How I Got Into Princeton - Aja (Story #14)

How I Got Into Princeton - Story #14

Aja's Story

Devorah Saffern"Being surrounded by other motivated, intellectual students makes me want to work harder."

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

In high school, Aja participated in numerous academic activities, in and out of the classroom, including Mock Trial, research programs, and peer tutoring. She earned various achievements in these pursuits, including regional finalist in the Siemens Science Competition, first place in the Gildor Family Projects and Inventions Competition, and a Salutatorian Award from her high school.

Aja attributes her success to her capacity to use challenge as a strength.

"Really challenging myself actually improved my focus in school and I was able to accomplish more once that pressure was put on me," she reflects.

Please read below to learn more about Aja 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 "Activities" section, where Aja describes her impressive array of activities that eventually cultivated her career interests.

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: Bergenfield, NJ
Where did you grow up? Bergenfield, NJ

Siblings

# of older siblings:  1
# of younger siblings: 0
Sibling Education Levels:  Undergraduate
Where did your siblings go to college?  Stern College for Women (of Yeshiva University) and transferred (3-2 program) to Columbia School of Engineering

Parents

Parent's Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both Parents
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Project manager for Bank of New York Melon
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: Masters
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: High school teacher
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: Masters

Parent Beliefs

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

Relatively laid back - moderate

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

Academics 2
Extracurriculars 1
Service 2
Family 3
Friends 3
Physical Health/ Fitness 4
Mental Health 5

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

They strongly believed in not pressuring us to get good grades, but rather to just try our best and enjoy learning. They thought challenging ourselves in math and science was important, but not necessarily other subjects, and encouraged us not to take on too many extracurricular activities in order to have time for our school work and maintain a balanced lifestyle.


SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey
Type of School: Private

High School

High School: Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls
High School City, State: Teaneck, New Jersey
Type of School: Private
Class Size: 70

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?

Mock trial, track team, peer tutoring, remembrance committee, math team, ice skating, Garcia Summer Research Program (but went beyond summer and into the school year), Science Research elective course.

How much time did you spend on these things?

In-School Activities

Mock trial: grades 11-12, 3 hours per week; Track team: grades 10-11, 1 hour per week; Peer tutoring: grades 10-12, 4 hours per week; Remembrance Committee: grades 11-12; 1 hour every month; Math Team: grades 11-12, a few hours preparation and one competition annually for a full day

Co-curricular Activities

I took an elective course in 10th grade titled “Science Research,” and the entire course was spent preparing for and participating in an engineering competition called the Gildor Family Projects and Inventions Competition, through a Jewish organization. There were ten of us in the class who worked as a team, and we also spent a lot of time after school, several hours a week (varying from 1 – 5 hours depending on how close to competition time it was).

Outside of School Activities

The Garcia Summer Research Program continued into my senior year as I came back to the lab a couple of times; my lab partner and I wrote up our research and analyzed the data from our homes on the computer, which we worked on for about 12 hours per week, September – early November.

I also took ice skating lessons my junior year for 1 hour every Sunday.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

My interest in tutoring began my second year of high school after I had completed courses the previous year that I could help other students with. It picked up pretty rapidly – I first started tutoring some friends of mine who had learning difficulties and spent time in the “learning center,” and then the learning center head coordinator started assigning me to more students in other grades who needed help in various subjects. Initially, I just tutored math and science, but some of my students asked if I could help in History and English, so I began tutoring in those subjects as well. Soon after I started, I was working with several different students once or twice a week in the mornings before class or during my lunch break.

I joined the mock trial team in 11th grade. It had always been an interest of mine, but in my first two years of high school, I was very quiet and nervous to try out. By my third year, I felt very comfortable in my school and wanted to get more involved in activities outside of class (and specifically something non-science related). I tried out as a witness and played the role of an expert witness once I was on the team. I soon discovered that this was a strong passion of mine (both public speaking and the mock court/legal process).

I joined the track team in 10th grade with a few friends because we thought it would be a fun way to get exercise and practices were conveniently on Sunday mornings. The team was the only athletic team that did not have try-outs, which was why we picked it.

I applied to the Garcia Research program because I wanted something to do for the summer and enjoyed science research. I also wanted to see if engineering/research was a career I would be interested in. I did the Science Research elective because I was interested in science competitions and science research and had to pick an elective class anyways that year in school, and that was the one I was most interested in.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

I continued to do a lot of tutoring throughout high school, sticking to some of the same students and taking on some new ones every year. I also got some private tutoring jobs for pay outside of school.

Mock trial was a really enjoyable activity for me – I became more comfortable with public speaking and learned more about the (“mock”) law field. We had many after school practices leading up to the competitions, and I thoroughly enjoyed those.

Track became less of a central activity as I got busier with mock trial and schoolwork.

The Science Research elective course was geared towards preparing for and participating in this engineering competition. We had to build a model system to prevent collisions between trains and cars at intersections. Initially, the team had trouble working together as our teacher provided little guidance and we did not know where to begin, but eventually we split up the tasks and learned how to work together. A mentor sent from the competition to guide us was also helpful in teaching us the engineering principles.

The Garcia Summer Research program really fueled my interest in science, as I spent much time in the lab that summer. My partner was very motivated to enter competitions, which motivated me, and together we advanced and it made me realize I wanted to pursue a career in science.

What level of achievement did you reach?

I never placed in track competitions and our mock trial team did not advance. My lab partner and I submitted our summer research from the summer before my senior year in high school to the Siemens Competition and advanced to the Regional Finals. My team in 10th grade that worked on the engineering project won first place among several Jewish high schools that competed in the United States and flew to Israel to compete against Israeli schools, where we tied for first place (an American school was not allowed to be the sole winner).

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

For my science research elective class, we had help from a mentor sent from the competition, but mainly we were able to progress further in our project when we realized our individual sub-teams within the main team had to work together more. We initially thought we were behind because we had difficulty getting our system to work, but in the end, the struggles implementing it paid off. We built a lot of the materials from scratch. In the Siemens Competition, my lab partner and I spent a lot of time writing up our research after we finished it, and read previous papers from students who participated in the year before us. We also read a lot of online literature to write about the context of our research in the paper we wrote. We had some guidance from our research mentor and the head of our program in writing up and presenting our research.

What kind of support did you have?

See the previous answer.

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

Participating in the Siemens Competition took a lot of time out of my school-work senior year, and I also missed some class time preparing for and partaking in the competition. For the Gildor Competition, we struggled and overcame a lot. After winning, our mentor even told us this was the team he least expected to do so, as we were working with so few materials and made most of our headway close to the deadline. He said we were like a plant that grew underground and then suddenly sprouted…I think what he meant by that is that in coming up with creative and complex ideas we struggled with technical stuff and our team dynamics, but overcoming those obstacles is what made our finished product so special and unique.

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

I did a summer program called GIVE USA through an organization called NCSY, in which 40 girls traveled together over the course of a month to several states in the southern United States doing various volunteering work in different communities.

How much time did you spend?

4 weeks in July, summer before 11th grade, most hours of the day (so around 40 hours per week)

Why did you choose this activity?

I wanted to explore different communities in the United States (I had never been to many of the states we traveled to, including Atlanta, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana), and had also never done much service before, aside from tutoring or food packaging with my high school, and working with special needs kids a few times. We got to do both physical labor such as farming, painting, food packaging, working for Habitat for Humanity building homes, and visiting old age homes and special needs children. I also wanted to meet more girls my age outside of my high school who were from places besides NJ and NY. I  made very diverse friends.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

Summer after 9th grade, I was a counselor in a local day camp. I did this because I wanted to make some money and have a relaxed summer while spending time with friends, some of whom also worked in the camp with me.

Summer after 10th grade, I volunteered for GIVE USA Volunteering Program.

Summer after 11th grade, I attended the Garcia Summer Research Program (see “activities” section), I wanted to get lab experience in the engineering field (the program took place in several materials science engineering labs) to explore potential career interests and determine whether I wanted to apply to engineering schools for college--and because I really enjoyed science!


SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: 2
GPA - Weighted: n/a
GPA - Unweighted 97 / 100

SAT/ACT

How many times did you take the SAT? 2
How many times did you take the ACT? 0
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? 730 critical reading, 760 math, 760 writing
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? Yes
How many hours did you study in total? 60
When did you start preparing for the test? A few months before I took it for the first time
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? 

Chemistry (800), Math 2 (780)

Which AP/IBs did you take?

Chemistry (5), Calculus BC (5), Physics 1 (4), English Literature (5)

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

Regional finalist in the Siemens Science Competition, first place team for Gildor Family Projects and Inventions Competition, Salutatorian Award and Bausch and Lomb Honorary Science Award awarded by my high school

What do you attribute your academic success to?

The support of my mentors in those competitions/programs was very helpful, but I think what most motivated me to submit my summer research to the Siemens Competition and in writing a good research paper was my lab partner. She was very intent on submitting to as many competitions as possible and spending many hours on our entry, and that made me more motivated to work hard and want to do a good job. Once I got into the work, I started to enjoy it and wanted to work hard and spend many hours--for myself. I attribute much of my success to having her as a motivator, as well as the other students around me on the Garcia Summer Research Program. Being surrounded by other motivated, intellectual students makes me want to work harder. Also in the Gildor Competition, I was working with a team of classmates. It made the work more fun and made me not want to let anyone down, leading me to try harder.

What kind of support did you have?

My school supported me when I was participating in the Siemens Competition – I spoke to my assistant principal who excused me from classes for a week to prepare with my lab partner. My research mentor and program director looked over our presentation and gave us ideas to prepare. The week of the competition my lab partner and I met up to prepare, and her father, who has experience presenting through his work in business, worked with us for many hours to prepare our presentation. In the Gildor Competition, I had mostly the support of my peers participating, and a little bit from our teacher (though not that much guidance). 

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

Yes; for the SAT.

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

I overcame a few challenges in the process – in the Gildor Competition, our team struggled a lot to build our model, as we did not feel we had a proper background knowledge or guidance from mentors. We also did not have a large budget for materials, but in the end we used that to our advantage. We used few materials and very basic principles to build simple circuits that we could use in our system, and “sold” our project to the judges by telling them it was practical, economical, and easily implementable. That, I think, is what led them to choose our project to advance. I remember other teams had the car removed from the intersection through a large robotic crane, and that model certainly cost more than ours but was less practical in real life. We inserted wheels into the train tracks to move the car off.

In the Siemens Competition and, in general, in my academic accomplishments, I was never thinking about applying to schools like Princeton. (My parents always thought they were too expensive and that we were not “in that world”.) I pursued these science programs and studied for AP classes, etc. out of enjoyment for the subjects, and because I felt that it would help me determine what sort of career I wanted to pursue after high school and college (and what to study in college). In my senior year, after meeting my lab partner and other students who were very motivated, participating in science competitions, and planning to apply to ivy league schools, I began to look into some of that. The Siemens Competition took place at MIT, and while we were there we met the Dean of Admissions, which is what really led me to think seriously about applying there.

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

I put a lot of time into studying in 11th grade, but less so in 12th grade when I was busy with the Siemens competition and college applications. Even though I took on more in 12th grade, I was able to succeed just as well – really challenging myself actually improved my focus in school and I was able to accomplish more once that pressure was put on me. So my advice is: never to be afraid to challenge yourself or take on “too much” (despite my parents giving the opposite advice).


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 applied as Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE)

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

Harvard, Princeton, MIT, University of Pennsylvania (Engineering School), Columbia (Engineering School), University of Maryland, Stern College for Women (of Yeshiva University), Queens CollegeCity College 

Which schools did you get into?

Princeton, MIT, University of Maryland, Stern College for Women, Queens College, and City College

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

My Pre-Calculus teacher, AP Chemistry teacher, Talmud teacher, assistant Principal who was also my Jewish history teacher, and head of the Garcia Summer Research Program 

Why did you ask these specific people?

I’m not sure if my college guidance counselor sent all these letters to every school, but I initially only had 2-3 recommendations but needed the Talmud teacher for Stern College, as the school teaches Judaic studies as part of their dual curriculum, and my assistant Principal offered to write me an additional one later in the application cycle. I think my assistant Principal offered because she got to know me more as a person in my senior year when dealing with my missing class for the science competition. She also knew all of my academic progress from my individual teachers. I asked my Pre-Calculus and AP Chemistry teachers because I worked hardest in those course, had the closest relationships with them because of smaller class sizes, and my applications were for engineering schools or science majors. I was also told that having a recommendation from the head of the Garcia Program has a strong pull and has helped many students in the past.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about my experience attending the Garcia Summer Research Program the summer before my senior year. The program was housed on Stony Brook University’s college campus, and it was my first time dorming away from home. I had not really done a program for an extended period that was co-ed and with people who were not Orthodox Jewish like me. I wrote about how my science experiment in the lab that summer mirrored my religious “experiment,” as my beliefs were changed and strengthened from being with people whose beliefs and practices were different from my own. I talked about enjoying this diversity.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

I narrowed down my choices to MIT and Princeton by the end of senior year. I chose Princeton because I liked the balance between a good engineering education and strong liberal arts curriculum (as I am interested in both and was not 100% certain I would become an engineer). I also liked the larger Jewish community of Princeton.

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?

I went to an Orthodox Jewish all girls school with a dual curriculum of both secular and Judaic studies – which meant we had 11 class periods throughout the day of about 40 minutes each, and got out of school at 5:15pm everyday. First we would have prayers, 5 classes, lunch period, then another 5 classes. Junior year I spent my mornings (during prayer services or breakfast after prayers but before first period) doing peer tutoring. I would have 5 courses, which included Pre-Calc, Jewish Philosophy, Bible, US History, and AP Chem. On Mondays, AP Chem would also meet during lunch period as more periods were needed than fit into our schedule. I then had English, Talmud for two periods, Gym class, and Advanced Bible as my elective course. I would get home at 5:15pm, eat dinner and relax until 8:00pm, then do school work until around 12. Some nights I would stay later in school till around 8pm for mock trial practice.

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

4

What time did you usually go to sleep?

12:00am

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

On Friday afternoon, my school let out early for Sabbath, which begins Friday night at sundown, and ends Saturday evening. On Sabbath, I ate Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch with family, went to Saturday morning services, and spent Saturday afternoon hanging out with friends. Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, I either did activities with friends or schoolwork. Most Sunday afternoons and evenings I spent on schoolwork.


SECTION 7 - WHAT MAKES YOU YOU

Drive/Motivation

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

I was not so focused on getting into college like some other students in my school but rather was driven by the pleasure I got from excelling in my math and science classes. I initially felt that I was not as good at humanities subjects, but, in school, I learned that I did have a passion for those as I connected with my teachers and enjoyed writing essays for class assignments. I did not think so much about extracurriculars until my junior year, and I think that's when I began to think a bit about college. I was hoping to improve my application profile so I could obtain a scholarship to Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University, an all girls Jewish college in New York City where my sister had gone and where many girls from my high school went. That led to some of my drive to “look good” for college applications. Once I explored clubs, I chose mock trial and stuck to it, not just for that but also because I enjoyed it. It was not until college guidance suggested I apply to schools like Penn and Princeton that I began thinking more about it.

Pressure/Stress/Expectations

What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

My parents strongly believed in not pressuring me to do well in school. I should try my best and take the classes that I would enjoy, they said. If anything, they emphasized not taking on too much, as happiness and enjoyment were more valuable to them than academic achievement. My mom would say not to take too many extracurriculars like others who were obsessed with getting into college.

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

I felt little to no pressure from my family to succeed (though my sister was already in college and a top student in her high school, so that may have motivated me). My peers' participation in a lot of activities may have lead me to do so in my later years in high school; academically, I put the pressure on myself, but mainly because I enjoyed studying and thought it was fun to challenge myself to get good grades.

How did you deal with this pressure?

I did not feel such strong pressure, but mainly just put in a lot of time. I would turn down hanging out with friends occasionally to have more time to study.

Balance

How did you balance everything going on in high school?

I spent most nights doing schoolwork and did not take on so many extra activities in my first two years while adjusting. I used weekends to do work too. I did not find it so difficult to juggle my time, though I did find it hard getting out so late every day. In the evening I was tired from the long day but still had to do my homework. I caught up on sleep a lot on weekends.

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

I would read over and recite my notes out loud. I memorized useful formulas and facts, even for non-memorization based classes like math and chemistry. I also started studying early for the SAT and SAT subject tests, so that it did not interfere too much with my schoolwork.  

Significant Events

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

My decision to go to my particular high school, I think, is what largely shaped my high school self. My older sister went to a more religious girls school that was also less feminist in its religious practices – it did not teach women Talmud (an integral part of Jewish law which all-boys schools focus on heavily). My school emphasized the importance of girls learning this too, as it is a large part of the Jewish Law process. The school was very progressive for an Orthodox all-girls school – it was big on critical thinking, letting the students have a strong say in how the school was run, and open to students offering their own ideas. I felt that this fit really well with the way I learned, which I felt was on the more creative side. My teachers in elementary school and parents had always told me I was an out of the box thinker. When I chose this school, at first my parents were resistant because it was more progressive than my sister’s school (they were worried about religious practices differing slightly) and because my sister had not gone there. Once I decided to go, however, I felt that I fit in very well. I loved the school’s way of teaching and felt smart, which I had not always felt in elementary, where I had had much more trouble focusing in class. Socially, this was also an exciting experience for me. In elementary school, the same couple of girls with more dominant personalities than mine always wanted to do everything with me. They attended the other high school that my sister attended, where everyone had expected me to go. I came into high school with a couple of friends, but was for the most part on my own for the first time. I think coming into a place without many people who knew me and where I began to feel smarter made me more confident.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

I cannot think of any.

Culture/Identity

How do you identify yourself? White
Which languages does your family speak at home? English
How many languages are you proficient in? 2: English and Hebrew
Do you identify with multiple cultures? Yes

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

My Jewish identity was a large part of my growing up. In middle school, I felt like I had less choice in the way in which I practice religion, but my high school allowed me to question and explore more through my religion courses and I formed a stronger religious identity.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Kindness, peace, sensitivity (these made me want to maintain good friendships in high school with people who I felt were like-minded), creativity, accomplishment/achievement (because I did put in the effort to make sure my grades were good, even if I didn’t realize I cared so much).

What was your #1 core value?

Kindness

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I tried reaching out to various people and be really inclusive of everyone around me. I liked helping peers with school work and tutoring other students (which led me to participate in Peer Tutoring a lot).

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

I try to be very sensitive to other people and pay close attention to what other people are thinking. I’m very thorough and attentive to detail, and I think that translates into my schoolwork.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

In middle school, I was pretty quiet and a little all over the place. I did not care much about grades, nor was I motivated to try hard until 8th grade when I applied to high school and realized my love for math (I was taking Algebra). I hung out with whichever friends seemed interested in me, but was not so proactive about reaching out to other people on my own.

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 sister and I went to different high schools, which I felt was interesting because most families in my community had several kids who attended the same school. My parents valued doing what was best for each of us separately. Also, most of my friends’ families had several siblings in my community, while I only had one sister. 

What do you think makes you unique?

I don’t like to fit into a box like most people in my community. In general, I like to float between friend groups. I have more of a mediator personality and don’t like to stick to one extreme.

What I love most about college is finally getting to have diverse friends who are not just like me. I value many different things (including religious values, intellectualism, etc.) and try to balance them in a unique way.

Influences/Mentors/Support

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

I really admired my mom growing up for working so hard as an immigrant and single mother. She instilled a value system that relied on hard work and diligence.

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

I consider my friends to be my strongest support system.


SECTION 8 - CONCLUSION

Important Lessons

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

My mom always encouraged me to pursue what I enjoy, not care what others think, and reach out to and be nice to people who seem to need it. 

Advice

Any advice you would give to your high school self?

To pursue the academics and activities that I enjoy most (not what looks best on a college application) because that is what will enable me to succeed the most for college.


NEXT STEPS

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

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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.


How I Got Into Princeton - Alyssa (Story #13)

How I Got Into Princeton - Story #13

Alyssa's Story

"I think my interests were inherently balanced – I used different parts of my brain for everything and that really helped."

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

In high school, Alyssa challenged herself with rigorous advanced courses, served as President of the Debate Team, and volunteered on a weekly basis to directly impact her community.

Her achievements include claiming seven state public speaking titles, graduating Summa Cum Laude from her high school, and earning a perfect score on the ACT.

Alyssa attributes her success to her capacity to claim responsibility for her performance and her dedication to self-improvement.

"My drive mainly came from a desire to be the best and to prove to myself that I could do anything I worked hard at," Alyssa says. "I felt responsible for every success and every failure."

Please read below to learn more about Alyssa 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 Alyssa describes her unique perspectives on achievement, family relationships, and culture.

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: Edmond, OK
Where did you grow up? Norman, OK and Land O Lakes, FL

Siblings

# of older siblings:  1
# of younger siblings: 0
Sibling Education Levels:  Bachelor's Degree
Where did your siblings go to college?  University of Oklahoma

Parents

Parent's Marital Status: Divorced
With whom do you make your permanent home? Parent 1 (Mother)
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Property Management + Market Research
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: Bachelor’s Degree
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: Computer Technician
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: High School, Some College

Parent Beliefs

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

Laidback Tiger Mom

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

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

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

Extracurriculars and friends are fantastic…until they interfere with academics.


SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: Whittier Middle School and Weightman Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: Land O Lakes High School
High School City, State: Land O Lakes, FL
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 450

SECTION 3 - ACTIVITIES

Jobs

Did you work in high school?  Yes
What kind of job/s did you have? Private ACT Tutor
Average hours/week worked? 3
Why did you work? I wanted experience handling money that I made myself

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

Debate and Public Speaking

How much time did you spend on these things?

At least 10hrs/week

When did these passions/interests first come about?

During my freshman year, I joined a business competition and kept going.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

I took on leadership positions because I was experienced in the clubs.

What level of achievement did you reach?

I became President of Debate and Secretary of FBLA. I also won 7 state titles in public speaking.

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

I practiced as much as I could in our school meetings so that I would be very competitive at the district and state levels.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents were an incredible support system throughout high school.  They encouraged me to try new things, and become more involved when I did. They also backed me up when I wanted to push my school or my counselor for an opportunity.

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

My mom was extremely supportive as it made me very organized and confident. My debate teacher and I were also extremely close.

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

I volunteered at a daycare, at the library, at the local rec center, and at various elementary schools.

How much time did you spend?

2 hours / week

Why did you choose this activity?

I really like the idea of giving back directly to my community. I wanted to volunteer at places that I frequently attend as sort of a trade.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

I traveled with my family because I didn’t get to travel much during the school year.


SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: 2
GPA - Weighted: 4.86
GPA - Unweighted 4.0

SAT/ACT

How many times did you take the SAT? 0
How many times did you take the ACT? 2
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? 36 (36 in English, Math, Reading, Science, 35 in Writing)
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? No
How many hours did you study in total? 38
When did you start preparing for the test? 3 weeks before the test date
When did you take the test? 11th and 12th grades

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 E: 760 Chemistry: 690

Which AP/IBs did you take?

AP World: 3, AP Euro: 3, AP Psych: 5, AP Bio: 4, AP Eng Comp: 4, AP US: 5, AP Calc: 3, IB Math: 6, IB Bio: 6, IB Spanish: 6, IB History of Americas: 7, IB English: 7, IB Chem: 5

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

IB Salutatorian, Summa Cum Laude, Most Outstanding Senior, Voted Most Likely to be Successful

What do you attribute your academic success to?

An incredible amount of studying and discipline—the large majority of my time in high school was devoted to my desk at home. I would often come home from a club meeting, study until dinner, eat, and study until bed.

What kind of support did you have?

My mom was incredibly understanding. She took care of most of the household duties so I could study.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

No.

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

I didn’t really get to do as much as I wanted to socially because I had to prioritize my studies. Also, I lived 35 minutes from school, so I had to wake up much earlier and get home much later than everyone, which limited how often I could go to afterschool meetings or social events like football games.

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

I always had to put away my phone for 30-minute intervals. I also really enjoyed making lists of the homework I had to complete: I would alternate between hard assignments and easy ones to make sure I didn’t get too fatigued.


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? 6
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? No

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

University of Florida, University of South Florida, Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University, Duke University, Stanford University

Which schools did you get into?

UF, USF, Princeton

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

My History teacher and my Debate teacher.

Why did you ask these specific people?

My History teacher taught me how to love the subject and we bonded over various topics throughout the year. He also challenged me by grading my papers harsher so that I would be a better historian. My debate teacher worked with me to organize the debate club for multiple years and conventions, so I knew she could communicate my skills well.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about my talent for making lists. I can’t sing or paint, but I can make something that saves me time, makes my life easier, and helps me feel accomplished.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

They had the major I was interested in (Public Affairs), and I was excited to be a part of such a rigorous academic community.

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?

I would head to school fairly early in the morning and go through my classes: IB Chemistry, IB Spanish IV, IB Math, AP Biology, AP US History, and then AP English Composition. After school ended, I usually had a meeting of some sort for a club that took an hour or two. After this meeting, I would head home and try to do as much homework as possible before dinner. I would pause my studies to eat dinner and watch an episode of a TV show with my family, and then I would resume working on homework or studying until I finished. I normally didn’t have any free time after I finished work and would have to go to bed immediately.

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

6-7

What time did you usually go to sleep?

11:00pm

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

I went to the gym with my parents on Saturday and Sunday mornings and then ate lunch with them at a local café. Saturday evenings were mainly spent with my friends. Sundays would be my homework days, so I tried to get as much homework done or studying done so I could go to bed earlier during the week.


SECTION 7 - WHAT MAKES YOU YOU

Drive/Motivation

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

I always was a high-achieving student, but my high school environment made me more competitive and narrowed my focus. I was in a program that surrounded me with like-minded students, which helped me stay focused. My drive mainly came from a desire to be the best and to prove to myself that I could do anything I worked hard at. I would get upset with myself if I ever faltered out of lack of effort; I felt responsible for every success and every failure.

Pressure/Stress/Expectations

What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

My parents expected me to try my best and use my resources responsibly, but they never pressured me to be anything or anyone; it just so happened that trying my best turned out to have a great result. 

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

I felt extremely pressured to do well all the time. Most of the pressure came from my own pride and reputation as a student at the top of my class, but I often felt like I had to keep up with the standards I had set for myself within my family and my friends. I felt embarrassed if I did anything less than expected.

How did you deal with this pressure?

I mostly let it fuel me to avoid giving up or getting distracted. The pressure was fairly healthy; it made me think that my hard work was for the benefit of myself and my relationships.

Balance

How did you balance everything going on in high school?

I was extremely organized, so I would schedule my day down to the minute so that I could compartmentalize my social, academic, familial, and extracurricular lives.

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

Using a planner was incredibly helpful. I would sit down at my desk when I got home from school and write out, by the minute, what I would do. This time constraint made me work at an efficient pace and also gave me breaks and rewards on a consistent schedule to keep me from tiring out.

Significant Events

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

I moved from Oklahoma to Florida between 6th and 7th grade, which was mainly responsible for my shift in drive. The environment in Florida was more diverse, which opened my eyes to more interests.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

I had to figure out a lot of things myself: my mom didn’t know as much about college applications and the admissions process, so I had to do a lot of research on my own time and went through a lot of trial and error. This same situation applied to dating and social life since my mom grew up in Vietnam, where the culture is very different.

Culture/Identity

How do you identify yourself? Asian
Which languages does your family speak at home? English and Vietnamese (rarely)
How many languages are you proficient in? 2: English and Spanish
Do you identify with multiple cultures? Yes

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

I 100% think I am Asian American. I feel very connected to my Asian background, but I am so Americanized that balancing the two is often a struggle. Sometimes I didn’t “feel Asian enough,” yet also “too Asian.”

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Organization, Success, Independence, Leadership, Ambition, Confidence

What was your #1 core value?

Organization

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I often took on projects and positions in extracurriculars and in the classroom to learn responsibility. I loved being in positions of power where I could improve things or improve myself in some way.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

Organized, Responsible, Efficient, Capable, Creative.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

I have always been very dependent upon validation. I like to know and hear and see that my work has a positive result. I don’t mind doing things if I know they will pay off. Because of this, I have always been a very direct person that likes an exchange of actions or a cause and effect type of situation.

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 mom and I were very close and she always put my desires first. She took on more chores and house duties so that I could focus more on my studies. She supported me when I wanted to join clubs and go to competitions. She also emphasized the importance of fulfillment and the idea that I need to feel accomplished in my life, regardless of what it is that makes me feel that way.

What do you think makes you unique?

I am like a chameleon. I feel like I adapt extremely well to any environment or situation. I can get along with very diverse audiences, I can work in a variety of workplaces, and I can make do with what I am given.

Influences/Mentors/Support

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

I really admired my mom growing up for working so hard as an immigrant and single mother. She instilled a value system that relied on hard work and diligence.

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

My mom was always my go-to for advice.


SECTION 8 - CONCLUSION

Important Lessons

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

Things that seem important in the moment are almost always the opposite in the long run.

Advice

Any advice you would give to your high school self?

I would tell myself to be more comfortable in my own abilities and to not hide any weaknesses in the classroom or outside it.


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.


ACT Change 2019

The 2019 ACT Change — What Does It Mean for You?

The 2019 ACT Change — What Does It Mean for You?

The world of higher education is buzzing this month, thanks to a big announcement from the ACT. 

As of next September, students hoping to get a better score will be able to retake individual sections of the test, rather than sitting for the entire three-hour test again.

Currently, each ACT section is graded on a scale of 1 to 36. Students’ sectional scores are then averaged into a composite score. 

Next year, though, students will receive a new “superscore” that includes the highest subsection score from each time they took the test. 

What does this ACT section re-testing change mean for test-takers? How does this change (or not change) your ACT prep

We weigh in here.


Benefits of the ACT Change

Obviously, this ACT change could benefit many students. 

For example, if a student knows that math is their weakest area, they can retake just the math section, without having to retake the reading, science, English, or optional writing sections.

This will allow students to allocate their time more efficiently by focusing their studying on specific sections. For those who work with hired test prep tutors, it could save money by reducing the amount of ground that needs to be covered. It also could make for better scores simply because students won’t be as fatigued from going through the entire, lengthy exam. 

Plus, retaking an individual section would be cheaper than retaking the entire exam.

The company hasn’t yet announced how much it will cost to retake sections, but at the moment, retaking the entire exam costs $68 including the optional writing section, and $52 without it.

In addition, as of next year, students can also opt to take the ACT online, on the days the test is administered nationwide. (At the moment, it’s only given online in districts that administer the test during school, and at international test centers.)

That’s good news for students who may feel more comfortable using a computer rather than paper and pencil. 

Moreover, online results can be received within two business days instead of the two to eight weeks for paper tests, which could also benefit students juggling what test results to submit against various application deadlines. 


Downsides of the ACT Change

However, there are also some potential downsides to this policy. In an October 8th New York Times piece, consultants in the field express concerns that the changes might advantage those with the money to hire coaches and advisors and to take ACT sections repeatedly. 

Some also wonder if enabling students to tweak their scores to such a fine degree could make test prep even more of an obsession than it is now. 

“These ‘improvements’ don’t move the admissions process any closer to the destination that I recommend, which is not eliminating tests entirely, but downgrading their importance and allowing only one — or maybe two — test sessions per student,” says Sally Rubenstone, senior contributor at online admissions forum College Confidential, in the Times story. 

ACT Change (1)

Of course, an unavoidable downside to the change is the plain uncertainty it will now introduce into the admissions process, at least for the first year or two that the new policy is in place. 

College admissions offices, for example, will have to decide how to evaluate students with a superscore earned from taking the entire ACT more than once, versus students who retook just parts of it.

“I think we’re going to have to take a step back and think about whether the way we superscore today is the way we’re going to superscore it in the future,” says Kent Rinehart, dean of undergraduate admission at Marist College, in the Times story. “It would not surprise me if we took a slightly different approach.”

Some speculate that this puts pressure on the SAT to adopt a similar policy. In the meantime, more students might opt to take the ACT over the SAT because of the possibility that they can improve their scores more easily. 


The ACT Change: What Do We Think?

There are a few considerations worth noting with respect to this ACT section re-testing change.

1) Little Feedback from Colleges

The ACT and the College Board can create whatever new products they wish. 

However, none of these products will matter if colleges and universities don’t adopt them. We haven’t heard much from the college perspective about the ACT change.

It’s shocking to think that the ACT didn’t consult with schools to achieve some sort of buy-in before unleashing such a radical new change, but it seems like this might be the case since it looks like they’re still trying to convince schools to adopt the re-tests.

From the ACT website:

We recommend colleges adopt the ACT section retest score into their score-use policy and superscore the ACT since this reflects the student’s command of the subject."

Our guess is that schools are currently evaluating internally whether ACT’s research is correct and whether or not to accept ACT section re-tests.

2) Fewer Schools Superscore the ACT (vs. the SAT)

Many colleges superscore test scores, which means that they consider only the highest section scores of the SAT and ACT (read more about superscoring here).

However, there are many schools that will superscore the SAT but not the ACT, including several of the most selective schools. For example:

College Policy
Princeton “Princeton will consider the highest individual section results across all sittings of the SAT and the highest composite score for the ACT”
Stanford “For the ACT, we will review all subscores and focus on the highest Composite from all sittings. For the SAT, we will focus on the highest individual Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math scores from all test sittings.
Harvard* “We do not create superscores for applicants. We will evaluate your application noting the highest test scores in each section across test dates for the SAT and your strongest sitting for the ACT.”

*Harvard technically doesn’t “superscore,” but the effective result is the same

For schools that don’t already superscore the ACT, it’s highly unlikely they will accept the ACT section re-tests.

3) Online Testing Will be New for Many Schools

Please note that ACT section re-tests are only available online.

If the testing locations have historically proctored paper tests and are now also proctoring online tests, there might be some implementation issues as they work out some operational kinks.

Furthermore, we predict there will be a shortage of seats due to a limited number of available computers.

From the student’s perspective, switching from paper to online also will impact how students will want to prepare for these re-tests. 

4) There Is an Advantage to Re-Taking the Entire Test

The current process of re-taking the entire ACT is time-consuming and can be tiring.

However, there is a significant advantage to re-taking the entire test. We’ve had many instances of students who decided to re-take a test with the intention of improving just one section, but ended up also improving scores in other sections. 

If you’re going to take the time to sign up for a test and drive to the testing center, you might as well take the other sections too.


Our Recommendation

We are currently recommending that all of our families ignore this announcement for now.

We don’t yet have enough information from the colleges themselves. It's unclear how much better sectional re-takes are versus full re-takes. Plus, potential implementation issues of online testing means we’ll want to wait and see.

Much of this seems to be a marketing gimmick and we’re skeptical that section re-testing will have a significant impact on students’ scores.

For the class of 2020 - This change has no impact on you. You don’t have to do anything.

For the class of 2021 - This change will take place late in the process (during your senior year) so you shouldn’t make any dramatic changes to your strategy.

For the classes of 2022 and higher:

  • If you’re planning on taking the SAT, continue along this track.
  • If you haven’t decided yet which test to take, the ideal way to determine the best fit is to take full-length, timed, official practice tests of both the SAT and ACT and then compare results. If you don’t have the time to do that, you can answer a couple of questions here.
  • If you’re planning on applying to one of the more selective colleges that do not already super-score the ACT, then this change will probably have no impact on you.

The concept of section re-testing is fairly radical and comes with a lot of uncertainty. We’ll continue to monitor the situation and update this post with new information.

Feel free to reach out to us should you have any additional questions.


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.


College Applications - A Silver Lining

College Applications Are the Worst — Here’s Why That’s a Good Thing

College Applications Are the Worst — Here’s Why That’s a Good Thing

It’s that unforgettable time of year: college application season. 

For many students, submitting college applications will be the most stressful and hectic experience they’ve ever had!

Never before have they had to deal with so many forms, deadlines, and obligations. 

The college application essay, often the most daunting part of applications, is also likely to feel a touch foreign, given its emphasis on authenticity and personal narrative. 

These essays often mean agonizing over huge, existential questions like, “What is the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced,” or, “What captivates you and why?” 

Students must also ask teachers for recommendation letters, respond to supplemental essay prompts, gather transcripts, submit ACT and SAT test scores, and navigate application submission fees.

We couldn’t understand this stress more, given that we’ve worked with students at all stages of the college application journey.

But we do want to say that there’s a silver lining to all this madness!

Here it is: this period is also an amazing opportunity for personal growth. After all, when else are students forced to seize control of and steer their lives in such a hands-on way? 

Keep reading for our in-depth reflection, as well as relevant real-life examples from several Princeton students!


College Applications: The Benefits

The New York Times recently published a great article about precisely this silver lining. 

Observing her own daughter’s ordeal, writer Kelly Corrigan points out that “regardless of outcome, the college application process itself can force the kind of growth parents dream of.” 

As graduates of Princeton University who still spend a great deal of time near the campus, we see evidence of this growth in many of our tutors and other Princeton undergraduates we meet. 

College Applications - The benefits

One of the things that stands out about successful students is their clear-eyed understanding of themselves. They have a sense of their strengths and limitations, but when confronted with a challenge or a goal they’d like to achieve, they are also able to come up with a strategy to push themselves, and expand their limits, to achieve that goal. 

Corrigan goes on to elucidate a number of reasons why, exactly, the college application process catalyzes personal growth, including the following.

  • Advanced decision-making early on in life

In the college application process, students are forced to make difficult decisions on their own. These include what schools to apply to, what to include in their application, and whether to go for early decision or not. 

As Corrigan writes,

“SAT or ACT? When to take it and how many times? City school or the rolling hills of some rural outpost? Greek, Greek-lite or anti-Greek? … Decision fatigue is real.” 

Those who are able to push through the fatigue learn persistence and will be rewarded for it. 

Just look at the example of Katherine, a Princeton University student from Missouri. She says few people in her area knew much about the SATs.

However, she wanted to apply to Princeton, and when she learned that the application required SAT scores, she figured out how to take them, studied for the test, and successfully submitted scores that were high enough to get in.

Plus, these students are more likely to cultivate a deep capacity for self-awareness. Very few other processes in life require students to so clearly and decidedly figure out what they want!

  • Thinking about money in a serious way

Unless their parents are able and willing to pay for college outright, chances are that applicants will spend many hours wading through financial aid forms, answering questions about their family finances, and debating the pros and cons of more expensive, private institutions vs. more affordable public universities. 

And they are forced to learn coping mechanisms for dealing with one of the hugest side effects of fretting over money: the stress!

  • Preliminary professional development

Navigating such a complicated process as college applications teaches valuable project management skills. 

Being able to wade through so much paperwork, so many steps, and so many institutions — transcripts, recommendation letters, personal statements, application fees, financial aid forms, etc. — and being able to do it all within a deadline is the kind of skill you only learn by doing

Your ability to navigate such complicated processes sets you up for success later in life, when you’ll have to navigate more paperwork, deadlines, and bureaucracies. Believe it or not, filling out college applications have a lot more in common with paying taxes, setting up bank and retirement accounts, and applying to jobs or grants than most students realize.

College Applications - The Benefits

We come across this propensity for planning, scheduling, and managing in many successful students.

In fact, Jasmine is one of many Princeton students who have told us it’s been the key to her academic success.

Throughout high school, she "started things early and did a lot of planning." She "knew about busy weekends, out of town track meets, and large events before they happened so that [she] could adequately prepare for them.”

And Destiny, another Princeton student, spent high school teaching herself techniques for getting through a great deal of work:

“For me, what helped was keeping a schedule. Like: ‘I’m going to spend 7-8 doing Spanish homework, then 8-11 writing this paper, then 11-1 doing my lab report,’” she says. “Even if you don’t write it down and just keep it in your head, it’s very useful.”

She also taught herself ways to self-motivate.

“Try to enjoy or be interested in what you’re learning,” she says. “Just doing mental tricks like that can help a lot. If you’re getting bogged down with work, give yourself incentives. Watch an episode of your favorite tv show after X hours of work, tell yourself that you can get ice cream only after you finish your essay, etc.”

  • An opportunity for valuable self-discovery

Corrigan also mentions the benefits of the self-reflection that the college application essay prompts urge. 

Most students deeply explore the nuances and complexities of their character, aspirations, challenges, and past experiences when writing their essays and making these decisions.

Consider the high level of self-awareness demonstrated by Shanaz, a Princeton student.

When it came to her common-app essay, she says,

I wanted to show a perspective I held for much of my life that couldn’t be seen on the rest of my application. After many drafts, I wrote about how much I really did not know, in spite of all my AP classes and grades. I wanted to demonstrate that I was aware of how small I was in this vast world, but also how excited I was to explore and learn new things.”

(And by the way, while self-reflection sounds like a serious exercise, it doesn’t have to be a torturous one. Shanaz also added, “To make my essay more fun, I drew upon parallels between my life and Jon Snow’s from Game of Thrones!")

Other students also grapple with “college fear,” an umbrella term for the anxiety some students face at the prospect of applying to, choosing, and eventually attending the college of their dreams. Naturally, behind this fear is that anxiety of rejection.

Yet, even in light of this, plenty of college applicants learn how to keep that fear in perspective and shoot for those “reach” schools regardless.

We consider Jim a good model for conquering fear. He didn’t realize throughout high school that he suffered from ADHD, and also felt insecure compared to his older sister, who excelled academically. He says:

I spent a lot of my childhood starting and stopping. I picked up the guitar and I was good at it at first, but when it came to the point where improvement meant hours of practice, things dropped off. This same cycle occurred a few times. I was generally okay at things when I first picked them up, but the steeper part of the learning curve would throw me off.”

However, those experiences didn’t stop Jim from continuing to push himself, experiment with his approach, and learn more about himself in the process.

“The most important lesson I learned growing up was what it takes to be really good at something,” he says. “Through rowing and my increased academic commitment in high school, I finally began to learn that doing something at a high level requires a high level of work and dedication. This understanding has been hugely valuable to me as I work my way towards adulthood.”


The Benefit of College Applications: Final Thoughts

Ultimately, Corrigan notes, “making decisions, weighing fiscal demands, understanding yourself, managing a hundred to-dos, overcoming your worst fears — this is the stuff of greatness. This is, in fact, exactly the way to get the life you want.” 

Any student who can get through all that is, no matter where they end up, probably going to be A-okay. 

Need more convincing? Consider Maia, a Princeton student who also extolls the importance of learning agency over one’s life. 

If she could go back in time, she says the advice she’d give to her younger self is, “to exert greater control of my life. I barely remember specific events from [freshman and sophomore year] because I was passive in my routine. It wasn’t until junior and senior year when I started questioning things, reaching out to people, and making my own priorities. This caused me to excel greater athletically, academically, and socially.”

Of course, if you need support throughout this admissions journey, we are here to help. From test prep to college essay guidance, we are well-equipped to help our students succeed. 

Book your free consultation now!


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 - Jasmine (Story #12)

How I Got Into Princeton - Story #12

Jasmine's Story

"I think my interests were inherently balanced – I used different parts of my brain for everything and that really helped."

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

In high school, Jasmine advanced through her mathematics courses to take college-level multivariable calculus, served as President of the Young Democrats Club, competed in varsity track, and gave back to her community through the non-profit United Way.

"A lot of these achievements came from persistence and intention," says Jasmine.

However, her achievements were not without sacrifice or challenge, as she describes in this post. She attributes her success to her persistence, planning, and thoughtful intention.

Please read below to learn more about Jasmine 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 "Academics" section, where Jasmine describes her impressive array of activities and how she accomplished them.

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: Wilmington, NC
Where did you grow up? Wilmington, NC

Siblings

# of older siblings:  0
# of younger siblings: 1
Sibling Education Levels:  Senior in high 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: Engineering Manager
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: Masters in Electrical Engineering
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: IT Manager
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: Masters in Computer Science

Parent Beliefs

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

Firm but fair, and very understanding.

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

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

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

My parents mandated that we give our best effort in school, keep physically active via an organized sport, and serve regularly.


SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: M.C.S. Noble Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: New Hanover High School
High School City, State: Wilmington, NC
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 354

SECTION 3 - ACTIVITIES

Jobs

Did you work in high school?  Yes
What kind of job/s did you have? Book teller at a college bookstore
Average hours/week worked? 10-12
Why did you work? Responsibility; new expenses associated with a car

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

Math, tutoring, and politics

How much time did you spend on these things?

Math – 5 hours

Tutoring – 3 hours

Politics – 2 hours

When did these passions/interests first come about?

I’ve been interested in math since I was in early elementary school.  I became interested in tutoring also in elementary school, but didn’t really get the chance to do so formally until 9th grade.  My interest in politics began in middle school and stemmed mostly from my father.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

My interest in math was definitely acknowledged and pushed from the beginning.  My parents enrolled me in engineering/STEM summer programs and school clubs like Science Olympiad from an early age.

My passion for tutoring was mostly self-developed.  I signed up to mentor/tutor students at school when at all possible.  I also reached out to my elementary school and developed relationships with my old teachers to volunteer steadily in their classrooms.

My interest in politics was mostly developed and nurtured by my parents and their political involvement.  It was an important part of my life at home. In high school, I became involved with the Young Democrats club, took a leadership position, and went on to work on a campaign.

What level of achievement did you reach?

I eventually completed all of the math courses in my high school and dual-enrolled in the university in my town to take Multivariable Calculus my senior year.  I also received a perfect 800 on the math section of the SAT.

I became the president of my school’s Young Democrats club and a fellow on a campaign.

Other achievements included a section leader in my school’s band and a varsity track athlete.

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

A lot of these achievements came from persistence and intention.  I was very persistent and often pushed my school to allow me to do certain things (like dual enroll at the university in town, and tutor at my old elementary school following AP exams).  But I was also very intentional – if I wanted to do something, I wanted to do it well, and often saw myself leading in that area.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents were an incredible support system throughout high school.  They encouraged me to try new things, and become more involved when I did.  They also backed me up when I wanted to push my school or my counselor for an opportunity.

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

I faced quite a few challenges.  Because of the nature of “pushing” my school, I often ended up in less than ideal situations.  For example, I took Calculus AB/BC my junior year, but because they were offered at the same time as AP Chemistry, I was only able to take calculus online.  I felt overwhelmed and received the lowest grades of my high school career (even though math was my best subject).

I also had a hard time saying no to things.  I ran cross country for a couple of years in addition to being in the marching band.  But because both were fall commitments that practiced after school, and the coaches of both were pressuring me, I ended up having to choose marching band and quit cross country.  This was a very difficult and stressful decision for me at the time.

I also often felt misunderstood by other students at my school.  They didn’t understand why I would take harder classes than I had to, or not optimize for a Valedictorian GPA.  Things like band class and the dual-enrollment class offered fewer GPA points than some “easier” AP classes – and I had to intentionally choose to follow my passions.  I thought it was better to stay true to my interests and tell a story with my involvement, and it ended up serving me well in the college application process.

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

I was involved with Jack & Jill of America, Inc.  Jack & Jill is an African-American organization that promotes community, service, and civic responsibility for families.  I grew up in the organization and was the President of our teen group my last two years of high school. We planned and executed service activities and workshops multiple times per month.

I also did a lot of service through my church.

Lastly, I spent one summer volunteering consistently (20-30 hours/week) at the United Way.

How much time did you spend?

I probably spent 4-6 hours every other week on service projects – more over the summer.

Why did you choose this activity?

I grew up in both of these organizations, so technically I did not choose them – but I enjoyed them immensely because they were culturally comforting.  Many of my positive role models came from these larger supportive networks, and they acted almost as an extended family. Service was an important value to most of the people I grew up around – and my parents were intentional about putting us in those environments.

With the United Way, my mother served on the board for the chapter in our town, so that’s why I became involved with that.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

In the summer after 9th grade, I volunteered consistently at The United Way (20-30 hours/week) and attended Cross Country practice 5-6 times per week.  Towards the end of the summer, I also had marching band camp as we prepared for the fall football season. I also read a lot and completed other workbooks for the upcoming year.  My parents were big on keeping busy – sitting at home wasn’t really an option! They pushed me (though I wasn’t really against them) to volunteer during my days, maintain reading goals, and complete academic refreshers.  The band and cross country practices were mandatory for events I knew I wanted to participate in come fall semester.

I also did a week-long summer program at Virginia Tech focusing on architecture.  At the time, I thought I wanted to be an architect, and my parents wanted me to get some experience.  I learned a lot during the week about architecture and college life, and even though I enjoyed myself I realized that I probably wanted to do something closer to engineering.

In the summer after 10th grade, I went to a slightly longer summer program at NC State for Chemical Engineering.  Again, my parents encouraged us to apply for summer programs to get ideas of what we wanted to study in college – and at the time Chemical Engineering seemed to be of interest.  I took Chemistry in 10th grade and really loved it!

I also went to a two-week summer program at Duke through Duke TIP.  (This was not my first Duke TIP program. I took the SAT in 7th Grade to gain admission and had been a Duke TIP participant since then.)  The program was called “Leading in the 21st Century” and offered condensed MBA coursework and leadership training.  My parents encouraged me to apply again to keep me busy during the summer, help me learn more about college, meet like-minded students, and build my confidence as a leader.

In the summer after 11th grade, I participated in a 6-week program at Carnegie Mellon University called SAMS (Summer Academy for Math and Science) on a Chemical Engineering track.  The program gave us the opportunity to take calculus, physics, computer programming, and SAT classes at Carnegie Mellon, and participate in a research project with a professor.  It was highly competitive, but free of charge if you got in! I attended the program for several reasons – to experience an extended stay away from home before college, to get a better idea of chemical engineering at a top engineering school, to meet like-minded students, and to gain academic exposure I could not at my public high school (like computer programming).


SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: 18/354
GPA - Weighted: 5.15
GPA - Unweighted 3.97

SAT/ACT

How many times did you take the SAT? 3
How many times did you take the ACT? 3
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? SAT 2080; ACT 34
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? Part of my summer program at Carnegie Mellon included an SAT class, but only before my last SAT.
How many hours did you study in total? About 40 hours
When did you start preparing for the test? I took my first test sophomore year, so probably a couple of weeks before that.
When did you take the test? 10th, 11th, and 12th grades

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? 

Chemistry (730), Math (780)

Which AP/IBs did you take?

Government & Politics (5), Statistics (4), Chemistry (4), Physics (4), Calculus AB (4), Calculus BC (4), World History (4), Human Geography (4), English Language & Composition (4), English Literature & Composition (4), Psychology (4), United States History (4)

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

I was MVP of our math team.  I received a high A in multivariable calculus at the university in my town.  I scored a perfect 800 on SAT math and a perfect 36 on ACT science.

What do you attribute your academic success to?

I attribute them to consistent studying and a humble attitude.  My parents encouraged us to work hard, but also kept us humble amidst our achievements.

What kind of support did you have?

I received a lot of support from my parents in the form of encouragement, and often my teachers were very helpful.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

Briefly for a couple of weeks.

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

I struggled with headaches and migraines in high school (and still do).  They’re often difficult to manage and difficult to work through, so I often felt limited by them. 

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

I lived and breathed flashcards! I also took advantage of as much of my time as possible.  Often our track meets or football games were long events, and I would use the time I was not competing or performing to study during the week.


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? 8
Were you a legacy applicant at any of these schools? Yes, to MIT and UVA
Were you recruited for athletics, arts, music, etc...? No
Did you declare a major? Did this end up being your actual major? Yes, at Princeton I communicated Operations Research & Financial Engineering, which is still my major. At other schools, I communicated Chemical Engineering.

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

Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Virginia, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, North Carolina State University, Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

Which schools did you get into?

All of them.

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

My AP Science, Math, and English teachers.

Why did you ask these specific people?

My AP classes were often smaller and more intimate – I feel like they got to know me the best and saw my highest level of work.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about tolerance and open-mindedness through the lens of tutoring.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

I chose Princeton because my major was unique to the school – and I was obsessed with the balance of applied math in engineering.  I also liked that the school was smaller, everyone lived on campus, and that the engineering school was nearly 50% women. It was ranked #1 and when I visited it seemed like a great cultural fit.  I knew that I wanted to study in the Northeast, and no school of comparable name value had given me more money.

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?

I would wake up around 7 AM and head to school around 7:45 - 8 AM.  School lasted from 8:30 – 3:30 PM. Sometimes, I had an extracurricular meeting from 3:30 – 4:00 or 4:30 PM.  After that, I would attend band or track practice (depending on the season) until 5:45 PM. I would then head home, shower, and start my homework.  I’d sometimes have an event for church; otherwise, I would do homework around my family until 11 and then go to sleep.

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

4-5 hours a night

What time did you usually go to sleep?

Between 11 PM and 12 AM

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

I would typically have a service or church event, track meet/band event/football game, and hopefully a lazy Saturday morning.


SECTION 7 - WHAT MAKES YOU YOU

Drive/Motivation

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

I’ve always been prone to think about the future a lot – and I realized that I needed to do my best to leave as many opportunities open as possible.  My parents also stressed the idea of potential. A lot of my drive came from knowing that I COULD do almost anything; if I wasn’t doing something, it wasn’t because I wasn’t capable. There weren’t many excuses.

Pressure/Stress/Expectations

What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

They expected my sister and I to always do our best.  They didn’t focus on numbers as much as our best effort.  A 98 wasn’t good enough if we were slacking, but if we worked hard for a B they were never upset.  They expected us to do our best and to care about what we were doing – I always understood why my activities mattered, and that made the hard things worth it.

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

I felt pressure to succeed from my parents, teachers, and peers.  Society often pushed me in the opposite direction. I was often the only minority in my advanced classes and felt the need to prove myself to my teachers.

How did you deal with this pressure?

I received a lot of support from my parents – but I also had outlets.  Running helped me to maintain a really positive self-image and blow off some steam.  Things like track, band, and service constantly reminded me that I was more than my test scores – it was important for me to feel valued as a person regardless of my grades.

Balance

How did you balance everything going on in high school?

I think my interests were inherently balanced – I used different parts of my brain for everything and that really helped.  Music required a different type of thinking than my AP courses and classes required a different type of thinking than the sheer physical effort required by track.  I stayed in the moment with my different activities and tried not to let any single activity consume me entirely.

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

I started things early and did a lot of planning.  I knew about busy weekends, out of town track meets, and large events before they happened so that I could adequately prepare for them. 

Significant Events

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

I had a teacher in elementary school who always said, “talking about how easy it is for you never made it easier for anyone else.”  She really made me think about compassion differently, and to this day I attribute my passion for tutoring to her words.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

None

Culture/Identity

How do you identify yourself? Black/African-American
Which languages does your family speak at home? English
How many languages are you proficient in? English
Do you identify with multiple cultures? No

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

I was very aware of my identity as a black woman and the lack of representation I’d see in STEM careers.  I think that my family and African-Americans as a whole have a culture of working harder to obtain success than the majority of the country.  I knew from an early age that I should be prepared to work hard, and not be afraid to work harder than the people around me. I think that helped me to stand on my own and push boundaries in high school.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Family, Consistency, and Consideration.

What was your #1 core value?

Consideration.

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I was incredibly aware of how my actions would affect others throughout my time in high school.  I knew that earning consistently good grades would make me successful and cause my parents less worry.  I knew that my consistent performance at track meets would help my relay team do well. This often motivated me to do things for more than myself.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

I’m very considerate, resilient, and confident.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

In middle school and high school, I was definitely softer spoken, but not afraid to speak my mind.  I held my own in my classes but spoke only when I felt it necessary. I had friends in lots of different clubs and enjoyed being able to move through different social circles.  I worked hard on my own and was fairly independent by the time I was in high school.

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 parents placed a focus on effort that has served me well.  I value others and myself for how hard I work – and that means my self-worth does not wither when things don’t go as planned.

What do you think makes you unique?

I think that I have a unique motivation to act out my compassion. I see value in my hard work and the betterment of the world – and that value alone motivates me to work hard.

Influences/Mentors/Support

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

My parents were my biggest role models.

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?

It matters more that you tried your best, and less that you were perfect.

Have a reason for why you do what you do.

Always value yourself.

Advice

Any advice you would give to your high school self?

I would tell my high school self to just keep doing what she’s doing – because she’s doing great.  You’ll end up where you’re supposed to be if you keep doing what you’re supposed to do. Learn as much as you can about yourself and what matters to you – it’ll give you a good base to build on in college. 


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.


Why It's Okay to be a Late Bloomer (1)

Why It's Okay to Be A Late Bloomer

Why It's Okay to Be A Late Bloomer

There’s a lot of pressure on young people today to do well in school, get into a good college, then graduate and find a good job--and to do all of this within a certain timeline!

However, everyone is different.

Not all students reach the end of high school with certainty about what they should do with themselves next. In fact, some high school graduates may not be in a position to achieve those "next steps." 

In our line of work, we encounter all kinds of situations, from students who require an extra year of tutoring to achieve the grades or test scores needed to apply to college, to those who simply need time off to figure themselves out. Some may even conclude that college isn’t right for them.

No matter what the scenario, we want to assure parents and students alike that it’s okay to deviate from the so-called “typical” timeline for reaching life’s milestones.

In fact, research suggests that late bloomers may be at a specific advantage.


The Science Behind Late Blooming

Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, is one of many successful people who consider themselves to be late bloomers. Karlgaard has even written a book on the topic, called Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement.

“Today we are madly obsessed with early achievement…. But precocious achievement is the exception, not the norm,” he writes in the Wall Street Journal. “The fact is, we mature and develop at different rates.” 

He goes on to discuss scientific research suggesting that our brains don’t fully develop until well into our twenties.

Quote_Why It's Okay to Be a Late Bloomer (1)

Specifically, it’s the prefrontal cortex that takes longer to develop, an area that has to do with complex processes like planning ahead, connecting actions to possible consequences, and weighing risk and reward. Obviously, those are crucial skills for getting through the end of high school and for big life moves--like applying to college. 

At least one psychologist, Jeffrey Arnett of Clark University, believes that the period from age 18 until 30 is a distinct phase of development, which he calls “emerging adulthood.” Moreover, even past 30, our cognition continues to change and mature throughout our lives.

“At any given age, you’re getting better at some things, you’re getting worse at some other things, and you’re at a plateau at some other things,” says neuroscientist Joshua Hartshorne, as quoted in Karlgaard’s article. 


Notable Late Bloomers

Karlgaard also points out the many successful people out there who didn’t come into their own until later in life. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison didn’t publish her first novel until age 39.

Actor Alan Rickman (a.k.a Snape from Harry Potter) earned his breakout role in Die Hard at age 42. And Karlgaard himself spent his first few years after college working as a security guard.

“Like me, most late bloomers will discover that they have greater opportunities to succeed on alternative paths, far from the madness and pressure of early achievement,” he claims.

Those words are also relevant for people who make missteps during their youth — for example, students who get kicked out of school, commit a crime, or do something else that they immediately regret. The good news is that your life doesn’t have to be over when something like this happens.

Quote2_Why It's Okay to Be a Late Bloomer (1)

Just ask Hannah Stotland, an academic counselor who helps students with “rocky backgrounds” continue in higher education:

“After getting straight Fs my last three semesters of high school, I received an empty diploma case at graduation, and later my GED,” she writes in Slate. “Dealing with the natural consequences of my homework boycott was a critical part of my growing up. Thanks to that real growth, I now have undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, where I enrolled as a junior transfer four years after my non-graduation.” 

She even goes on to say, “Truth be told, the kids who are to blame for their own misfortune are my favorite students to work with. Seeing the growth and enlightenment that many of these students gain from grappling with their new reality is the greatest joy of my professional life.”


Here's to Achievement at All Stages in Life

As both Karlgaard and Stotland make clear, it’s okay to take a more circuitous route to adulthood. It's also okay to take more time getting there!

In fact, changing our thinking about how that journey should unfold would benefit all of us.

As Karlgaard puts it:

“How we evaluate young people places needless emotional burdens on families and has helped to spur an epidemic of anxiety and depression among teens and young adults. The effort to forge young people into wunderkinds is making them fragile and filling them with self-doubt. It suggests that if you haven’t become famous, reinvented an industry or banked seven figures while you’re still in your 20s, you’ve somehow off track. But the basic premise is wrong: Early blooming is not a requirement for lifelong accomplishment and fulfillment."

At PrepMaven, we celebrate all stages of "blooming," and we're here to guide students through all stages of the college admissions process. Have questions? We have answers.

Start a conversation today.


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 - Katherine (Story #11)

How I Got Into Princeton - Story #11

Katherine's Story

"I learned that since things would not be handed to me, I could instead seize the opportunities I wanted."

Meet Katherine, a member of Princeton's class of 2019.

In middle school, Katherine experienced a religious conversion to evangelical Christianity, which has motivated her personal mission and service work ever since. In high school, she was involved with BreakDown STL, an educational theater troupe, and played lacrosse and softball.

"I have always loved serving others and encouraging them to live their best lives possible, which has been a driving force behind my successes," Katherine remarks.

Her commitment to service, innate drive to succeed, and academic excellence have laid the foundations for Katherine's achievements, including graduation from Princeton.

Please read below to learn more about Katherine 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 Katherine speaks about how she acquired strength through her family's struggles.

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: St. Louis, MO
Where did you grow up? St. Louis, MO

Siblings

# of older siblings:  1
# of younger siblings: 2
Sibling Education Levels:  1: Completed Masters
2: Bachelors in progress
3: High school in progress
Where did your siblings go to college?  1: Gettysburg College, Webster University
2: West Point Military Academy 

Parents

Parent's Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Director of the Missouri Civil War Museum
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: Bachelors
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: Physical Therapist
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: Bachelors

Parent Beliefs

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

Balanced – both very laidback about my school work because they knew I was on top of it. My mom was much more on top of my brothers about their school work though because they were less self-driven. This could put a strain on their relationship but motivated them to work harder.

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

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

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

My family is Christian, so religion was by far the most important thing. My dad created and runs a nonprofit organization dedicated to American soldiers and history; this instilled in us the importance of service.


SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: 6th Grade: Rockwood Valley; 7th and 8th Grade: Living Water Academy
Type of School: Public; Christian Private

High School

High School: Lafayette High School
High School City, State: Ballwin, MO
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 500

SECTION 3 - ACTIVITIES

Jobs

Did you work in high school?  Yes
What kind of job/s did you have? Actress, Baseball/Softball Umpire, Babysitter, Tutor
Average hours/week worked? 6
Why did you work? To contribute towards supporting myself and my family financially; to gain work experience.

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

  1. Loving/sharing about Jesus and pursuing my Christian faith
  2. Acting
  3. Lacrosse
  4. Softball

How much time did you spend on these things?

  1. 10 hours/week
  2. 7 hours/week
  3. 15 hours/week in season
  4. 12 hours/week in season

When did these passions/interests first come about?

  1. Religious conversion in 6th grade
  2. Joined a theater troupe at the end of 9th grade
  3. Joined the high school team in 9th grade
  4. Started playing at age 3

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

I practiced them fairly regularly throughout high school.

What level of achievement did you reach?

  1. I attended youth group, bible study, and church regularly, and formed a close church family.
  2. My theater troupe became a second family through weekly rehearsals and regular performances.
  3. I trained regularly and was mentored by my coach; I became the Varsity captain during my junior year and developed my leadership on and off the field.
  4. My dad coached me from a very young age, which made us grow closer to each other and developed great memories. I played for my high school team and competitive travel team, which further developed my skills.

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

I was motivated in everything I did, even if I was committed to many different things. Whenever I was at an activity, performance, or practice, I would give 110% to whatever I was doing at that moment.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents were always very supportive and always told me that they would “make it work” for whatever I wanted to do. They consistently encouraged me to pursue my passions.

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

I did not sleep much and I had very little free time to relax or watch television, etc. But the end result was always all worth it! Most of my time was very scheduled out in order for me to do everything I wanted to do. Sometimes, friends or coaches were not understanding when I had conflicting commitments, which could also be difficult to navigate.

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

The theater troupe (BreakDown STL) was a nonprofit that used the dramatic arts to empower students to make positive life choices regarding drugs, alcohol, abuse, mental health, self-harm, etc.

How much time did you spend?

I spent typically 7 hours/week, but it could be as many as 30 hours/week when we had a performance.

Why did you choose this activity?

I was motivated by the freedom I had experienced in Jesus and wanted to positively impact my peers and show them that they could live a life of freedom.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

In the summer after 9th grade, I volunteered for BreakDown STL as an actress.

In the summers after 10th and 11th grades, I volunteered for BreakDown STL as the drama captain, training all of the new actors.


SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: Top 10
GPA - Weighted: 4.4
GPA - Unweighted 4.0

SAT/ACT

How many times did you take the SAT? 1 (only to confirm National Merit Finalist scores)
How many times did you take the ACT? 8
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? 35 ACT Superscore; 36 Reading, 36 English, 34 Math, 35 Science
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? I took a class for the ACT at my high school and received approximately 4 sessions of private ACT tutoring.
How many hours did you study in total? SAT: 2 hours; ACT: 40 hours
When did you start preparing for the test? 9th grade for ACT
When did you take the test? 9th - 11th grades for ACT

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? 

Literature (780); Math 1 (720)

These tests are almost unknown in my area, and I only took them once I realized Princeton asks for them.

Which AP/IBs did you take?

US Government (5), Comparative Government (5), US History (5), Art History (5), Psychology (5), Physics (2) (the teacher had never taught it before), European History (4) (my first AP class), Literature (5), Language (5)

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

Missouri Scholars 100 Award, Academic All State Softball, National Merit Finalist, Social Studies Student of the Year

What do you attribute your academic success to?

I studied and worked hard, and always took my school work seriously. I never “dug myself a hole” which made getting good grades easier, since I tried to consistently earn top marks through the semester. I always took advantage of extra credit even if I didn’t think I’d need it.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents were supportive and my school was great about offering resources and supportive teachers.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

Only for the ACT.

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

I worked incredibly hard and took the most difficult and advanced classes possible. My coursework and extracurricular commitments meant that I did not always get adequate sleep, and so during my junior year (my most difficult academic year), I struggled with staying awake in class because of the exhaustion, which a few of my teachers noted.

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

Not falling behind on readings/concepts is crucial! Communicating with my teacher if I didn’t understand a concept was also very important. I often came early to school and stayed late to speak with teachers about material that I was having difficulty with, which helped me stay up-to-date on the curriculum and helped me form positive relationships with my teachers.


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? 12
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? Woodrow Wilson School, and yes

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

Princeton University, Swarthmore College, Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University, Dartmouth University, Vanderbilt University, Georgetown University, Williams College, Washington University in St. Louis, William Jewell College, Baylor University, Rhodes College

Which schools did you get into?

Princeton University, Vanderbilt University, Georgetown University, Williams College, William Jewell College, Rhodes College

I received my acceptance from Princeton before applying to any other colleges. I had been in the midst of completing the other applications, so I ended up sending most of them in anyway, despite being close to certain of committing to Princeton, the school I had always wanted to go to. I ultimately withdrew applications from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Washington University in St. Louis, and Baylor after being waitlisted.

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

Founder and President of BreakDown STL, language arts teacher, human anatomy teacher.

Why did you ask these specific people?

They knew me best personally and I performed very well in their courses/programs.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about my work in BreakDown STL and how my friend’s suicide motivated me in my work with the organization.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

Princeton is consistently ranked #1 in the U.S., and has more resources per student than any other university in the world. It’s smaller than some of the other Ivy Leagues universities and they’re telling the truth about the focus on undergraduates – they are prioritized even above graduate students. Princeton offers incredible opportunities that change the lives of their students, which I have experienced to the fullest over my years here.

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?

Morning bible study or club; school; lacrosse or softball practice (depending on the season); dinner; studying; bed.

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

4 hours

What time did you usually go to sleep?

11:00 PM

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

Saturday: Lacrosse or softball games (depending on season)

Sunday: church, BreakDown STL practice, homework


SECTION 7 - WHAT MAKES YOU YOU

Drive/Motivation

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

Myself – the desire to open as many opportunities as possible and to go to the best college possible.

Pressure/Stress/Expectations

What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

To do my best.

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

I pressured myself the most – I knew I could do better and that this performance would open more doors up, so I worked as hard as I could.

How did you deal with this pressure?

My relationship with Jesus is by far the most important thing to me, so while I pushed myself hard, I ultimately found my fulfillment and purpose in Jesus. It’s very important that students don’t find their worth in their academic performance – there will always be people better than you.

Balance

How did you balance everything going on in high school?

I was a master scheduler and took planning very seriously. By carefully scheduling out my commitments, I was able to do more than my peers.

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

Balance yourself and only do things you enjoy – if you try to do a billion things you don’t like, it’ll be impossible.

Significant Events

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

Conversion to evangelical Christianity in middle school.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

My family struggled financially from middle school onward, which was very difficult for me since I lived in a wealthy area. I had to quit my competitive travel softball team in 10th grade because I couldn’t afford it. But I learned the greatest lessons and developed my character at a young age due to these struggles.

Culture/Identity

How do you identify yourself? White
Which languages does your family speak at home? English
How many languages are you proficient in? English and Spanish
Do you identify with multiple cultures? No; American culture

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

My dad served in the Marine Corps and my brother is at West Point training for the Army, so we are a very patriotic family that believes in serving our country.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Love, service, loyalty, leadership, joy

What was your #1 core value?

Love.

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I took relationship building to heart and tried to intentionally build deep friendships with others and love them well. I encouraged friends in their strengths and always offered support in times of struggle.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

Joy, leadership.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

I was always very extroverted and people-oriented. I treasured quality time with people and loved encouraging others; people would describe me as very bubbly and outgoing.

Uniqueness

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

Despite living in a wealthy area, my family consistently struggled financially, which made life difficult at times. At the same time, this circumstance taught me the importance of family and service, as opposed to money.

What do you think makes you unique?

I learned that since things would not be handed to me, I could instead seize the opportunities I wanted. I have always loved serving others and encouraging them to live their best lives possible, which has been a driving force behind my successes. Working for a purpose bigger than myself is what makes this type of work sustainable.

Influences/Mentors/Support

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

My pastor was very influential and acted as a grandfather to me. My parents were my biggest influences as far as people go. I was influenced majorly by the Bible and my personal faith, as well as many classic books that challenged the way I perceived the world.

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

My mom – we have very similar personalities and values, which makes her a very understanding and empathetic listener.


SECTION 8 - CONCLUSION

Important Lessons

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

Love Jesus and love others.

Advice

Any advice you would give to your high school self?

Work for the Lord - He'll take care of the rest. 


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.


How I Got Into Princeton - Jonah (Story #10)

How I Got Into Princeton - Story #10

Jonah's Story

"I focused on (very) few extracurriculars, but made sure that the ones I did do were substantive and interesting."

Meet Jonah, a member of Princeton's class of 2019.

In high school, Jonah pursued enjoyable activities like ceramics and improv comedy. Yet he also excelled in academics, particularly physics, and found a truly meaningful internship at a nearby university's physics optics lab.

"I struggled to teach myself many things, but, as a result, I eventually understood them very well," Jonah admits.

This drive to learn and challenge himself led him to Princeton and to a Rhodes Scholarship.

Please read below to learn more about Jonah 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 "Academics" section where Jonah speaks about his impressive yet humble academic journey.

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: Northampton, MA
Where did you grow up? Northampton, MA

Siblings

# of older siblings:  0
# of younger siblings: 1 (twin)
Sibling Education Levels:  Undergrad at University of Chicago
Where did your siblings go to college?  University of Chicago

Parents

Parent's Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Lawyer
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: J.D.
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: Clinical Psychotherapist
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: Ph.D

Parent Beliefs

How would you characterize your parent's parenting style?

Laidback

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

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

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

They had faith that I would work hard for my own enjoyment, and that I would make responsible decisions in my own best interests if they gave me space. Of course, they were happy to give advice and help.


SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: John F. Kennedy Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: Northampton High School
High School City, State: Northampton, MA
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 225

SECTION 3 - ACTIVITIES

Jobs

Did you work in high school? Yes
What kind of job/s did you have? Odd jobs: cutting grass, stacking wood, shoveling snow
Avg # hrs/week worked: 2

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

Fencing, viola, ceramics.

How much time did you spend on these things?

About 8 hours/week; 8 hours/week; 2 hours/week, respectively.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

All of my passions began in middle school (if not earlier). They were of interest and I stuck with them.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

I practiced them fairly regularly throughout high school.

What level of achievement did you reach?

I was a competitive fencer and did well at the state level; I was also captain of my high school team and attended a private club. Viola and ceramics were recreational.

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

Consistent work, but not an overbearing effort.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents and friends all supported me.

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

Truthfully, I never devoted a large amount of time to these pursuits. My success was largely at the local level and fairly unimportant (I suspect) for college.

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

Tutoring Club, Co-founder

How much time did you spend?

Four hours a week.

Why did you choose this activity?

I had tutored my peers consistently but without structure, so my friend and I decided to formalize things. Tutoring club addressed the need for peer tutoring in my public high school, which my friend and I had identified after being asked for informal support numerous times. The core tutors were drawn mostly from our friend group and focused on quantitative courses, with some writing resources and test-taking resources as well. We would hold open hours after school two days a week and offered private sessions by request. Largely, we functioned as a homework help group, and we saw steady improvement in attendance there. Otherwise, outcomes were hard to track.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

In the summer after 9th grade, I worked as an unpaid counselor in training at Arcadia nature camp with kids in 4th and 5th grade.

In the summer after 10th grade, I again took an unpaid CIT position, but this time at Deerfield Academy Summer Art Camp with students who were in middle school, where I did ceramics, creative writing, and improv.

In the summer after 11th grade, I finally got in a more academic gear. I got an internship at a physics (optics) lab at Smith College where I worked one-on-one with a professor on her lab's ongoing research project. I developed a code base for the lab's data analytics and worked on theoretical models of our experiment. I was able to continue this work for course credit at my high school which was very important for the letter of recommendation she eventually wrote for me.

In the summer after 12th grade, I worked a minimum wage job as a dishwasher. 


SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: 1
GPA - Weighted: N/A (my school did not weight, but I took numerous AP's and college courses)
GPA - Unweighted 4.0

SAT/ACT

How many times did you take the SAT? 1
How many times did you take the ACT? 0
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? 2390
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? No
How many hours did you study in total? 4
When did you start preparing for the test? A week or so before
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? 

Math 2 (800); Physics (800); Chemistry (800)

Which AP/IBs did you take?

Physics C Mech (5), Physics C EM (5), English Lit (5), English Lang (5), Environmental Science (5), Chemistry (5), Calc AB (5), Stats (5)

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

I was a research assistant in an Optical Physics lab at Smith College where I played an integral role. I developed a number of software modules for my advisor, prepared a complicated theoretical model of 3D beam refraction, and designed a poster. 

I also taught the chem and physics courses when the teachers needed a substitute.

What do you attribute your academic success to?

I taught myself Mathematica and worked very hard to exceed expectations and solve problems before my advisor had mentioned them. I worked to improve the lab rather than simply doing my job acceptably. 

I had become close with my chemistry teacher during honors, AP, and the statewide Olympiad.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents encouraged me to seek a lab position, and my physics teacher was helpful in arranging it.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

No.

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

I struggled to teach myself many things, but as a result, I eventually understood them very well.

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

Never say you can’t do something. Spend hours learning how.


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?
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? Physics, and yes

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

Princeton University, Swarthmore College, Harvard University

Which schools did you get into?

Princeton University, Swarthmore College

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

My chemistry teacher and English teacher

Why did you ask these specific people?

I had close relationships with both and had excelled in their classes.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about learning from my friends.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

Princeton has the best physics program in the country.

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?

My school was on a block schedule, and during my junior year I was taking three to four AP classes. I would do homework from 3-5, then go to fencing (in season I had double practices) and eat dinner and finish homework from 9-11.

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

4 hours; my work load wasn’t bad at all.

What time did you usually go to sleep?

Around 11:30 PM

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

I would work on longer term projects and papers, go to a fencing tournament, and see my friends.


SECTION 7 - WHAT MAKES YOU YOU

Drive/Motivation

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

I had brilliant and wonderful friends, mostly scientifically inclined, and we would geek out together all the time. I learned a huge amount from them, but, most importantly, I found science and math tremendously fun. I was driven to learn material outside school because of them.

Pressure/Stress/Expectations

What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

My parents wanted me to do well but did not burden me with pressure.

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

Self-driven and encouraged by peers.

How did you deal with this pressure?

I went to a relaxed high school and really didn’t feel too much pressure. What I did experience was almost always positive.

Balance

How did you balance everything going on in high school?

I focused on (very) few extracurriculars, but made sure that the ones I did do were substantive and interesting.

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

Find activities where you can stand out and, crucially, that you enjoy enough to devote free time to. Time is everything, and if you can relax while learning something, you feel no stress.

Significant Events

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

I took multivariable calculus and a modern physics course at Smith college in my senior year and found these experiences very helpful in preparation for college and in forming my intellectual taste.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

None too much.

Culture/Identity

How do you identify yourself? White
Which languages does your family speak at home? English
How many languages are you proficient in? Just English
Do you identify with multiple cultures? Jewish culture

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

Not significantly

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Focus, work ethic, intellectual enjoyment, growth

What was your #1 core value?

Focus.

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I worked hard to become good at something and kept improving because I enjoyed it.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

Tactical mind, large attention span, humor, and good-naturedness.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

I became progressively less shy. Certainly this did not come about through organized/structured programs. It was more an internal effort of mine to engage more often with adult friends and acquaintances, first informally and then in more professional settings. I think it's what most people would call 'growing up," but I thought more consciously and self-reflectively about it than most.

Uniqueness

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

I always felt comfortable with who I was, or I knew that I could change/improve myself.  My family did not academically pressure me, attempt to plan my future, or enforce certain extra curricular activities. Instead, they supported my choices to challenge myself in the ways I deemed fitting, and they encouraged conscientiousness and personal authenticity. I gathered a sense of confidence from them that served me well as I decided to become more ambitious in physics and research.

What do you think makes you unique?

Relentless improvement and self-sustaining happiness

Influences/Mentors/Support

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

My friends

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

My friends yet again


SECTION 8 - CONCLUSION

Important Lessons

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

When something feels difficult, reflect on precisely why it does and then work doggedly and intelligently to understand it. Find joy in this process, in your own empowerment, and in sharing knowledge with your friends.

Advice

Any advice you would give to your high school self?

Practice viola more!


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.


Should the SAT Replace State Assessments_ (1)

Should The SAT Replace State Assessments?

Should The SAT Replace State Assessments?

Oh, the agony of test-taking!

High schoolers these days are kept busy studying all year long for all manner of tests: class exams, AP tests, standardized statewide assessment tests, and college entrance exams like the SAT, ACT, and SAT IIs. 

Many parents, students, and educators have become critical of standardized state tests in particular. They complain that preparing for the exam — the results of which can affect public schools’ funding — has come to dominate the entire school year, at the expense of more meaningful learning.

Is it possible to reduce the burden these assessments place on students and schools?

Keep reading for insight!


A Radical Proposal

In California, one proposed solution has been gaining ground. It’s now made its way to the state legislature, in the form of Assembly Bill 751. If adopted, California would allow schools to replace the current state math and English language arts exams —  Smarter Balanced assessments — with a college admissions test like the SAT or ACT. 

Proponents of the bill say that it will reduce test fatigue for students. It will also let them devote more time to something that, obviously, is important for getting into college. 

Some also say that for low-income students who don’t usually have access to SAT or ACT prep resources (like tutoring, taking several rounds of practice tests, etc.), the move could equalize the playing field. This could result in a more diverse range of students applying to colleges. 

But of course, the bill also has plenty of critics. 

Opposition to Assembly Bill 751

One major argument is that college admissions tests are tailored towards sorting and ranking applicants. In other words, they have the active goal of helping colleges create a reject pile. They are not tailored towards making sure students are learning in accordance with the state’s particular academic standards.

In EdSource, several voices have laid out still more specific critiques.

Jay Rosner, Executive Director of Princeton Review Foundation, notes that the ACT and SAT have significant problems. Among these are math questions that unfairly advantage boys over girls. 

SAT and ACT: Should They Replace State Assessments?

“Nationally, that SAT math gap favoring boys has fluctuated between 30 and 46 points every year from 1972 to 2016,” he writes in EdSource

Pamela Burdman of Just Equations, and Christopher Edley, Jr. of the UC Berkeley School of Law and Policy Analysis for California Education, have also written that the SAT and ACT perpetuate inequality. 

“[R]esearch makes clear that the SAT and ACT are more stratifying in terms of race and income than the Smarter Balanced test. Colleges should consider adopting more equitable tests,” they state in EdSource.

What's more, “doubling down on college admissions tests like the SAT flies in the face of consistent research showing that scores on these tests are weaker predictors of college performance than high-school grades.”

Proponents

Unsurprisingly for such a hot topic, every wave of commentary inspires many rejoinders. EdSource rounded up several of the most noteworthy responses in a recent post, including two representing the SAT and ACT companies. 

Cynthia Schmeiser, an advisor at The College Board, which owns and administers the SAT, says that some critiques of the SAT are in fact about the old SAT, before the test’s overhaul in 2016. 

“It is now an achievement test measuring what students are learning that is essential for college and career readiness. Those skills and concepts have been identified through empirical research,” she claims. She also says that there is in fact a “very close alignment of the SAT to the California state standards and the standards of other states.” 

SAT and ACT: Should They Replace State Assessments?

And, finally, she mentions ways that the SAT has sought to eliminate, as she puts it, “the inequities associated with high-priced test preparation.” This has involved partnering with Khan Academy to create free practice resources for students.

As for the ACT, Wayne Camara, a chair of research there, pointed to 2018, when 26 states gave a college admissions test to public-school juniors. 

“Those states using standardized tests like the ACT for accountability have found they can decrease testing time by about 50 percent or more and eliminate the need for double-testing,” Camara notes. “Also, they are able to compare the performance of students in their high school with students nationally, which isn’t possible with customized state tests.”

Plus, “students are arguably more motivated to do their best when taking college admissions tests because the results have personal benefits...Research has also shown increases in college applications and enrollment in states using admission tests, particularly among underrepresented groups.”

A Middle Ground?

Yoon S. Choi, the founder of the nonprofit CollegeSpring (which helps provide SAT and ACT test preparation to low-income students) chimed in with her own perspective. She says that it is “absolutely true” that SAT and ACT scores reveal income and race stratification.

However, she also points out that such inequities are “present in every single aspect of our educational system” — from GPA to access to AP classes and numerous other educational outcomes — and “not unique to the SAT and ACT.” In her view, then, a better solution is to make sure students are prepared as well as possible to take and perform well on the tests. 

A Good SAT Score

“The SAT and ACT aren’t perfect measures of academic potential, but they offer a more consistent measure than GPA, extracurricular activities or access to AP classes, which vary widely across schools and districts,” she observes. 

She additionally cites the example of students she has worked with who “struggled to maintain a high GPA over their four years of high school because of difficult social or economic circumstances." In Choi's perspective, "securing a good score on the SAT or ACT can be life-changing for these students when schools like those in the CSU system use a combination of GPA and college entrance exams to determine eligibility.”


Should the SAT Replace State Assessments? Final Thoughts

The question of replacing state assessments with college admissions-oriented tests like the SAT or ACT is complex indeed. 

To that end, it’s worth reading the opinions of all of the many experts who have weighed in. The more parents, educators, and students learn about the issue, the better the chances that, ultimately, an appropriate solution can be found.  

No matter what happens, though, the quickest way to success on college admissions tests is to enroll in an effective SAT test prep program. Learn more about Princeton Tutoring's SAT prep programs now!


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 - Rachel (Story #8)

How I Got Into Princeton - Story #8

Rachel's Story

"In high school, I began a longer journey of overcoming performance anxiety and negative internal dialogue that allowed me to thrive during my hardest academic years..."

Meet Rachel, a member of Princeton's class of 2019.

Like many, Rachel's journey to Princeton was not without its challenges. In addition to battling performance anxiety and negative self-talk, Rachel navigated acceptance issues and problematic relationships in a new high school environment.

Ultimately, Rachel overcame these challenges to become the top of her class at the #1 high school in Washington D.C.

She cites her Christian faith, a large supportive family, and a self-driven desire to excel in all things as her anchors and keys to success, especially within her academic career at Princeton.

Please read below to learn more about Rachel 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 "Academics" section.

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: Washington, D.C.
Where did you grow up? Dawsonville, Maryland

Siblings

# of older siblings:  2
# of younger siblings: 3
Sibling Education Levels:  Bachelors of science, current undergraduate, high school senior, junior, freshman
Where did your siblings to go college?  Brown University and the University of Maryland

Parents

Parent's Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Physician 
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: M.D.
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: N/A
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: B.A.

Parent Beliefs

How would you characterize your parent's parenting style?

My parents were both strict and loving. They shared clear values largely derived from our Christian faith. They put our family first, grandparents included. When it came to our education, they were serious about it. Education is important to West Indian parents, especially since my family in the U.S. are all immigrants.

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

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

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

When it came to academics, my parents were very intentional. They absolutely see education as a way to sharpen your mind, better yourself, and grow into the person you are meant to be. They changed our schools if they felt we needed stronger programs. They were even willing to have all six of my siblings and I enrolled in six different schools at one time because they cared about our fit. They cared about grades, not for the sake of being able to show off good grades, but because they saw them as a reflection of us working hard, learning well, or needing assistance.


SECTION 2 - SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: Lighthouse Christian Academy
Type of School: Private

High School

High School: Benjamin Banneker Academic High School
High School City, State: Washington, D.C.
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 94

SECTION 3 - ACTIVITIES

Jobs

Did you work in high school? No
What kind of job/s did you have? N/A
Avg # hrs/week worked: N/A

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

Piano.

How much time did you spend on these things?

About 8 hours a week.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

My family had owned a piano since I was a child and because I read music and knew the keys, I could fumble my way through the treble part of some sheet music. And then, my freshman year of high school, I decided that I wanted to properly learn how to play the piano.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

My piano teacher did the most to nurture my passion for piano. She encouraged me to challenge myself with difficult music and consistent practice in order to grow my skill. She also had a way of helping me keep perspective when I was not pleased with my progress or otherwise stressed and consequently not playing well. She taught me to think positively and confidently.

What level of achievement did you reach?

By my senior year, I was able to play pretty advanced ragtime pieces by Scott Joplin and some music by Billy Joel.

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

My weekly lessons, my at-home practice, and my teacher’s ability to identify where I was and where I could be were largely the reason I was able to grow so much in four years.

What kind of support did you have?

I had the support of my mother who drove me to lessons, my family who tolerated my playing and came to my recitals, and my wonderful teacher.

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

I had a long commute to school. It was between 1-1.5 hours every day. When I finally reached home, I would need to practice piano and log my time. Ideally, I would practice 5 days a week for between 30 minutes to an hour. If I slacked, it would be evident during my Saturday lessons, which was not good if a recital was coming around.

The reason I kept up my practice even though it meant starting homework later than I would like was that I loved it and I needed it. I also had a great teacher who kept me going. My mother also sacrificed her Saturday mornings in order to bring me to practice and pay for my lessons. 

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

I would volunteer weekly in the children’s ministry at my church and at a STEM afterschool program at a middle school near my high school.

How much time did you spend?

3.5 hours a week

Why did you choose this activity?

Prior to high school, I would regularly volunteer for my church’s children ministry during the summer. My high school had weekly community service requirements, so I decided to become more committed to my church’s children ministry. I’m so glad I did because my now weekly involvement allowed me to realize my love for working with children. 

My high school also placed me at the middle school I previously mentioned in order to help me fulfill my community service requirements. I continued there each year because I enjoyed the relationships I formed with middle school students and developed great relationships with the school’s administration.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

The summer after 9th grade, I attended a meteorology camp at Howard University. Our camp had partnerships with Howard, NASA, and NOAA, so it was very enriching exposure to meteorological careers and research. Even though I didn’t see a future in meteorology, I applied because I had greatly enjoyed the meteorology component of my 8th-grade science class.

The summer after 10th grade, I worked as an office assistant at my father’s medical practice, helping the staff with daily administrative work and larger projects. 

The summer after 11th grade, I participated in a four-week long study abroad experience through the Experiment in International Living Program in Peru. I applied to this program because I had a Spanish teacher who really supported my love for Spanish and knew that in order to grow more, I would need an immersive experience. She guided me through the application process and supported me the whole way. I had actually tried the summer before but did not receive sufficient funding. She encouraged me to apply again and I’m so glad I did!


SECTION 4 - ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: 2/94
GPA - Weighted: 4.481
GPA - Unweighted 3.7

SAT/ACT

How many times did you take the SAT? 2
How many times did you take the ACT? 0
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? 2210
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? No
How many hours did you study in total? ~10 hours
When did you start preparing for the test? In 9th grade (see more below)
When did you take the test? 11th grade spring and 12th grade fall

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? 

  • Spanish 720
  • Math 1 710
  • Biology 610

Which AP/IBs did you take?

  • IB SL Spanish – 7
  • IB HL Biology – 6
  • IB HL History – 6 
  • IB HL English – 6
  • IB SL Visual Arts – 5
  • IB SL Mathematical Studies – 6

How did you study for the SAT?

My preparation was mainly through my high school. They began preparing us with the PSAT in 9th grade. They gave us a free test the spring of our junior year. My English teacher also used some time each day to reinforce our vocabulary and give us practice questions. I also used test prep books from the local library to practice in my own time.

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

By my senior year of high school, I received five scholarships for my first year of college. I was the salutatorian of my graduating class, and because of that was on honor roll all throughout high school. I participated in the IB diploma curriculum and received my IB diploma after scoring sufficiently on my final IB exams. Lastly, I had to write a 20-page research essay for this curriculum and that was a pretty big deal in high school, so I am proud of that!

What do you attribute your academic success to?

First, I think staying on top of my work, using a planner to remember deadlines, and checking that my homework was graded and shown as “submitted” on our online system was a key to these achievements. Daily homework goes a long way and missing homework can strain yourself and relationships with teachers. It does require discipline to stay on top of it. I also think that good relationships with my teachers were central to these achievements. I felt supported by many of my teachers. They encouraged me to dream big for myself. And lastly, I would say that I really wanted to do well in all my classes, so I worked hard and studied.

What kind of support did you have?

I had the support of teachers and family who believed I could do well and communicated that to me.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

No.

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

In high school, I began a longer journey of overcoming performance anxiety and negative internal dialogue that allowed me to thrive during my hardest academic years: junior and senior year.  

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

I used to listen to classical music when I was working, especially when I was writing essays so that I could overcome my writers’ block. 


SECTION 5 - THE COLLEGE APPLICATION

Applications & Acceptances

Did you apply as an international or domestic student? Domestic
Did you apply regular or early? Early action
How many schools did you apply to? 6
Were you a legacy applicant at any of these schools? I had an uncle attend Princeton in 1990
Were you recruited for athletics, arts, music, etc...? N/A
Did you declare a major? Did this end up being your actual major? I listed biology and International Relations as possible majors. I ended up majoring in the School of Public and International Affairs

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

Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, University of Maryland, University of Richmond, and University of Pennsylvania

Which schools did you get into?

Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, University of Maryland, University of Richmond, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

My Spanish teacher, biology teacher, history teacher, supervisor of the children’s program at my church, and my piano teacher.

Why did you ask these specific people?

Honestly, I chose teachers who I knew would write convincingly about me because of the effort they would put into the recommendation and their desire to speak to my strengths.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about a time that I had experienced failure and learned through it.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

The first time I visited Princeton, I was a freshman in high school. My oldest sister was touring colleges so I joined her and I fell in love. I honestly felt overwhelmed by the beauty of the space. So, Princeton became my dream school because I didn’t know as a freshman that there were more important things to consider with college.

Come senior year, I became interested in public policy and social justice. It turned out that Princeton had a wonderful school for that so I applied early, was admitted, and was most pleased by their financial aid offer. I felt like it was where God wanted me to be, so I went.

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?

I would wake up at 5:30, leave the house at 6:30, and arrive at school a little over an hour later to attend an early morning class for IB students. Then, I would have my regular class and attend an after school class also for IB students. I would usually return home at 6:30 p.m., practice piano, eat dinner, and then do homework until about 11 PM on a good night.

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

I probably did about 5 hours of homework each night, on my commute home after school and once I reached home.

What time did you usually go to sleep?

I usually went to sleep between 11 PM and 12 AM. I couldn’t afford to stay up later because of my wakeup time.

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

Each weekend, I would go to piano practice on Saturday mornings, spend time at home with my family, do chores, complete homework and scholarship applications (during my senior year), and attend church on Sundays.


SECTION 7 - WHAT MAKES YOU YOU

Drive/Motivation

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

As I mentioned earlier, I really wanted to do well. I wanted to understand my subjects, produce good work, and earn good grades. Part of this was just because I cared about putting in the effort and seeing the result of that and the other part was performance anxiety. I struggled to handle grades that didn’t make me feel outstanding to myself or others. I later learned that this isn’t a healthy mindset for me. I’m learning that my work can be beautiful when my passion alone is my drive.

Pressure/Stress/Expectations

What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

My parents knew that I was talented and smart, so they expected that I work and perform to the best of my ability. They never set goals for me that were unrealistic, but they would make it clear that anything less than what I was capable of was not good.

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

My parents expected me to do well, specifically to get As, because I always had since elementary school. They wouldn’t be angry if I got the occasional B, but they would see it as odd. I felt pressure from myself, from my friends who knew my general performance, and from my parents to succeed.

How did you deal with this pressure?

Most of the time, I used it as my drive, especially when things got stressful, because I wanted to do well for myself and others.

Balance

How did you balance everything going on in high school?

Time management and a very full planner!

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

I was taught in middle school to use a planner consistently and that definitely helped me in high school.

Significant Events

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

I’d moved schools a few times before the biggest change, which was moving to my public high school in D.C. All of a sudden, I was responsible for commuting about 3 hours daily, navigating a new city, and making friends in a completely new student body. There was also definitely a culture shock from the suburban and rural parts of Maryland I had only been exposed to. But all of the discomfort and novelty made me responsible and mature, so I’m grateful for that.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

My self-confidence in high school wavered because I wanted to be accepted, and even when I was, I felt insecure about being different. Because of that, I stayed in friendships or with boyfriends who didn’t always appreciate me or respect me well because I didn’t want to not have them in my life. Looking back, those poor relationships inspired me to make really good, dependable friendships in college, and it makes all the difference.

Culture/Identity

How do you identify yourself? Black American
Which languages does your family speak at home? English
How many languages are you proficient in? English
Do you identify with multiple cultures? Yes. My family is from the Bahamas and Grenada so I grew up in a multicultural home.

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

Yes, my cultural identity always has. In middle school, I went to a very small middle school in rural Maryland where my family was the only family of color. I didn’t understand how to bring my full racial and cultural identity to my school environment because diversity and inclusion were not really central to its culture or mission. This changed in high school when I went to a predominantly African American, then Hispanic, and then Asian school. We actually only had one student ever who identified as white and he attended for a few months as an international student. I learned the nuances of my Black Caribbean American identity in high school because students and teachers were educated on how to help foster it.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Acceptance, achievement, beauty, justice, hard work, kindness, empathy, comfort, compassion, spirituality, and service were the most important values to me in high school.

What was your #1 core value?

Acceptance.

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I demonstrated these values through my work ethic that increased with each year, my attentiveness and kindness to my peers, my leadership in service projects, and personal spiritual growth in high school.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

I now consider my most important values to be my compassion, spirituality, and love for justice.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

In middle school, I was quirky, a little quiet, loved laughing with my friends, and passionate about my schoolwork. In high school, I was more mature, quieter, growing in self-awareness, kind, and really dedicated to my close friends.

Uniqueness

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

Yes. My family was large and it really defined who I became. For most of my life, there were 9 of us in my home (my grandmother, parents, and six children). Everything had to be a team effort, from cooking meals to cleaning the house to coordinating everyone’s social/academic/sports schedules. I think that made me a person who was considerate of others. It also helped me have a large heart – I was comfortable in large groups of friends because I was used to that feeling.

My family is also very expressive and energetic – much more than I am. But they forced me to surrender some of my introversion, which helped me have enough confidence to make friends in a completely new city and new school. However, feeling like a misfit was not always easy, even when I had friends. My family always emphasized staying true to yourself and our values, so when I compromised those things to “fit in” or pretend to have a different personality than I really did, I had my family’s values always in the back of my head, making me feel uncomfortable with my pretense. Things started to change my junior year of high school when I became more comfortable with friends in my IB cohort, myself, my spirituality and values, and my belonging at my high school.

What do you think makes you unique?

I am an extremely compassionate person and it impacts all areas of my life and personality.

Influences/Mentors/Support

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

As far as people, I would say my grandmother influenced me a lot. She has lived with my family since I was 7 and she showed me what a life of generosity, humility, and forgiveness looks like. She shared many life stories with me and my siblings, including lessons she learned from making mistakes.

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

I would usually ask my friends whose self-confidence I admired. Their self-confidence made me trust their judgment.


SECTION 8 - CONCLUSION

Important Lessons

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

I was taught to always trust in the Lord, no matter what, and that by far is the most important lesson that was passed onto me. It was not just my wonderful accomplishments that got me to Princeton – God’s provision and mercy were evident in surrounding me with teachers and family members who really cared about my intellectual and personal development, and encouraged me to go even when I was afraid to say yes. And, my fears were right –  Princeton has been difficult. But trusting in the Lord has brought me to my final year and I am so grateful for how far I have made it.

Advice

Any advice you would give to your high school self?

I would tell my high school self to love myself better and take deeper breaths. I think some of my internal drive to do well and be admitted to a great college was not always healthy. Some of the internal pressure I put on myself was too intense and unsustainable. I’ve learned at Princeton that you have to be kind to yourself and think positively about your abilities, intelligence, and skill when faced with new academic challenges. Self-negativity will lead you to breaking down under pressure.

 


NEXT STEPS

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

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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.