The university system in France is unique compared with those of other countries. Students first take a qualification exam called the baccalaureat to gain admittance into the university system. However, students who aim for upper-level universities, the grandes ecoles, must also attend a preparatory school offering a two-year course of study for another entrance exam.
My prep school, the lycee Saint-Louis, was located in an exclusive residential area of Paris. I had my sights set on attending France's leading business school, the Hautes Etudes Commerciales, or the HEC Graduate School of Management. My cousin Ralph, who is eight years older than me, had graduated from HEC. He worked at a bank, had his own apartment in Paris and was the symbol of success in my eyes. So I sent my resume and transcript to Ralph, and asked him to recommend me for the prep program for HEC.