How I Got Into Princeton – Story #11

Laura’s Story

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

In middle school, Laura 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,” Laura remarks.

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

Please read below to learn more about Laura 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 Laura 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.




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.



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


# 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 


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.


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



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.


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.


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.



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


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.


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?


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


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



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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


Important Lessons

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

Love Jesus and love others.


Any advice you would give to your high school self?

Work for the Lord – He’ll take care of the rest. 


Check out our first profile and learn about Erica’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.