Muskaan Bhaidani (Class of 2020): Journey to university and the Academy's impact | Aga Khan Academies

Muskaan Bhaidani (Class of 2020): Journey to university and the Academy's impact

Muskaan Bhaidani is an alumna of the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa who was in the Class of 2020. Graduating with an impressive International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) score of 44 out of 45, Muskaan is now attending McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Read on to see what Muskaan says about university life and how her time at the Academy contributed to who she is today. 

Can you please tell us about yourself, Muskaan? 

I did the IB DP from 2018 to 2020 and took economics, geography and English at higher levels and mathematics, biology and French at standard levels. At the time, I took these subjects purely out of interest, and I really enjoyed what I did. However, I’ve always wanted to work in the development sector, so I think geography and economics played into that really well. I also did my extended essay in French since I wanted to improve in it, but now that I am studying in Quebec, it’s been really helpful. 

How did you manage to narrow down your interests to zone in on a career path finally? 

That’s such a big question to answer! Honestly, I still don’t think I know for sure what I want to do. I think that the path that I’ve chosen to take is just to keep going ahead with doing what I like, which right now is international development with a focus on food insecurity. In fact, I did my personal project at the Academy around food insecurity, and passion has definitely stuck with me over the years. I’ve also taken an interest in social entrepreneurship, which I could potentially see myself pursuing in the future. Right now, however, I’ll be going with the flow and figuring things out one step at a time. 

How did you find the university application process? What did you find challenging, and how did you choose between all the universities you got into? 

The university process is definitely difficult and scary because of the uncertainty it entails. I applied to the US, UK and Canada. I personally felt that applying to Canada was a much easier process since you don’t have to send in any standardised test scores or personal statements. Their supplementary requirements, if any, are very minimal compared to the UK and the US. And since a lot of Academies students end up coming here, it’s nice to know that you have an established system to fall back on if you need to. I think the main reason I got accepted to the universities I applied to was because of my academic performance and extracurricular activities that I took part in at the Academy which have carried me to university. As for how I decided on McGill in the end, it was mainly a lot of research and making pros and cons lists. I tried to compare universities in terms of the course I’ll be studying, what I want to do in the future, opportunities I would get while still studying, acceptance rate, etc., and McGill stood out to me in all these aspects. Montreal is a great city for students, and I am glad it worked out! 

What have you done since you joined university that you are most passionate about? 

I have been a part of multiple clubs. One, in particular, is IYAD (IRSAM Youth Advisory Delegation), a youth advisory delegation to the United Nations, where we write policies and present them at the UN Headquarters in New York every year, and it’s been something I’m really passionate about as I used to participate a lot in Model UN. I am now an executive in the club! I also took part in Enactus, a social entrepreneurship club where we mainly try to help local businesses thrive, and it has been a rewarding experience. Lastly, I am also a member of the varsity artistic swimming team – I used to do a lot of swimming at the Academy till COVID-19 happened, and this was the perfect way to get back into it in an artistic form I had never done before! 

How has university life been? And how have you been preparing yourself for this upcoming exchange programme you are participating in? 

Life at McGill differs a lot from person to person, but it mainly consists of class in the morning, followed by any extracurriculars you may have taken up. I also have a student job as a student advisor, so I have that in my routine as well, besides swimming and clubs. Going into your third or fourth year in university also means you have to cook for yourself and run your own household of sorts – this actually makes up a substantial portion of a student's schedule. I don't find it to be incredibly different from the high school experience, it’s just more diverse in terms of what you study within your specified subject. I will be going on an exchange to UCL in London next semester. Of course, I’m nervous, but I’m looking forward to immersing myself in a new culture since I’ll only be there for three months. I do consider Montreal home now that I’ve lived here for three years, and going away from home is daunting. I hope it feels as welcoming as Montreal. But from what I understand, London is very diverse, with lots of things to do, and I know I need to put myself out there and be open-minded. 

How has the Academy helped shape you and prepare you for university? 

The Academy has taught me how to put myself out there confidently by never limiting me and assuring me that I can do anything I set my heart to. It has a way of boosting your self-esteem and shows you your strengths and uniqueness. I engaged in a lot of communal activities and opportunities at the Academy, so I don’t find it difficult to do the same at university, whether that’s applying for a challenging course, position or an exchange programme.  

How important do you think it is for students to reach out to Academies alumni? 

I think it’s very important. We all leave school and make great friends at university, but the friends you make at the Academy are just different because it is so easy to spend time with them for hours and feel surrounded by a sense of community and warmth. In fact, my roommate now at McGill is a good friend of mine from the Academy. It is easier to reach out on an established Academies-centric network if and when you need help, especially because all of us who have been through the application process are always willing to help whenever we can. Having an alumni community only makes it more accessible and convenient to reach out. 

Do you have any advice for students going through the university application process right now? 

Work on your predicted grades, those are very important. Build good relationships with your teachers and they can direct you on how to constantly get better at your subjects. And, this might sound cliché, but be authentic in your applications. You never know what a university wants in its essays, and in a pool of incredibly smart and talented applicants, the only way to truly stand out is to be your unique self. So, focus on what you are interested in as opposed to what you think others might find interesting.

Interview conducted by DP2 student Samhitha Paruchuri from the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad.