“When we have an infinite mindset, we understand that it’s not about beating others or being the best, but about striving to be the best version of yourself every single day!”Hamdi Hakimi
Harvard. The name itself denotes an instant recognition even amongst the elites. Being one of the top universities in the world, getting into an academic haven such as Harvard is a dream within dreams for many.
The university’s prestige is reflected in its extremely competitive undergraduate application process whereby its 3.43% admission rate was at its lowest this year! Nonetheless, Muhammad Hamdi Ahmad Hakimi managed to become one of the precious few applicants who received the coveted acceptance letter and will be living the dream when he walks through Harvard College’s gates come September.
The Bank Negara Kijang scholar who grew up in Kuantan completed his secondary education in SM Sains Alam Shah and has recently graduated from Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar where he finished A Level. Despite coming from a humble background, he clawed his way to success. In this piece, we asked Hamdi about his experiences applying for Harvard, the challenges he faced, and how it opened new doors for him to achieve what he has thus far.
What is your aspiration in life?
That’s a great question and truthfully, I don’t quite know! All I know is that I want to help and inspire as many people as I can. To do that, I’m keeping my options open and maximising any opportunities to work in different areas to find how I can achieve my general goal. I can’t exactly say that I have a blueprint yet as I believe that it doesn’t have to be a rigid process. I know that my direction will gravitate towards creating a great civilization (though I’m still searching for this abstract meaning of civilization) and making our country better.
Was Harvard always the dream?
I didn’t think about going to the US during my A Level so no, Harvard wasn’t always the dream. I only realised a few months before applying that the US education system would suit me better than the UK education system. However, I did initially think it would be fun to apply too because I didn’t want to look back in a few years regretting not trying.
How did you prepare for its application process?
Harvard accepts applications through your choice of three application systems; the Common Application, the Coalition Application, or the Universal Application. I applied through the Common Application system so I had to write a CommonApp essay and Harvard’s supplemental essays. If successful, the next step would be the interview stage.
I searched for more information and tried to grasp the institution’s values via reliable channels on YouTube for my CommonApps essay. The essay structure was something I was unfamiliar with but I learnt that through various sources on the internet and connected with an Ivy League alumni through his Youtube channel to get his advice as well. Following my thought process, I chose a prompt that allowed me to reflect on the books I’ve previously read for my Harvard essay.
As for the interview section, I knew that the “Tell me about yourself” question was important to leave a good first impression. Plus it was the hardest question anyone can ask- so I worked on it the most. I watched videos on Simon Sinek – a motivational speaker – and tried to change the way I looked at things. One of his famous talks on ‘The Infinite Game’ made me think differently about how I should approach obstacles in life.
During the real interview, I talked about having an infinite mindset and redirected the whole conversation from there. I also didn’t want to repeat what I already wrote in my essay so I discussed Martin Luther King and Dato’ Onn Jaafar on how they could foresee a future where different worlds collided.
What do you think is important to highlight in a personal statement?
Being your authentic self is incredibly crucial because they want to admit you – not anyone else. Back then, I made sure that my personal statement is essentially a “me on a page”. I firmly believe that they fundamentally want to assess a student’s love of learning, intellectual curiosity and originality.
It’s also important to admit that you’re a work-in-progress- it’s normal for us humans to have problems and make mistakes. We’re still figuring things out so keep it real and stay true to yourself- you can even share your attempts in solving these problems. And don’t worry about writing your personal statements over and over again, I had more than 15 drafts at the time!
During my application process, I focused more on writing my Common App essay because it would be sent to every US university I applied to. I wanted it to be personal so they could understand my life, the opportunities I had and how I used them. I relayed to them how it enhanced my mental strength and shaped my personal development.
What is one past mistake that shaped you into who you are today?
It would have to be having a finite mindset. Most of my goals didn’t have a real intrinsic value and I was invested in achieving the superficial things. For instance, I wanted straight A+ because I wanted a scholarship and I joined debate because I wanted good co-curricular marks. Once I obtained my goals, I became lost because I didn’t know where I should be heading and that was my mistake. Now, I set near-impossible goals so that I can reflect everyday about how I’m getting closer to that dream compared to yesterday.
You mentioned about having an infinite mindset. Could you elaborate more on that?
Simply put, we can only do that by being able to reinvent and reflect on ourselves. I remember asking myself lots of “why”s and trying to look beyond superficial meanings of success. Embracing this mindset would put any of us in the best position to find our sense of purpose because there is no one definition of being successful in life. I have my own definition and you have yours, hence that is why it’s crucial for us to adopt an infinite mindset to guide us through this infinite game called life!
Do you have any advice for students who want to achieve their dreams?
Never let an opportunity pass. I hate regretting and so, I’d grab any chance I could get to discover more about myself and use the newly learned knowledge to help other people. During A Level, they offered an Extended Project Qualification- an extra subject that encompasses research-writing. Without taking that leap of faith, I wouldn’t have discovered my passion in Economics as I based my research in a similar area. So, dream big and never let your circumstances define who you are and who you can be!