The following article features recent Northwestern University admit Youssef, who was a member of CollegeAdvisor.com’s Scholars Program. For more information about our programming and personal guidance about the college application process, head to CollegeAdvisor.com and sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.
From a young age, CollegeAdvisor Scholar Youssef has been fascinated by the stars. Now, he’s headed to Northwestern on a four-year scholarship through Questbridge to study mechanical engineering and astrophysics.
“I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut for NASA,” Youssef said. “There’s something about space that fascinates me. I know every specific field has its mysteries — if you want to be a doctor, you want to find a cure for cancer. But I feel like space is the biggest mystery.”
Born in Egypt and raised in Saudi Arabia, Youssef moved to the United States just four years ago. Yet throughout his life, his goals have remained consistent. “I’ve always wanted to be like Einstein,” he said. “When I was younger, I always had my hair like his. It’s kind of easy to study a science, but it’s not easy to create a science or to create a field to explain what’s going on in your head.”
Throughout high school, Youssef devoted himself to the sciences, working on various engineering projects outside of his course load. But despite his considerable academic and extracurricular achievements, Youssef had no illusions about the competitive nature of college admissions. “My dream schools have been some of the most selective schools,” Youssef told CollegeAdvisor. “I always knew there were a lot of reasons why anyone could be rejected from those schools. I was scared that even if I had every angle of my application perfected, I could still be waitlisted or rejected.”
Youssef learned about CollegeAdvisor (then Bullseye Admissions) from one of his Questbridge peers. “We were just trying to help each other out because we were all lost in the college application process,” he said. “One of them sent the link [to CollegeAdvisor’s Scholars program], and I was super excited. I applied, but as soon as I looked it up, I found that it was a super-selective program. And I was like wow, I guess I’m not getting accepted. But then a few weeks went by, and I learned that I was accepted.”
Both Questbridge and CollegeAdvisor.com proved deeply valuable to Youssef’s success in the application process. “I knew I had some friends who were willing to read my essays and help me work on my applications, but it was so much better to have an actual professional to help me out,” Youssef said.
He quickly developed a bond with his CollegeAdvisor mentor, who, Youssef was surprised to realize, seemed more like a peer than an authority figure. “[My mentor] was super laid back,” Youssef told CollegeAdvisor. “I expected him to be formal, cutthroat, I don’t know. I expected a bow tie person. But he was actually super chill, super friendly. It felt like I was talking to someone my age.”
For Youssef, essay writing was the most intimidating part of the application process. “Once you get to the college application process, everything is pretty much solidified—your grades, your scores, your extracurriculars,” Youssef told CollegeAdvisor. “You can’t just start an extracurricular a month before college apps. Your essays are the only thing you can change up until you submit, so it feels like the part with the most pressure. In most cases, it can make or break your application.”
Thankfully, Youssef had the support of his family, friends, and CollegeAdvisor mentor throughout the process. “Generally, whenever I share my essays with someone, it feels kind of awkward,” Youssef said. “It’s not that I’m insecure about my essays, but it just feels awkward to have someone read them. But I didn’t feel that with my mentor. It was a really valuable thing for me.”
Reflecting on his experience with his CollegeAdvisor mentor, one moment stands out to Youssef: “I remember when he gave me some edits on one of my main essays. After I fixed up everything he told me, I reread my essay, and I was like… Whoa. I could send it off to colleges and feel confident in my work. I felt like I could stand out. I don’t think I ever could have come to those corrections if he hadn’t read it.”
In addition to his mentor, Youssef was also grateful for the support of his fellow CollegeAdvisor Scholars. “Many of them were able to read my essays and give me feedback,” Youssef said. “The exchange of perspectives was really helpful for me because it gave me a different insight on my essays. I’ve always had older people read my essays, but not people my age.”
Youssef also used CollegeAdvisor.com’s webinars to guide him during the essay writing process. “The workshops made it easier by telling me what to do and what not to do, and by giving tips and tricks on where to research for specific programs,” he said.
As he looks toward next year, Youssef feels nothing but excitement. Campus itself provides one source of this anticipation. “I’ve always wanted to see Lake Michigan, and I love landscape views of nature,” Youssef told CollegeAdvisor. “Whenever I’m stressed out, I go to the park by my house, and it’s always super relaxing. I’m glad that’s something I can take with me.”
When asked what advice he would give students applying to college, Youssef stressed the importance of humility, optimism, and open-mindedness. “Toward the last few weeks before decisions came out, I tried to lay out all of the possible outcomes and what I would do,” he said. “Going to your dream school is definitely fantastic, but getting rejected from your top school is not the end of the world. Life does not stop at decision day. Life does not stop at college.”
This Success Story was written by Abbie Sage, and based on an interview with CollegeAdvisor Scholar Youssef. If you want to learn more about the CollegeAdvisor Scholars program or get 1-on-1 help with your college applications from a CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.