3 Memorization Techniques for High School Students

Memorization Techniques for High School Students

Memorization Techniques for High School Students

It’s time for class. You sit down, pull out your notebook, and spend the next hour taking copious notes on everything the teachers says. Maybe you even organize your notes into a neat outline, and highlight a few key points here and there.

Congratulations--you’re doing things right! Science has shown that taking notes while you’re learning something helps you remember the material better.

But then, the bell rings. You close your notebook, head to your next class (or, click over to it, if you’re doing online learning), annnnd …never look at your notes again. That is, until a day or two before a test.

Does this sound familiar?

If so, we’re here to tell you that while you’re certainly on the right track to not just learning but learning things well, there’s still a lot more you could be doing.

It’s easy to take notes within the structure of class time, but when it comes to actually reviewing the material, on your own time, in a way that will truly commit it to memory? Well, that’s a whole other story.


3 Memorization Techniques for High School Students

Note-taking is just one step in a wide array of techniques for learning and memorizing information.

We're talking about the techniques that competitive memory athletes — otherwise perfectly average people with average memories — use to pull off superhuman-seeming feats of memory, like quickly memorizing the order of an entire deck of cards, or a long list of random numbers. 

Chances are that you’re not planning to enter a national-level memory competition anytime soon.

However, you probably do have more immediate needs that could be served by learning how to memorize information efficiently, whether that be recalling the periodic table of contents for your next chemistry quiz, memorizing SAT vocabulary, trying to score extra credit by rattling off more digits of the number Pi than your classmates, or describing the Krebs cycle without the aid of notes.

Fortunately, how humans commit information to memory, and the most effective way to do so, is a rich area of academic study, with many decades of research devoted to the topic.

Whatever reasons you have for wishing to master this skill, there already exist a number of tried-and-true techniques for memorizing large amounts of information. We’ve boiled down the great wealth of available information into the three most useful takeaways!

1. Visualize the information — and orient it in space

Have you ever noticed that when you open your textbook, your eye automatically travels first to the photographs, charts, and other graphics on the page?

That’s because we’re naturally oriented toward the visual. Try incorporating that into your note-taking and review sessions, by creating with your own imagery to help visualize information.

For example, try to come up with a visual for especially important information and drawing it in the margins of your notebooks.

Maybe the number 6 looks to you like a nose, so you visualize a nose every time you think of a 6, and from there, remember that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 by conjuring an image of the founding fathers gathered together and sniffing the fresh ink on the document. Over time, all it will take is a quick doodle of a nose to help you remember information related to the number 6.

Another great way to engage with and process the information, and therefore commit it more strongly to memory, is to translate it into a chart or graph. Making flashcards of the information, where one side of the flashcard is a drawing of some type, is also a great way to memorize things.

Have fun with it by unleashing your inner artist and making use of markers and highlighters of various colors! Color coding is a great way to group related ideas together in your notes.  

Beyond all this, you can remember even more information if you situate it spatially, using a technique called a “memory palace.” Have you ever noticed that when you’re trying to flip back to something you read in a physical book, you often have a vague sense of where on the page the information was?

Once again, that’s because we’re wired to remember both visual and spatial information — so well, in fact, that we do it effortlessly all the time as we’re moving around in the world.

“Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t need to recall phone numbers or word-for-word instructions from their bosses or the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum or (because they lived in relatively small, stable groups) the names of dozens of strangers at a cocktail party,” writer Joshua Foer puts it in the New York Times Magazine.

“What they did need to remember was where to find food and resources and the route home and which plants were edible and which were poisonous. Those are the sorts of vital memory skills that they depended on, which probably helps explain why we are comparatively good at remembering visually and spatially.”

The memory palace technique supposedly arose from a discovery made during the fifth century B.C. The poet Simonides of Ceos was allegedly the only survivor of a deadly banquet-hall collapse, and when asked to recount who had been killed in the collapse, realized that he was able to easily remember every guest in the hall, and where they’d all been sitting.

“From that simple observation, Simonides reportedly invented a technique that would form the basis of what came to be known as the art of memory,” writes Foer. “He realized that if there hadn’t been guests sitting at a banquet table but, say, every great Greek dramatist seated in order of birth — or each of the words of one of his poems or every item he needed to accomplish that day — he would have remembered that instead. He reasoned that just about anything could be imprinted upon our memories, and kept in good order, simply by constructing a building in the imagination and filling it with imagery of what needed to be recalled. This imagined edifice could then be walked through at any time in the future.”

How would this translate to memorizing study materials?

If you’re trying to remember, say, a timeline, assign an image to each event on the timeline, and then place each image inside an architectural space of some type, along a route you know well.

For example, you might conjure your childhood home, and use the route you take from the front door to your bedroom. Picture yourself walking in the front door, and seeing the first image from the timeline hanging on the wall, the next image at the base of the stairs, and so on. You could use the same technique to memorize a long string of numbers, by assigning a visual to each digit, then placing each of those images in your childhood home, or another space you know well.

2. Replace cramming with short, frequent review sessions

News flash: We don’t remember information well when we cram all our studying into one giant session.

Monotony interferes with our ability to remember things — that’s why we tend to remember the beginning and ending of a reading passage, but not the middle. All-nighters are even worse, since studies have shown that sleep plays an important role in helping us commit information to memory.

In fact, it’s helpful to break up your studying by doing completely unrelated activities, or at least switching to studying very different subject matter, in between short sessions.

(For example, 20 minutes of trigonometry followed by 30 minutes of art history, then 30 minutes of reading for English class, then going for a walk, then studying 20 more minutes of trigonometry, will help you remember that trig material better than if you studied trigonometry for 40 minutes straight.)

Ideally, you should also review newly learned information as soon as possible after class. As you probably know instinctively, you remember more right after hearing or learning the information, and over time, forget more of it.

We recommend not only reviewing the information soon after class, but doing so actively — for example, through some of the techniques mentioned above like translating your notes into visuals and charts. Another great way to commit the information more deeply to memory is to summarize your notes soon after class. (The Cornell note-taking method, an interesting technique recommended by many educators, advises this as well.)

The review session doesn’t need to be long — maybe 25 minutes, maybe less; whatever you need to go back over everything and boil it down into as summary and/or visuals. Then from there, set short, frequent review sessions of your notes and readings — not long, about 10-15 minutes is enough. From there, space additional review sessions over time at a lower frequency.

Just how far apart all these sessions should be spaced depends on what time period you need to learn it over. If you’re learning material for an end-of-semester test several months in the future, review sessions can obviously be spaced farther apart than if you’re preparing for a quiz at the end of the week. The important thing to remember is that frequency of study and effective spacing of study sessions is more important than length of time spent studying in individual sessions.

And since novelty and variety helps with memory, try switching up your study routine.

That could mean studying in different locations, or studying at a different time of day than usual. Because of sleep’s proven role in committing information to memory, just before any nap times, or before bedtime, are especially great times for reading material that you want to commit to longer-term memory.

3. Find a study buddy

To all of this we’ll add one more tip that builds on the previous one: it’s enormously helpful to occasionally switch things up by studying with a friend.

The reasons are numerous — for one, it’s a way of changing up your environment and bringing more novelty into your study session. Your friend will bring a new and different way of thinking to your study, for example, by making comments or jokes about the material which will help you remember it even more strongly.

Moreover, having another person there enables you to engage with and process the information in a wider range of ways.

One great technique is to take turns teaching the material to each other — it will force you to summarize what are probably a large amount of notes into a more digestible summary, to read things out loud (which research has shown significantly improves your memory of the material), and, not least of all, to have more fun while studying.

We remember things better when there’s an emotion tied to the experience, so why not make the best of things by having a good time, creating positive emotions, and in the process, remembering things more vividly. It’s a win-win for everyone.


Greg & Kevin

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem-solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


Self-Directed Learning

The Importance of Self-Directed Learning

Many successful, high-achieving students share one quality: the capacity to learn on their own.

Whether they're independent research scientists, self-taught artists, or simply curious young minds, these students are proficient in self-directed learning.

We encourage all of our students, wherever they are at in the college admissions process, to reflect on the importance of independent learning--and to think of ways they can incorporate it into their schedules.

What is Self-Directed Learning?

The term can mean different things to different people, but, generally speaking, self-directed learning is a pedagogic approach in which students largely steer their own education.

You might say that they follow their curiosity by deciding what they want to learn and determining how to best acquire that knowledge.

“A self-directed learner is a person who takes responsibility for their education, for their attainment of knowledge, and their development of mastery,” writes David Handel, a retired physician and creator of flashcard software company IDoRecall, who frequently discusses learning topics on Medium.

“They are capable of determining not only what they want to learn; they can determine what they need to learn. They can recognize gaps in their knowledge and then develop plans to narrow the gaps. Finally, they execute on those plans and acquire the missing knowledge.”

Becoming a Self-Directed Learner

But how does one become a self-directed learner?

Handel, who describes himself as having been a “mediocre student” throughout grade and high school, argues that the most important skills for self-directed learners to develop are “learning how to learn,” and from there, the ability to exercise metacognition, or “thinking about your thinking.”

Self-directed learners are able to think critically about their own learning: They can recognize the gaps in their own knowledge, or as the expression goes, “know what they don’t know.” And, in filling in these gaps, they’re also able to periodically step back and assess the approach they’ve been taking, identify any shortcomings, and adjust or revamp it accordingly.

Metacognition, writes Handel, is “a supervisory kind of thinking and not at all passive. It is the act of observing your cognition and interrogating your thinking. This prevents your everyday cognition from accepting and filing away to memory inputs from the external world that may be misinformed or outright bogus.”

These are the skills that help student distinguish credible sources from bogus ones — a crucial life skill these days, when the internet is awash with misinformation.

Of course, like anything, self-directed learning still benefits from a certain amount of structure. Creating a learning plan with a schedule, concrete goals and deadlines, and perhaps even a budget, will help learners push themselves toward a deeper level of knowledge than, say, that of a mere hobbyist. It will also help learners know when they’re making progress, which in turn will deliver a sense of satisfaction that encourages them to continue.

One method that might help with planning is to find existing lesson plans around a topic you’re interested in studying. Many professors share their course syllabi online, so browse around — chances are high someone has already done the work of structuring out a learning plan for you, though obviously, you can tailor their timelines to better match your own preferred pace.

Another useful resource is the the Cutting Edge Course Design Tutorial by Barbara J. Tewksburg and R. Heather Macdonald.

Self-Directed Learning Resources

Happily, there are a great deal of free ebooks, academic journals, online courses, etc. available online that may help in your educational journey.

Here are just a few:

  • Coursera: take university courses for free
  • Khan Academy: instruction videos around math and science topics, mostly at the secondary school and university levels
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    •    Coursera: take university courses for free

    •    Khan Academy: instruction videos around math and science topics, mostly at the secondary school and university levels

    •    OpenCulture: open-source ebooks, audiobooks, videos, etc.

• The Directory of Open Access Journals: enormous database of science, technology, medicine, humanities, and social science journals

    •    JSTOR: free articles across disciplines on their open-access site

    •    Google Scholar: always a good source for free PDFs of academic work

    •    Manchester University Press: open-access social science and humanities books and journals

    •    Unpaywall: this app legally redirects you to free versions of otherwise paywalled journal articles

    •    Academia.edu and ResearchGate: access papers uploaded by academics

    •    Project Gutenberg: one of the largest troves for free ebooks

    •    LibriVox: free public-domain audiobooks

    •    Online Books: a digital archive hosted by the University of Pennsylvania

    •    Duolingo and Memrise: free language learning apps

These are just a few of the many resources out there for students looking to steer their own learning. Obviously, there’s no one right approach, and every person is different when it comes to what works best. The important thing is to keep trying, assessing, and adjusting accordingly.

The reward speaks for itself — a way of living life in which you will always be interested, engaged, and growing.

As Handel writes, “The adults who tend to have the greatest success in their careers, who contribute the most to the betterment of society, and who achieve the highest degree of self actualization are, by-and-large, self-directed learners lifelong learners.”


Greg & Kevin

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem-solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


How I Got Into Princeton - Natalia (Story #18)

How I Got Into Princeton - Story #18

Natalia's Story

"The pressure to succeed was internal."

Meet Natalia, a member of Princeton's class of 2021.

In high school, Natalia pursued a packed schedule of academics, extracurricular activities, and volunteering opportunities. She maintained exceptional grades, earning high marks on AP exams and membership in National Honor Society, and contributed many hours to the Red Cross and her school's Homework Help Center.

Natalia attributes much of her success to her own internal drive and commitment to others.

"No one ever pressured me to achieve anything," Natalia reflects. "I wanted to be happy with myself and therefore pushed myself often."

Please read below to learn more about Martin and the personal qualities, values, and support system that have allowed him to succeed.

We recommend reading from beginning to end but feel free to skip around. Our favorite section is the "What Makes You You" section, where Martin describes his unique qualities and how they contributed to his personal and academic success.

About this Series

In our "How I got Into" series, we share the stories of successful applicants to Princeton and other great colleges.

Our profiles go beyond a simple list of academic and extracurricular achievements. We also delve into the “how” and the qualities that successful applicants exhibit.

We provide a rare look into what drives these students, how they've overcome their challenges, how they've been shaped by significant events in their lives, how they deal with the pressure to succeed, and much more.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

SECTION 1 - FAMILY
SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING
SECTION 3 - ACTIVITIES
SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS
SECTION 5 - THE COLLEGE APPLICATION
SECTION 6 - DAY IN THE LIFE
SECTION 7 - WHAT MAKES YOU YOU
SECTION 8 - CONCLUSION

Disclaimer

Here's what we're NOT doing with this series:

  • We are NOT prescribing an over-engineered approach to college admissions
  • We are NOT presenting a blueprint for how you should get into college
  • We are NOT suggesting that you must gain admissions to a selective school to be successful (you most certainly do not)

Here's what we ARE doing:

  • We are presenting data and sharing stories
  • We are providing context that you usually don't see to highlight that we are more than just our grades and GPA
  • Our ultimate goal is to uncover the values and personal qualities that drive successful applicants

Whether you are considering selective colleges or not, it is our unwavering belief that our values and personal qualities (and luck) are the major contributors to success.


SECTION 1 - FAMILY

My parents wanted me to feel I had given my best.

Geography

Birthplace: Lapy, Poland
Where did you grow up? Hillsborough, NJ, USA

Siblings

# of older siblings:  2
# of younger siblings: 0
Sibling Education Levels:  Law Degree, Bachelor Degree
Where did your siblings go to college?  Law School in Warsaw Poland and Rutgers University

Parents

Parent's Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both Parents
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Machine Operator
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: High School
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: None
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: Technical School

Parent Beliefs

How would you characterize your parents' parenting style(s)?

Laid back

On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the most important), how important to your parents was:

Academics 3
Extracurriculars 3
Service 3
Family 3
Friends 2
Physical Health/ Fitness 2
Mental Health 4

Did your parents have specific philosophies regarding any of the areas above?

My parents always wanted me to try my best and feel that I had given my best.


SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: Hillsborough Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: Hillsborough High School
High School City, State: Hillsborough, NJ
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 620

SECTION 3 - ACTIVITIES

I enjoy seeing the smiles on peoples' faces when I help them.

Jobs

Did you work in high school?  Yes
What kind of job/s did you have? I worked as a receptionist at a local dental office. I also worked at an ice-cream shop, babysat, and tutored.
Average hours/week worked? 15 hours
Why did you work? I worked so that I could have spending money of my own as well as learn the ethics of working. It was expected of me to get a job just to enter adult life.

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

I loved volunteering and participating in service organizations. The most important activities were Homework Help Center, Red Cross, and hospital volunteering.

Homework Help Center: I started out volunteering here freshman year. I would spend about 2 hours a week helping young students do their homework. I really loved this experience as I found great pleasure in providing students with tricks to multiply, etc. Senior year I took leadership of the organization and was involved in planning out the schedule for other volunteers, advertising the program, and considering ideas for further expansion. I had to stay in touch with our community partner, the local library, and ensure all rules and time commitments were being respected.

Red Cross: Similarly, I joined the Red Cross when I was a freshman. I started out by helping at the blood drives and attending hand washing campaigns for young kids. The second year I took on more roles and helped coordinate some of the drives myself. Finally my junior and senior year I was on the executive board. I did most of the volunteer requirement, retention and event promotion work. I found it really exciting because it better connected me with my student body and made me more devoted to the club as a whole. I got to interact with the community and figure out what the needs really were.

Hospital Volunteering: Sophomore year I began volunteering at the hospital. I worked at the maternity ward and every week for 2+ hours I would fold blankets, make birth guide packets, transport patients, stock gloves, and any other miscellaneous task that I was given for that day. This task made me realize that service isn’t doing the grand thing of saving the patient's life but it starts as something small, more foundational, like birthing packets. These tasks carry value, too. It is about what the community needs and not necessarily about what we might want to do.

Extended School Year Volunteer: Over the summer I worked with individuals with disabilities to continue their learning. I mostly worked with the younger grades and practiced skills with them such as eye contact and other primary motor skills.

How much time did you spend on these things?

I spent around 10 hours a week on these things.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

They first came to me freshman year when I decided to volunteer at a hospital.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

Over time I began participating in more organizations and soon realized that I loved volunteering. I joined several other clubs such as Homework Help Center, the Red Cross, as well as began helping at the local food distribution center.

What level of achievement did you reach?

In terms of achievement, I soon became the president of several of these clubs.

Tell us a little bit about how you achieved these achievements?

I simply devoted my heart to the club and took on leadership roles. I came to meetings regularly and participated in external service meetings.

What kind of support did you have?

I had the support of my parents in terms of them cheering me on and taking care of my basic needs such as food and car fuel. I also had the support of teachers who were always kind to me. I often talked with them about anything and everything and soon grew a relationship with the advisers of those clubs.

What kind of sacrifices/challenges did you overcome to achieve these extracurricular results?

I often had to pick between my friends and family time. I feel that I chose my extracurricular activities often, which did lead me to miss out on some memories.

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

My major service organization was volunteering at the hospital. I absolutely loved it and did it every week for over 2 hrs for 3 years. I also volunteered at a free health clinic, a homework help center, and the Red Cross.

How much time did you spend?

On average, per week, I spent 2 hrs at the hospital, 1 hr at the homework help center, 2 hrs at Red Cross, and 3 hrs at the free health clinic.

Why did you choose this activity?

I chose this activity because I love medicine, therefore it was perfectly up my alley. Additionally, I enjoy seeing the smile on peoples' faces when you help them. I simply like interacting with others and this allows me to do that freely.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

Summer after 9th grade, I went to Poland to visit my family. 

Summer after 10th grade, I worked at the dental office and volunteered at a program for individuals with disabilities. I also volunteered at my local church camp.

Summer after 11th grade, I participated in a religious program in Trenton that worked with adults with disabilities. I also volunteered at my school with individuals with intellectual disabilities and helped out at my local church camp.


SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: Top 10%
GPA - Weighted: 104.25
GPA - Unweighted 94.57

SAT/ACT

How many times did you take the SAT? 3
How many times did you take the ACT? 2
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? SAT: 2160, ACT: 35
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? Yes, I did take a Kaplan class for SAT
How many hours did you study in total? 100
When did you start preparing for the test? January
When did you take the test? 11th grade and Fall of 12th

Do you know which test to take? Check out our recommendations here - Should I Take the SAT or the ACT?

Not sure WHEN to take the test? We created 9 Sample Testing Schedules to help get you started

SAT Subject Tests & AP/IBs

Which SAT Subject tests did you take? 

Biology: 740

Which AP/IBs did you take?

AP Biology (4), AP Chemistry (5), AP Literature (5), AP English Composition (5), AP US History (5), AP Calculus AB (5)

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

I almost always had straight As. I frequently got the highest grades in Chemistry Class and History. I was also in National Honor Societies.

What do you attribute your academic success to?

I studied a lot.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents supported me by providing me with basic necessities.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

No.

What kind of sacrifices/challenges did you overcome to achieve these academic results?

I often had to not spend time with my parents, barely got any sleep, and was always driving from one place to another in a whirlwind.

Any specific approaches/tips & tricks to studying that were particularly helpful for you?

I found that rewriting my notes and redoing class problems several times helped me the most.


SECTION 5 - THE COLLEGE APPLICATION

Applications & Acceptances

Did you apply as an international or domestic student? Domestic
Did you apply regular or early? Regular
How many schools did you apply to? 8
Were you a legacy applicant at any of these schools? No
Were you recruited for athletics, arts, music, etc...? No
Did you declare a major? Did this end up being your actual major? Yes. I declared biology and became that major.

Which schools did you apply to (that you remember)?

Princeton University, Cornell University, Boston College, University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, Johns Hopkins University, The College of New Jersey, Drew University, New Jersey Institute of Technology. Read more


Taking a Gap Year (1)

Taking a Gap Year: Should You Do It?

Taking a Gap Year: Should You Do It?

Though considered a normal rite of passage in the UK and Europe, gap years have taken longer to catch on in the United States.

However, taking gap years has become more popular over the last decade or so, as students, parents, and educators have come to understand the value of devoting time to personal growth while transitioning between life stages.

The Benefits of Gap Years

It helps that more data is emerging about the benefits of gap years.

The Gap Year Association, a nonprofit that accredits such programs, found that 90% of students who take a structured gap year return to school within a year, and are more likely to graduate on time and with a higher grade-point average. 

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, told USA Today that taking a gap year “…could actually help students succeed in college.”

And Mark Sklarow, chief executive officer of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, told the New York Times, “A higher percentage of those who took a gap year will complete college than those who do not.”

“A gap year gives us time for more introspective evaluation and some thinking about what we want to do and, more importantly, why we want to do it,” writes Princeton undergraduate Jae-Kyung Sim in an October 2019 Daily Princetonian piece. He ends with the advice, “One year of break will not only prepare you better for Princeton but also broadly for your career path and life.”

Taking a Gap Year

What should I do during my gap year?

What a gap year looks like is up to you. Many students do gap years after graduating high school and before starting college, but some take them partway through college.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to how to spend that time, but common options are

  • volunteering or service work
  • traveling
  • participating in an internship
  • working to save money for college, or
  • engaging in independent study (which can help students figure out what they want to major in)

All of these are activities that can help young people develop valuable life experience and better self-understanding, and therefore, arrive on campus more focused and mature.

“Being plugged into another culture caused me to learn a lot about myself and reach a different level of maturity and readiness that I would not have had without the year,” writes Cody O’Neill on the website of the Princeton Gap Year Network, a student group at Princeton University that supports students who take gap years.

One thing to consider is whether to do your gap year through a program run by your college, through a formal organization that handles the logistics of gap years for students, or on your own.

As an example of a program run by a college, Princeton University has the Novogratz Bridge Year Program, which “allows incoming students to begin their Princeton experience engaged in nine months of tuition-free, University-sponsored service at one of five international locations.

Bridge Year participants study the local language, live with carefully selected homestay families, and take part in a variety of cultural enrichment activities, while learning from host communities through their volunteer work.” Interested students may apply to the program through the website.

Beyond university-run programs are the following:

For those interested in politics, Election 2020 Gap Year helps students volunteer with election campaigns.

Many of these, like Global Citizen Year and Rotary Club, have the added benefit of offering financial aid. AmeriCorps covers most expenses, while the nonprofit Service Year Alliance offers paid long-term service opportunities.

Finally, of course, there’s the option of designing your own gap year. That might mean finding an internship, volunteering locally, trying to build a business, or creating your own learning experience, whether that be taking online courses or studying a foreign language. Most universities require students to submit a plan detailing their goals and how they they plan to achieve them.

“I tell students to come up with three to five personal, practical or professional goals,” advised Julia Rogers, board president of the Gap Year Association and the owner of EnRoute Consulting, in the New York Times.

Practical Considerations

There are a number of logistical considerations that need to be worked out when it comes to the nuts and bolts of making a gap year happen.

Get University Approval

For one, chances are that you’ll need to get approval from your university.

Start by looking up whether your university has resources around supporting students taking gap years. For example, the website of the student-run Princeton Gap Year Network includes all kinds of helpful resources, like a handbook; FAQ about what the process is like; links to other resources, at not just Princeton, but other universities like Middlebury College, and other outside organizations; and suggestions of what students can do during their time off.

When all else fails, call or email the admissions or undergraduate affairs office directly, and they can direct you to the right method for securing approval to take a gap year. At Princeton, returning students considering a gap year must contact their residential college deans, while newly admitted students must contact the admission office.

Financial Aid

Another significant consideration is that it’s almost entirely certain that students who defer a year will have to reapply for financial aid the following year.

Again, on-campus resources like Princeton’s Gap Year Network can be an invaluable aid in figuring out how to do it, and whether there’s any risk of not receiving as much aid the next year.

What about COVID-19?

The ongoing pandemic obviously affects what kind of gap year students can or should take. Gap year plans involving travel are particularly tricky.

Even if travel restrictions lift everywhere, it seems prudent to assume that any student who travels should be prepared for the possibility of seeing border restrictions imposed at any time in the U.S., the country they’re visiting, or even within a country, in the counties and towns they’re staying in.

For now, the New York Times reports, “Some organized programs that offer immersive trips abroad — like Amigos International, Where There Be Dragons, and Thinking Beyond Borders — are still enrolling students for fall 2020, with generous cancellation policies.”

It might be a safer bet to stay in the U.S. But for students hoping to get out of the house, there may still be plenty of adventurous and structured opportunities that involve working in the field — including working on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. For structured programs like Election 2020 or AmeriCorps and other service organizations, check out the websites for their various programs for updates on their Covid-19 policies. 

All of that said, be aware that some schools are disallowing gap years altogether right now. And even if they aren’t, many are warning that services that require advance budgeting, such as housing, financial aid, and dining plans, may not be guaranteed if students defer a year.

The Princeton University campus paper, The Daily Princetonian, reported in May that “Due to housing and enrollment constraints, students who take gap years this fall may not be guaranteed immediate return to the University,” adding that “If too many students choose to take leaves of absence for the 2020–21 school year, over-enrollment could occur the following year, putting a strain on housing and dining services.” In other words, taking a gap year could turn into two years off.

For some, that could be worth it. For others, that’s all the more reason to hunker down now and devote oneself to virtual college in the fall. At the end of the day, only you are qualified to judge what course of action is right for you.


Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg Wong and Kevin Wong

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They were engineering majors at Princeton and had successful careers in strategy consulting and finance. They now apply their data and research-backed problem solving skills to the college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


11 College Essays That Worked

11 College Essays That Worked

Bonus Material: 30 College Essay Examples

In this regularly updated post, we share the admissions essays that helped students get into their dream schools.

But this isn't simply a collection of college application essays.

We also provide a link to in-depth profiles of the authors who wrote the essays, providing you with the most comprehensive picture available of the nation's most successful applicants.

While you should always craft the best essay you are capable of, please remember that the essay is but one component of the application process! The essays you'll read below are all of varying quality, but each one of these students gained admission to the most selective schools in the country.

You can also find 19 more college essays that worked below.

Here's what we cover in this post:

  1. College Essay #1 - It Takes More Than Wishing Upon a Star
  2. College Essay #2 - "I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier"
  3. College Essay #3 - "You know nothing, Jon Snow"
  4. College Essay #4 - "I'm still questioning"
  5. College Essay #5 - "My place of inner peace"
  6. College Essay #6 - "So this is what compassion is all about"
  7. College Essay #7 - "I believe that every person is molded by their experiences"
  8. College Essay #8 - The California Cadet Corps
  9. College Essay #9 - "I never want to lose what we had in that corner"
  10. College Essay #10 - "It is the effort that counts, not the result"
  11. College Essay #11 - "The problem of social integration"
  12. Bonus: 30 College Essay Examples

COLLEGE ESSAY #1 - It Takes More Than Wishing Upon a Star

Author: Destiny
Class Year: Princeton University 2020
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Harvard University, Williams College, Duke University, College of William & Mary, Davidson College, Boston College, Johns Hopkins University, Texas Christian University

At eleven years old, I wrote the New York Times best-selling novel, The Chosen, the first installation in a trilogy that would become the newest sensation of the fantasy genre, and grow to be even more popular than the Harry Potter series. At least, that what I originally imagined as I feverishly typed the opening words of my manuscript. I had just received a call from my parents, who were on a business trip in London. While touring the city, they heard about an amateur novel writing contest open to all ages, and thought that I, as an amateur writer, would be interested. All I had to do was compose an original manuscript of merely 80,000 words and submit it to an office in London, and I could win $20,000 in addition to a publishing deal.

I hung up the phone with a smile plastered on my face. Never mind that I was barely eleven, that my portfolio consisted of a few half-page poems from elementary school, or that the contest was taking place on another continent, I was determined to write the most extraordinary fantasy novel ever created. For months afterward the sight of me was accompanied by the tap, tap, tap of my fingers flying across the keyboard, and the sharp glint of obsession in my eyes. The contest in London closed, a winner was chosen. I didn’t care. I kept writing. After a year I had stretched my writing project into a three hundred page novel. I scraped together a few dollars of allowance money, slapped it in my mom’s hand, and asked her to have Staples print a bound copy of the manuscript.

She handed me my magnum opus when I got home from school that day. I ran my fingers across the shiny laminate over the cover page, caressed the paper as if it were some sacred tome. After more than fourteen months fleshing out characters and cultivating mythologies, I was ready to publish. With the copy in hand I ran to my dad. “Read it and tell me what you think!” I said, imagining the line of publishing companies that would soon be knocking down my door.

Within two weeks my father handed it back to me, the pages now scrawled over in bright red ink. “You’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told me, with his typical soul-wrenching brusque.

I stared at him for a moment, jaw locked tight, eyes nearly brimming with tears. He proceeded to list for me all the things I needed to revise for my next draft. Less colloquial dialogue, vivid descriptions, more complex subplots, the list went on and on.

“A serious author doesn’t get offended by constructive criticism,” he said, “whether you take my advice or not will prove whether or not you are one.”

My dreams fell like the Berlin wall. What was the point of slaving over a novel if I had to start from scratch again? My father’s advice would force me to rewrite the entire novel. What sort of writer was I, that my work warranted such substantial alteration?

As I soon learned—a normal one.

Today, six years, 10 drafts, and 450 pages later, I am finally close to finishing. Sometimes, when I’m feeling insecure about my ability as a novelist I open up my first draft again, turn to a random chapter, and read it aloud. Publishing that first draft would have been a horrible embarrassment that would have haunted me for the rest of my life. Over the past half-decade, I’ve been able to explore my own literary voice, and develop a truly original work that I will be proud to display. This experience taught me that “following your dreams” requires more than just wishing upon a star. It takes sacrifice, persistence, and grueling work to turn fantasy into reality.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Destiny's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY #2 - I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier

Author: Emma
Class Year: Princeton University 2021
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Duke University, Northwestern University, Cornell University, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of California Berkeley, University of Michigan

I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier. Ever since I was a child, I have been in search for all that is spicy. I began by dabbling in peppers of the jarred variety. Pepperoncini, giardiniera, sports peppers, and jalapeños became not only toppings, but appetizers, complete entrées, and desserts. As my palate matured, I delved into a more aggressive assortment of spicy fare. I'm not referring to Flamin' Hot Cheetos, the crunchy snack devoured by dilettantes. No, it was bottles of infernal magma that came next in my tasting curriculum.

Despite the current lack of certification offered for the profession which I am seeking, I am unquestionably qualified. I can tell you that a cayenne pepper sauce infused with hints of lime and passion fruit is the perfect pairing to bring out the subtle earthy undertones of your microwave ramen. I can also tell you that a drizzle of full-bodied Louisiana habanero on my homemade vanilla bean ice cream serves as an appetizing complement. For the truly brave connoisseur, I suggest sprinkling a few generous drops of Bhut Jolokia sauce atop a bowl of chili. Be warned, though; one drop too many and you might find yourself like I did, crying over a heaping bowl of kidney beans at the dining room table.

Although I consistently attempt to cultivate the rarest and most expertly crafted bottles of molten spice, like an oenophile who occasionally sips on five dollar bottles of wine, I am neither fussy nor finicky. I have no qualms about dousing my omelets with Cholula, dipping my tofu in pools of Sriracha, or soaking my vegetarian chicken nuggets in the Frank's Red Hot that my mom bought from the dollar store. No matter the quality or cost, when gently swirled, wafted, and swished; the sauces excite my senses. Each initial taste, both surprising yet subtly familiar, has taught me the joy of the unknown and the possibility contained within the unexpected.

My ceaseless quest for piquancy has inspired many journeys, both gustatory and otherwise. It has dragged me into the depths of the souks of Marrakech, where I purchased tin cans filled with Harissa. Although the chili sauce certainly augmented the robust aroma of my tagine, my food was not the only thing enriched by this excursion. My conquest has also brought me south, to the valleys of Chile, where I dined among the Mapuche and flavored my empanadas with a smoky seasoning of Merkén. Perhaps the ultimate test of my sensory strength occurred in Kolkata, India. After making the fatal mistake of revealing my penchant for spicy food to my friend's grandmother, I spent the night with a raw tongue and cold sweats. I have learned that spice isn't always easy to digest. It is the distilled essence of a culture, burning with rich history. It is a universal language that communicates passion, pain, and renewal. Like an artfully concocted hot sauce, my being contains alternating layers of sweetness and daring which surround a core that is constantly being molded by my experiences and adventures.

I'm not sure what it is about spiciness that intrigues me. Maybe my fungiform papillae are mapped out in a geography uniquely designed to appreciate bold seasonings. Maybe these taste buds are especially receptive to the intricacies of the savors and zests that they observe. Or maybe it's simply my burning sense of curiosity. My desire to challenge myself, to stimulate my mind, to experience the fullness of life in all of its varieties and flavors.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Emma's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY #3 - "You know nothing, Jon Snow"

Author: Shanaz
Class Year: Princeton University 2021
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Duke University, Williams College, Boston College, Brandeis University, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Stony Brook

"You know nothing, Jon Snow”

Being an avid Game of Thrones fanatic, I fancy every character, scene, and line. However,Ygritte’s famous line proves to be just slightly more relatable than the incest, corruption, and sorcery that characterizes Westeros.

Numerous theories explore the true meaning of these five words, but I prefer to think they criticize seventeen-year-old Jon’s lack of life experience. Growing up in a lord’s castle, he has seen little about the real world; thus, he struggles to see the bigger picture until he evaluates all angles.

Being in a relatively privileged community myself, I can affirm the lack of diverse perspectives —and even more, the scarcity of real-world problems. Instead, my life has been horrifically plagued by first world problems. I’ve written a eulogy and held a funeral for my phone charger.

I’ve thrown tantrums when my knitted sweaters shrunk in the dryer. And yes, I actually have cried over spilled (organic) milk.

Well, shouldn’t I be happy with the trivial “problems” I’ve faced? Shouldn’t I appreciate the opportunities and the people around me?

Past the “feminism v. menimism” and “memes” of the internet, are heartbreaking stories and photos of life outside my metaphorical “Bethpage Bubble.” How can I be content when I am utterly oblivious to the perspectives of others? Like Jon Snow, I’ve never lived a day in another person’s shoes.

Fewer than three meals a day. No extra blanket during record-breaking winter cold. No clean water. I may be parched after an intense practice, but I know nothing of poverty.

Losing a loved one overseas. Being forced to leave your home. Coups d'état and dictatorial governments. I battle with my peers during class discussions, but I know nothing of war.

Denial of education. Denial of religion. Denial of speech. I have an endless list of freedoms, and I know nothing of oppression.

Malaria. Cholera. Cancer. I watch how Alzheimer’s progresses in my grandmother, but I know nothing of disease.

Living under a strict caste system. Being stereotyped because of one’s race. Unwarranted prejudice. I may be in a minority group, yet I know nothing of discrimination.

Flappers, speakeasies, and jazz. Two world wars. Pagers, hippies, and disco. I’m barely a 90’s kid who relishes SpongeBob episodes, and I know nothing of prior generations.

Royal weddings, tribal ceremonies, and Chinese New Years. I fast during Ramadan, but I know nothing of other cultures.

Hostile political parties. Progressive versus retrospective. Right and wrong. I am seventeen, and I know nothing of politics.

Is ignorance really bliss?

Beyond my community and lifetime exists myriad events I'll never witness, people I'll never meet, and beliefs I'll never understand. Being unexposed to the culture and perspectives that comprise this world, I know I can never fully understand anyone or anything. Yet, irony is beautiful.

Embarking on any career requires making decisions on behalf of a community, whether that be a group of students, or a patient, or the solar system.

I am pleased to admit like Jon Snow, I know nothing, but that will change in college.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Shanaz's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY #4 - "I'm still questioning"

Author: Aja
Class Year: Princeton University 2020
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement - Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
School Acceptances: Princeton University, MIT, University of Maryland, Stern College for Women, Queens College and City College

I walked down the pale pink stone pathway, up a ramp, past the library building, and towards the Student Activities Center of the college campus, carrying a large brown cardboard box. People might’ve taken note of the load I was carrying, and particularly the other high school students with whom I ate my dinner. Out of the box I grabbed my meal, which was wrapped in two separate plastic airplane meal style trays; one container for the side and one for the main. I tried not to call attention to myself as I unwrapped the tight double wrapping of plastic around both trays.

My actions and practices were the same, but for the first time I stood out. While I was eating my meals, in the lab, or during the lectures, I began to ask myself some questions.

Was it worth continuing to strictly observe my customs in such an environment? I thought.

Could I afford to take time away from the lab to walk to the kosher restaurant to pick up lunch? Was continuing to dress in a long skirt, on hot summer days and with additional lab dress codes, worth the discomfort? Was it worth standing out from most other people?

The science experiment that I performed that summer in a way mirrored the experiment that I “performed” to test my practices. My lab partner and I researched the current issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria strains, which left certain bacterial infections without an effective cure; this was our observation. We then hypothesized that an alternative mechanism of destruction, by physically slicing the bacterial membrane, would be more efficient. Similarly, I hypothesized that an alternative life path without my religious practices might be an “effective” life path for me, as it had been for the students that I met, with the added social benefits of fitting in. I hypothesized that perhaps my own life would be “effective” or fulfilling without these practices, as it was for the students whom I had met. Wearing our purple nitrite gloves, our safety goggles pressing against our faces, my partner and I began to prepare our tiny metal chips, containing a thin coating of polymer blends, which would prick the membranes of the bacteria cells.

In my personal experiment, the “testing” stage became tricky. I didn’t put on my lab coat, and start spin casting my solutions or pipetting liquids onto surfaces. I didn’t even try eating some food that was not kosher, or actively violate my practices. My experiment eventually went beyond the scientific approach, as I questioned in my thoughts. I had to determine what my beliefs meant to me, to find my own answer. I could not simply interpret results of an experiment, but needed to find my own interpretations.

I found from my experiment and questioning within my mind that my practices distinguished me from others, thereby allowing me to form relationships on the basis of common interest or personality, rather than cultural similarities, that summer. I valued the relationships more, and formed a deep connection with my lab partner, whom I had found was similar to me in many ways. We talked about our very different lives, genuinely interested in one another’s.

I’m still questioning, and I think the process does not end, which is part of what makes my religious practice important to me – it urges me to constantly reflect on my values and the moral quality of my actions. I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish that “experiment,” but by experiencing and valuing the practices and lifestyles of other people, I also got to reflect on my own. That summer showed me that the questions themselves proved my practices were valuable to me, and left me with a stronger commitment to my religious faith than I had before.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Aja's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY #5 - My place of inner peace

Author: James
Class Year: Princeton University 2019
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University

Simply put, my place of inner peace is the seat of that 50 foot sliver of carbon and kevlar called a rowing shell, cutting through the water in the middle of a race. This is the one situation in which I find myself to be completely comfortable; the one environment in which I feel most empowered, at home, and content, despite it being quite at odds with the conventional definition of the word "comfortable". There is something special about a rowing race; that 6 minute, 2000 meter tour de force that many who have truly experienced one (and all who have emerged victorious) will describe as the most painful, and yet the most thrilling activity they have ever been a part of.

The pain of rowing 2000 meters is like nothing else I have ever experienced. It is a short enough distance so that there is no pacing (it's all out, everything you've got, from start to finish), but at the same time it's long enough to require every ounce of strength and will power to reach the finish. By the end, the lungs scream out for oxygen, and the legs, chest, and arms all burn as if boiling water has been injected into every pore. The mental toughness required to drag oneself through this ordeal, from the moment it starts to hurt 30 seconds in to the moment you cross the finish line, is immense. The psychological state that is entered into during a race is one of unparalleled focus, drive, and will to win.

The race begins with six boats lined up side by side, tensed and ready to pounce. The umpire then makes the call, “Attention. Row” in a tone that seems entirely too casual for the occasion, and the bows spring forward. What was moments before an atmosphere of complete silence is transformed into a world of noise. Here is a short list of things one hears at the start of a rowing race: the authoritative yell of the coxswains, the rhythmic click of the oars, the fluid swish of the water under the boat, the roar of the officials’ launches falling in behind the boats. I always find it funny though, that while the tense silence of the pre-race moments dissolves so quickly into noise from every direction, a rower can only actually hear any of it for a surprisingly short period of time. This is because at about two minutes into a race, a rower begins to lose his senses. Scent disappears completely, touch is negligible, hearing dissolves into nothing but the calls of the cox, and sight reduces itself to a portrait of the back of the rower in front of you. It is in this bizzare state of mind and body that I am truly in my "comfort zone".

The pain is intense, yes, but I have felt it before. I feel it quite regularly, actually. The training a rower goes through to prepare for a race begins months in advance and consists of pushing oneself to the limit; repeatedly putting oneself in positions of pain and discomfort so that when crunch time comes, a rower is truly without fear of what lies ahead of him. This is how I feel when the going gets tough at around two minutes in: fearless. In these moments I feel invincible; I feel like I was born to do exactly what I am doing right then and there. In these moments I am completely and totally content.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out James' story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY #6 - So this is what compassion is all about

Author: Amanda
Class Year: Princeton University 2019
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Rutgers University

So this is what compassion is all about? Piece of cake.

Joey was a sweet, ten-year-old boy who could derive pleasure even in the most prosaic of activities: catching a balloon, listening to music, watching other children run, jump, and play. But Joey himself was confined to a wheelchair – he would never be able to participate in the same way that his friends without physical disabilities could.

Joey was the first child assigned to me when I began volunteering for the Friendship Circle, an organization that pairs teenage volunteers with special-needs children. Right from the start, I was grateful for being matched up with this sweet, easy-going child; I felt immense relief at how effortless my volunteering commitment with Joey could be. Simply by wheeling my friend through tiled halls and breezy gardens, I simultaneously entertained him and inspired others with my acts of kindness.

Piece of cake.

Truthfully, though, during my time with Joey, I felt more than a little virtuous and pleased with myself. There I was, able to impress everyone with my dedication to Joey, with only minimal effort on my part. My experience with Joey led me to mistakenly believe that I had, by the age of thirteen, attained a complete understanding of what a word like “empathy” really meant. I was complacent in my comfort zone, confident that I understood what compassion was all about.

Then I met Robyn, and I realized how wrong I was.

Prone to anger, aggressive, sometimes violent (I have the scar to prove it). Every Sunday with Robyn was a challenge. Yoga, dancing, cooking, art, tennis – none of these activities held her interest for long before she would inevitably throw a tantrum or stalk over to a corner to sulk or fight with the other children. She alternated between wrapping her arms around my neck, declaring to anyone who passed by that she loved me, and clawing at my arms, screaming at me to leave her alone.

One day, after an unsuccessful attempt to break up a brawl between Robyn and another girl, I found myself taking dazed steps towards the administrator’s office. I was near my breaking point, ready to quit. In that moment, though, I vividly recall looking up and seeing Robyn’s parents walking down the hall coming to pick her up. Tired eyes. Weary, but appreciative smiles. A realization then struck me: I was only with Robyn for one day a week. During the rest of the week, Robyn was the sole responsibility of her parents. The same parents who once confided in me that Robyn behaved no differently at home than she did at the Friendship Circle with me.

Robyn’s parents undeniably loved her. There were even moments when Robyn transformed into one of the sweetest children I had ever met. But she was no Joey. Sweet, easygoing Joey. Joey who I thought had taught me true empathy. If I was such a saint, how could I give back to Joey’s parents, but not to Robyn’s? How could I not provide them a brief respite every week, from the labors of caring for her? Was I sincerely an empathetic person if I could only be so when it was easy? Was I truly compassionate because others thought I was? Complacency does not equate with compassion; true empathy is not an ephemeral trait that one possesses only when it suits him or her – when it doesn’t require him or her to try.

Progress exists in steps. The first steps were the ones I took with Joey, my earliest experience in volunteering. But the steps I took away from the administrator’s office, the steps I took back toward Robyn, were the steps of a different person, I like to think.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Amanda's story here]

You can read 19 additional college essays that earned students acceptance into top-tier colleges. Grab these essays below.


COLLEGE ESSAY #7 - I believe that every person is molded by their experiences

Author: Martin
Class Year: Princeton University 2021
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, University of California Berkeley, University of California Davis, University of California Santa Cruz, CSU Sonoma, CSU Long Beach, CSU San Jose, CSU Chico, New York University

I believe every person is molded by their experiences whether they be positive or negative. I have been impacted by many events and challenges, both personally and socially, that have made me who I am today.

I was born in Concepcion de Buenos Aires in Jalisco, Mexico. My dad did not always live with us and worked doing manual labor in the United States every three months to provide income for us transitioning between the United States and Mexico when he could. When I was six, my Spanish-speaking family immigrated to the United States. Once here in the United States, I found English difficult to learn at school since it was brand new to me. English-speaking students always had to translate for me which motivated me to become fluently proficient by third grade.

In addition to the language barrier at school, my family would constantly move due to apartment rent increase, so I never grew accustomed to a group of friends.  Because of this, I had social difficulties in elementary school.  I remember hardly speaking in class and not playing any recess games unless invited. I recall playing tetherball mostly by myself and observing the children with longing eyes. In the sixth grade, my social life began to change; I met my best friend, Luz. We fostered a tight-knit bond immediately, and my confidence developed little by little each day. As each year passed, I acquired more confidence to become more sociable, but my awkwardness did not completely go away.

My earlier language barrier, my soft-hearted and quiet personality, and my social self-consciousness found me drawn to playing with girls and not sports with the other boys. I soon began to feel excluded by boys asking me why I played with girls; it made me feel small and different from the rest. Looking back, I have never been the “masculine boy” as society says my role to be. I have always thought I do not fit the social definition of a male as one who is “manly” and “sporty” and this alienating feeling of being different still persists today at times. However, I also have become more comfortable with myself, and I see my growth firsthand throughout high school.

In my freshman year I began to come out of my shell and develop self-confidence, largely due to my participation in choir and drama class. In these classes I could be myself and found my real voice. Here I felt a connection to a family not connected by blood but by a unifying passion in the creative arts.  That connection allowed me to confide in my friend Luz my struggle with my personal identity. One day I messaged her: “I have something to tell you… I think I might be bisexual.” My heart pounded as I waited anxiously for her reply. She responded: “How long have you been thinking of this?”  In her response I felt reassured that the she would not reject me.  From that moment my best friend thanked me and said our friendship was now stronger as a result. I felt so relieved to get that secret off my chest; it was a cathartic moment in my life and a significant turning point!

Throughout high school, I have become more open about who I am, and my confidence and acceptance in myself has grown tremendously. Although I still have not told my parents about my sexuality, I will when I am ready.  I am who I am today as a result of these experiences and personal challenges. In my short life so far, I have developed my soft-hearted and quiet personality to become more open, creative, and self-assured while preserving my identity. I know more challenges lie ahead, but I am open to those opportunities.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Martin's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY #8 - The California Cadet Corps

Author: Justin
Class Year: Princeton University 2021
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Harvard University, Stanford University, UCLA, UCSD

During my freshman year at Cajon High School, I enlisted in the California Cadet Corps (CACC). The CACC is essentially a JROTC program based on a state level. Every summer, the CACC holds a summer encampment at Camp San Luis Obispo. A myriad of leadership schools are offered: Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) School, Officer-Candidate School (OCS), etc. I participated in OCS my freshman year, Survival my sophomore year, and Marksmanship last summer. Of those three, Survival was definitely my biggest challenge and marked my transition from childhood to adulthood.

Within the CACC, there’s an honor so admirable that those who receive it are inducted into an order of elites: the Red Beret. It signifies completion of survival training, the most rigorous and difficult training course within the CACC. With a heart mixed with excitement and fear, I stepped onto the bus headed for Camp San Luis Obispo in June of 2015.

After basic instruction, we were transported to arid Camp Roberts to begin field training. Upon arrival, we were separated into groups of four with one leader each (I was designated as team leader). We then emptied our canteens, received minimal tools, and set off. Our immediate priority was finding areas to build our shelter and latrine. Then, we needed to locate a clean source of water. After, we had to find food. It was truly a situation that required making everything from scratch. As the day drew to a close and night advanced, I felt seclusion and apprehension envelop me.

As the days drew on, constant stress and heat along with lack of food took a toll on my sanity and drove me almost to my breaking-point. At one moment, I remembered a handwritten phrase that had been on my desk: “Your biggest enemy is yourself.” At this moment, it hit me: I wasn’t going to quit. I was going to overcome this challenge and show myself that I have what it takes to survive for five days using nothing but my wits.

On the morning of the sixth day, my team and I reported to headquarters to complete training. With pride, I received the honor of wearing that glorious Red Beret on my head.

Through Survival, I learned many things about myself and the way I approach the world. I realized that I take for granted innumerable small privileges and conveniences and that I undervalue what I do have. Now that I had experienced true and sustained hunger, I felt regret for times when I threw away food and behaved with unconscious waste. Additionally, being isolated from mass civilization and relying heavily on my companions gave me an appreciation for my friends and for the absolute necessity of teamwork. Being the leader of my team meant that they all looked to me for motivation, inspiration, and a will to survive; I got first-hand experience on how important a leader can be in a situation of literal life and death. Most importantly, however, I gained priceless insight into the amount of effort and work my parents put in for me every day.

As demonstrated, survival training taught me essential lessons to survive successfully as an adult. Looking back, it’s absolutely unbelievable how one week affected me so profoundly. Even today, I remember the phrase that motivated me that day: “Your biggest enemy is yourself.” Thinking of that, I go to school and say to myself, “Justin, you truly are an amazing young man!”

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Justin's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY #9 - I never want to lose what we had in that corner

Author: Jonah
Class Year: Princeton University 2019
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement - Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Swarthmore College

The squeaks of whiteboard markers have now replaced the scritch-scratch of chalk, but the hubbub of voices is always the same. For millennia, the great thinkers of their day would gather and discuss. In ancient Greece, it was Socrates debating about philosophy; centuries later it was Newton lecturing at Cambridge on fluxions and physics. This summer Paul Steinhardt and his eminent colleagues sat down for a panel about inflationary theory at the World Science festival- though there was neither chalk nor markers there. Though we make no claim to be the greatest thinkers of our day and our school in no way resembles the hallowed edifices of science, my friends and I have staked out a corner of our AP Calculus room where we can have our own discussions. We even have a whiteboard.

It started small: just myself, Avery, and Sam and a problem set that didn’t take us long enough. Appropriately enough, we were working on one of Newton’s problems: differential equations describing cooling curves. His solution is fairly simple, perhaps overly simple, which prompted me to ask Avery what he thought. We had both taken Chemistry the year before, and Newton’s equation didn’t take into account thermal equilibrium; (to be fair to Newton, adding thermal equilibrium doesn’t appreciably change the solution at normal conditions). Since we were slightly bored and faced with an empty hour ahead of us, we started to modify the equation. We had learned in Chemistry that both the surroundings and the actual cooling object both change temperature, which Newton had ignored. We wrote up a first attempt on the infamous whiteboard, paused a second, and then started laughing as we realized that our inchoate equation meant a hot cup of coffee could plummet Earth into another Ice Age. This disturbance in an otherwise fairly quiet classroom drew the attention of Sam. He too was amused with our attempt and together we began to fix the poor thing. Huddled around the back of the classroom, we all pondered. It wasn’t an important problem, it wasn’t due the next day, it wasn’t even particularly interesting. But we loved it.

The three of us had been friends since middle school, which in many ways seems astounding. Avery, a track runner, Sam, a Morris dancer, and myself, a fencer. Our interests could not be more diverse. Avery was an avid programmer while Sam was fascinated by the evolution of language. I always had a soft spot for physics. Luckily for us, we had found each other early on in middle school and our discussions started soon after. As we learned more math, read more books, and culled more esoteric facts from our varied experiences, the quality of our rebuttals has dramatically improved. The laughter is immutable.

In the back of algebra class in eighth grade, Avery taught me how to program calculators in TIBasic while I traded theories with him about the Big Bang. From Sam I learned the phonetic alphabet and more recently the physics of bell ringing. Since then our dynamic has always stayed playful no matter how heated the discussion; only our arguments have changed. I may have learned as much in the back of classes with my friends as I learned from my teachers. Joseph Joubert wrote, “To teach is to learn twice,” and I could not agree more. In the myriad hours Avery, Sam, and I spent together, the neuron-firing was palpable, the exuberance impossible to miss.

But not only did I learn linguistics, Python, and philosophy with Avery and Sam, I learned a little more about myself. I never want to lose what we had in that corner. Our interplay of guessing and discovering and laughing seemed like paradise to me. I looked for other opportunities in my life to meet brilliant and vivacious people, to learn from them, and to teach them what I loved. I co-founded a tutoring program, participated in original research, and taught lessons in Physics and Chemistry as a substitute.

I expected to be nervous, I expected to embarrass myself. Yet on every occasion, whether I’m facing the board or with my back to it, whether I’m in the ranks of my peers or addressing my teachers, I feel the same elation. In my friends I see Socrates, Newton, and Steinhardt. There’s no place I would rather be than in their company.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Jonah's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY #10 - It is the effort that counts, not the result

Author: John
Class Year: Princeton University 2021
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement - The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
School Acceptances: Princeton University

For as long as I can remember, wrestling has been an important part of my life. I can recall playing dodgeball after wrestling practice, summer wrestling camps, hard practices with my older brother, and hundreds of wrestling tournaments as cornerstones of my childhood. From a young age I was determined to be the best; and quickly concluded that meant winning a PIAA state championship. When I entered Junior High, I discovered that only ten wrestlers in the history of Pennsylvania had won a state championship each year of their high school careers - and becoming the eleventh became my personal ambition.

Entering high school, I centered my life around the goal of winning a state title my freshman year. I became disciplined in every aspect of my life: from how many hours of sleep I got, to what exact foods I ate. I was obsessed with my intensive training regimen, and fell asleep each night to the dream of my hand being raised in the circle of the main mat on the Giant Center floor.

As the season progressed, I experienced success. My state ranking climbed steadily and by the time the state tournament began, I was projected to finish third. I wrestled well throughout the tournament, advancing to the semifinals where I defeated the favorite 11-0. At last: I was to wrestle in the final match for the state championship. I prepared for my opponent, whom I defeated the week before. However, when the match began, I wrestled nervously, was unable to fully recover, and ended up on the short end of a 3-1 decision.

In just a few short minutes, my dream was shattered. For me, it felt like the end of the world. I had based my whole identity and lifestyle on the dream of winning four state titles. It felt as though the sport I loved most had ripped out my heart,  and on live television, in front of thousands of people. I was upset after the match.  I was depressed and felt worthless, devoid of my passion for and love of wrestling.

After a month or perhaps more of introspection, and some in depth conversations with the people closest to me, I began to realize that one lost wrestling match, at age fifteen, was not the end of the world. The more I reflected on my wrestling journey, the more gratitude I developed for all of my opportunities.   I realized that wrestling had helped forge some of the most important relationships of my life, including an irreplaceable fraternity with my older brother, teammates, and coaches. My setback in the state finals also helped me to understand all of the lessons learned through wrestling, and that there was much more I could still accomplish. Wrestling helped me learn the value of hard work, discipline, and mental toughness. But most important, I learned that no matter how much we try, we cannot control everything, including the outcome of a wrestling match. We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our reaction, attitude, actions, and effort. In the words of my father, “it is the effort that counts, not the result.”

Hence, through my experience of failure I learned an invaluable lesson applicable to every walk of life. In retrospect, I am grateful for the opportunity to compete, to represent myself and my school, and to lay all my hard work on the line. The process of striving to become a state champion taught me more than achieving this title ever could, and my failure in the state finals was a blessing in disguise.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out John's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY #11 - The problem of social integration

Author: Harry
Class Year: Princeton University 2020
Type of Essay: Universal Common Application Personal Statement - How do we establish common values to promote harmony in an increasingly diverse society?
School Acceptances: Princeton University

Establishing a cohesive society where common values are shared is increasingly difficult in multi-faith, globalised societies such as the one I’m part of in the UK. My studies in politics and philosophy have made me more sensitive to this problem and as I have a much larger number of friends from different ethnic backgrounds than my parents and the previous generation, I realise that the friction created by the presence of different ethnic and social groups is not going to disappear anytime soon.

Admittedly, the problem of social integration is one I feel can be widely overstated – for example, when I was looking into some research for a similar topic a couple of years ago, I found numerous surveys indicating that ethnic minorities (especially Islam) identify much more closely with Britain than do the population at large. Still though, I, like many others, find myself constantly troubled by the prospect of the war from within that seems to be developing. This fear is fuelled by events such as the brutal killing of the soldier Lee Rigby at the hands of two British Muslims a couple of years ago.

This cold blooded murder provides a clear example of what can happen when people lose their human connection to the society that they’re a part of and instead pursue hate and violence on a pretence to a higher purpose (killing in the name of religion). I think suggestible minds are undoubtedly most prone to this, and the two British men who killed Rigby, previously Christians, are examples of how minds devoid of any instilled social values are fertile ground for the fomentation of harmful ideas.

What I find particularly worrying is the distinct danger of allowing a largely atomised society to develop, where conflicts such as this one begin to characterise the interaction between the different parts. It’s imperative that we avoid this situation and work towards social unity, and so I think a long-term and complex solution to social integration must be found. Given the upward trends in multiculturalism and globalisation, it is going to be paramount that my generation takes on the problems of integration and cultural diversity to create a harmonious society.

The solution will no doubt be an ongoing process, involving years of detailed and thoroughly considered legislation, but I think that in working towards it, we should focus on certain things.

With regard to the role of religion, I think its relationship with the state needs to be clarified and communicated to everyone. As the case of Lee Rigby quite bluntly reveals, where religion triumphs over civic duty, there’s a potentially dangerous situation, especially when put into the context of radical fundamentalism. By the same token however, it’s neither desirable nor feasible to have a society where politics trumps religion, so I think that when addressing the issue of social cohesion there must be an overarching commitment to other people within society that’s established – humanity must transcend any form of politics or ideology, and bind the two camps so their incompatibility does not become entrenched.

I think that this has to be done primarily through education: both within the formal curriculum which all citizens of a democratic nation state should be compelled to follow until at least the age of 16, and in the wider sense through more promotion of cultural programmes nationally that encourage the nation’s population to participate in the continuing discussion and examination of our core, shared values. We have to work at this constantly since identity is itself always in a state of flux and accept that this continuing ‘conversation’ will always require us to confront some very difficult questions about freedom and responsibility. People need to understand these ideas not simply as abstract questions, but also as issues of practical, pragmatic relevance, deconstructing them into how we actually treat each other, the true test of how civilised and tolerant we are.


Download 30 College Essay Examples

You can check out even more college essay examples by successful applicants! For 19 additional essays, download PrepMaven's 30 College Essays That Worked.

With this document, you'll get:

  • The essays included in this post
  • 19 additional full personal statements of applicants admitted to top-tier institutions

Need some additional help? Check out our college essay service and work with one of our Master Consultants.

At PrepMaven, our mission is not only to help your child increase their test scores and get into a great college but also to put them on the right track for long-term personal and professional success.


Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg Wong and Kevin Wong

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


Summer Options for High School Students

20 Online Summer Options for High School Students

20 Online Summer Options for High School Students

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's Summer 2020 Calendar

Summertime is an ideal time for high school students to participate in meaningful activities.

These include:

  • Exciting internships
  • Pre-college programs
  • Academic programs
  • Research
  • Volunteering
  • Employment
  • Writing college application essays
  • And much more.

But this summer (2020), many summer camps and pre-college programs have been canceled or postponed. 

This doesn’t mean the summer has to be devoid of academic or personal enrichment! 

In this post, we’ve rounded up 20 online options for how high school students can spend their summers. This is hardly a comprehensive list but can be used as a good starting point.

Plus, you can use our free Summer 2020 Calendar below to choose programs of interest and organize your summertime effectively.

Here's what we cover:

    1. Online Summer Programs
    2. Online Courses
    3. Virtual Volunteering Opportunities
    4. Professional Development
    5. Writing Enrichment
    6. Tutoring & Test Prep
    7. Bonus: PrepMaven's Summer 2020 Calendar

Online Summer Programs

We reference many of these programs in our Princeton Summer Programs for High School Students post.

The good news? Most are offering some sort of virtual learning experience in lieu of on-campus activities.

1. Summer Institute for the Gifted

SIG offers unique programming for gifted and talented students ages 5-17 during the summer and school year. The SIG STEAM+ curriculum focuses on applying creative thinking across multiple disciplines to solve real-world problems. Through an innovative curriculum that spans all facets of 

Best Princeton Summer Programs for High School Students

STEAM, plus humanities and fitness, SIG challenges students to utilize knowledge of different disciplines to discover creative solutions.

While it remains unclear whether their three-week sessions on college campuses, including that of Princeton University, will be held, SIG also runs online programming, including: 

  • SIG Online Learning: Six-week virtual learning experience for ages 5-17 focusing on SIG’s renowned STEAM+ curriculum. Courses are led online by professional teachers.
  • SIG Summer Online Intensive: 
Three-week virtual learning intensive, which offers an accelerated version of SIG’s signature STEAM+ courses coupled with virtual social-emotional development and engagement experiences. Courses are led online by professional teachers.

The first application deadline for these online programs is June 12; several other deadlines follow in July.

2. John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) 

CTY has long been lauded for its rigorous summer programs, hosted at a variety of college campuses in the U.S. and overseas. High-achieving students experience intensive academics, team-building activities, and much more at CTY.

Best Princeton Summer Programs for High School Students

CTY, in coordination with Johns Hopkins University leadership, has decided to cancel Session 1 of their 2020 Summer Programs, along with all courses at their Hong Kong sites. Session 2 programs are still cautiously being planned for, but could also be canceled.

Either way, however, CTY’s course catalog of Online Programs are worth checking out. 

The website also notes that they’re exploring new, virtual ways to support families coping with this unprecedented situation. Check back in at their website for more information as those offerings are developed.

3. Program in Algorithmic and Combinational Thinking (PACT)

Aspiring computer scientists and mathematicians won’t want to overlook PACT, a unique five-week summer program that gives students a chance to dive deep into the world of theoretical computer science. It’s funded in part by Rutgers University and the National Science Foundation.

The only requirements for this program? “High school algebra, the willingness to work hard and be challenged, and, above all, the desire to learn.”

PACT’20 will run virtually during Summer 2020. They’re still hammering out the fee, times and logistics so as to accommodate students from different parts of the US, as well as across the world.

If interested, however, you should apply soon. The deadline to guarantee full consideration (March 20) has already passed. However, the website says that “We will continue to accept applications until all seats are taken.”

4. Berklee Summer Programs

Berklee has a variety of summer programs in music, dance, and theater that will be held online this summer.

Their Aspire: Five-Week Music Performance Intensive is just one of their offerings, which is a comprehensive summer music performance program that "will enhance your instrumental or vocal performance mastery" and counts Meghan Trainor, Charlie Puth, and Betty Who as notable program alumni.

5. Pre-College Programs

Pre-college summer programs are designed to give high school students a taste of what it's like to live on a college campus while also learning something. Many of these programs are selective and expensive.

Some schools, like Duke, have fully canceled their programs. Others, like Harvard, are offering online synchronous versions of their courses and programs.

Without the on-campus experience and camaraderie, it's hard to justify the costs of some of these programs. If your student is self-motivated, you might want to consider one of the free online summer course alternatives below.


Online Summer Courses

Students can always incorporate some independent learning in their summertime schedules with some online coursework. There are many platforms out there that offer virtual courses, many free and some in conjunction with colleges (Berklee School of Music, Carnegie Mellon, MIT) and businesses (IBM, Disney, Goldman Sachs).

Here are some options for online learning opportunities.

6. Outlier.org

This platform enables students to take Calculus 1 or Intro to Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh, for transferable credit! Both of the classes are common general education requirements at colleges, so this is a great way to fulfill those requirements early.

7. Coursera

Coursera partners with leading companies like Google, and leading universities like Yale, to offer free skills-based or college classes. It also offers degree or certificate programs for a fee. Sample courses include Dynamic Public Speaking and Control of Mobile Robots.

8. edX

edX offers anyone an opportunity to dive into all kinds of subjects in partnership with leading universities like UC Berkeley and NYU. Most courses are free, with the option to purchase Verified Certificates and pursue fee-based degrees. Try the Science of Happiness (a positive psychology program in partnership with UC Berkeley) or the Basics of Computing and Programming (in partnership with NYU).

9. MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT's OpenCourseWare is a treasure trove of online learning opportunities, especially for students wanting to acquire skills in math, computing, programming, and technology.

Courses are taught at the undergraduate level and come with required readings, video lectures, and more.

10. Course Credit

Many colleges allow high school students to take courses for credit. Check out your local university of community college for options. Or research schools that have transitioned online.

Many of the more "prestigious" programs will require applications. For example, Stanford's High School Summer College has a rolling admission deadline of 6/20/2020.


Virtual Summer Volunteering

Volunteering is a great way to give back to one's community and, potentially, find something worthwhile to write about in college application essays. Here are a few online volunteering options available to high school students.

11. UN Online Volunteering Service

The UN Online Volunteering Service is a great option for students interested in global relations, and also a first step toward deciding whether students might like to eventually study international relations or participate in study abroad opportunities in college.

12. Smithsonian Digital Volunteers

This nationally important museum needs online volunteers to transcribe historic documents and contribute to its WikiProject. This is a great introduction to the kind of archival and academic-based work that students will be doing in college.

13. Translators Without Borders

Translators Without Borders connects bilingual or multilingual volunteers with such important projects as translating medical texts or for crisis-response situations.

Want a way to organize the list of summer programs you’re researching? We’ve included all the summer programs mentioned here (as well as other useful info), into an easily editable and customizable document. Grab it below.


Online Professional/Personal Development

Summer is also a great time to develop professional skills, not just academic ones. Some students may still be able to participate virtually in summer internships, depending on the opportunity.

Otherwise, here are a few other useful options for professional development.

14. UDEMY

UDEMY offers online skills-based classes. Whether it’s learning how to use Photoshop, code Linux, or do professional-level photography, there are a wealth of ways to expand one’s skill set, in ways that will be helpful throughout both school and life.

15. Masterclass

Chances are, your student can take a class from a personal hero of theirs. This platform offers classes from top professionals in a wide range of fields, from fashion to photography to sports to writing.

Just a few names of these world-class instructors: Serena Williams, Anna Wintour, Annie Leibovitz, and Joyce Carol Oates.


Online Writing Enrichment

Writing ability can have a significant impact on your academics, standardized tests, and college essays. If you're not sure what to work on this summer, consider improving your writing skills!

16. Self-Directed Writing Courses

You can find a number of online courses covering all aspects of writing. Check out Coursera, Udemy, and edX to see if anything is interesting.

17. PrepMaven Live Writing Workshops

PrepMaven's writing workshops are led by Princeton and Harvard graduates who are professional screenwriters, journalists, MFA graduates, and former teachers.

Their curriculum is informed by over 40,000 hours of experience working with students in academic subjects, standardized tests like the SAT & ACT, and college essays.

Each workshop is specifically designed to be 100% practical and immediately applicable.

Workshop Description
"Stop, Grammar Time!" GRAMMAR Workshop Targeted grammar instruction to improve PSAT/SAT/ACT scores, grades, and…. –> LEARN MORE
"Think Then Write" ACADEMIC WRITING Workshop Level up your academic writing to improve English and History grades, enhance thinking skills, and… –> LEARN MORE
"More Than Just a Story" CREATIVE WRITING Workshop Work with a Harvard-educated screenwriter to build foundational storytelling skills to… –> LEARN MORE
COLLEGE ESSAY Workshop Work with an expert essay consultant to complete an amazing college essay in only 4 weeks… –> LEARN MORE

Online Private Tutoring

18. Academic Tutoring

You might want to consider supplementing summer programming with academic tutoring if your student:

  • has fallen behind during the academic year
  • is transitioning to 9th grade and wants to get ready for the rigors of high school
  • plans on taking a difficult class (e.g. Advanced Placement) next school year and wants to get a head start

If you don't already have a preferred tutor/organization, please feel free to reach out to Princeton Tutoring for additional information.

19. Test Prep

Students planning on taking the SSAT, PSAT/SAT, or ACT any time in the upcoming academic year are encouraged to take advantage of the summer for more intensive test prep.

Students generally have 3 options (or a combination of these three):

  1. Self-Study - This is a good option for those who are adept at learning on their own or those on a budget. Check out this resource on how to self study for the SAT.
  2. Classes - There are a lot of options out there for you to consider. PrepMaven's SAT MasterClass is personally taught by a co-founder.
  3. Private Tutoring - Private 1-1 tutoring is generally the most effective and efficient option but is also more expensive.

20. College Essays

If possible, rising seniors should complete their personal statements and supplemental essays during the summer. When looking for support, students can turn to their teachers, friends, or parents.

Not sure where to start? Sign up for a class or work 1:1 with a professional.


Download Our Free Plan-Your-Online-Summer Calendar 

Many students will likely choose to participate in several of these online experiences this summer. 

But how do you choose between these programs, workshops, and courses? And what can you do to plan out your summer in an organized and enriching fashion?

You can use our free Summer 2020 Calendar to:

  1. Identify your experiences of interest and start / end dates (if applicable)
  2. Narrow down this list of experiences to your top 3-5
  3. Block out these experiences on a digital calendar for an easy birds-eye view of your summer
  4. Find extra details and links to all of the summer programs mentioned in this list (we've done the work for you!)
  5. Document your time so you can feel confident filling out your college application resume down the road


Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg & Kevin

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem-solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


How I Got Into Princeton - Martin (Story #17)

How I Got Into Princeton - Story #17

Martin's Story

"I always strive to make people proud of me."

Meet Martin, a member of Princeton's class of 2021.

In high school, Martin pursued a robust schedule of academics, extracurricular activities, and community service. He graduated in the top five percent of his high school class, held the role of Vice President in his school's Lobo Unity service club, and became a California Scholarship Federation (CSF) lifetime member. Martin is also a Questbridge Match recipient.

However, Martin's achievements were not without challenge, as he describes in this post.

"Being a first-generation Latino low-income student was not easy," Martin reflects. "Going to an Ivy league school seemed like an unreachable dream, but with hard work and a good support system, I was able to achieve that."

Please read below to learn more about Martin and the personal qualities, values, and support system that have allowed him to succeed.

We recommend reading from beginning to end but feel free to skip around. Our favorite section is the "What Makes You You" section, where Martin describes his unique qualities and how they contributed to his personal and academic success.

About this Series

In our "How I got Into" series, we share the stories of successful applicants to Princeton and other great colleges.

Our profiles go beyond a simple list of academic and extracurricular achievements. We also delve into the “how” and the qualities that successful applicants exhibit.

We provide a rare look into what drives these students, how they've overcome their challenges, how they've been shaped by significant events in their lives, how they deal with the pressure to succeed, and much more.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

SECTION 1 - FAMILY
SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING
SECTION 3 - ACTIVITIES
SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS
SECTION 5 - THE COLLEGE APPLICATION
SECTION 6 - DAY IN THE LIFE
SECTION 7 - WHAT MAKES YOU YOU
SECTION 8 - CONCLUSION

Disclaimer

Here's what we're NOT doing with this series:

  • We are NOT prescribing an over-engineered approach to college admissions
  • We are NOT presenting a blueprint for how you should get into college
  • We are NOT suggesting that you must gain admissions to a selective school to be successful (you most certainly do not)

Here's what we ARE doing:

  • We are presenting data and sharing stories
  • We are providing context that you usually don't see to highlight that we are more than just our grades and GPA
  • Our ultimate goal is to uncover the values and personal qualities that drive successful applicants

Whether you are considering selective colleges or not, it is our unwavering belief that our values and personal qualities (and luck) are the major contributors to success.


SECTION 1 - FAMILY

Geography

Birthplace: Mexico
Where did you grow up? Santa Rosa, CA

Siblings

# of older siblings:  2
# of younger siblings: 1
Sibling Education Levels:  Older sister: community college; older brother: high school; younger sister: elementary school
Where did your siblings go to college?  N/A

Parents

Parent's Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Disabled but used to be a factory worker
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: Elementary School
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: Factory Worker
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: Elementary School

Parent Beliefs

How would you characterize your parents' parenting style(s)?

Laid back, but sometimes strict.

On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the most important), how important to your parents was:

Academics 4
Extracurriculars 3
Service 2
Family 5
Friends 4
Physical Health/ Fitness 2
Mental Health 3

Did your parents have specific philosophies regarding any of the areas above?

They valued family above all else because you’ll always have family with you. Also, they valued academics for me so I can have a good career and “not be like them.”


SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: Lawrence Cook Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: Elsie Allen High School
High School City, State: Santa Rosa, CA
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 291

SECTION 3 - ACTIVITIES

Jobs

Did you work in high school?  No
What kind of job/s did you have? n/a
Average hours/week worked? n/a
Why did you work? n/a

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

Theatre, choir, and music.

How much time did you spend on these things?

I had both choir and theatre classes during the school year for 5 hours a week. It would be more if we had a performance or extra rehearsals.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

I first started singing freshman year of high school after I was in a choir class. I started theatre sophomore year of high school when I was in the class.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

I was dedicated to these passions and would sing solos during concerts. I was also motivated by performing in plays and scenes. I performed until senior year and continued to strive for improvement.

What level of achievement did you reach?

I sang solos in choir, the school produced my original play, and I performed a musical theatre solo at the Lenaea Theatre Festival.

Tell us a little bit about how you achieved these achievements?

I had a lot of support from my classmates and teachers. I enjoyed performing so improvement and stepping out of my comfort zone were something that satisfied me.

What kind of support did you have?

My main support for these passions were my classmates, friends, and teachers.

What kind of sacrifices/challenges did you overcome to achieve these extracurricular results?

I was taking very challenging classes and had to manage my time well in order to calibrate academics, theatre, choir, other extracurricular activities, and time with friends and family. Sometimes my family felt I wasn’t spending enough time with them and I had to reassure them that theatre, choir, and my activities were important to me.

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

At school, I was in Rotary Interact Club and was also Vice President of Lobo Unity, a club dedicated to fostering unity and providing service within the community. I participated in various community service activities, from helping in community festivals to food drives and visiting elders at retirement homes.

How much time did you spend?

4-5 hours per week.

Why did you choose this activity?

At first I chose this activity to add to my college resume, but I discovered I really enjoyed helping people. It pleased me to do things to benefit the community and other people.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

Summer after 9th grade, I went with my family to Mexico to visit family for a few weeks. I also worked out to feel more comfortable about my body image.

Summer after 10th grade, I participated in a 14-day Sierra Mountain alpine backpacking trip funded by Summer Search, a program to foster independence and college preparedness. I worked out beforehand to condition myself for that trip.

After 11th grade, I participated in the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program, where I interned at the Stanford Hospital and lived at Stanford University for 7 weeks. Additionally, I took an anatomy class, researched health disparities, and learned about applying for college. Afterward, I participated in a 2-week program in Moca, Dominican Republic, funded by Summer Search. I learned about the Dominican culture and worked on a community action project to better the community.


SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: 6/291
GPA - Weighted: 4.42
GPA - Unweighted 3.82

SAT/ACT

How many times did you take the SAT? 2
How many times did you take the ACT? 2
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? SAT: 1410, ACT: 28
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? No
How many hours did you study in total? 6
When did you start preparing for the test? A month before the test Junior year
When did you take the test? 11th grade

Do you know which test to take? Check out our recommendations here - Should I Take the SAT or the ACT?

Not sure WHEN to take the test? We created 9 Sample Testing Schedules to help get you started

SAT Subject Tests & AP/IBs

Which SAT Subject tests did you take? 

Biology (Molecular): 800; Math Level II: 620; Chemistry: 560

Which AP/IBs did you take?

AP Biology: 4
AP US History: 4
AP Statistics: 3
AP Language & Composition: 4
AP Calculus AB: 5
AP Macroeconomics: 3
AP Government: 3
AP Literature & Composition: 2
AP Physics 1: 2
AP Spanish Language: 5

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

I graduated in the top 5% of my class, became a California Scholarship Federation (CSF) life-time member, and am a Questbridge Match recipient.

What do you attribute your academic success to?

I always strive to make people proud of me. I worked hard and searched for help whenever needed in order to excel in my classes and with schoolwork. There was intrinsic motivation, but I also received motivation from my friends, teachers, and family.

What kind of support did you have?

My family encouraged me to do well in school because they always thought I was intelligent and teachers would give them feedback that I was a good student. I also received a lot of support from my friends, who would mostly take the same classes as me. We would help each other understand material, so I would comprehend by being both a student and a teacher. Also, most of my teachers were really supportive. They wished the best for me and  really cared.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

No.

What kind of sacrifices/challenges did you overcome to achieve these academic results?

I definitely had to learn how to set priorities for myself. Schoolwork was a high priority for me. A challenge was not having help from parents or a tutor; my parents were supportive but they did not complete high school and did not speak English. I had my friends to help me when needed and I helped them, too, which reinforced my knowledge. My school did not have the greatest academic reputation, mainly because it was in an area that was infamous for gangs and things like that. Additionally, being a first-generation Latino low-income student was not easy. Going to an ivy league school seemed like an unreachable dream, but with hard work and a good support system I was able to achieve that.

Any specific approaches/tips & tricks to studying that were particularly helpful for you?

Something that helped me study and reinforce my knowledge was teaching to a friend. My friends and I would help each other; if they were confused, I would teach to them and vice versa. Also, doing homework in a quiet place free of diversions would help me focus and retain what I was learning. Another thing was note-taking. I would take notes on the chapter in the book and then also take notes during class. Writing them helped me retain the information.


SECTION 5 - THE COLLEGE APPLICATION

Applications & Acceptances

Did you apply as an international or domestic student? Domestic
Did you apply regular or early? Both
How many schools did you apply to? 14
Were you a legacy applicant at any of these schools? No
Were you recruited for athletics, arts, music, etc...? No
Did you declare a major? Did this end up being your actual major? For some of them, yes. I put down biology, which I am still considering as my major.

Which schools did you apply to (that you remember)?

UCLA, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, Princeton University, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, CSU Sonoma, CSU Long Beach, CSU San Jose, CSU Chico, New York University.Read more


AP Exams and the Coronavirus: 10 Things You Need to Know

AP Exams and the Coronavirus: 10 Things You Need to Know

AP Exams will NOT be canceled this year due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Instead, they will be shortened to 45 minutes (from 3+ hrs), converted to all free-response questions (from both multiple-choice and free-response), and administered at home and online.

Additionally, the AP Exams will be OPEN BOOK

The College Board is the maker of the AP. Their decision is in contrast to its counterpart, the IB, which has canceled their exam. The decision also differs from the College Board and ACT’s decision to cancel/postpone several testing dates for the SAT and ACT.

The College Board states that their decision is based on a survey of 18,000 students, 91% of whom indicated they still wish to take the test.

We can only assume that the College Board also weighed the potential negative impacts on college credit (if canceling) and the increased burden on students during college application season (if postponing to the Fall or later).

Read on below for more info and tips to help students navigate through these changes.

Last updated: April 3rd, 2020 at 7 PM ET


10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1) Test Length - The AP exam will now be 45 minutes

Most AP Exams are between 2 and 3 hrs. Some clock in at 3 hrs and 15 minutes (e.g. AP Calculus, AP Chemistry, AP English Language, AP History).

How can a 45-minute test, which is typically shorter than a regular high school midterm, properly predict mastery of a college-level course? In an interview with the Washington Post, College Board psychometricians claim that a 45-minute test that covers only 75% of the coursework will still “show sufficient mastery for college credit”.

This might be true, but it really depends on how successfully the College Board is able to develop their test questions and adapt to an online format.

2) Question Format - The AP exam will now be 100% free-response.

AP exams typically have both a multiple-choice and free-response section. These sections are usually equally weighted.

However, the format varies slightly for certain tests:

  • The AP History exams (i.e. AP US History, AP European History, AP World History) also have a short answer component, which comprises 20% of the score
  • The AP language exams usually have a spoken component (25% of the score)
  • AP Computer Science Principles (not AP Computer Science A) requires submission of code and written responses by a certain deadline

The bad news - free-response questions are typically harder than multiple-choice questions. If you were relying on the multiple-choice portion to boost your grades, then you’re out of luck.

The good news - Most students struggle more with free-response questions, so everybody will be in the same boat.

The transition to 100% free-response will have an even more pronounced impact on those AP exams that typically weigh this section less. For example, the free-response section is only 33% of the total score for AP Microeconomics, AP Macroeconomics, and AP Psychology.

Conversely, the transition will have slightly less impact for those AP exams that more heavily weight the free-response (e.g. AP English Literature and AP English Language free-response sections are weighted at 55%)

There are some AP exams which shouldn’t be impacted at all (e.g. AP Drawing and AP Studio art require portfolio submissions).

What will these free-response questions (FRQs) look like? There will be 1 to 2 FRQs per AP Exam, with time allocated for both answering the question and uploading the answers. For example:

AP English Literature:

    • 1 question
    • This question presents students with a passage of prose fiction of approximately 500–700 words, and assesses students’ ability to respond with a thesis, select and use evidence, explain the evidence and how it supports a line of reasoning, use appropriate grammar and punctuation
    • 45 minutes to read and respond + 5 minutes to upload their response
    • Covers Units 1 - 7 (excludes Units 8 - 9)

AP Calculus BC:

    • 2 questions ("multi-focus" free-response questions)
    • These questions will "assess student knowledge and skills developed in 2 or more of the eligible units and topics" and "will consist of similar components to traditional AP Calculus exam questions, with minor modifications to enable students to choose to submit either typed or handwritten responses."
    • 25 minutes to answer Question 1 + 5 minutes to upload response (60% weighting)
    • 15 minutes to answer Question 2 + 5 minutes to upload response (40% weighting)
    • Covers topics in Units 1–8 + 5 topics in Unit 10 (10.2, 10.5, 10.7, 10.8, and 10.11) 

Please click here to learn course-specific exam information for each AP Exam.

3) Location - The AP Exam will now be administered online.

The College Board is “investing in the development of a new at-home testing option.” This is obviously a huge change to the test. If your school re-opens, the exam will still be online, but might be administered at school.

Students will be able to take the test on a desktop, tablet, or phone. Students will also be able to submit pictures of their written work.

Unless you absolutely have no other choice, you should avoid taking the test on your phone. We can’t see how taking the test on a small phone would not put you at a disadvantage.

What if you don’t have access to the appropriate technology? This is a legitimate concern for our low-income and rural students. If this applies to you, please submit this form ASAP - https://collegeboard.tfaforms.net/74

4) Open Book - The AP Exams will now be Open Book/"Open Note".

Trevor Packer, Senior Vice President of Advanced Placement and Instruction at the College Board, revealed in a 3/27 tweet that "these exams will be open book/”open note.” and exam questions will be focused on "skills and thematic understandings" vs "thematic recall".

This is surely an attempt to reduce the impact of cheating. Free-response questions are difficult enough. Let's hope that making them open book as well won't increase the difficulty.

Also, there's the question of social inequity - what about those students who don't have access to reliable internet or other books? 

5) Content - This year's AP Exam will only include topics and skills that most AP teachers and students will have covered by early March.

The College Board provides detailed guidance to AP teachers about the specific topics that will be covered on the AP Exam. This upcoming test will cover only ~75% of this material.

The specific “units” tested can be found on this page in the table titled “Course-Specific Exam Information”.

For example, AP Physics 1 will cover the topics in Units 1 - 7 only, which includes:

  • Kinematics
  • Dynamics
  • Circular Motion and Gravitation
  • Energy
  • Momentum
  • Simple Harmonic Motion
  • Torque and Rotational Momentum

AP Physics 1 will NOT cover the topics in Units 8 - 10:

  • Electric Charge and Electric Force
  • DC Circuits
  • Mechanical Waves and Sound

You can find the specific topics and units for each AP exam here.

If you’re like most students, covering less information is better. However, because each AP teacher decides the order in which they teach the course topics, there’s a chance you haven’t yet covered the material.

6) Testing Dates - There will now be 2 testing dates.

The College Board will provide 2 testing dates for each exam:

  • Exams will be given from May 11 through May 22 - These are earlier dates that will allow students to take the exams sooner “while material is fresh”
  • Make-up test dates will be available for each subject from June 1 through June 5 - these later dates will allow students more time to prepare

If you’ve been diligently studying and already feel comfortable with the material, especially the free-response questions, then you might want to consider the earlier testing date.

However, most students would probably benefit from the 2nd later testing date to not only provide additional study time, but also to give the College Board some time to work out the kinks of transitioning online.

Dates for each AP exam can be found here - AP Exams Schedule 2020

Make-up dates can be found here - AP Exams Schedule 2020 Makeup Dates

7) Cheating - “Test security is a concern.”

Here’s what College Board says about how they will combat cheating:

“The exam questions are designed and administered in ways that prevent cheating; we use a range of digital security tools and techniques, including plagiarism detection software, to protect the integrity of the exams.

Scoring at-home work for an AP Exam is not new to the AP Program. For years the AP Program has received and scored at-home student work as part of the exams for the AP Computer Science Principles and AP Capstone courses.”

While the College Board is researching and implementing several tools, they do acknowledge that testing security is a concern. And rightly so. The legitimacy of the exam and whether colleges can trust the scores is largely a function of how well the College Board is able to mitigate cheating.

The good news is that a shorter test, a move to free-response open book, and additional tools, will all inhibit cheating. Furthermore, the vast majority of students are honest.

However, cheating is going to happen. Especially considering that these are high stakes tests.

If you're thinking about cheating, don’t do it. The ethical implications and the risk of getting caught isn’t worth it. The College Board is purposefully not publicizing all of their tactics to make it more difficult to game the system. 

The College Board might have experience with administering at-home work, but scaling it out to all of their exams and to all of their students while also updating the format of the test questions under a compressed timeline will not be an easy task.

Learn more about the College Board's take on AP Exam Security

9) Canceling - Students can cancel at no charge

Students who have registered for an exam can cancel at no charge for a full refund.

It seems like most students are going to move forward with the new exam. However, if you're considering canceling, we recommend that you familiarize yourself with all aspects of the new test before making your decision.

9) Free Resources - The College Board will be releasing some free resources.

To help students prepare for the upcoming changes, the College Board is releasing 2 kinds of free resources.

Free AP Review Videos

AP teachers from across the country will be releasing live and recorded classes. You can access the course schedule here

You can also find all videos on the “Advanced Placement” YouTube Channel

Please note that the majority of these videos will be focused on the 75% of the course that will be tested on the exam.

However, they will also cover some supplementary lessons related to the final 25% of the course. Skip these videos if you’re focused purely on preparing for the upcoming test.

Additional Free Response Practice

Free-response questions that were previously only available for in-classroom use by teachers will now be unlocked so students can access more practice questions.

Log into your AP Classroom to access these questions.

10) College/Admissions Impact - Many colleges will honor AP scores.

The College Board states that “colleges support this solution and are committed to ensuring that AP students receive the credit they have worked to earn”.

They reason that colleges historically have accepted shortened exams for credit when students have experienced emergencies.

COVID-19 would certainly constitute an emergency, but it’s unclear exactly which colleges will or will not accept these scores for credit.

Some schools have already officially confirmed that their current policies for AP credit will remain in effect (e.g. Vanderbilt University). Other schools are still deciding what to do and were taken by surprise when the College Board made their announcement.

If you believe that even 1 school on your college list will accept your scores, you’re better off taking the test vs canceling it.

College credit is one thing, but what about the impact of AP scores on improving chances of college admissions? 

If the College Board is able to convert to a shorter online format without a hitch (e.g. acceptable limits on cheating, seamless online experience, accurate scoring and curving), then college admissions teams should evaluate your AP scores with the same weighting as before the Coronavirus.

If there are significant issues with the test, though, admissions offices will treat your AP scores within this context. At the very worst, they will not consider your scores at all.


TIPS & NEXT STEPS

As students prepare for the new exam, consider these tips:

  • Focus all of your practice on free-response questions. Make good use of any free-response questions you can get your hands on and make sure to check the additional free-response questions that will be unlocked in your AP Classroom.
  • Confirm which topics/units will be covered for your test. If your teacher taught things out of order and you haven’t learned certain topics yet, then get caught up on these topics ASAP. If you fall into this category, your AP teacher will most likely have already come up with a plan to get you up to speed.
  • We would probably recommend the later "makeup" testing date for most students. However, if you know that you won’t be able to commit to extended studying on a regular basis, you might be better off signing up for the 1st testing date despite the risk of being the guinea pigs.
  • If you’re not a senior, one extreme option is to consider putting off the test until next May (2021). While it might be tempting to simply deal with things next year, we probably wouldn’t recommend this option. Each year gets progressively more challenging with busier schedules, and next year will be even more challenging as you catch up on lost time due to COVID-19.
  • Ideally, you would combine a deep understanding of the material with tailored prep based on test format. Given the uncertainties of the test format, you’ll want to focus on understanding the material to the best of your abilities. This is probably a painfully obvious statement, but we’re going to make it anyway. The good news is that you can focus your studying on only the 75% of the course that will be tested. Put more focus on topics that are foundational or more heavily weighted.
  • Don’t despair. Free-response questions are generally more difficult but everybody is in the same boat, which should be reassuring. You’ve been preparing all year long and the test is not going to be THAT different. There’s only so much that the College Board can change in such a short amount of time.
  • Expect some hiccups. We're rooting for the College Board to get this right, but we would not be surprised if students run into unexpected challenges.

Also, check out this post - Coronavirus Updates for SAT and ACT Test-Takers - if you plan on taking these tests this year.

Lastly, if you have any additional questions or if you’d like a tutor to help you prepare, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.


Greg & Kevin

Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem-solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


How I Got Into Princeton - Maya (Story #16)

How I Got Into Princeton - Story #16

Maya's Story

"I wanted mostly to do my best. My parents instilled in me this desire to give 110%. If I wasn’t trying my best, I was being apathetic and wasting their hard work, my opportunities, and my abilities."

Meet Maya, a member of Princeton's class of 2020.

In high school, Maya completed A.P. English as a freshman so she could take regular college courses, served as Varsity track captain, and participated frequently in community service efforts.

"I really love learning, and my passion for classroom material led me to participate and seek out other opportunities," Maya states. "I also do well under pressure."

However, Maya's achievements were not without challenge, as she describes in this post. She attributes her success to her core values, especially her passion for service, and her capacity to work towards goals even when up against daunting odds.

Please read below to learn more about Maya and the personal qualities, values, and support system that have allowed her to succeed.

We recommend reading from beginning to end but feel free to skip around. Our favorite section is the "What Makes You You" section, where Jasmine describes her unique qualities and how they contributed to her personal and academic success.

About this Series

In our "How I got Into" series, we share the stories of successful applicants to Princeton and other great colleges.

Our profiles go beyond a simple list of academic and extracurricular achievements. We also delve into the “how” and the qualities that successful applicants exhibit.

We provide a rare look into what drives these students, how they've overcome their challenges, how they've been shaped by significant events in their lives, how they deal with the pressure to succeed, and much more.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

SECTION 1 - FAMILY
SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING
SECTION 3 - ACTIVITIES
SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS
SECTION 5 - THE COLLEGE APPLICATION
SECTION 6 - DAY IN THE LIFE
SECTION 7 - WHAT MAKES YOU YOU
SECTION 8 - CONCLUSION

Disclaimer

Here's what we're NOT doing with this series:

  • We are NOT prescribing an over-engineered approach to college admissions
  • We are NOT presenting a blueprint for how you should get into college
  • We are NOT suggesting that you must gain admissions to a selective school to be successful (you most certainly do not)

Here's what we ARE doing:

  • We are presenting data and sharing stories
  • We are providing context that you usually don't see to highlight that we are more than just our grades and GPA
  • Our ultimate goal is to uncover the values and personal qualities that drive successful applicants

Whether you are considering selective colleges or not, it is our unwavering belief that our values and personal qualities (and luck) are the major contributors to success.


SECTION 1 - FAMILY

Geography

Birthplace: NYC, NY
Where did you grow up? MI

Siblings

# of older siblings:  0
# of younger siblings: 1
Sibling Education Levels:  High School Senior
Where did your siblings go to college?  N/A

Parents

Parent's Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Professor
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: PhD
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: Professor
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: PhD

Parent Beliefs

How would you characterize your parents' parenting style(s)?

Their rule was that I worked hard and did my best. I had to give 110% in whatever I did. Laziness wasn’t an option, but I wasn’t pushed to do a particular activity and they didn’t mind if I didn’t achieve academic perfection. It was about the effort.

On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the most important), how important to your parents was:

Academics 4
Extracurriculars 3
Service 4
Family 5
Friends 3
Physical Health/ Fitness 3
Mental Health 5

Did your parents have specific philosophies regarding any of the areas above?

Family is the most important thing in the world. Academics come before extracurricular activities, a social life, etc. I was encouraged to pursue my love of athletics, but doing well in school was a prerequisite.


SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: Chippewa Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: Okemos High School
High School City, State: Okemos, MI
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 400

SECTION 3 - ACTIVITIES

Jobs

Did you work in high school?  Yes
What kind of job/s did you have? I taught Taekwondo
Average hours/week worked? 2-3
Why did you work? I worked to pay for my taekwondo classes

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

I loved social studies, English, track, and service. I cared a lot about promoting an appreciation of equality and diversity at my school.

How much time did you spend on these things?

I spent the most time on homework, 2-3 hours a day on track, and 1-20 hours a week on service.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

Politics and literature have always been a part of my family’s meal-time conversations.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

My family is very political, so we’re always encouraged to learn, debate, and stand up for what we believe is right.

What level of achievement did you reach?

I was a varsity track captain, and I achieved my goals of finishing high school English freshman year so I could attend the local university classes.

Tell us a little bit about how you achieved these achievements?

I worked really hard. I was lucky to have the opportunity to do so and to devote time to these pursuits.

What kind of support did you have?

I had the support of my family emotionally, academically, and financially. We had enough money where I didn’t have to work outside of my taekwondo job, and I have a whole family network devoted to education. My success is possible because of my parents’ hard work and good fortune, even down to little details, such as the fact that we had a car to drive me to college classes.

What kind of sacrifices/challenges did you overcome to achieve these extracurricular results?

I overcame challenging material in class, institutions that did not push students to challenge themselves and resisted my trying to do so, and the physical challenges of injuries. I was lucky never to have to overcome any greater challenges than these.

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

I was in the National Honors Society, student government, and a community service organization called ACTION, in addition to a group in my high school that promotes conversations around diversity.

How much time did you spend?

It depended on the time of year. Sometimes up to 20 hours, sometimes as little as one.

Why did you choose this activity?

I think it’s important to help the community. It’s just self-evidently the right thing to do.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

Summer after 9th grade, I followed my parents as they taught their study abroad classes in Israel. This was both convenient and by design for my family to be together and my brother and me to learn about our heritage and my mother’s academic passion. 

Summer after 10th grade, I took my parents’ Michigan State University study abroad classes in Israel. I did this because I would be with them anyway and I wanted to learn more about the history and culture of the country and challenge myself academically.

After 11th grade, I studied abroad with MSU again, this time in Turkey. The classes were on gender & power and state & society. I wanted to pursue my passion for learning about politics and gender in a new country and, at the time, another Middle Eastern democracy.


SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: N/A
GPA - Weighted: N/A
GPA - Unweighted 3.97

SAT/ACT

How many times did you take the SAT? 1
How many times did you take the ACT? 2
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? ACT - 34
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? No
How many hours did you study in total? 5
When did you start preparing for the test? I considered the math classes I was taking to be preparation.
When did you take the test? 11th grade

Do you know which test to take? Check out our recommendations here - Should I Take the SAT or the ACT?

Not sure WHEN to take the test? We created 9 Sample Testing Schedules to help get you started

SAT Subject Tests & AP/IBs

Which SAT Subject tests did you take? 

US History and Literature. I scored 700 and 780, respectively.

Which AP/IBs did you take?

AP Literature: 5
AP World History: 5
AP US History: 5
AP Government: 5
AP Calc AB: 5
AP Calc BC: 5
AP Spanish: 5
AP Biology: 4

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

I was the first person in my high school to finish English classes before freshman year. Freshman year, I took AP English, and, from that point, I dual-enrolled at Michigan State University in various courses (namely psychology, politics, and literature). I also consider how hard I worked to do well in math a big achievement because it didn’t come naturally to me at all.

What do you attribute your academic success to?

It’s a combination of luck and hard work. I mean, since I was little, I had the luck of parents with jobs that allowed them to read to me, which probably contributed to my skill in English. I also read a lot as a kid and that helped. I love literature so that helped me to improve my writing and analytical skills over time. My parents helped me find opportunities to push myself because the high school curriculum wasn’t going to challenge me the way I wanted to be challenged. It was hard to make it happen because it had never been done at my high school. I’m so lucky that they had the chutzpah and knowledge to navigate and challenge the system to pave the way for me.  

What kind of support did you have?

My parents paved the way for me to do something that had never been done in the humanities (a few kids had taken a math course at MSU, but never so young). Without their navigating the system for me, I wouldn’t have even known these were possibilities that existed.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

No.

What kind of sacrifices/challenges did you overcome to achieve these academic results?

I remember there being some resistance from school to me going to MSU but I don’t remember how much. I guess in retrospect, I could have seen being in college so young as a challenge, but I felt like I was mature and I didn’t mind. Being 13 in a class with 22-year-olds was tough sometimes, however. I wasn’t ready for the content in my first MSU class (in terms of graphic content).

Any specific approaches/tips & tricks to studying that were particularly helpful for you?

I study in big chunks of time. I’d come home from track practice at 6 pm and study all evening. If I had an MSU class I’d come home at 11 and do the same thing. I find rewriting notes and restructuring the order in which the information is presented is very helpful.


SECTION 5 - THE COLLEGE APPLICATION

Applications & Acceptances

Did you apply as an international or domestic student? Domestic
Did you apply regular or early? Early
How many schools did you apply to? 2
Were you a legacy applicant at any of these schools? Yes. Princeton (both parents)
Were you recruited for athletics, arts, music, etc...? No
Did you declare a major? Did this end up being your actual major? I indicated I was interested in Psychology on my application. It is not my major.

Which schools did you apply to (that you remember)?

Princeton University and University of Michigan.

Which schools did you get into?

Princeton University and the University of Michigan.

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

My college professors and one or two high school teachers.

Why did you ask these specific people?

They knew what I was capable of in the classroom, and how passionate and hard-working I was (more importantly).

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

My family! I wrote about how my family was proud of our varied heritage; the women especially taught me to be proud of who I am and to stand up for myself.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

It was the school I wanted to go to since I was 4. It was #1. I didn’t want it because of the prestige of being #1—I wanted it because I figured it had to be a really good school, and if I aimed for #1, I was sure to fall somewhere good. My parents having gone there probably gave it a warm feel, but I don’t think really influenced my wanting to go there specifically beyond knowing it existed.

Gap Year

Did you take a gap year?

No.

Curious about what happens after you submit your college application? Check out our in-depth guide - How Colleges Read Your Application: A 4 Step Process


SECTION 6 - DAY IN THE LIFE

Typical Day

What was a typical weekday like in your junior year of high school?

School from 8 am - 4:30 pm; Track or XC practice from 4:30 pm - 6:30 pm; MSU class once a week (7pm - 10:30 pm), homework the rest of the night.

On average, how many hours of HW and studying did you do every night?

4.5 hours - 8 hours

What time did you usually go to sleep?

It depended on the day. Midnight, on average.

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

Homework all day every day, unless I had a cross-country or track tournament. I had taekwondo Saturday mornings. Usually we’d take a walk in nature as a family or see a movie, then eat meals together. 


SECTION 7 - WHAT MAKES YOU YOU

Drive/Motivation

What drove you to succeed in high school? Where did this drive come from?

I wanted mostly to do my best. My parents instilled in me this desire to give 110%. If I wasn’t trying my best, I was being apathetic and wasting their hard work, my opportunities, and my abilities. I also wanted to go to Princeton because that goal seemed like doing my best.

Pressure/Stress/Expectations

What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

They expected me to give 110% and work hard. This was never tied to a result, although they always half-joked that my “best” was also an A. But if I didn’t get an A, and I did my best, then they were proud of me.

What kind of pressure did you feel to succeed? Where did this pressure come from?

I felt pressure to work hard. And, I felt like my best would result in almost all As, being on the varsity team, etc., because I had seen it produce that result in the past, and because I had so many resources available to me. I was also really bored if I did not do my best and learn. I really love learning, so it was never a question of not trying in class. I was genuinely really interested in a lot of the topics, but unsatisfied by the way they were taught or how little in-depth analysis we got to do in my high school classes. In class, my passion for the material led me to participate and seek out other opportunities.

How did you deal with this pressure?

I liked having that pressure. I do well under pressure.

Balance

How did you balance everything going on in high school?

I honestly have no idea.

Any strategies, tips, tools, types of support that helped you?

I liked the structure of my routine. I set aside big chunks of time to focus on one thing.

Significant Events

Any major events growing up that helped shape your high school self?

Yes. I had a very hard time in elementary and early middle school, and I feel that really shaped my desire to make others feel included and stand up when I see something wrong. I think my current academic interest in human rights work stems from my desire never to be a bystander to harm.

Other Challenges/Struggles

Any other struggles/challenges (that we didn't discuss so far) that you faced in high school? While growing up?

I did have a really tough time socially until high school. Once, as a result of another kid, I got a concussion that put me in bed for 4 months (I was 11). I used the bedridden time to write a 400-page book. I was lucky that my struggles gave me opportunities to focus more on academics, rather than preventing me from doing so.

Culture/Identity

How do you identify yourself? White (Jewish)
Which languages does your family speak at home? English with Hebrew/Dutch sprinkled around
How many languages are you proficient in? English. I know basic Spanish.
Do you identify with multiple cultures? Yes.

How has your culture or identity influenced you during your middle school or high school years?

It has given me an unshakable sense of self and of pride in where I come from. I think it has given me an appreciation for diversity and for the struggle of the immigrant experience. I think it has motivated me to work harder every step of the way. My parents and grandparents went through so much more than me and have given me every opportunity, so it’s a waste of their love not to try my best in everything I do.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Love, family, God, honesty, standing up for what’s right, passionate curiosity.

What was your #1 core value?

They are all interconnected so I won’t choose one.

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I think I demonstrated them in service, but more importantly, the way I treated the people around me. I like to think that as a leader, as a friend, and as a student, I made others feel welcome—and I spoke up when I didn’t see that happening.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

I am loving, honest, curious, and I am not afraid of things—I have never let nervousness stop me from going after something I wanted, or not said what I thought was right because I feared the consequences or the situation.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

I was always really happy, enthusiastic, friendly, and creative. I always loved reading, being in nature, and staying active. I loved winning physical competitions and climbing trees. Not much has changed.

Uniqueness

Was there anything special or different about your family when you were growing up that helped shape who you were in high school?

My family is exceptionally loving. I think this baseline of a happy home with two parents who are madly in love, and an affectionate little brother, is unusual. And I think it gave me a baseline to weather storms that came my way. Everything is easier when you can count on that safe home.

What do you think makes you unique?

Everyone is unique! So I don’t really know how to answer that. I think I have a great combination of loyalty, curiosity, adventurousness, and empathy.

Influences/Mentors/Support

Did you have any major influences growing up? If so, who/what were your they?

My family (parents, brother, grandparents), books (The Book Thief, Harry Potter, Series of Unfortunate Events, some political books), and heroes (Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King).

If you had a question or needed some advice, who would you go to?

My parents.


SECTION 8 - CONCLUSION

Important Lessons

Most important lessons that you learned or were taught while growing up?

I learned pretty early on that most of the time most people won’t stand up and speak when something morally wrong is happening and somebody is getting hurt. If you see something wrong happening, you can never count on someone else to be the one to stand up and stop it. You have to be that person, every single time.

Advice

Any advice you would give to your high school self?

High school me, you did good, kid. Help your parents more often around the house. Don’t worry that you feel lonely sometimes—it’s better to be lonely than surrounded by people who don’t contribute to your life in a positive way.

When you get to university, set a goal to go to the #1 law school in the country. You need goals to stay focused, even if they change over time, because otherwise you get so curious about so many different things you scatter all over the place.

Also, don’t waste time dating people you know aren’t great guys!


NEXT STEPS

Check out our first profile and learn about Destiny's journey.

Like what you read? Subscribe to our mailing list, and we’ll let you know when we release similar articles and other in-depth guides. Please also share using the buttons on the side.

At PrepMaven, our mission is not only to help your child increase their test scores and get into a great college but also to put them on the right track for long-term personal and professional success.


Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg & Kevin

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem-solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


Coronavirus Updates for SAT and ACT Test-Takers

Coronavirus Updates for SAT and ACT Test-Takers

The global spread of COVID-19 has deeply impacted the education world. Most students have been partaking in remote learning as schools remain closed across the country.

What's more, the coronavirus pandemic has also impacted standardized testing schedules.

If you're an SAT or ACT test-taker, you're likely wondering whether or not you'll be able to even sit for the exam this summer and/or fall!

In this post, we provide ongoing coronavirus updates for 2020 SAT and ACT test-takers. We will keep this article regularly updated so that you can be confident you're getting the latest information.

Here's what we cover in this post:

Last updated: June 4, 2020 at 12:00 PM EST

Coronavirus Updates for SAT Test-Takers

The College Board, the organization that produces and administers the SAT, officially canceled its March, May, and June administrations of the SAT and all SAT Subject Tests.

Canceled SAT Testing Dates 
March 14, 2020
May 2, 2020
June 6, 2020

The College Board was unable to reschedule the March 25th SAT School Day administration. Schools will be able to offer two SAT School Days on September 23 and October 14 if they remain open.

What is the CollegeBoard going to do about future SAT testing dates?

Right now, it intends to provide weekend SAT administrations every month through the end of 2020, starting on August 29th. This will add one new SAT administration on September 26th. It will retain the previously scheduled tests on October 3, November 7, and December 5. The CollegeBoard might also add an administration in January 2021 "if there is demand for it."

International students will be able to take SAT subject tests on November 7th.

Here's what the remaining anticipated national SAT testing dates for 2020 look like now:

Anticipated SAT Testing Dates 2020 
August 29, 2020
September 26, 2020
October 3, 2020
November 7, 2020
December 5, 2020

Registration is OPEN for all of these tests, but seats at testing centers may be extra limited due to social distancing guidelines.

Note: Many students are trying to register for fall SATs right now. Expect delays and interruptions when registering online. As of now, the CollegeBoard is temporarily suspending registration for students outside of North America. 

Refunds and Makeup Exams for the SAT

You can expect a refund of all registration fees if any of these situations apply to you as an SAT test-taker:

  • Your test center for the March 14th SAT was closed
  • You were scheduled to take the March 28th makeup SAT exam
  • You were registered for the May 2nd SAT and/or SAT Subject Tests
  • You haven't or will not receive your March scores for any reason
  • You don't want to transfer your June SAT registration to a future date

Refunds should be issued soon, if they haven't already.

International Students

If you are an international student taking the SAT, the next available international SAT testing date is August 29, 2020 (pending further coronavirus updates). You will also be eligible for the new September administration, fall and winter 2020 testing dates, and/or remote testing options (should the CollegeBoard institute this).

International students can take subject tests on November 7th.

Testing Accommodations

We recommend students with approved accommodations contact the College Board directly (see contact details below) for further information.

College Admissions

What about the college application process?

The College Board has asked member colleges to extend their score submission deadlines for the coming application season and give equal consideration to applicants who are not able to test due to COVID-19. It's also encouraging colleges to recognize "that students who do submit scores may not have been able to take the test more than once."

Additional Resources

All of these cancelations don't have to derail your SAT prep! Students still have access to a variety of free resources online through the College Board and Khan Academy.

Families and students are welcome to reach out to the College Board for more information, too (although call wait times may be long!). Here are all the relevant contact details:

Email: [email protected]
Phone (domestic): 866-756-7346*
Phone (international): +1-212-713-7789*

*Phone support hours are 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday. Expect long wait times.


Coronavirus Updates for ACT Test-Takers

The ACT canceled its April 4, 2020 administration of the ACT test and rescheduled it for June 13th.

However, some test centers have already cancelled their June 13th administrations. Students can expect emails from the ACT regarding whether or not their test center will be able to offer the test on June 13th.

We encourage all students registered for the June exam to check the ACT's test center cancellations page.

If you were registered to take the ACT on April 4th, you should have received an email and/or mail notice with specific instructions for a free rescheduling for the June 13th exam (or another national test date).

Here are the next anticipated ACT national test dates for 2020:

Next Anticipated ACT Testing Dates 
June 13, 2020 (tentative)
July 18, 2020
September 12, 2020*
October 24, 2020*
December 12, 2020*

*Registration for these exams is not yet open.

ACT has also announced an online version of the test to be administered this fall or early winter. They'll release more details about this soon, but in the meantime, only paper testing is available.

Refunds

If you don't wish to reschedule your ACT exam, you'll receive a full refund of registration fees for the April 4th exam, if you haven't already. You'll also be able to receive a refund if your June 13th test is cancelled.

International Students

Students scheduled for the April 4, 2020 ACT exam at an international testing center will have their exam rescheduled for June 13, 2020. International ACT test-takers can also register for the July 18, 2020 ACT exam at international testing centers.

Special Testing and Non-Saturday Exams

If you receive ACT testing accommodations or were registered to test on a non-Saturday, you'll still be able to have Special and/or Non-Saturday Testing for the June exam (and future exams). This also applies to international students taking the ACT.

We recommend that students with Special Testing approval contact an ACT representative to ensure they receive these accommodations for the June exam if needed.

College Admissions

The ACT recognizes that some college applicants might now miss test score submission deadlines for the schools on their list. Here's what it says specifically about this on its website:

ACT is committed to making every effort to help students impacted by this test date change, particularly seniors facing college application deadlines for this fall. More information will be released as it becomes available in the days ahead. 

For now, we recommend that high school seniors contact the admissions departments of their schools of choice to see what their guidelines are for score submission.

Keep in mind that most deadlines for traditional undergraduate applications have passed, so most students who took the ACT in the fall and/or winter of 2019 and submitted these scores to colleges will not be impacted.

Contact Information

If you'd like to talk directly to an ACT representative about rescheduling, etc., reach out by phone, email, or live chat. Expect long wait times.

ACT Customer Care

Phone: 319-337-1270, available Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM CT 

ACT Testing Accommodations

Phone: 319-337-1332, available Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM CT

*Email and live chat are available via ACT.org.


Our Recommendations

We understand that this time can be challenging in multiple respects, especially for students and families well along the path of college admissions.

Here's what we recommend SAT and ACT test-takers keep in mind in the coming weeks and months:

1. Anticipate the possibility of additional rescheduled or canceled ACT and SAT testing dates

Given the scale and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, our guess is that things likely won't go back to "normal" for quite some time.

At the very least, in the middle of all of this uncertainty, it's wise to mentally prepare yourself for additional rescheduled or canceled testing dates, for both the SAT and the ACT. 

Remember that you can still maintain your test prep during this time, even with these hiccups in testing schedules. What's more, this can be a valuable time for high school juniors to take a deep dive into writing and preparing their college application essays. Get a head start now!

2. If your test was canceled, sign up ASAP for the next testing date

Why is it important to act fast in this regard? Testing "seats" are limited at all testing centers, so it's vital to sign up as soon as possible for the next testing date to ensure you'll have a spot. If you have the resources, sign up for an additional backup date to ensure another seat.

This applies to both the SAT and the ACT.

3. Sign up ASAP even if you're planning on a testing date later in the year

Even if your testing dates weren't impacted but you're planning on a testing date in the fall or the winter, you'll want to sign up ASAP.

Testing center seats are limited and there is a good chance there will still be "spillover" from the earlier testing dates that were canceled.

The ACT usually opens up registrations every July for testing dates through the next testing year (September - July). You should be able to sign up for email or text alerts here, but you'll also want to check the website in mid-July yourself as well.

For the SAT, you can check here for SAT registration deadlines. You will be able to register if there is a "Register" button next to your desired date.

4. Keep on studying

It might feel impossible to pick up your SAT or ACT prep books right now, especially in the middle of so much uncertainty. However, effective prep for standardized tests involves consistent practice and review of content and strategies.

Furthermore, some colleges will consider going test-optional for this upcoming application season. Even if they don't, we're confident that college admissions officers will consider your scores in the context of COVID-19.

These developments should relieve some of the stress around testing. For some students, they'll take these announcements as a reason to place less emphasis on the test or even stop studying altogether.

However, we urge students to continue studying consistently and diligently. In a situation that will tempt many students to slow things down, maximizing your test scores will set you apart even more so.

It's okay to take a brief break from your prep right now, but when possible, return to your studies to ensure you don't lose the traction you've gained.


Other Relevant Information

Families and students may also wish to regularly check with the World Health Organization and CDC for general updates about the pandemic's spread in the U.S.

We'll include other relevant details here as more coronavirus updates arise. For now, rest assured that we at PrepMaven are committed to all of our students' success, regardless of what happens next. This means that all of our current clients and tutors will be moving their work online to ensure the safety of all involved.

We are also here to provide academic tutoring support to students who are participating in remote learning through their home institutions.

Please feel free to drop us a line if you have additional questions!


Greg & Kevin

Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem-solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.