International Relations at UCLA - Salma Elbarmawi
Updated: May 20
Undergraduate: University of California, Los Angeles
Degree: International Relations (Global Studies BA)
Industry: Tech, 3D printing
Roles: Sales, business development, marketing
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I’m a coffee connoisseur with an addiction to looking on the bright side, and a lifetime commitment to travel. I’m an Egyptian, who was raised in California, and now currently resides in London. I transitioned from a career in sales to a C-level position in marketing to running my own business in a new country. I am particular and for the longest part of my life I thought I wasn’t the “type of person” who would ever be able to take risks. What I’ve realized is that even as someone who plays it safe, I have the ability to be and do whatever I put my mind to, so long as I’m willing to work hard and keep going.
You pursued your undergraduate in the United States. Reflecting back on your experience, what do you think are the main advantages of studying in the United States?
The main advantages are the network, everyone you meet and interact with in the US wants to build something, they’re always competing with themselves and achievements just don’t stop. There’s this idea that you’re never doing enough and it really pushes you to step out of your comfort zone and work 5x harder than the person next to you. Many US schools have a great global reputation, this helps in the pursuit of a career. Finally, if you’re considering working in the US in the future, there’s a big advantage to studying in the place you’d like to build a career.
When did you first start preparing for the US application process? How did you prepare for the application process?
I started preparing in my last year of high school, it was challenging because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study. When I received my acceptance letters I was disappointed to find out that I didn't get into the university I wanted to go to. I decided to try again. Instead of taking another school, I went into community college. Community colleges are a system of schooling for 2-year degrees that can be transferred into a four-year university for a BA or BS. I applied again during community college, this time with an even higher GPA, real-world work experience, and a good deal of volunteer work under my belt. I didn’t just get into the school I wanted, I got into every university I applied for. So I chose UCLA.
The application process was the same in both instances, they required your past academic history, they asked about leadership roles in school and in your community. They asked about work experience, personal experience, and your goals. The questions were presented in a way to understand what you did outside of what you were told or required to do, so it was really important to show you have the motivation to excel even when it’s not part of the curriculum.
How did funding fit in the picture? Did you apply for scholarships? Tell us more about this process and any advice you may have?
I applied for scholarships but I wish I applied for more. I ended up taking out a lot of student debt. My university roommate was constantly applying to scholarships and grants and other fundings, small and large and she ended up paying off her whole tuition just through that.
Is there anything that you wish someone had told you to consider when applying to universities abroad?
I was told - but I wish I listened. My mom told me to apply for scholarships and grants, and I just felt like I didn’t have time. Looking back, I wish I had done more, I later learned that so much money is left on the table with grants and scholarships because people don’t want to do the work to apply. There I was thinking the competition was too fierce and I’d never get it anyways - when I should have just tried my luck and worked at it.
Did you receive any mentorship/support as you were applying?
I went to a school counselor to help me with applications, they weren’t really that helpful. The person who was actually the most helpful was my English professor who read over my personal statements for grammar and sentence structure. I asked for feedback from other English writing professors about whether or not they thought my personal statements were interesting and they were able to provide me with some helpful wisdom about writing for the purpose of the reader and saying things that were more personal to help me stand out rather than generic things like “I want to help people and use this degree to be able to get into a career in xxx and work my way and help others do the same.” etc etc
What do you think Egyptian students often get “wrong” about the US application process?
To be honest, I don’t know. My assumption would be that the landscape is too competitive and that they won't be able to get into the school they want. I think if you want something bad enough you’ll work for it, and if someone tells you no, you should try again. I didn’t get into UCLA because I’m the smartest person I know - in fact, I’m most definitely not. I got in because I proved I’m willing to work for it, and I’m not willing to take no for an answer.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in applying?
Imagine a world where you wanted to start a club. This club is about helping others and giving back. Who would you want to join the club? Do you want someone who wants to be there just so they can be associated with you? Do you want someone who wants to join because they want to tell everyone they’re charitable? Or are you looking for someone who’s known to be helpful? Who has a record of finding ways to help out? Someone who isn’t just going to volunteer one time but is committed. Universities aren’t bringing in students that want to be there, they’re bringing in the next generation of leaders so that when you contribute to the world and people ask what university educated you, you say their name. They need you.
Any other pieces of advice?
Don't give up. Even when it’s all too much, even when it feels like you’re not going to make it, even when someone has told you no. Find the opportunities, divert from the route you thought was going to take you there. Be flexible enough to change your plans if a great opportunity presents itself, but value yourself enough to be stubborn when it counts. You are more brilliant than you give yourself credit for. You are more valuable than you think you are. You are going to accomplish way more than you assume you will. And no school, no big name is going to have any effect on any of that. You are the carrier of your future. You already hold the keys to your success. If there’s a roadblock, find a way to move it. If you feel stuck, don’t be too proud to ask for help. If you don’t understand, look for someone who’s patient enough to explain it to you. Ask, don’t assume. Praise yourself more. Be your own biggest fan and cheerleader, and others will follow.