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Masters at Harvard Design School - Maya Kazamel

Updated: May 19, 2020

Hometown: Dubai, UAE

Undergraduate: Architectural Engineering (American University in Cairo)

Masters: Real Estate and the Built Environment (Harvard Graduate School of Design)

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born and grew up in Dubai and did my undergraduate degree in architecture at the American University in Cairo. I did a lot of internships in architecture and by the time I graduated, I knew I didn’t want to do that. So I worked in an interior hospitality firm for a period then moved to a real estate services advisory firm.

You pursue your Masters in the United States. Reflecting back on your experience, what do you think are the main advantages of studying in the United States?

I personally believe that doing graduate studies in a different context than your undergraduate is super-important. At the very least, there’s so much learning that comes from the need to adapt. The US specially is fantastic because in terms of research, there’s so much investment that goes into it. In terms of business, the market is unparalleled.

Let’s go back in time a little. When did you first consider applying to universities abroad?

I initially started thinking about it when I graduated from undergraduate studies six years ago. I did a lot of research but I thought it would be helpful to get some work experience first so I tabled it.

When did you first start preparing for the US application process? How did you prepare for the application process?

About three years ago, I remembered it out of the blue and picked up on my program research (~September 2017) to apply for the 2018 intake. I started with looking at different program requirements. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to really limit my actual applications. Do all the ground research you want but apply to fewer programs that you really want to get into. Each application takes a lot of time and must be personalized so if the program is not that appealing to you, it’s not worth it.

I started as follows:

  • Listing out all relevant programs

  • Looking at programs and their courses. If I didn’t like the course offerings or thought it was too restrictive, I dismissed it

  • Researching professors and their research (as far as was relevant for me)

  • Tabulating each program, its requirements and deadlines

  • Started doing the required tests - GRE, IELTS, TOEFL, etc.

  • Decided on my top programs - it helps to reach out and speak to people in the programs to ask questions about the environment, their experience, and where they plan to go after

  • Reached out to people who had been in those programs or similar so I could ask them questions and get feedback on my application.

How did funding fit in the picture? Tell us more about this process and any advice you may have for others?

The US is peculiar in that you apply, get accepted and then search for funding. This is unlike Europe where both applications are often tied in together or you get a scholarship before you apply. Some people I know who had more than one acceptance were able to negotiate further academic scholarships with the school. In some cases, others got more funding in their second year from other opportunities available outside school. It helps to start doing that research early to see what scholarships/fellowships you might be eligible for and when their deadlines are because they vary so widely.

Is there anything that you wish someone had told you to consider when applying to universities abroad?

Weather makes a difference. Just be aware that winter is real.

What do you think Egyptian students often get “wrong” about the US application process?

I think a lot of people focus on the application itself and not so much on making sure that the program is a right fit for them. Also, it helps to think of where you want to go after the program. If you are interested in a specific location, prioritize programs there.

Did you receive any mentorship/support as you were applying?

Yes, definitely. I had good relations with my professors from undergrad and they were a wealth of knowledge and guidance.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in applying?

Keep an eye out for people you admire, approach them and maintain contact. Also, be coachable - be open to thoughts and feedback, even if it’s not what you want to hear. That’s what helped me the most.

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