It is my absolute delight to interview one of Park Lane’s most successful students before he embarks on the next phase of his life at the University of Oxford studying Computer Science. Let me introduce you to Jakub Surga (Kuba), Park Lane Class of 2022.
So Kuba, how did this all come about, what did it take to be accepted to study at Oxford?
15 years of study at Park Lane [laughing]. And in the end, I got accepted to UC Berkeley too.
Wow, OK, so tell us about that…..
The whole application process starts long before the actual application. I spent lots of time just reading, researching and comparing the individual universities, courses and programmes, so that I could then choose my top choices that would suit me the best. In the end, I applied for 5 US universities, both through the CommonApp platform and through direct applications to individual universities. Each application needed a significant amount of time invested in writing and rewriting specific application essays, but this was only after I studied and sat the SAT exam. Term 1, year 13, was very busy, fitting in all the preparation, preparing for SAT’s and school commitments. Students not only need to have very good time management, but they also have to come into this term well prepared, knowing what they will write about in their essays and all the application deadlines. But even with great preparation it is stressful.
So how much time did the US applications take?
I would say, for all the US applications, testing, especially the essay writing, I probably spent over 100 hours total. Universities have different essay requirements and different deadline dates so you have to keep track of where you are with your applications. I applied to 5 US universities, 2 Netherlands universities and I already had an offer from a Czech university which gave me confidence that I have nothing to lose.
Did you have help?
Yes, I had a great support network. Contacting older students who went through this process recently was of great help to me. I also had a mentor, he helped me draft and re-write the application essays. Actually, a crucial part of this development were the transferable skills: self-presentation, essay writing etc. I got to use these in my personal statement writing for the UK applications. Oxford is an early entry, so I needed to prepare well for them, as well as the early action / early decision US application.
What preparation and time did you need for your UCAS application?
I would say, for my personal statement, 3 full days, about 15 hours and 6 drafts. For Oxford, I spent 2 solid weeks of about 30 hours of preparation for the entry exam. Then, once I was invited to interview, I spent another 20 hours preparing. I had 4 interviews. 2 tutors interviewed me twice for each college. To prepare for the interviews I did several mock interviews, went through past interview questions and even watched YouTube channels with similar problems. Even though the tutors’ questions were unknown, the preparation was worth it. It took about a month to receive my Oxford offer after interviewing. By that time, I was so exhausted and I was really happy to leave for a 3-week vacation.
All these applications, it sounds like a full-time job. What were your motivations?
Above all, I was prepared to take a risk, my competitiveness and desire to be the best, to do the best I can, drove me to work hard to make this achievable. You cannot just walk into a university place, I was not a legacy student, I had to work hard for my applications.
For our future Park Lane Graduates, what nuggets of advice can you give them?
For US applications, self-presentation is key, do not undersell yourself! This is where my mentor was very valuable, it is not always easy to write about yourself. Do not under-estimate your own achievements, the key is believing in yourself, rehearsing and practicing, like a script, so that you are confident with each phrase.
For UK and the best US unis, intellectual curiosity: inside and outside of school, be excited about the subject and desire to learn more. In the interview, relax and be yourself, be confident in your abilities. Prepare for your tests and exams, not everyone can walk in without practice and ace them.
Finally, Kuba, not only are you preparing to leave Prague to live in the UK to study at Oxford, but you were also successful in gaining a scholarship ?
Yes, I applied for financial aid from both The Bakala Foundation and The Kellner Family Foundation.
After the application and the interview, I was successful in receiving an annual scholarship from The Kellner Family Foundation. So, another piece of advice I can say to prospective students’ is don’t be afraid to ask for help. You would actually be surprised by how many people are willing to help.
Thank you Kuba and good luck to you and all the graduating students in the class of 2022 on the next stage of their lives.
Mrs. E. Emerich
University and Careers Advisor