About 150 students will fill Skoltech this week, in order to show they have what it takes to become a Skoltech student. Only as much as half of them will eventually be admitted. For three intensive days, under a tight and tiring schedule, the applicants will be evaluated to see if they meet the Skoltech standards.
During these days, the participants will face several selection stages: “challenges” that involve science, engineering, design, entrepreneurship, leadership, and creativity; an individual interview by Skoltech faculty members according to the applicants’ field of interest; inevitable TOEFL and Math exams. In between the challenges and the exams, the applicants will be presented with Skoltech and its educational programs, and meet a few of Skoltech alumni.
Invitations to Recruitment Days are reserved for those students who submitted the strongest online applications to the program, but Skoltech’s faculty believe that students should be evaluated not only on what they know, but also what they can do. The Weekend thus emphasizes the application of knowledge in different settings, and is designed to simulate what it is like to be a Skoltech student. At the end of these days, faculty are given a greater picture of which students are the best fit for the kind of education provided at Skoltech.
Skoltech faculty member, Prof. Victor Lempitsky, who participated in several selection events, describes what he is looking for: “During selection we look for applicants with technical competence, including strong math background and also awareness about the recent progress in the area of the applicant’s interest. Even more than that, we appreciate if a person has a clear goal for coming to Skoltech, while having done something exciting in the past. In an interview, we usually ask an applicant to explain a research or innovation project that she/he has been involved in, and we appreciate if the person can explain it well and is genuinely excited about it. As an aside, some applicants try to explain how bad their previous university was and how much better Skoltech would be for them. This rarely works to their advantage, as we would prefer to focus on the positive things. Finally, we appreciate if the person has done the “homework” and has learned about research activity at Skoltech, at least to the degree that the information is presented at the main Skoltech website and at the websites of research groups relevant to the applicant’s interests. Ideally, the applicant should have an idea about how this activity and her/his interests are aligned.”
Skoltech fresh Master graduate and currently PhD student Simone Briatore shared with us his Skoltech selection experience from the applicant side:
How did you feel throughout the process?
For me it was a totally new experience. My previous university was Politecnico of Turin, Italy, and the structure of the selection process is very different from the one in Skoltech. I literally didn’t know what to expect. But later it turned out to be a great experience that I still remember very happily. Moreover, that weekend I forged some of the strongest friendships throughout which I spent the best times in this university.
What was your impression from the tests and the challenges given to you during these days?
This was totally new for me and at the beginning I was not completely understanding the reason of these challenges. I think everybody at the beginning wanders how could building a tower made of paper boxes or estimating the rocket for a mission to Mars (in my case almost without knowing what a rocket was) in a group be relevant for an admission to a university. But then, as the task begins and the clock starts ticking, I think you start to realize the whole point of it: team work.
You cannot complete the challenge alone and at the same time you have to work with people you just met and you never worked with before. Together, the team has to find a working structure and achieve the goal as fast as possible. It is not something immediate, or easy, but I think it is a really an important skill in your future life and fundamental at Skoltech: everyone will have to face sooner or later a lot of complex teamwork, where not only the group has to properly function, but also the tasks are real world engineering problems.
Who interviewed you and how did the interview go?
The main interviewer was prof. Alessandro Golkar, together with Bram Caplan and other faculty members from Skoltech. I think it went pretty well. Before it, I imagined it to be way more like a job interview, where you are asked and tested about your technical knowledge. Instead, I think their main focus was to understand who you are as a person, trying to identify not how much you already know, but how much you’re willing to learn and your attitude towards it for the future years in this university.
What is your overall impression from the process?
At the beginning the process sounds weird and uncommon, mostly for the way European universities are used to manage the selections, but I think it works really well. In these years in Skoltech I had the chance to work and study with great people, coming from all corners of the world. It is also a great opportunity to meet the persons that most likely are going to be your team in future university projects and assignments.
What tips can you give the students who will come to these selection days?
I think the most important tip is to be relaxed and try your best to collaborate with others in the challenges. You do not need particular knowledge nor experience to do great, you just have to face the challenges with a learning attitude and teamwork in mind. Most of the tasks are studied to put you and your team-mates outside the so called comfort-zone, so be prepared, don’t be scared, and good luck!