Graduate school application might be a challenging undertaking for most of us, even for a Stanford’s Law student like Ghaliva Nadira Sjarif. In this “Celebrating Resilience” anniversary month, Indonesia Mengglobal had the chance to interview her to see her unique experience in applying to graduate school, and learn how she eventually strived to become a successful applicant particularly after overcoming her anxiety and insecurity.
In February2017, Ghaliva Nadira Sjarif graduated cum laude and top of her program from University of Indonesia’s faculty of law’s international undergraduate program. Four years after obtaining her bachelor’s degree, she is now a student at Stanford Law School, pursuing Master of Laws (LLM) in Law, Science, and Technology. Being where she is today, however, has been a huge surprise to her and will always be a personal achievement she is immensely grateful for. I had the pleasure of listening to her journey of how she decided she needed to go to graduate school, who and what inspired her to choose the road she has taken, the struggles she faced along the way, and the lessons she believes young people everywhere should take to heart when it comes to the graduate school application process.
Upon being asked about her motivation to study law, Nadira said that she has always liked reading, writing, public speaking, and arguing, thus she is convinced that she is meant to build a career related to what she loves. As for why she felt compelled to go abroad to further her education, she informed me that “if you want to practice in Indonesia, you have no choice but to get your degree in Indonesia.” However, she has always known that she wanted to study abroad at some point in her life. With a career focused in technology law, she developed a desire to meet people from different backgrounds so that she would be able to “know more about other countries’ jurisdictions, be exposed to diverse opinions and perspectives, and delve deeper into the intersection between law and technologies.”
Nadira attributed her growing passion in financial technology to the experience she amassed while working as an associate for Makarim and Taira S., a law firm situated in Jakarta, for several years. “I worked with a lot of wonderful people, one of them is Ms Maria Sagrado, a partner and my mentor at the firm, who inspired me and helped me explore topics I am interested in.” Nadira recounted. “Ms Maria Sagrado handles cases involving, among others, foreign clients and investors in various sectors including financial technology, data privacy and other telecommunications,media and technology (TMT) matters. I learned a lot about the world of fintech, media, and communication from her. Working with her, I came to the realization that I want to help the financial technology industry grow and give back to Indonesia’s law society.”
Challenges in applying to graduate schools
Although Nadira already knew what she was interested in and which dream schools she hoped to get into, she acknowledged that it still took her quite some time to narrow down her options as she spent extensive time looking into each program–the courses, the professors, etc. She set her eyes on universities in two countries, the United States and the United Kingdom to be precise. Prior to her enrollment at Stanford University, she also received letters of acceptance from the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of Cambridge, University of California Berkeley, and Columbia University. Nadira ultimately chose to attend Stanford due to its close proximity to Silicon Valley and also because it has the program that suits her the most.
“Getting to this point has felt pretty surreal because the road I have traveled is by no means stress-free,” Nadira reminisced. “I wrestled with doubts over whether or not I was qualified to get accepted, especially since the admission cycle for the 2021/2022 batch was notoriously more competitive. How could someone like me be admitted into such a selective program when it seemed out of reach to me? I am still shocked about and very grateful to have received the admission letter.”
To add to her nervousness, the severity of Covid-19 pandemic made everything ten times harder and that included stricter health and safety protocol, which in turn affected the the visa application process as it seemed that the numbers of available appointments per day had been reduced. “There was even a time when the UK Embassy was temporarily closed, it was quite a stressful time for friends of mine who had plans to attend school in the UK.” Nadira said.
Nadira also had to navigate the mountain of seemingly endless paperwork. “I was met with significant difficulties when I had to take care of administrative stuff and legalize my documents as many institutions implemented remote working. Some of the schools I applied to had asked for physical copies of those documents and that alone really required my undivided attention.”
On Battling Insecurities
When I questioned Nadira about what it was like for her to prepare the more substantial part of her applications, such as the essays, she shared that writing essays used to make her insecure because she had to really dig down deeper and do a lot of self-reflection before she could write. She was scared because there was no way for her to know for sure who would be reading her essays and how they would react to what she wrote.
“You can prepare as best as you can but, I think, there is always an element of luck in the application process,” Nadira argued. “There are many variables that can influence whether the admission committee is going to be impressed by your essay. You have to think hard about what kind of person you are and how the committee might resonate with your essay. Thinking about their reaction was unnerving.”
One of the reasons Nadira initially felt insecure was because she felt she had not done enough activities that graduate schools might consider impressive. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to compete with other candidates who were considerably more active than I was. During my undergraduate years, I mostly focused on my classes and didn’t have much going on outside of my academic responsibilities. I simply went to lectures and then promptly went home afterward, while my peers were more active outside of the classroom–a lot of them joined a variety of student organizations and often not just as members but also as the heads of the clubs and also participated in competitions. Comparing myself to them, I once felt my chances of securing a seat in a prestigious school would be slim.”
Fortunately for Nadira, she soon realized that it is unhealthy to ceaselessly compare herself to others. She resolved to turn off her Instagram and social media during the graduate school application process so that she could just focus on herself without any potential distraction. “I did not want to get disheartened or feel pressured, which I knew I would be if I saw what everybody else posted on their feeds and stories,” she revealed. “I didn’t want to feel discouraged like that.”
Nadira’s Definition of Resilience
At the end of my interview session with Nadira, I asked her whether she thinks being resilient is something all of us will automatically know how to do during tough times or if it is something that has to be honed much like all skills.
“For me, resilience means you do things at your own pace. You don’t have to do everything!” she answered. “Do things that you are passionate about. Everyone has their own path and so do you, so comparisons will only stress you out. After going through the graduate school application, I believe that if others can do it, then I can do it too in my own way. Don’t be burdened by what you think you should do, just do what you are capable of. By all means, be engaged and participate in different things if you like, but remember that you can set your own pace and that it is absolutely okay to do things your own way.”
One takeaway message Nadira wanted readers and future applicants to remember is that it is okay to go through difficult emotions. “Don’t feel pressurized to join things just because you feel you will be behind others. No need to be stressed out. I didn’t do everything but I guess that was enough. You are enough and you can make it too.”