How I Got Into Princeton – Story #16

Maya’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About this Series

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

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

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




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: NYC, NY
Where did you grow up? MI


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


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

Parent Beliefs

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

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

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

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

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

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


Middle School

Middle School: Chippewa Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

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



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

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

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

How much time did you spend on these things?

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

When did these passions/interests first come about?

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

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

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

What level of achievement did you reach?

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

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

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

What kind of support did you have?

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

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

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


What were your major service-related activities?

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

How much time did you spend?

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

Why did you choose this activity?

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


What did you do in the summers during high school?

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

SAT Subject Tests & AP/IBs

Which SAT Subject tests did you take? 

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

Which AP/IBs did you take?

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

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

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

What do you attribute your academic success to?

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

What kind of support did you have?

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

Did you ever receive private tutoring?


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

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

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

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


Applications & Acceptances

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

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

Princeton University and University of Michigan.

Which schools did you get into?

Princeton University and the University of Michigan.

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

My college professors and one or two high school teachers.

Why did you ask these specific people?

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

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

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

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

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

Gap Year

Did you take a gap year?


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?

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

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

4.5 hours – 8 hours

What time did you usually go to sleep?

It depended on the day. Midnight, on average.

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

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



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

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


What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

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

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

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

How did you deal with this pressure?

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


How did you balance everything going on in high school?

I honestly have no idea.

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

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

Significant Events

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

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

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

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


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

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

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

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

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

What was your #1 core value?

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

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

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

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

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

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

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


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

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

What do you think makes you unique?

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


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

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

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

My parents.


Important Lessons

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

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


Any advice you would give to your high school self?

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

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

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


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.