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The Road to Columbia University:The Hard and Soft Power of Hu Zhonghao

Hu Zhonghao, a senior student from Business School, accepted an interview on Dec. 5th. Having received seven offers from Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Southern California, Wake Forest University, New York University, University of Rochester, and the University of Sydney, he settled on Columbia as his upcoming destination following his instinct. He has been challenging himself to grow and learn to realize his dream of being admitted to a top-notch institution worldwide, as inspired by his spirit idol Kobe Bryant’s words – Sometimes in your life, you must rise to challenge the greatness.

Success comes to those who are prepared. Prior to his undergraduate journey, Hu had already worked out his plans and objectives for the next four years and graduate life, while making steady progress in building up his profile in either standardized tests or extracurricular activities as of Day One in Business School. Regarding the reason why he applied to Columbia, he explained that his original dream school was New York University, but he wanted “to be more aggressive in his application” and accordingly, he decided to roll the dice for a precious spot in this famous Ivy-League university. Fortunately, he was admitted to Columbia by virtue of his capability and personality and he accepted the offer because “this master program can offer an ideal blend of financial analytical skillsets and professional opportunities in central Manhattan”.

In his curriculum vitae, what stands out first is his excellent academic performance, which is closely related to his rigorous learning attitude. As a frequenter who sat in front rows in class, he said, “I enjoyed having eye contact and interactions with my teachers. Even for some courses, whose curriculum was within my capacity, I still chose to immerse myself into the class as the teachers might came up with refreshing ideas and novel insights into business and financial topics that could broaden my horizons”. Outside the classroom, he also reached out to all varieties of knowledge on non-business fields like medical and cultural ones to enrich his arsenal. “What excited me most in university was the free academic atmosphere. I seized the opportunity to broaden my horizons in more fields, to think logically and critically under global settings, and to cultivate the consciousness of deriving new ideas using cross-subject minds,” he said.

“I cherished my internship experience in H&M, KPMG and Cargill Investment,” he said, “and I really enjoyed the highly selective process.” Speaking of the secrets on how to distinguish himself from the fiercely competitive applicant pool during several selection interviews of KPMG, he advised, “Your academic performance is indeed a stepping-stone to the interview section. However, it is your soft power like critical thinking, communication skills and leadership experience that shines in front of the managers and partners. The broader knowledge you accumulate every day, the better you can perform confidently on spot.” During his internship, he actively reached out to colleagues from different departments to learn from their experiences and seek professional advices. “I am a fair communicator in most scenarios,” he said, “Talking with people with different backgrounds and from different cultures can be a powerful catalyst for me to figure out what lies ahead of me.”
Recalling preparations of application to graduate school, he said that he spent a lot of energy on understanding universities’ pedagogical philosophy and research interests and achievements of the faculty. He also suggested that when drafting personal statements, one must fixate on story-telling based on personal experience rather than clichés. During his interview with Columbia, when asked about his perceptions of success, he responded, “Success is not a once-in-a-life-time thing that one may achieve and rest on it afterwards. It should not be a few lines engraved on one’s gravestone, or even one’s monument, but every single milestone that one surpasses at every phase of life. ” The interviewer was impressed by this innovative insight right on the spot and said, “I really look forward to seeing you on campus.”
During holidays, he has been dedicating himself to enriching his social experiences. As a member of Lean-In International Volunteer Organization, he assisted local children with English and Mathematics in Bali, Indonesia in 2016. For the sake of convenient communication and deeper attachment with local kids, he picked up basic Indonesian within only 2 weeks through fast-learning skills. At the same time, he has been keeping an eye on issues such as health, education, and gender equality from a global perspective.

Referring to the school where he has been studying for four years, Hu said that he was very grateful to the school for establishing an excellent platform with international atmosphere, including guidance from professors and mutual inspiration among domestic and international schoolmates, which strengthened his faith all the way until graduation. His plan for the next phase of life has already unfolded - to obtain his CFA license, to graduate with Magna Cum Laude in Columbia, to possibly earn another degree from MIT, exactly as he said, “Every shred of fulfillment generated through achievement of goals step by step is truly what success means to me.”

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