written by
Abbie Sage

CollegeAdvisor Student Spotlight: Maria

Student Spotlight 4 min read

The following article features recent Northwestern University Qatar admit Maria, who was a member at CollegeAdvisor.com. For more information about our programming and personal guidance about the college application process, head to CollegeAdvisor.com and sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.


When CollegeAdvisor member Maria got into Northwestern University Qatar, she could hardly contain her excitement.

“I had just woken up,” Maria told CollegeAdvisor. “I looked on my phone, and there was nothing. One minute later, an email popped up and I yelled for my dad. I saw the confetti, and I started crying. It was just a really happy moment.”

Maria grew up in Brazil, where she currently lives with her family. Throughout her childhood, Maria’s family emphasized the importance of education. “My grandmother never went to school,” Maria said. “She was born in a small town in the 1930s, so only the boys in her family could go to school. And she managed to be an amazing mom and give her daughter an amazing education even though they didn’t have a lot of money.”

“Both of my parents always worked really hard so that I got everything I needed for my education,” Maria told CollegeAdvisor. “The fact that they did all of that inspired me to be the best version of myself — to honor everything they did.”

Maria began to consider the possibility of attending an American university after spending a semester in Waterloo, Illinois through an exchange program. She credits both of her parents, along with her CollegeAdvisor Admissions Coach Marisa, as her primary support network throughout the admissions process: “My mom gave me the exchange program that I needed to make my English better and get to know the college process. My dad was essential, too. He was the one who told me to study English. Without that, I never would never have even started to think about going to college outside Brazil.”

Throughout high school, Maria engaged with a wide variety of extracurricular activities, from serving as the team captain and choreographer of her dance team to organizing a four-month project management course for young people interested in education. She also spent two years as a member of Student Union, which is the most important representational group for students in Brazil. Yet despite her many accomplishments, Maria still had a number of concerns as she entered the college application process.

As an international student seeking financial aid, developing a college list was not easy. “Most colleges in the US are not need-blind [for international students],” Maria said. “And I did need a lot of financial aid.”

For Maria, accessing financial aid was the most worrisome part of the application process. “My biggest concern was getting rejected by colleges because of my financial circumstances,” she told CollegeAdvisor. “I did receive some decisions from colleges that said, ‘Well, you’d be amazing here, but we just can’t give you the financial aid that you need.’”

Maria first found CollegeAdvisor.com online. After getting to know Brian and advisor Marisa, she knew that it would be a great fit. “Marisa was so essential in every part of the process,” Maria said. “She’s amazing. She really is 100% the best tutor I could possibly have. First of all, she really boosted my confidence, which is something that I needed. Especially as an international student, it’s so good to have someone who is really immersed in this process giving you their perspective and encouraging you to apply to competitive programs.”

Marisa also helped Maria write essays that would stand out to admissions officers at top schools. “She helped me so much, specifically with the Northwestern and CommonApp Essays — we spent so many sessions working on those. My final results were so much better than what I started with,” Maria told CollegeAdvisor.

Reflecting on these essay review sessions, one moment in particular sticks out to Maria: “We were editing on Word, where there are these little lines that show up on every comment. We were laughing about how many lines we had made together. There were so many little lines that [the whole document] was almost just one color.”

At Northwestern Qatar, Maria plans to study communications, with a focus in media, technology, and education. She also hopes to pursue a Masters in education after graduating.

When asked what she is looking forward to most about college, Maria does not just have one answer: “Everything. It’s so different — it’s Qatar. It’s a country where I never expected to live, and it’s so crazy that I get this opportunity. I think it’s a very vibrant university, and you have so many opportunities to thrive and to be around smart people.”

As she reflects upon her own college process, Maria has some advice for international students who share her circumstances: “Do your research VERY thoroughly. Choose colleges where you know you have the opportunity to get a scholarship, or find programs that are need-blind. I think there are only five colleges in the US that are need-blind [for international students]. But you know, Qatar, where I’m going, has amazing campuses which are still US schools. It’s still Northwestern; if you go to Georgetown Qatar, it’s still Georgetown.”

Maria would also encourage all high school students, whether in the US or abroad, to work hard, remain passionate, and trust themselves. “Don’t be afraid to take chances. You know, if you want to do research, start researching. If you want to start running track, start running. Just do it.”


This success story was based on an interview with CollegeAdvisor Student Maria. If you want to learn more about CollegeAdvisor.com or get 1-on-1 help with your college applications from a CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.

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