Nairobi News

NewsWhat's Hot

No, you don’t have to be an A-student to get into Ivy league schools

You do not have to be an A student for you to be admitted in the Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities.

Nairobi News spoke to three students who did not perform exceptionally well in their KCSE exams yet managed to join Harvard College, London School of Economics and Cambridge University.

What was common with the three top scholars was that they learned what worked for them in school and what did not. The three also engaged in co-curriculum activities and participated in community service.

Sheila Olang’, who will be joining London School of Economics this September, says that in her secondary school she came to accept that she needed to put in early morning hours of reading for her to grasp concepts.

“I have never been an A student. I had classmates who did not read as I did but performed exceptionally well in the exams, , I had to attend all classes and put hours of reading for me to pass my exams,” Sheila told Nairobi News in an interview.


“I would tell candidates and anyone in school right now to know themselves and not to flow with the crowd, to know their weaknesses and their strengths, for me I know listening to the teacher in class makes it easier for me when I get to read the notes,” said Sheila.

She explains that she got a B+ in her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education but her active involvement with Child Rights Club which she formed at Kisumu Girls while in Form Two set her well above the rest.

Going to a recognized university is likely to help open doors for their future.

Edwin Magema, who graduated from Harvard College in May 2015, says that for a candidate to be admitted to top schools in the world, among other things, admission considers an individual characteristic such as brains and motivation.

“They also look at what you have done to help the society around you.”

This is one of the attributes that lock many A-students from being admitted to the top schools in the world.


“For me, I used to be involved in a lot of community projects at home. I would marshal people to do tasks such as filling up gulleys and trenches to make the roads passable,” he said.

Edwin studied at Weiwei Secondary School, a school tucked in the middle of Central Pokot with only seven teachers employed by Teachers Service Commission and three other teachers who had cleared school a few years back and came back to aid in teaching. The school had a total population of 135 students due to its perpetual poor performance.

Having lost his parents at a tender age of seven, Edwin was brought up in a foster home. He scored 384 out of a possible 500 when he sat his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education.

He remembers that his secondary school did not have enough laboratory apparatus and in his Form Four he did less than five practicals for the science subjects.

Mbutu Kariuki, an alumnus is Cambridge University in England, the world fourth-oldest university, shares a similar humble beginning story.


Mbutu studied in a Kiranja Day School in Kirinyaga County and managed to score a B. The circumstances under which he was able to score the grade were appalling as the school had a record of poor performance.

Learning in a day school had its own unique challenges as he explains how he rented a small single room where he commuted daily to school.

“I did not even apply to join university because I knew I would not get a grade good enough to secure me a place in the public university in Kenya,” Mbutu told Nairobi News in a telephone interview.

Mbutu explains how it is possible for one to pick up the pieces though later in life.

When he was admitted to the University of Nairobi, he studied Bachelor of Education but dropped out in second year to start studying psychology afresh at the same institution.

“I studied really hard in the university. Seeing that I had not performed well in KCSE, I had to study hard, I managed to score a First Class at the end of university,” he said.

The good score, coupled with involvement to help youth keep off drugs and alcohol and reaching out to young women in prostitution among others,  caught the eye of the admission team at Cambridge University.

He is currently pursuing a PhD in Development Psychology, Children and the Law at University of Otago in New Zealand