Woodhouse College
Alica Derome Rebecca Saul

Next stop Poughkeepsie, New York!

Dated: 13 May 2020

Luise at the Lincoln Memorial during her Sutton Trust Visit to the USA
 
Woodhouse student Luise Lanka has earned herself a ‘full ride’ scholarship at prestigious New York college Vassar in Poughkeepsie. We caught up with her this week to find out how she did it.
 
“After another casual day in lockdown, I opened my email at around 11pm and I saw the reassuring word “congratulations”. Weeks later, I still do not think that it has settled in and it’s hard to even comprehend the amount of money that they value me as.
 
The tuition fees of American colleges are incomparable to the UK, they average around $50k per year. At Vassar, the tuition fees are $61k this year and through my scholarship, they are providing about $320k over the four years towards my education and living expenses. This also includes accommodation and food (with unlimited access to the food on campus every single day – probably what I am most excited about!). They also fund my study abroad opportunities, as well as providing grants for any internships.” 
 
Luise came to Woodhouse from Hendon School and lives in Kilburn, but she has had American dreams for a long time…
 
“When I was in year nine, I began attending American university fairs in London to learn more about the idea of studying in the US and quickly became interested after speaking to many university representatives.
 
What excited me most was that universities there appreciate and support students who pursue a variety of passions and they strive to provide a breadth of experience for every single student, as I believe that this is what really prepares individuals for the challenges of a complex, changing world. This is achieved through the liberal arts education system which gives students the opportunity to delve deep into their main areas of interest whilst simultaneously experimenting with different completely unrelated subjects, with the aim of producing a well-rounded student. They can provide a challenging, world-renowned education whilst simultaneously offering students endless opportunities for internships, study abroad programmes and extra-curricular activities. I find it very important to balance all these parts of university life well and the US does so in a way that best fits me.
 
 
The 2019 Sutton Trust US cohort 
 
What really made everything possible for me was being accepted by the Sutton Trust US programme in March 2019. This is a fully funded experience that gives state school students the opportunity to learn about study in the US and the understanding that it can be financially possible even if the family can provide nothing towards the fees. They provide guidance on the whole application process and fund aspects of the application process, such as the ACT exam fees.
 
At a baseball game 
 
They also funded my first ever trip to the USA – flights, food, spending money. Easily one of the best weeks of my life. A jam-packed time: touring colleges by day, going to baseball matches and malls by night. I also made some of my very best friends now and have since been so inspired by all the like-minded and talented individuals I grew close with during and since the trip. Of course, so many of them also got into American colleges and it’s so comforting to know that, although we’re spread out across so many states, we’re all there for each other going through the same thing. We’ve already started organising our meetups in NYC during thanksgiving!
 
At Duke University with friends  
 
We spent the majority of our time at Duke University as this was where we stayed in the dorms and my group did not visit Vassar College but we visited many different types of institutions to get feel for what US undergrad study really is. It was these experiences that confirmed just how perfect a US education is for me.” 
 
Why Vassar?
 
“With US universities, it’s all about finding your “fit” university. The university that encompasses all your values of undergraduate education and that will allow you to graduate with everything you wanted to achieve. Vassar is my “fit” university because of their pride in curricular flexibility and the increasing emphasis on a multidisciplinary approach to education, in which the student practically designs their four-year experience. This means that every semester, I am the person who determines my own schedule, classes, research projects, internships, etc.
 
A huge factor was also its location, being just an hour from New York City gives me easy access for internships and culture whilst still benefitting from the community feeling of those around you in a suburban area. With a smaller student body size, the faculty are able to connect with the students on a deeper level and guide seminars in the direction of the interests in the class, which again highlights how your education is really what you want it to be, rather than what the institution has decided.
 
The actual campus is also stunning, with their own swimming pool, “Sunset Lake”, golf course and the largest undergrad library in the whole of the US!”
 
Visiting Harvard University 
 
The application process
 
“The dreaded ACT exams… I took them three times! Definitely not a fond memory of the whole experience. They couldn’t be more different from exams that we have here, and American students spend their whole life preparing for them, which I had to do in a matter of three months. I did find it quite difficult to prepare for them alongside studying for my A levels as I did four subjects (Maths, Geography, French and German) and so time was already very pressing. As international students, we also have to do these exams on computers in stuffy exam centres for 5 hours just constantly staring at the screen! It was important to schedule time for ACT revision into my day, otherwise my priority on A levels would have really just taken over.
 
The liberal arts system means that you don’t apply to a US university through a degree, as it is in the UK, but rather to the institution. The name for a degree there is a “major” but you can also double major or graduate with a major and a minor (the equivalent of a History with German degree here for example).
 
Therefore, I don’t know or have to know yet what I will graduate with, which really is the beauty of it. I do imagine though that I will be taking many classes in international studies, political sciences, French and German, as they are my current interests. However, I am so excited to try out completely new areas of interest thanks to the liberal arts system, such as Arabic and Psychology. The great thing is that even if my major is, for example, international studies, I can still do an unrelated psychology research project alongside it just because I am interested in that too.
 
I was rewarded the scholarship through a holistic assessment of my application, which included my academic life, extracurricular activities, two personal essays (like an autobiographical version of the UK personal statement) and three teacher references (shout out to Mrs Pari, Ms Waltham and Ms Djemili).”
 
The extracurricular activities Luise mentions fleetingly are impressive in their own right…
 
“I’ve a job as a meet and greet assistant/airport transfer organiser, in which I await international students arriving to improve their English at UK summer schools and assist them through different subgroups between terminals – we converse in different languages (English, German, French, Russian). Additionally, I’ve been involved in Model United Nations, Linguistics Club, and had work experience at IBM & CGI. I’m a member of a badminton and a football team. I’ve attended summer schools, learned piano and guitar, done fundraising and been part of the philosophy academy."
 
How did you like your time at Woodhouse?
 
“It was actually the subject German that lead me to Woodhouse as it was the only school anywhere near to me that offered it (keeping in mind that Woodhouse is actually an hour away!). Woodhouse was also really appealing due to the flexibility in combining any subjects, as well as the freedom and trust given to students in terms of their free time. I knew that by coming to Woodhouse, I would be given great support and advice on my post A level journey.
 
I think the main thing that I am grateful for from my time at Woodhouse is the passion I gained for actually learning and constantly making myself more knowledgeable. Prior to attending, studying and getting good grades was just something I knew I had to do whereas now I am genuinely so interested in what I learn about every day. A levels were never easy, but I don’t at all regret choosing four subjects because all of them added a perfect balance of all my interests into my academic career.
 
Woodhouse where very supportive of my application. AsI’ve mentioned, my three teachers who wrote my reference letters were immensely helpful with everything and I am so thankful for that as these require so much more time and effort than the UCAS reference letters. I would especially like to give a huge thank you to Mrs Pari, who coordinated the school’s side of my entire application – I am so grateful for all her patience and support throughout.
 
I have made friends for life at Woodhouse and I am forever grateful for that. All of my subjects and classes were so fun to be in and I will genuinely miss my lessons so much. Even just sitting in the library with or without friends and knowing how determined everyone around you is. I also spent practically half my time at Woodhouse in the sports hall, whatever was on that lunchtime – whether it was badminton, basketball, table tennis – I would be there and participating so that’s definitely also something I will miss.”
 
Visiting the Mall of America 
 
How do you feel about moving so far from home?
 
“Since I was young, every summer, I go to Latvia (my country of origin) for a whole month without my mum. I stay with friends and family and I have essentially been travelling on planes independently for several years now. So, with that, I am quite used to being away from home without my parents. However, of course, travel cannot be compared to actually living away for four years and so I am sure I will feel somewhat homesick as my family are not moving with me.
 
I think in general though I will especially miss the city that I have called home for 18 years, London. There is something about London culture and its sights that has left a mark on me that I have never experienced anywhere else I have visited, I am honestly the biggest fan of where I live. One of the things that I love to do in my free time is discover new gems in the city.
 
I hope that NYC will give me a sense of familiarity with London and I am beyond excited to fall in love with all the new places I will get to know so well. I will obviously be visiting London as much as I can too.”
 
How has Covid-19 and lockdown affected your school and social life, and how have you adapted?
 
“It’s been hard accepting that this is reality for now and I wish that I could actually take my A level exams as I fear that the grade system will not favour me and my short-term learning style, that I know many other students also have. My US university applications took up so much of my time during my A levels as I had to research all colleges, write additional essays for each university, sit my ACT exams and therefore, my mock results weren’t representative of my potential. I hope that we will all get some sort of farewell from Woodhouse as well.
 
It was the initial shock that hit the hardest but once I settled into the confusion surrounding all of this, I have attempted to keep myself busy. A huge project that I have been working on is completely rearranging my room and sorting through all my stuff. Other than that, I have had a few online translating jobs for some medical research projects. I have been reading articles, practising my French and German and generally keeping very active – I have picked up roller-skating again! In terms of my social life, I make sure to schedule some Facetime calls with friends during the day to catch-up and see how everyone is doing.
 
It’s still hard to believe that all the stress and hard work that we all had to go through with my applications really paid off. Through lockdown, my family and I have been sat at home going on virtual tours of Vassar and watching Q&A videos on different aspects of student life there. Of course, we’re incredibly grateful for the financial aspect of my offer and it really does feel quite surreal.”
 
When the time is right to travel, we wish Luise every success in New York and don’t doubt that she will make the most of every opportunity. She has been a model Woodhouse student and we are proud to call her our alumna. But for now… Go Brewers!


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