May 30, 2015

The Final Leg

It has been a fair while since my last post, and a huge deal has happened. These past few months have been a true roller-coaster on all levels of my life, be that personal, academic, social or familial. The faithful among you here would have read time and time and time again about my university considerations and the various factors that have plagued my thoughts with doubts about each institution I thought about and ended up applying to. In April the last batch of US university acceptances were released, and with them was the end of the waiting game for my decision. I shall not offload the reasons for and against each institution here but instead just give a quick overview of the process and my rough decision.

In the United Kingdom, I got a very tough conditional offer from the University of Cambridge, which I have selected as my "firm" UK choice, and a standard one from Imperial College London, who are my "insurance" choice. Applying to the UK universities isn't too draining. One finely crafted personal statement and a few informal interviews (apart from Cambridge and to a certain extent Imperial) are quite doable in the framework of the year-13 lifestyle. Cambridge was a different story. I needed to prepare properly for my interview there. I had two interviews. In the first one I was asked to sketch several modulus curves, following intensive questioning on an essay I had submitted to the college for a competition previously. The second interview involved preparing a few questions in advance, followed by a discussion of my solutions and extending them further. Overall it was quite an enjoyable day just from the experience aspect of things and I am glad to have had the experience of an Oxbridge interview!

In Switzerland, I applied to ETH Zurich, who give all undergraduate applicants a surprisingly easy conditional offer, regardless of grades as long as they meet the minimum requirements. However, the Swiss university application was a bit more challenging. As an international, I had to sit the Goethe Institut C1 German language exam to prove my German skills were up to scratch for the university, which required a bit of studying. I also had to improve my CV and get a copy of the official grade transcripts from exam boards and the school. I applied here because I thought I wanted to get out of the UK and experience something new in a new language, and ETH is listed as one of the top 15 undergraduate universities in the world, so it is not a bad place to end up at - even if it is not as well known as Cambridge. Additionally, I wanted to get a foothold in Europe, seeing as I think I want to end up living there when I am older.

In the United States, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was accepted by Harvard, who were my first choice next to Stanford. The US process was by far the hardest of them all. I needed to sit the SAT exam, two SAT2 exams and write a host of essays that required careful thought and self-reflection. All this took quite a while and if you are about to sit GCSEs, consider starting the entire process now so that your sixth-form time is less stressful, which is what ended up happening to me. Admittedly however, the US process probably did teach me some skills and helped me formulate my thoughts as to how I want to come across on paper in real life. The interviews themselves were all fascinating, just due to the type of people I got the chance to meet.

So, this left me in the very fortunate decision to decide between four world-famous institutions, which is on the one hand a lovely problem to have and, at the same time, a hard one to reconcile. In which country do I want to study? What are the relative benefits of each institution? (How much does the entire thing cost?). All these questions, combined with the fact that I still don't know whether I will make the ridiculous Cambridge offer (effectively A*A*A* and a 1 in STEP1 - a very tough additional maths exam) lead me to the decision to defer my Harvard offer for a year, allowing me to see whether I get the Cambridge offer. If I were to go to Harvard after results day, I would have to pack up and leave within 5 days, or if I decide to stick with Cambridge, take away a spot from someone on the Harvard waiting list: not exactly a moral or justified thing to do. The gap-year was thus the most sensible solution.

So, for one last time, it's A-Level exam season, which means doing silly numbers of past OCR papers to learn their stupid mark scheme particulars, bashing my head in with STEP questions and training my exam autopilot mode once again. Not to be too melodramatic about this entire thing, but it all does come down to the next three weeks of exams, and its in some way thrilling, yet absolutely daunting. Best of luck to those taking exams, and especially to the year 13 students who have offers to make. It's the final push of our long school careers thus far.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

February 18, 2015

And as quickly as it had begun.

A great deal has happened over the past few weeks. University applications are done, exam preparation is starting to kick into gear and I just got some sad news, if you want to call it that.

I decided that instead of wallowing at home all day, I would take a walk and be alone with my thoughts for a few hours. Around the local park, I managed to capture some really nice scenery of trees and the River Thames on my travels. What follows is a small gallery of some of these photos, unmodified and straight off my phone.

January 31, 2015

An Open Letter to The Admissions Officer

To the undergraduate admissions officer of a university I have applied to:

Please know that this is not a finely crafted personal statement or admissions essay, this is not me trying to excuse myself from the idiocies of thirteen year-old me and this is certainly not a coherent literary masterpiece, but I hope that through this and what you find on this blog, however embarrassing that may be, you get a bit of a context of my opinions, style and perhaps character. Maybe the students in my school are paranoid: many have changed their Facebook names, Twitter handles and taken their blogs offline, but I have decided against doing that, particularly in the case of this blog.

I am of the belief that opinions change with time and maturity. That is, in my opinion, exemplified in this blog. Through the years, my posts have wondered between Apple-fanboying to pondering perhaps some of the most irrelevant topics to recounting life-changing experiences. If you look through the archive back to 2010, the start of this blog, you will see thirteen year-old me ranting about Apple patent lawsuits and other perhaps embarrassing things. As the years moved on, I began to use the blog as more of a journal of some sorts, logging my worries, my ambitions and my university considerations.

This blog is a sort of time capsule. So is my Twitter and to a certain extent, my Facebook. I'm not trying to hide any of it - although I have restrictions in place, like any technically literate teenager! On the contrary: below I provide a brief narrative of some blog posts that have particular relevance to me, and perhaps even to you as well. Some are embarrassing, others, insightful, but in any case, they were all written by me at some point or another, and may serve to shed some light on the person behind the crafted application essays. There are some I have missed out on purpose to reduce clutter, but please feel free to browse! Of course, you don't have all the time in the world, and I do appreciate you reading my ramblings for this long.

From the "About" page:
"Opinions change, and I, as many other bloggers do, will freely admit that I am no exception. [...] This is not a technology blog, although it was initially started up to be so; instead, it had evolved into a personal diary of sorts, encompassing my thoughts, achievements and downfalls in one, easy to access place, so the world can laugh at my somewhat incoherent and silly musings."
Whether accepted or turned down, I thank you for considering my application, and wish your 1st years all the best for 2015!


Perhaps the most important post was my very long and heartfelt post, written over a week, about my experiences at Stanford’s Education Program for Gifted Youths. Those three weeks were some of the influential in my life thus far.

Over my past two summers, I decided to briefly document my experiences. (2014: Part 1 and Part 2 and 2013 Part1)

I like to rant about many things things, including, but not limited to, exam boards, the UK education system and even silly phone applications.

Choosing between universities was a large challenge for me. I documented these concerns sporadically over many posts, but tried to consolidate it in “The University Dilemma” about a year ago. A-Level choices were also very challenging for me.

I documented the adventures I had during the Toyota Technology Challenge in 2012. Part 4 of a four-part series sums my “obsessive devotion” to the project well.

I wrote a three-part series one summer about my tinkering with an Arduino and Lego NXT components that I had found under my bed one day that I didn't want to throw out: Part 1, part 2 and part 3.

I also wrote a three-part series back in 2012 about an online radio station that a few of my friends had. I was the technical director, responsible for getting our voices onto the air!
Part 1, part 2 and part 3.

In October 2011, Steve Jobs passed away. Just two years after a close call myself, it really drove home how quickly things could change. I compiled a list of my favourite videos and images I could find of him and put them into a post, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”.

Of course, there are the posts and tweets I am embarrassed about. “The Dell Experience” in 2011 contains both my tweets and block-capital raging over a relatively unimportant subject. Another oddly written post, “The Ongoing Pinnacle of Human Achievement” documented my dismay at the retirement of the NASA Space Shuttle program.

…and yet some more embarrassment with some Sony and Microsoft Bashing in 2011. 

Looking back at these posts, I have some to realise that I was a bit too much of an Apple Fanboy back in the day.

January 4, 2015

A Year in Reflection - 2014

Celebrating New Year's Day

Another year has come and gone, just as I was getting used to writing ’14 on my work instead of ’13. To all those still regularly reading these posts - despite their infrequent nature - and those who happened to stumble across this post on their internet travels, I wish you a happy new year! Just as quickly as it came, 2014 is a thing of the past, and seeing as this blog has become a lot more of a space for me to throw words onto a screen, reflecting on the past year is probably not a bad idea.

2014 was an interesting year for me on many levels. There were ups and downs, moments of celebration and moments of despair, but overall, I have my health, there have been no deaths in the family and miraculously I still have friends, so I would say 2014 was a good year for me personally. I have found that looking back on the past day, week or year firstly prevents the time flying away and secondly helps you to appreciate the good times more. One day, everything just came together, making for a really good day, and I would have almost missed it if someone hadn't asked me how my day had gone.

Academically, 2014 was a success. I got the AS grades I wanted and when I think about it, I am amazed at just how much work I put into getting those grades. I have a past paper progress tracker, and the grand total of past papers I did came to 193 across maths, physics and chemistry. I probably didn't need to do that many, but I remember somehow that I just picked up a paper and did it almost instinctively, which is in one way worrying that our schooling system encourages preparation in this way, but in another way, fascinating knowing what you can do when you put your mind to it - and have a lot depending on it!

September 6, 2014

Year 13

The rear entrance to the main building.

And so it has begun: my final year of pre-university education. The thought is both an extremely exciting, as well as an absolutely terrifying one! I just got back from visiting ETH university again, and I do like the university a lot, and Zurich is an absolutely astounding city. Especially flying back to London, I now realise that fact even more. I don't really want to go into too much detail, but Zurich is certainly a favourite city of mine. Many thanks to my granddad, who came down to Zurich from Vienna for the two days to take me around the city and explore the niches with me, areas that I may not have known existed.

The university itself is as I had expected. I took the time to explore the course I am intending on applying to - electrical and electronic engineering - go on a few tours and attend a few lectures. The lectures were interesting as I leaned a great deal about software systems, but they were presented in German! The reason why I attended these was to see whether the language would be a huge barrier to my learning and I can say with complete confidence that it will not be!

One thing that did get me though was that ETH lacked that feeling of awe that I felt at Stanford. Now, the problem is that I tend to remember things better than they actually are, combined with the fact that I was at Stanford for 3 whole weeks, interacting with funny, intelligent and kind people. I didn't have that opportunity at ETH. In addition, imagining life in Zurich is hard for me, as I have only experienced campus university settings in the US and UK, which are very different to Europe, seeing as each university and city in Europe is so different! So I have to be very careful when I compare my university options.

Regardless, school has started, and university application deadlines are fast approaching! Cambridge wants the UCAS in by October, most US unis, sometime in December and Zurich's application opens in November. On top of that, I have the regular A2 subjects, and I am doing the most subjects possible with as few free periods possible, so this year is going to be great fun again!

And that was not sarcastic. My personal life has taken a very sudden turn for the better! I care not to elaborate much more on the open internet, but I can just say that several - or maybe one - things - or thing - have/has made me a very happy individual!

With that, let us take on the next challenges that await, and start the year with the same optimism that we did the last one, with the same poem:

It Couldn’t Be Done
By Edgar Albert Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Until next time.

August 17, 2014

Summer 2014 - Part 2

Well, these four weeks have gone far too fast. I just finished my four week internship at Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria and I must say, I learned a great deal there, not just about the automobile prototyping process, but also about the job world and life in general. Keep in mind that I decided not to go to Standard EPGY this year so that I could do this internship. In all honestly, I made the correct decision, not to forget the fact that I earned £1000 post tax in these four weeks, which isn't too shabby! So without further ado, let's begin.

I stayed with my very fun aunt over the four weeks in Graz. I've been to Graz before to visit her several times, but this time I really got to experience working life in a small city and see what kind of atmosphere Graz actually has. In comparison to London, it's not bad; just different. The constant arranging of meeting places and times isn't really necessary, as there is only one centre of town and everything is within 30mins on the public transport network away from the centre. When I think that it took me 45 mins on bus, tram, bus to get to work on the other geographical end of town, it's really not too bad. The people were nice and the cultural opportunities, immense: there were several free open-air shows on at the time. Unfortunately, I didn't really have time to go to one, but I passed a few on my commute. I'm sure there are such things in London, but the small city atmosphere is missing somewhat there. Going out onto the town at night is a regular and normal occurrence, even for the slightly older individuals, so the city centre certainly isn't dead on weekend evenings.

At work, I was required to clock in and out. I found this, as a non-shift worker, to be quite odd. I worked for 8.2 hours a day (38.5h week plus 0.5h for lunch), and if I worked overtime, I got to leave earlier the next day. The idea behind this is that your employer cannot exploit an individual, especially someone like an intern, but what surprised me was that even the bosses had to clock in and out! Of course, this system has issues: if I got all my work done for the day, I would have to sit out the clock to make sure I made the hours. Additionally, if I wanted to work at home in the evenings (as I would come to do), that work isn't counted on the clock, so there is a distinct work/play distinction, which I don't quite like that much: as the majority of life is work, do work that you like doing! If you like doing your work, then you will not have any problem working in your free time.

July 14, 2014

Summer 2014 - Part 1

The entrance to the Isle of Grain facility

I’m sitting here with my portfolio document open, the US common application and UK UCAS web-interface up, and a large, white, blank Word document, waiting to be filled with words of inspiration that will hopefully grant me acceptance to a university in the US or the UK. The only problem is that these ethereal words are not making their way onto the page. I’ve noticed that getting what is in my head onto paper is much harder than I initially expected. Combined with the fact that almost every sample essay I read is a thrilling journey through some life-changing experience that has left the author thoroughly changed, the task seems more and more daunting.

The UK personal statement is much easier. It’s just a well-ordered list of academic achievements with some reflection. my writing style is much better suited for that kind of essay. The US university essays are just completely different, and I don’t have a clue where or how to start. In any case, I’ll get through it somehow, but in the meantime, I have here to spew out my thoughts in an uncontrolled and un-succinct manner. I am somewhat wary that an admissions officer can come across these posts, so I’ll eventually write “An Open Letter to the Admission Officer” post, directing them to the important posts on this Blog.

June 29, 2014

Peterhouse Essay Competition

Punting on the River Cam
A few months ago I decided that I would put some time into writing an essay for the Peterhouse College, Cambridge Kelvin Science essay competition for the sake of being productive over christmas. Keep in mind that this was at a time when I thought AS-levels would be a walk in the park like GCSEs and that revision that early would be an utter waste of time. Turns out that AS-Levels were not as I had thought, hence the grand total of 194 past papers done in the run-up to the exams! A word of caution: do not underestimate the A-Level!

In any case, after several weeks of work, researching and writing the essay, I finally sent it off and began the long-overdue panic for the end of year exams. A bit of background to the competition: Peterhouse College, based in Cambridge, run annual science, english and history essay competitions, with set titles and a 4,000 word limit. The winner of each competition receives a cash prize, and, along with the second place and highly commended candidates, are invited to attend an awards luncheon at the college.

One day in June, I received a letter with the Peterhouse College letterhead. Tearing the envelope apart, they informed me that my essay had been highly commended, and that I was invited to the awards luncheon and to stay the night in the college’s accommodation! As you can imagine, it was all very exciting! So on the 26th of June, I made my way to Cambridge from Kings Cross Station in London, found my way to the college and was directed to my room for the night. Unfortunately, I had arrived late, so I missed the dinner, but Cambridge offered a host of places to eat well for a decent price. I managed to find some other prizewinners in the accommodation later that evening, and we stood in the hallway discussing universities, our essays and how one individual believed it to be disrespectful to a book if it is read in the late evening, when one cannot fully focus on it. Fascinating stuff, I have to say. We stood and chatted until about 12:30am.