The Journey To A Scholarship At The University Of Chicago.
In this interview, we speak with Martin Pestana, a student-athlete who demonstrates how personalized attention and passion can lead to success. Martin shares his experience of being accepted to the University of Chicago with an almost full scholarship and how his homeschooling prepared him for academic success in college. He also tells us about how he prepared for the university admission process with the help of USP and how his experience can motivate others to pursue their own dreams.
Martin Pestana is a prime example of how personalized education and passion can lead to success. From a young age, Martin demonstrated his love for tennis and his unrelenting curiosity drove him to overcome obstacles and achieve great goals. Despite not attending a traditional school, his parents provided him with a rigorous and comprehensive education at home, ensuring that he had a solid foundation.
This education gave Martin the flexibility to travel and compete in tennis tournaments in different parts of the world, which helped him develop leadership, resilience, and perseverance. Martin diligently prepared for the admission process that resulted in an offer to attend the University of Chicago, receiving guidance from USP, with who they worked closely to help him present the best version of himself in his application and to develop effective strategies for addressing the challenges and obstacles he faced during the process.
Martin’s success in gaining admission to one of the most prestigious and competitive universities in the world is an inspiring testament that nothing is impossible if you have the will and determination to achieve it. His story is a reminder that success is not limited by the educational environment and that personalized learning can be a great option for those seeking to develop their skills and talents. I am excited for the opportunity to speak with Martin about his journey and plans for the future, and how his experience can motivate others to pursue their own dreams:
How do you feel about being accepted to the University of Chicago with a nearly full scholarship?
When I received the admission letter, I simply could not believe it. It was a very long journey, specifically due to the demanding three months it took me to prepare the application. Although the initial excitement fades over time, every time I look back at all the effort on my part, my family’s, and USP’s, I am filled with pride knowing that all the sacrifices were worth it.
I always wanted to study economics. I love math, which I think I inherited from my father. During my recruitment with USP, we considered the best universities in the world in that field. Over the two-year process, we narrowed down our options, including universities like MIT or John Hopkins, and staying with what we believed would be best for me in terms of academics, tennis, and economics. At the end of the process, our first choice was divided between the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, two of the top ten universities in the United States. I ultimately decided to apply to UChicago as my first choice, for several reasons, including the outstanding economics faculty (one of the best in the world with thirty Nobel Prizes in economics and over one hundred Nobel Prizes in total).
How do you think your homeschooling education prepared you for academic success in college?
I believe it was one of the main reasons for my academic and athletic achievements. My parents were pioneers, especially my mother, who led the homeschooling. When they took me out to give me a homeschool education, many people thought they were crazy. The idea of homeschooling was relatively new in 2010 for may peers. Faced with all opposition and criticism, my parents decided to continue with their long-term plan.
The ability to manage my own schedules, to advance at my own pace, and to have access to all kinds of information raised my potential. Homeschooling gave me time, a very valuable resource. I could train more hours, study without interruptions, and grow in other important areas for me, such as service in my church and practicing the violin, an instrument I have played since I was three years old. The homeschooling system that my parents hired was excellent, and it made me love studying. I ended up realizing that I was the one who benefited the most. When I realized I enjoyed learning, my academic life changed. I started having the willpower to study, to read more, and to go that extra mile.
Many young athletes see the academic side as a tedious obligation, and therefore, they put very little effort into studying. During a tennis tournament abroad, obviously any young person in their right mind would prefer to go to the movies with their friends in their free time instead of staying at the hotel doing homework. However, sacrifices must be made in life.
How did you prepare for the University of Chicago admission process?
I consider that there are two types of preparation. Long-term preparation and short-term preparation. In the long-term preparation, you have to develop skills inside and outside the classroom that make you stand out from the rest. In other words, the famous extracurricular activities. I worked on this for several years, long before I had the University of Chicago in mind. In addition to my studies, I play competitive tennis, the violin, and did a good amount of social work in my church.
Regarding short-term preparation, I believe that the key was standardized tests. In addition to my school obligations, I studied a semester for the SAT/ACT. As the exam date approached, I devoted more time to it. It was something similar with the TOEFL exam. I got an ACT of 34/36 and a TOEFL of 115/120. This was an important milestone to achieve my goal. The SAT or ACT are exams that can change your life.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the University of Chicago admission process?
We had two completely different challenges. The first one was the tennis side. I had to convince the coach that I was the player he needed. UChicago had only two foreigners on a team of 17 people, so it was not going to be an easy task. The challenge was to position myself on his list of candidates and climb positions, both for my results on the court, and my personality. Oscar, from USP, taught me to write to him every week congratulating him on his results. Additionally, I commented on his interviews and kept him informed of my tournaments, always letting him know that UChicago was the university of my dreams. I must have been the most insistent applicant, but he didn’t seem to mind.
However, I believe that the biggest challenge was standing out from the other applicants academically. University of Chicago has a 6% acceptance rate. Every year, 40,000 students apply and only 2,000 are accepted. Being such a selective university, most applicants had excellent grades in high school and great results on standardized tests. For example, the average SAT score of my UChicago class was 1530 out of 1600. The opportunity to stand out was in the essays and presenting my extracurricular activities in the most attractive way possible. With the help of the USP team, mainly comprised of my advisor Oscar Miranda and the admissions expert Katie Arango, also known as ‘Katie from Admissions’ in my household, I wrote and revised several drafts for each essay. The final result of my three essays was splendid, in my opinion.
What advice would you give to young people who are looking to pursue their passions, whether in sports or education?
To believe in hard work and in themselves. Every reward requires sacrifice. Whether as a professional athlete, student, entrepreneur, or anything else, in order to be the best, you have to do what “others” don’t do. Seek excellence. And above all, let the desire to do things well, whether in sports or in studies, come from within, and not from external motivation.