Kayla Chen

My Education

Tsinghua University

MA | Global Affairs

Harvard University

BA | Government


The Fullbright Program

Taiwan Teaching Grantee

Kayla Chen graduated from Harvard University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Government. There, she directed a leadership program for high school students and taught in an inner city community in Boston. After college she spent a year teaching in Yilan City in Taiwan on a Fulbright. She graduated in 2018 with a Masters in Global Affairs from the Schwarzman Scholars program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. She’s planning on attending law school in the near future and working in the public sector to combat global issues of inequality.

Three Tips for Those Interested in Tsinghua University’s Schwarzman Scholars Program

Kayla Chen, MA - Global Affairs

At least 2 essays, 3 recommendations, short-answers, a video and hopefully, eventually an interview. Outside of fulfilling the requirements, what is necessary for success in the application process?

1. Reflect on How you have Impacted Others Around you in Leadership Roles

The Schwarzman Scholars Program prides itself on attracting the future global leaders of tomorrow. Yes, very ambitious. Some may wonder, is it really that easy to tell? While that is a question that requires more in-depth conversation, there are definitely some promising factors that the admissions committee wants to see. From my experience with the admissions process and my fellow scholars, everyone had some concrete experiences leading projects, teams or initiatives. Some examples include being president of Tsinghua’s Community Service Organization, leading a public health campaign to ban palm oil in foods in their country because it was detrimental to the environment, having their own international crypto-currency start- up and being student body president of over 34,000 students. In my case, it was directing a program for under-resourced young people that provided support and space for young people to produce Community Action Projects on social issues they deeply cared about. So, you don’t have to be student body president or have your own start-up, but what are you passionate about and how has that been proved by your actions? What did all these experiences have in common? They showed scholars’ engagement with the wider world and their ability to take initiative and DO something. It’s not just about the grades, academics and being intelligent. It’s also about how you have proved yourself in a leadership capacity that has greater interaction with the larger society and world.

2. Make it Clear why Schwarzman Scholars

Those of you who are considering applying will have different options to choose from in terms of graduate programs. What is it about Schwarzman Scholars that makes you want to engage in and be part of this community? What does it mean to you? Of course we all would love to have the opportunity to get to know successful young people from all over the world and get a chance to rub some elbows with some well-connected individuals, but past this, why? The answer has to make sense in your narrative. Knowing why it would be a valuable experience for you makes it clear to the Admissions Committee that you have reflected on what you want to make out of the year, how it fits into your plans. Once you know why, you should have some concrete goals of what you would like to achieve. This reflection is more likely to convince them that you will deeply engage and go after what you want. It’s only a short year, so everybody has to hit the ground running to make the most out of it!

3. Be Authentic, So Reflect on What that Means for You

Don’t try to be what you’re not. Pretty generic advice right? However, in this case, it’s extremely important that there is a cohesiveness to your resume, essays and recommendation letters. They can show different sides of yourself, but they can’t be contradictory. What drives you? What motivates you? What makes you get up and DO things. It’s important that you don’t be someone you’re not. Your application will lack depth and cohesion if so because you’re experiences matter here. They will prove your narrative (or disprove it). So with that, this means that you have to do some thinking. What does drive you? What do you want to work on in the world? What are your ambitions and why? You don’t have to know exactly each step of the way what you want to do, but it’s important to think about experiences you’ve enjoyed the most, defining moments in your life, and times you felt the most exuberant and felt like you contributed to something in whatever way. However, small, these things matter in thinking about who you are. Leaders need to have a purpose and it doesn’t need to be standing at the front having everyone listen to you (honestly this isn’t really leadership in my opinion…). Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, personalities and backgrounds. Yet, it is those experiences that shape our success in reaching our goals. If we don’t know why we’re doing something, why are we doing it at all?

Q:  Why are you passionate about your academic field? When and how did you discover your love of your subject?  

My interests primarily revolve around questions of international relations, human rights, public policy and law. My passion for international relations definitely was a fluke because I accidently took a class in it to fulfill a requirement my first year of college and fell in love with thinking about power dynamics, negotiation and diplomacy between countries. My interest in policy definitely comes from my own personal experiences identifying unjust issues that have affected my own life. Yet, it was only when I started working with young people, teaching and working in NGOs that I really discovered that thinking about how to contribute to addressing issues that everyday people faced was what I loved. It allowed me to overcome my loathing of public speaking and find out that it was something that I became skilled at through practice. This and my constant need to have discussions with my friends and in classes about ethics, justice, and better policy told me that this was what I wanted to dedicate my life to.

Q:  What are your three top recommendations for a student targeting a masters in your field? What if they are preparing to switch their major to your field?  

I took both public policy and international relations coursework in my masters. I would suggest identifying sub-fields or areas within these large fields that really draw your attention. This requires reading up on different areas of the field you are interested in and then seeing which really draw your interest. I was able to make the most out of my Masters because I knew that what I wanted to get out of it was a better understanding of China’s perspectives on human rights and how civil society functioned. If you are preparing to switch I would recommend finding some of the foundational texts in the field and reading up on them. In international relations it would be the academics who were the forefront of the realist, constructivist and neoliberal schools or thought.

Q:  What resources can students use to educate themselves on your subject?  

The internet and the library are your best friend. There are always lists out there about the top books to read if you’re in “x” field. In addition, I find that I learn the most from conversations with professors and classmates. Debate, argue, see if you can anticipate all the different perspectives in an argument. This is truly the best way to deeply engage on a subject and get past the surface level memorization of theories, names or facts to start thinking critically about what are the current questions and debates.

Q:  What are your top tips to showcase an applicant  

Your personal essay is very important. Many people have the numbers, now Admissions Officers want to know who you are as a person. What’s your narrative? Why are you studying what you’re studying? The best strength you can have is to be able to take them through a journey of understanding your background, studies, and work experiences and how they have all led up to you being excited about the opportunity to go to their school. Furthermore, in terms of the Schwarzman Scholars, it’s very important to communicate why China and why the Schwarzman program. It’s only one year so they are looking for people who have demonstrated leadership and know what they want to get out of a year in the program.

Q:  Any pitfalls or mistakes an applicant should be aware of as they apply to your program?  

Thinking that there is a magic profile. There really isn’t, it’s all about remaining authentic to who you are. This will always be the strongest application. They want people who have reflected on their experiences and what drives them to their current goals. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. They really want a diverse class and the best way to set yourself apart is to be honest.

Q:  Why did you apply to your university and program? What other universities and programs were you admitted to?  

For my Masters I only applied to the Schwarzman Scholars program because I wanted to experience a year in China and it was fully funded. In terms of undergrad, in addition to Harvard I was admitted to Princeton and Cornell.

Q:  What are the common career paths for graduates in your field?  

Those who do international relations often end up at diplomats, researchers or policy people in government, or sometimes even in business due to their international expertise.

Q:  What aspects of the campus culture are your favorites? Which aspects surprised you? Which would you change if you could?  

My favorite aspect of both Schwarzman and Harvard were the incredible people that I got to chat with every day. What surprised me about Harvard was that I went thinking everyone was going to be either rich, a nerd or both. Of course some of us were; however, I came to understand that there was way to more everyone I met. At Schwarzman it was amazing to get to know my classmates so well over the year. It was a very unique situation because we lived, ate and took classes together all in the same building. Thus, we came to form very tight bonds and knew each and every other classmate.

Q:  What is your favorite fun fact about your university? Any special events or traditions or legends?  

At Harvard, there are these three things you’re supposed to do before you graduate. They can’t really be listed here, but one is jumping off a bridge in a river.

Q:  How did you spend your summer vacation during university? Any advice for making the most of summer?  

I spent all my summers working in university. I worked extensively in the Boston communities the first two summers of college and then interned at an organization in Washington D.C. There I was able to go up to the hill, lobby and attend meetings in Congress and the Department of State. The summer before my fourth year, I also made the most out of my time, by applying for as many opportunities to travel, subsidized or covered, by someone else. It was amazing to use all this time to work, build my network and get to know the world better.

Q:  What makes you smile? Share more on a favorite hobby.  

I love to dance and sing. You can usually find me itching to do a dance move after sitting to long in a study session.

Q:  Why are you excited to mentor Dyad Scholars?  

I’m super excited to meet all of you and share my experiences at Tsinghua University’s Schwarzman College and Harvard. These admissions processes can often seem so confusing and demanding. I’m here to make it easier for you and help you put your best foot forward!