Kieren attended Sydney Church of England Grammar School where he pursued his passion of writing and has followed it all the way to the US (Harvard, Boston to be exact) where he is now working on two social enterprises. There’s much to learn from his words (and the passion and hard work that shines through)!
Hi Kieren :) What's it like to grow up in Sydney?
I loved growing up in Sydney! Having spent some significant periods of time across several countries, there’s nothing like home and I’ve yet to experience a place that can truly rival Sydney as a place to live in long-term. When I was in primary school my dream of being a novelist began and although I have a lot of interests, my writing pursuits are the bedrock of who I am. Going to Shore was a great time and a really important period to solidify many of my passions like debating and journalism, which continue to shape my life today. Among other factors, the opportunities I was able to take advantage of during high school made a huge difference in being able to come study here in the US.
What inspired KRES International Admissions ?
I started KRES after I realised there was a huge absence of support in Australia when I was looking for information and support in applying to study overseas. Despite good intentions, my school didn’t really know how to help students who want to get into a top university in the United States or England, and there are a lot of misconceptions out there as well as a general dearth of useful information.
So what's your vision with it?
I realised that the best way to get into a top university was to learn from someone who had done it themselves and so that’s what we do with KRES. It’s a social enterprise geared entirely to helping young Aussies get into quite literally the world’s best universities, and we achieve this by having top students at Harvard, Oxford and similar top colleges mentor high school students across extra curriculars, leadership, applications and more.
What motivates you to put time into it on top of a Harvard schedule?
I take time out of college to work on KRES because I really, really want to see more Australians studying overseas as undergraduates. Too often we don’t even think of studying abroad, or at least not until postgrad, and so generations of students are missing out on the opportunities available to them abroad. Studying here at Harvard is life-changing for me and my goal is to empower more and more Australians to experience it.
Tell me a bit about the creation of your latest biz?
Last summer break (winter at home in Sydney) I opened Knowledge Pod Education. We opened doors in Gordon and to start with, we teach public speaking, debating, English and logical reasoning and critical thinking classes. My mission with Knowledge Pod is to empower students to be change-makers in their communities.
The skills that we teach are all geared towards developing our students into discerning young leaders capable of making real change happen; be it through innovation, entrepreneurship, academics, or what they achieve later in life. Important to me has been to make sure our teachers are true experts and I’ve been thrilled to be able to have World University Debating Championships adjudicators, young adults with Masters degrees, rising writers and people who have represented Australia at international tournaments teaching our classes.
Sounds like a very valuable enterprise! Advice on the importance of confidence (+ debating)?
Debating and public speaking have been incredible pivotal for my life. I’m more excited than nervous these days but I definitely haven’t forgotten the first time I ever gave a debate speech, where my legs where literally shaking as I stood up to present!
Debating is amazing for building up confidence to speak in front of crowds but what it also gave me was the tools to be able to be persuasive and argue strong points in any setting. In the classroom or over meals, getting into a proper intellectual discussion is so much more fruitful because of my times debating, and during HSC, it also was a huge boon in helping me do well in English, French and Economics essays. Something I didn’t realise at the time is also how great these debating skills are for business. I’ve relied on my ability to argue at every important moment in developing my enterprises and would be lost without those skills.
Although debating often gets typecast in schools, it’s incredibly valuable and if you want to be equipped with the skills you’ll need to do well in the HSC, at university, in entrepreneurship or a more traditional career, then pursue debating and grow your public speaking and argumentation skills.
What does a typical day look like at Harvard?
Everybody’s schedule at Harvard is a smorgasbord of academics, work, extra curricular and of course enjoying time with friends. This semester I’m taking maths, economics, statistics and comparative literature but will be focusing more on the humanities in future semesters. A typical day sees my first class at 10am, lunch with friends, an afternoon class and then a few meetings for different extra curriculars and a range of study, homework, never-ending emails, and working on my social enterprises. Sleep is often what goes when times get busy, but I have some remarkable friends who manage to get at least 8 hours each night. It’s also important to carve out time for myself and to see good friends as well as go to awesome talks that we get through the Kennedy School or other grad schools and departments here.
So from your work at KRES, can you give me a quick pointer about what U.S. colleges look for?
Colleges are really interested in who you are at a personal level, so you need to engage them with your story just as much as you want to have been a top performer academically. Follow your passions, set big goals that are going to push you hard, and show that you’ve extended yourself and followed through on what’s important to you.
Thank you! What about the U.K.?
There’s definitely some overlap (academics, extra-curriculars, etc.) but their application is less holistic and requires students to focus more on their capacity to make strong arguments and be analytical, critical thinkers.
Any general advice for high schoolers, looking back on your experience?
One of the biggest pieces of advice I could give to current high school students is to find activities that are going to push you out of your comfort zone, particularly in an intellectual way.