EducationUSA Mentorship Program

DENNIS WIDJAJA: How I Got into Columbia

Hi, my name is Dennis Widjaja. Let me tell you a story about how I ended up in Columbia University taking a Master’s degree in Biotechnology.


I was doing my undergraduate studies in the United Kingdom – University of Edinburgh in Scotland to be precise, a university at the forefront of developing cloning technology –  when I decided that I wanted to pursue further education.  Education in the UK, top quality as it is, is heavily focused on the academic side – thus I decided to learn more about the more business and real life application of biology, which I hope will be more relevant for my future career and dream of giving back to Indonesia.


I researched colleges offering Master’s degrees focusing on real life and business applications of biotechnology, and my research left me with three cities: Cambridge, London, New York, and Providence.  Having lived in a medium-sized city in the UK, I figured that a change of scenery across the pond may be nice and decided to go big by applying to New York’s Columbia University (I also applied to Cambridge, King’s College London, and Brown University, but my heart was set for Columbia really).


Filling in the applications was the easy part; much more complicated are finding good recommendation letters and writing a personal statement. For the first, I was fortunate for having worked in two good research labs as well as the University of Edinburgh’s admission office, leaving a good impression on all occasions, bagging me recommendations from two notable professors and an admission department head. For the latter I spent some time researching and asking friends who studied in the States on what kind of essays they had written for their application. From the information I gathered, several key points stood out as those expected to be present in a good personal statement: ambition, passion, dedication, confidence, and contribution.


Building on this, I constructed a personal statement underlining my ambition, passion, and dedication to my chosen field of biotechnology, added with confidence in my future success and an oath to contribute back using my gained knowledge to the university and to society (the Indonesian society in particular).  A personal statement is as much as self-promotion media as it is a plea to be given the chance to achieve and do great things. And voila, I got accepted into Columbia University.


In short, the moral of my story is to be prepared and be confident when applying to the US.  Prepare well by knowing who you are and what you want, then researching where and how you can achieve that.  Be the ideal candidate by building a resume full of experience suitable to the college and program you want to apply to, becoming someone with the talents and values they desire. And don’t forget to aim big and aim high – it is now the era of “Yes I can!” and not “I hope I can..”.  On top of all the other resumes, it will be your enthusiasm, ambition, and dreams that can get you over the line ahead of other candidates.

January 21, 2015

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