Unstoppable Sababa: Interview with a Connecticut Full-Ride Scholar
Sababa Ahmed, the Director of Marketing and Finance at DP Tutorials, as well as an alumni of Rajshahi College, applied to 50 American colleges for the Fall-2022 application cycle. Out of the 50 institutions she was interested in, 46 rejected her. The handful of 4 unaffordable acceptances left her heartbroken, however it was just the beginning. Regaining the crucial hope for getting into a good US college next year, she applied to 100 colleges for the Fall-2023 application cycle and got into Connecticut College with a full-ride scholarship. The following interview entails essential aspects of her journey.
Oritro: When did you first have your heart set on studying abroad?
Sababa: I have an uncle who went to do his Master’s Degree in a university located in England. I was inspired to study abroad from him, but only for my Master’s or PhD. I had no idea studying abroad for my undergrad is even possible. I read IMO gold medalist Zawad Ahmed Chowdhury’s success story of getting into MIT and immediately thought that universities call such medalists for giving them a chance to study there. I started preparing myself for BUET in order to go abroad from there, for my postgrad.
COVID-19 outbroke after my SSC, and I didn’t have anything to do. Looking for activities online, I joined RYC Global, a non-profit organization founded by Dipro Prattoy bhaiya. From there, I came to know that I can study abroad right after my HSC, without olympiad medals or a lot of money. I immediately started my research on these things. At the beginning of 2021, Dipro bhaiya started a new SAT batch and organized a college application cohort. My journey officially started with this firm decision– I must go to USA for my undergrad.
Oritro: How supportive was your family? Did you face any obstacles?
Sababa: I had to face a lot of obstacles throughout my first college application journey, as my parents and other people around me didn’t know whether applying for undergrad is possible or anything about the process. Besides, as I was away from my parents due to college, they (my parents) were suspicious about what I was doing by sacrificing my sleep at night. They were being influenced by many outsiders. For a certain period of time, it was even decided that I would have to get married first before going to the USA, as I could get “spoiled” there alone.
However, all of that changed on my second application journey. My parents were extremely supportive this time. They even allowed me not to take part in any Bangladeshi admission exams.
Oritro: How did you become fluent in English?
Sababa: RYC Global helped me with English a lot. There were many international members, and I had no way but trying to speak English. It helped me to improve.
Oritro: Want to hear the journey of your extra curricular activities.
Sababa: I started taking music lessons before learning Bangla letters. My father gifted me a harmonioum when I was 4. I continued learning music for the following 7 years. My father used to teach me poetry recitation and acting. From there, the passion of participating in small music competitions at school originated. I got to know about competitions from other fields and different kinds of ECA’s, started exploring them as well. In grade 4, my school stood first in the country-wide seasonal debate competition. That inspired me to take part in debate and when I did, I fell in love with it. Nearly all kinds of ECA’s had my participation, as I was curious about everything.
During my SSC vacation, all of my activities abruptly stopped for 1-2 months due to lockdown. At the time, a senior from my school informed me about a competition, telling she was a campus ambassador– a term I was first introduced with. The non-profit organization “প্রত্যুষ” was hiring campus ambassadors. I joined their core team, winning a special mention award from their competition. I also started helping on different kinds of projects they were involved with.
Soon afterwards, I also joined RYC Global. Dipro bhaiya as well as other members used to talk a lot about many competitions which I participated in later.
Oritro: How many activities did you include on your common app activity section out of 10? Also, how did you pick only a handful of activities from this ECA ocean of yours? Which ones were those?
Sababa: I filled all the 10 slots. To be honest, it was overwhelming which one to include and which one to not. I mentioned my debating experience, the robotics campaign at the University of British Columbia, my experience at RYC Global, being a student ambassador of Stockholm Waterprize, the experience as a climate activist in another international organization, my small handicraft business, being a co-founder of my school’s e-magazine, my scouting experiences, and my theatre experiences.
Oritro: How did you handle the other segments of your college application besides listing ECA’s– such as collecting your recommendation letters and writing essays?
Sababa: Due to classes being held online, the teachers of my high school didn’t know me well during my first application. High school seniors Amirul Islam Shuvo bhaiya, Nowshin Anber apu, Mehedi Hasan Sijar bhaiya, and Swachchho bhaiya approached the teachers to write recommendation letters, on behalf of me. I was already well known to the teachers on my second application journey, so didn’t have to face any issues. Dipro bhaiya, Abrar, Azneef, Melita apu, Namira apu, and Razdeep helped me write the ridiculous amount of essays (both times).
Oritro: How did you cope with all the rejections of your first attempt? Want to hear the comeback story.
Sababa: I got my last rejection of fall-2022 on March 30. The situation around me, my depression, and involvement with lots of other works led me to not having even 50% of my pre-test syllabus completed. I went to a person for help but they (that person) told, “Will you be able to pass the exam?”
I was broken to not be trusted for my capabilities. In this period, my high school friends supported me a lot. Besides, I was busy working for DP Tutorials. However, I decided I would not reapply the following year and was preparing for BUET.
But after being a finalist in Stockholm Junior Waterprize Bangladesh-2022 and seeing improvements of DP Tutorials through my hard work, I thought I could so something again. In addition, Dipro bhaiya never stopped encouraging me. I also came across some success stories, including Anika Tabassum apu getting a 100% scholarship from the University of Redlands with 3 gap years, in the Facebook group “Bangladeshis Beyond Border”. I was heavily inspired and then gradually started preparing for the SAT with this thought, “Why not try again?” as well as continued participating various competitions. I was at the top 100 in the whole world at Young Tycoon Business Challenge.
Besides Dipro bhaiya, the person who helped me the most, on my second college application journey, is Abrar Hasin. Two new people also became my friends– Farhan Mahabub bhaiya and Tasmim Kabir Mahim. Overall, I applied again to 100 universities this time. After some days of my HSC, the first Early Decision 1 rejection came. I thought I shouldn’t apply anymore. But my ammu (mother) and mami (aunt) started forcing me to continue.
Oritro: So your ammu and mami didn’t want you to give up, so they stepped in. What about Dipro bhaiya?
Sababa: He supported me from the beginning to the finish line. I told him late December, “Bhaiya, I can’t write essays anymore. I won’t apply to other places.” He said, “Sababa, you have to.” Only for this reason, I submitted my applications.
Shortly thereafter, I wanted to withdraw my applications from all the other places, following the rejection from Gettysburg, despite having a better profile than the accepted applicants’. At that time, Dipro bhaiya motivated me by reminding about Virat Kohli’s comeback.
I still remember the decision checking from Connecticut College after a DP Tutorials meeting. I vividly recall the disbelief I had on my own eyes. I immediately sent the news to Dipro bhaiya and he called me back. My eyes were full with tears of joy. I remember how happy Dipro bhaiya was for me, after all the days of uncertainty and hard work.
This is it. My college application journey ends here.
Oritro: Your entire story has left me in awe. I don’t know what to say. Thank you so much for giving your valuable time to share your exceptionally amazing journey, Sababa apu.
Sababa: Thanks a lot, Oritro.