背比べ (seikurabe) means to “compare heights” in Japanese. Every kid likes to check how much they’ve grown, or if they are taller than their friend. Even as adults, how many times have you stood back to back with someone to see who is taller.
As human beings, I think we have a natural tendency to compare and compete.
This is especially true when it comes to applying for school. It is natural for people to be curious about the profiles of other people who are applying, or people who have been accepted in the past. I have had several people ask me privately about my own profile (mostly people who wanted some explanation as to why they were not accepted and I was), and have seen many people posing general questions to the various groups and websites dedicated to the KGSP scholarship.
I do believe that such information is not without value (notice the double negative). Knowing approximately where you might rank can help you decide which universities might be good matches. In the United States there is extensive information about standardized test scores and university admissions. In Japan, they have mock exams that can tell you approximately what your chances will be of getting in to any given university. But with this scholarship there is very little information about successful candidates, or what kind of international students have gained acceptance to Korean universities.
I understand the urge to try to gather this data. Believe me. While I never actually asked the question, I certainly looked at the answers to other people who did.
But, I would warn against placing too much importance on whatever information you receive.
First of all, asking for a person’s GPA is a little like asking about their salary. Most people are reluctant to talk about it. Those that are willing to tell you are probably either really proud/confident about their stats, or were validated through success despite having little confidence in their stats (“My GPA was only 80% but I made it, so you can too”). You are likely to come away with a totally crushed spirit, or an inflated sense of confidence.
The reality is so much more complicated, which leads me to my next point.
Numbers can only tell you so much.
If you ask someone about their profile in a situation like this, they will probably tell you their GPA, their TOEFL or TOPIK score, maybe their class ranking, etc. They will tell you about the things they can express easily – the numbers. They probably will not tell you about all of the other important information that makes them unique, and got them accepted.
They probably won’t give you a context for understanding their GPA. For example, what university was it? How rigorous was the coursework? How many class hours did they complete? What is the grading system like at their university?
They might not tell you what their major was, or what department they applied for. Some departments are more competitive than others, and you really need to compare with people from your own department if you are going to compare at all. It also makes a difference whether your university major was related to what you want to study in graduate school.
They won’t tell you about all of their work experience or volunteer experience or talents. They may have less than stellar numbers, but practical life experience that gives them an edge.
They won’t show you their application essays and how well they express themselves and sell themselves to the admissions committee.
The list goes on and on…
For a real world example, there was one person who messaged me privately with this question. This person was asking because I was accepted at K University’s GSIS and they were not (the majors were different, but similar). As it turned out, their GPA was higher (by 0.07) with other similar numbers, but somehow I made it and they didn’t. You just never know.
So my personal advice to you is…
- Sit back and be realistic about your own numbers. You probably know in your heart whether they are outstanding or just okay. And just for some perspective, remember 80% is the minimum cutoff for the scholarship. The closer you are to 80, the greater the chance that other people will be stronger than you, and the less likely it is that you will be accepted at one of the top Korean universities. But don’t just give up…
- Try to figure out the best way to present your numbers. If your GPA looks low, does your ranking look better? Can you put focus on how advanced your coursework was? Try asking the professor writing your recommendation to help put some perspective on the numbers.
- Really put a lot of focus on the things that aren’t numbers. Perfect your essays. Have other people check them for grammar and clarity (if you can find a native speaker, do it). Think long and hard about what you want to tell them, and what will make you stand out. Think about how to present work and volunteer experiences to strengthen your profile. If you still have time before your application is due, try to find things you can do to add experience. If your numbers are weak then these extra things can bring you ahead. If your numbers are strong, then you are probably also aiming high, so you still need to think about all of these plus alphas that will bring you up and above all those people who also have strong numbers.
And for the record, I am going to practice what I preach and not tell you what my numbers were. I’ll just say that despite all of the worrying I did because that’s who I am, deep down I was confident about getting the scholarship and getting in to the universities I applied to.