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.

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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.