArtSci is so different. I would like to think that ArtSci wanted a diverse group of individuals and just found me slightly weird enough to fit that description. I also think that the authenticity shown throughout my application allowed the admissions advisors to truly identify if I belonged in the program, which I can see as being desirable because it wasn’t hard to decipher who I was as an individual based on my writing.”
If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your former self upon preparing for the application?
“I would tell myself to trust the process and to listen to everyone’s opinions and advice but be selective of whose advice you should follow closely. I think that I was so overwhelmed by all the advice I had received that it made me excessively anxious and stressed because I tried to follow all of it. The mountain of advice also caused me to become very caught up in the “what” I was trying to portray instead of “why” and “how” at the beginning, which, now looking back, caused me to feel uneasy and constantly worried.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add or mention?
“I think the best piece of advice is to talk to the students in the program to gauge whether or not you truly belong. You’re going to spend your next four years wherever you choose so it’s super important to feel welcomed and excited about the program and school you will be attending!!”