Hundreds of parents may have been caught bribing officials to get their child a seat in a prestigious university – but there are students who reach the top with their own hard work and merit.
A 17-year-old Indian student in Dubai, for example, has been offered acceptance letters from seven prominent US-based universities, including Ivy League schools such as Dartmouth College and University of Pennsylvania.
Other high-ranking universities, such as University of California in Berkeley, John Hopkins, Emory, George Town and George Washington University, have also offered Simone Noorali a spot.
She has studied at the Uptown School in Mirdif for all of her grade school years and has managed to keep straight A’s since Year 9.
“I honestly think there is no secret to being accepted into this many universities. The whole process is about discovering yourself. Everyone has something unique to offer,” she told Khaleej Times.
“While applying to universities, it forced me to look back at my life and try to figure out the reason behind everything I did. I had explained all of that eloquently to universities in my college application essays,” said Simone, who is also the head girl at her school.
Besides keeping her grades on top, Simone is also an accomplished pianist; she’s written a book that is being used for educational purposes; she’s part of the school’s Model United Nations programme, and was also its inaugural secretary-general.
Finding the right balance between academics, extracurricular activities, her social life and time with family has been one of the major challenges she faced – though for her, it’s not impossible to do.
When her acceptance letters started pouring in, Simone was surprised as she didn’t expect the variety of choices she’d be left with.
In her college application essays, she had written about her successes, but also revealed some of the struggles she faced.
“When I was young, I was a completely different person – I was the most shy, introverted, shell of a person you could’ve ever met. And I think, now, if I look back, I never would’ve thought I could reach where I am today,” she said.
“But, I think, somewhere along the path, my teachers, my friends and my family kept pushing me and helped me believe in myself. They also helped me find resilience in the hurdles I faced. The way I’ve grown up in the past few years has helped me reach where I am today. I couldn’t have even imagined getting accepted into this many top universities.”
Simone’s father, Sameer Noorali, said his daughter is a “prime example” of how students can get into prestigious universities without parents having to buy their way in.
Several universities across the US, celebrities and other parents have been sued for giving and taking bribes – putting into question how many students, currently enrolled and in the past, really got there through their own hard work.
He said: “I’m very proud of her achievement. I must say to all of the parents that in a world where there are college scams and parents offer up to millions of dollars just for a seat in one of these colleges – here is proof that through sheer hard work, persistence and supporting your child, these children are very capable.”
When asked which university she would be choosing, Simone said her decision would be based on which varsity offers the best programme in international relations and economics.
“I would advise students to do what they love and not force themselves into doing anything.
That’s such a big part of motivating yourself and finding what you love to do,” she added.
Simone’s book on human trafficking in India, called The Girl in the Pink Room, is being used in a few Taaleem schools by teachers and students for research purposes. It’ll be available in bookstores sometime this year.