With the uncertainty of the outcome, applying for college can be one of the most intense moments a student could experience in their lifetime.
Simone Gabrielle Balaba, an 18-year-old student from Science and Technology Education Center in Cebu City got accepted not just to one or two colleges—but to 10 colleges and universities in the United States.
Inspired by her sister who served as her “driving force,” Simone said she dreamt of studying abroad in hopes of gathering more opportunities in the field of International Relations.
Simone applied to a total of 12 US colleges and universities, choosing the course of International Relations for eight. Her other course picks included Social Work and Creative Writing.
“I applied to 12 schools in total, I was rejected by two because of my financial background because in the US they sometimes base their students on whether they could afford the school,” she told PhilSTAR L!fe.
According to Simone, the type of exams that she took were English placement exams to test English-speaking skills and essay-writing where applicants were asked to write about their lives, including their personal growth, greatest achievements, and obstacles they encountered.
The requirements were all the same: the students’ grades, recommendation letters from faculty, and a list of activities.
Aside from her strong academic background, Simone has also been active in doing extracurricular activities—may it be in sports, arts, or science.
Being an athlete since she was eight years old, Simone is currently a 2nd Dan Black Belter in TaeKwondo. She also flourishes in arts and culture, being a part of a theater group, and choir—where she has performed in Cebu and Seoul, South Korea.
The self proclaimed 'island girl' has also competed locally and nationally as part of a Robotics team, and currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s official publication.
Applying to the multiple universities was a difficult process with the deadlines, but getting accepted 10 with scholarships and grants to boot has left Simone "overwhelmed with gratitude" for her strong support system.
I wouldn't go as far as to say that our country does not have opportunities for me but I think it's a fact that STEM, Med, Engineering, and Business are mostly prioritized here in our country, it's something I've realized as I was searching for scholarships and I couldn't find any for studies under the Humanities strand.
She shared that her parents were hesitant at first due to the financial constraints but eventually supported her unwavering determination.
“When I first got my first acceptance letter, I tried not to get too excited, but my mom was very excited and happy for me, [while] my emotions were just all over the place,” she told L!fe.
Simone also highlighted how her passion for writing helped her in her applications.
“Through my essays, I was able to show and tell certain aspects and parts of myself that couldn't be seen just through my documents and grades.”
Being a HUMSS (Humanities and Social Sciences) student, Simone shared that studying abroad would be her best shot, since the Philippines mostly prioritize students with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and ABM (Accountancy, Business, and Management) backgrounds.
“I wouldn't go as far as to say that our country does not have opportunities for me but I think it's a fact that STEM, Med, Engineering, and Business are mostly prioritized here in our country, it's something I've realized as I was searching for scholarships and I couldn't find any for studies under the Humanities strand, like me,” she said.
Simone also highlighted the opportunity to “gain global perspective” given her chosen course and career path.
“I think especially with the fact that I am planning on studying International Studies/Asian Studies as one of my majors, it helps that I gain this global perspective and experience different cultures,” she said.
Other than applying to 12 US colleges, Simone told L!fe that she is also waiting for the results of her applications to local universities such as University of the Philippines – Diliman and Cebu National University.
Despite her strong academic background, Simone admits she is not the typical studious type. However, she is an active learner with a habit of taking down notes, studying using the Pomodoro technique (a method based on studying in timed intervals), and making use of flash cards.
Moving forward, Simone is currently in the process of renewing her visa and compiling documents to secure her slot in her chosen college, Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois which offered her the most generous financial aid.
Simone also shared that although she received scholarships and grants, she is actively seeking sponsors for other expenses, such as transportation, room, textbooks, and more. With this feat, she hopes to inspire others who also aim to study abroad.
“Be determined and [do] not stop,” she said. “I would recommend starting early [to] look for [the] school they want to apply to so they can start building their resume and their achievements.”