How I Got Into Princeton – Story #13

Alyssa’s Story

“I felt responsible for every success and every failure.”

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. 

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.




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


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


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.


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



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.


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.


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.



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


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?


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.


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?


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?

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?


What time did you usually go to sleep?


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.



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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.