Student Spotlight: Bence

Interviewer: Jamie Hoversen

First Year Undergraduate Student at Grinnell College (Grinnell, Iowa)

Bence Borosi is a motivated and enthusiastic student who is a native of Hungary and attended Fazekas Mihály Gimnázium in Budapest.  Last Autumn Bence sought assistance at the Fulbright EducationUSA Advising Center in Budapest while applying to colleges and universities in the United States for the 2013-2014 academic year.  Bence was extremely successful in his pursuit to study in the U.S. and received admission to many schools, including several full-ride scholarships. His final decision was to attend Grinnell College in Iowa where he is majoring in Political Science and Economics.  The following interview with Bence Borosi offers advice about applying to schools in the U.S. as an international student, as well as providing insight into what it is like being a student at a liberal arts college in the United States.

Bence will be back in Budapest over winter break and will be presenting at the Fulbright EducationUSA Advising Center about Grinnell College and his experience as a first year student there. The presentation will take place on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 15:30. Previous registration is required for this event at or +36-1-462-8050.

School Profile:

Location: Grinnell, Iowa

Student body: 1650 students

School ranking: 17th best liberal arts college in the U.S. (U.S. News and World Report)

Admissions: very rigorous, 8% of internationals admitted

ACT mid-50: 29-33

SAT mid-50: 1310–1480 (critical reading and mathematics)


What motivated you to apply to undergraduate programs in the United States?

As far as I can remember, my goal was to study in the U.S. At first, it was just a dream, but as I got closer and closer to my senior year in high school, I started thinking about it seriously. I started my research and became familiar with the U.S. higher education system, and in particular, the liberal arts system. This was probably the most important factor in my decision. The liberal arts system is an amazing opportunity for students to really follow their passion, because they can explore and experiment with different fields freely. I, for example, am interested in political science and economics, yet I am not only allowed, but encouraged to take courses in psychology or anthropology, or even in physics or performing arts.

What were the most important criteria for you when trying to decide which schools to apply to?

The first and foremost criteria were academic rigor and reputation. Coming from a competitive high school, I value hard work and I am convinced that it will pay off in the long run. Furthermore, I believe that if my family is willing to pay for my education, the least I can do in return is to select an institution that pushes me to my limits.

Another very important factor is money. There is no denying it, American education is pricey. Coming from Hungary, it is incredibly hard to pay U.S. tuition fees, so I had to look at schools that provide substantial financial aid to international students. Fortunately, there are some such colleges and universities.

What advice can you give to Hungarian students looking to study in the United States?

Decide whether you really want to study in the United States, or just abroad in general. I am by no means trying to discourage you, but getting accepted to your dream university or college in America is not going to be easy.

If you are sure that the United States is the place to be, do your research. There is a huge selection of institutions here, all with their own character, all with different strengths and weaknesses. Find the ones that fit you, and try to gather as much information as possible. Look at their website, read student blogs, email the faculty responsible for international admissions, and try to connect with current students. Always remember that you will spend four years of your life at college – you want this time to be great.

But before you settle with a few institutions, please, look at their financial aid page first. I spent hours and hours on websites of different colleges, just to find out later that they don’t offer financial aid to international applicants. This is crucial.

If you have a few (5-10) institutions in mind that also offer financial aid, find safety choices. You are not guaranteed to get in to your first choice of college. Not your GPA, not your standardized test results, not your essays guarantee you a place. The American system of getting into colleges and universities is really different compared to the Hungarian one. There are many factors that they base their decisions on, and you can never know what will be the decisive factor on your application. Many people get turned down by lower ranked and less rigorous schools than they end up attending in the end – and I am no exception. You need to find places that you would be happy to go to, even if they are not your first choice. In conclusion: aim high, but remember that aiming high does not mean Ivy League only.

What was it about Grinnell College that really convinced you it was the right choice?

The fact that it is among the very best liberal arts colleges in the United States was a very important factor in my decision. Also, the college has a strong tradition of social justice, which is something I also consider important.

Grinnell also has two distinctive features: open curriculum and self-government. Open curriculum means that over the course of four years, there is only one required course, “Tutorial” in the first semester. Apart from that, everybody is free to take any course. Even though there are many liberal arts colleges in the United States, very few of them allow their students to do that. I think this policy shows just how committed Grinnell is to the liberal arts system.

Self-governance or self-gov in short means that students are expected to make responsible choices and face the consequences of their choices. This means fewer rules in terms of residence life for example. Of course, there are rules, but the main expectation of self-gov is that students decide not do something not because of the rules, but because they are mature enough to see that it would be harmful. In a sense, self-gov gives a lot of freedom to students, but this freedom can be dangerous if misused. This is what the main point of the system is: helping students to become responsible adults.

And again, I have to mention money. Grinnell gave me a good financial aid package (more than full tuition) that made my education affordable. I couldn’t have chosen this college without the substantial aid I was given.

Now that you have completed your first semester at Grinnell, can you talk about how it was settling into a new school and culture?

Settling into a new culture was not very difficult. All international students arrived a few days earlier than domestic students, so I was among people who were just as new to the United States as I was. Furthermore, staff and faculty at Grinnell tried to make the transition as pleasant as possible, and my fond memories of the International Pre-Orientation Program indicate that they did a great job.

Settling into the school was a little bit harder to be honest. It is a small college in rural Iowa (essentially the middle of nowhere), so there’s the college, and…well, there’s the college. Not a lot of options to go out, and since it’s a small school, you quickly become familiar with virtually all the faces on campus. However, it has a lot of upsides as well. I really enjoy knowing a bunch of people, and I absolutely love that I can always see familiar faces wherever I go – be it the Dining Hall, the gym, or an open lecture with professors about the shutdown of the U.S. government. Furthermore, there is lots to do on campus. Honestly, I barely have any free time, so even if the campus was located elsewhere, I probably wouldn’t go out more often, or if I did, my academics would suffer.

What types of student organizations or programs that Grinnell College offers are you involved with or plan to get involved with during your time as a student?

I am currently involved with the Student Endowment Investment Group, a group that manages a portfolio of stocks. The current value of our portfolio is about $125,000. As for other organizations; I have yet to check out our debate club, and unfortunately, despite being interested in it, I can’t be part of the Student Government’s first year committee, because the meetings are at the same time as those of the investment club’s.

As for our other programs, we have amazing opportunities for students who want to study-off campus. We have a one semester long program in Washington D.C., during which students can work with private companies or NGOs in the heart of American politics. Furthermore, we have study abroad programs on every continent. Students can go to China, Australia, Tanzania, Costa Rica or even to Hungary. If you fancy cheating the system and want to spend your “study abroad” semester at home, Grinnell can even help you with that. Also, many of our study abroad programs are at well-known and prestigious universities. Maybe the best examples to illustrate this is the program at LSE, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the program at the University of Melbourne.

In conclusion: the possibilities are almost endless. Whether there is a specific field you want to immerse yourself in or a particular part of the world you would like to live, you can most likely make that happen while at Grinnell.

What is your favorite thing about Grinnell so far?

In short: the people, the professors and the fact that there is always something to do.

People here are very open-minded, and even if they have different opinions, they always respect the beliefs of others. It is also very easy to approach basically anyone on campus. During the International Pre-Orientation Program, we had lunch with the football team (for us, Europeans: American football), to debunk the myth of “dumb athletes” – and I have to be honest, I was very pleasantly surprised. They are very cool guys, and despite not having the same interests, we did have great talks with them – and also, now we say hi to each other.

As for the professors, they are very friendly. Students are always welcome in their offices, and they are trying to help with any problems we might have, even if the problem itself is not related to their subject. Also, every student has an adviser, a professor that helps with selecting the courses, finding and using resources and even with planning a semester abroad or getting an internship.

Lastly, the number of activities on campus is countless. There are organizations for virtually everything, from having Nerf wars on Friday nights in our science building to sci-fi club, to the investment group that manages a $125,000 portfolio. If there is anything, however, that there is no organization for, every student is free to create one, and if there are enough students backing it, the school will provide funding. Grinnell is among the wealthiest colleges in the United States, so not only are all the facilities top-notch, but the school tries to make the students’ lives easier and more comfortable. Oh, and did I mention that we have our very own movie theater?