Kosisochukwu Ugorji: How I Overcame Academic Struggles to Achieve a 4.06 GPA at Columbia University

Kosisochukwu Ugorji: How I Overcame Academic Struggles to Achieve a 4.06 GPA at Columbia University
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Remember the butterflies of showing your report card to your parents? Well, I have been there. Growing up in Nigeria, these moments were filled with anxiety. Fast forward to today, I graduated from Columbia University—an Ivy League school in the United States—with a stellar 4.06 GPA. Here’s how I moved from feeling defeated in elementary school to excelling beyond the regular GPA  scale. I hope my journey will inspire you.

I was born and raised in Nigeria, I attended Lagoon Secondary School and Bridge House College before heading to the U.S. to pursue a degree in Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Columbia University. Contrary to what some might think, I was not born a genius. I was just a regular student who found effective methods through trial and error. My life has been filled with ups and downs, underpinned by unpredictable events that have shaped who I am today. One significant event occurred two years before my primary school graduation from Emerald Primary School after a viewing of the movie “Gifted Hands.” The story follows Ben Carson who transforms his life through perseverance and determination. He eventually became a neurosurgeon performing impossible surgeries, such as removing the entire right hemisphere of an epileptic patient’s brain with no complications and successfully separating Siamese twins.

Ben Carson’s story inspired me to embark on my journey to discover my academic passions. It all started with a library card membership and a program instituted by Emerald School that same year to reward the person who read the highest number of books. I got the prize at the end of the year for reading the most books, and my grades also improved tremendously, earning me 5th place when I was comfortably last or second to last.

My story continued through secondary school at Lagoon Schools, where I graduated as valedictorian with the best WAEC results in 2019 in Lagos State (the second-best WAEC result in Lagos State also came from my school). There, I continued my habit of reading widely.

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I eventually got into Columbia University after attending Bridge House College, with the additional help of mentorship received at EducationUSA and my family’s support, especially my mother, who read all my essays. At Columbia, I met some of the most intelligent people I have encountered from around the world. There were real geniuses and prodigies who I enjoyed working with and learning from. They were also kind and willing to help. On the flip side, I also encountered people who tried to demean my intellect and some who ignored my presence. I had already been raised with good values and a strong self-esteem, so I consciously didn’t allow these people to get to me.

Other things affected me during this time. One, the educational system was quite different; there was no standard note-taking structure, textbook to follow, or standard exam periods. Most of my assignments could not be finished in one day. You needed critical thinking for every aspect of your education. You had to showcase an understanding of the assumptions behind theories, not just the theories themselves. Processes were taught in exceptional detail, yet you needed to keep the big picture in mind as well. Furthermore, living in a city like New York provided distractions, with many activities to engage in, things to try, and events to attend. I was also juggling many extracurricular activities, applications, and internships alongside academics.

I ended up winning several awards along with my degree, including:

– Columbia Engineering Student Activities Award: Recognizing my significant contributions to student activities and campus life.

– Senior Marshall: An accolade given to graduating students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and service.

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– Inclusion and Advocacy Leadership and Excellence Award: For my dedicated service to the international student population at Columbia.

– Multicultural Affairs Leadership Award: For my contributions to enhancing multicultural life on campus.

I feel obligated to share my story because someone else’s story helped me direct mine. I have also started an initiative called KIBS (Knowledge is Better Shared).  Below, I provide nine controllable factors that I believe contributed to my academic success.

Key Factors to My Success
  • Community: The support from my friends at Columbia was invaluable. Learning to collaborate, seeking help, and choosing the right community can propel you forward.
  • Adapt to Your Learning Style: Everyone has a unique way of learning. I found that combining various techniques like concept maps and summaries helped me grasp complex concepts better.
  • Learn from Others: I saved precious time by learning from books and peers rather than trying to figure everything out on my own. For instance, I improved my grades by adopting a friend’s study technique. So even though you have your unique way of learning, you can also learn from others.
  • Focus on Learning Not Just on Exams: I aimed to truly understand the material, not just pass exams. Although exams are sometimes flawed, they often reflect your understanding of the subjects.
  • Progress is Messy: Learning is a nonlinear journey filled with challenges. Stay resilient and keep pushing forward even when it’s tough.
  • The Bar is Your Past: Instead of comparing yourself to others, strive to be better than you were yesterday. Every little progress counts.
  • Celebrate Your Little Wins: It’s essential to acknowledge your small victories; they set the stage for larger successes.
  • Discipline and Passion: While having passion is crucial, combining it with discipline is what really drives success. My faith has been a cornerstone in maintaining my discipline.
  • You Can Only Store So Much in your Brain: Keep reminders of your passions and motivations in places you can easily see them. They help you during tough times.
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Achieving a perfect CGPA isn’t the ultimate goal. There are many things to take out of a university program, including research, starting initiatives, or even learning new skills like playing the violin. I share my story not to set a benchmark but to encourage you to pursue your dreams.

 

 

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Kosisochukwu Ugorji (Kosi) is an incoming PhD student at Johns Hopkins University, specializing in Biomedical Engineering. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Columbia University, where she majored in Biomedical Engineering and minored in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. During her undergraduate studies, Kosi earned multiple honors and leadership awards, recognizing her commitment to academic and extracurricular excellence. A passionate advocate for healthcare and education, she co-founded the KIBS Initiative—Knowledge Is Better Shared—which focuses on improving access to education. At Columbia, she was actively involved in numerous hackathons and conferences dedicated to healthcare innovation, contributing her knowledge and insights to advance the field. Outside of her professional and academic pursuits, Kosi enjoys exploring new places, tasting different foods, and indulging in a variety of hobbies.

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