How I Got Into Princeton – Story #18

Natalia’s Story

“The pressure to succeed was internal.”

Meet Natalia, a member of Princeton’s class of 2021.

In high school, Natalia pursued a packed schedule of academics, extracurricular activities, and volunteering opportunities. She maintained exceptional grades, earning high marks on AP exams and membership in National Honor Society, and contributed many hours to the Red Cross and her school’s Homework Help Center.

Natalia attributes much of her success to her own internal drive and commitment to others.

“No one ever pressured me to achieve anything,” Natalia reflects. “I wanted to be happy with myself and therefore pushed myself often.”

Please read below to learn more about Martin 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 “What Makes You You” section, where Martin describes his unique qualities and how they contributed to his 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.


My parents wanted me to feel I had given my best.


Birthplace: Lapy, Poland
Where did you grow up? Hillsborough, NJ, USA


# of older siblings:  2
# of younger siblings: 0
Sibling Education Levels:  Law Degree, Bachelor Degree
Where did your siblings go to college?  Law School in Warsaw Poland and Rutgers University


Parent’s Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both Parents
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Machine Operator
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: High School
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: None
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: Technical School

Parent Beliefs

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

Laid back

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

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

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

My parents always wanted me to try my best and feel that I had given my best.


Middle School

Middle School: Hillsborough Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: Hillsborough High School
High School City, State: Hillsborough, NJ
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 620


I enjoy seeing the smiles on peoples' faces when I help them.


Did you work in high school?  Yes
What kind of job/s did you have? I worked as a receptionist at a local dental office. I also worked at an ice-cream shop, babysat, and tutored.
Average hours/week worked? 15 hours
Why did you work? I worked so that I could have spending money of my own as well as learn the ethics of working. It was expected of me to get a job just to enter adult life.

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

I loved volunteering and participating in service organizations. The most important activities were Homework Help Center, Red Cross, and hospital volunteering.

Homework Help Center: I started out volunteering here freshman year. I would spend about 2 hours a week helping young students do their homework. I really loved this experience as I found great pleasure in providing students with tricks to multiply, etc. Senior year I took leadership of the organization and was involved in planning out the schedule for other volunteers, advertising the program, and considering ideas for further expansion. I had to stay in touch with our community partner, the local library, and ensure all rules and time commitments were being respected.

Red Cross: Similarly, I joined the Red Cross when I was a freshman. I started out by helping at the blood drives and attending hand washing campaigns for young kids. The second year I took on more roles and helped coordinate some of the drives myself. Finally my junior and senior year I was on the executive board. I did most of the volunteer requirement, retention and event promotion work. I found it really exciting because it better connected me with my student body and made me more devoted to the club as a whole. I got to interact with the community and figure out what the needs really were.

Hospital Volunteering: Sophomore year I began volunteering at the hospital. I worked at the maternity ward and every week for 2+ hours I would fold blankets, make birth guide packets, transport patients, stock gloves, and any other miscellaneous task that I was given for that day. This task made me realize that service isn’t doing the grand thing of saving the patient’s life but it starts as something small, more foundational, like birthing packets. These tasks carry value, too. It is about what the community needs and not necessarily about what we might want to do.

Extended School Year Volunteer: Over the summer I worked with individuals with disabilities to continue their learning. I mostly worked with the younger grades and practiced skills with them such as eye contact and other primary motor skills.

How much time did you spend on these things?

I spent around 10 hours a week on these things.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

They first came to me freshman year when I decided to volunteer at a hospital.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

Over time I began participating in more organizations and soon realized that I loved volunteering. I joined several other clubs such as Homework Help Center, the Red Cross, as well as began helping at the local food distribution center.

What level of achievement did you reach?

In terms of achievement, I soon became the president of several of these clubs.

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

I simply devoted my heart to the club and took on leadership roles. I came to meetings regularly and participated in external service meetings.

What kind of support did you have?

I had the support of my parents in terms of them cheering me on and taking care of my basic needs such as food and car fuel. I also had the support of teachers who were always kind to me. I often talked with them about anything and everything and soon grew a relationship with the advisers of those clubs.

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

I often had to pick between my friends and family time. I feel that I chose my extracurricular activities often, which did lead me to miss out on some memories.


What were your major service-related activities?

My major service organization was volunteering at the hospital. I absolutely loved it and did it every week for over 2 hrs for 3 years. I also volunteered at a free health clinic, a homework help center, and the Red Cross.

How much time did you spend?

On average, per week, I spent 2 hrs at the hospital, 1 hr at the homework help center, 2 hrs at Red Cross, and 3 hrs at the free health clinic.

Why did you choose this activity?

I chose this activity because I love medicine, therefore it was perfectly up my alley. Additionally, I enjoy seeing the smile on peoples’ faces when you help them. I simply like interacting with others and this allows me to do that freely.


What did you do in the summers during high school?

Summer after 9th grade, I went to Poland to visit my family. 

Summer after 10th grade, I worked at the dental office and volunteered at a program for individuals with disabilities. I also volunteered at my local church camp.

Summer after 11th grade, I participated in a religious program in Trenton that worked with adults with disabilities. I also volunteered at my school with individuals with intellectual disabilities and helped out at my local church camp.



Class Ranking: Top 10%
GPA – Weighted: 104.25
GPA – Unweighted 94.57


How many times did you take the SAT? 3
How many times did you take the ACT? 2
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? SAT: 2160, ACT: 35
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? Yes, I did take a Kaplan class for SAT
How many hours did you study in total? 100
When did you start preparing for the test? January
When did you take the test? 11th grade and Fall of 12th

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: 740

Which AP/IBs did you take?

AP Biology (4), AP Chemistry (5), AP Literature (5), AP English Composition (5), AP US History (5), AP Calculus AB (5)

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

I almost always had straight As. I frequently got the highest grades in Chemistry Class and History. I was also in National Honor Societies.

What do you attribute your academic success to?

I studied a lot.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents supported me by providing me with basic necessities.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?


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

I often had to not spend time with my parents, barely got any sleep, and was always driving from one place to another in a whirlwind.

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

I found that rewriting my notes and redoing class problems several times helped me the most.


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 declared biology and became that major.

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

Princeton University, Cornell University, Boston College, University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, Johns Hopkins University, The College of New Jersey, Drew University, New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Which schools did you get into?

Princeton University, Boston College, Rutgers University, The College of New Jersey, Drew University, New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

I asked my biology and history teachers.

Why did you ask these specific people?

I felt that we had a good relationship and I did very well in those classes.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about thinking in two languages since I am bilingual and grew up in Poland.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

I chose Princeton due to its prestige as well as close locations. I think Princeton opens doors to incredible experiences such as various internships and a spectacular alumni network.

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?

Normally, I started my day at around 6:30 am and was in school till 2:30. I then would go to work at 3:10 till around 6. I then went to one of my volunteer opportunities and, finally, I came home around 9-10 and did my homework till midnight. I then went to bed and started everything all over again.

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?

A typical weekend in high school consisted of me working Saturday till mid-afternoon then coming home, doing some homework, and spending time with friends. Then on Sunday, I would go to church and spend the day running errands with my mother.



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

My older brother’s success drove me to be successful. I wanted to be like him and achieve great things. I wanted my parents to be proud of me and I wanted a good life for myself. I think this drive was internal more than anything. No one ever pressured me to achieve anything.


What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

My parents simply wanted me to go to college and be happy with my job and my performance.

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

The pressure to succeed was internal for I wanted to be successful myself rather than anyone else. I wanted to be happy with myself and therefore pushed myself often too much.

How did you deal with this pressure?

I often broke under the pressure. To manage that, I spoke with my mother, who was very supportive. She always told me to take a deep breath, take a step back, and see how much I have already achieved. She always reassured me that she is very proud of me.


How did you balance everything going on in high school?

I balanced everything by being time-efficient. I often packed my schedule and used every free minute to do work. I often ate my meals while doing work and rarely went on my phone during dedicated working time.

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

Use every free minute. Don’t go on your phone so much.

Significant Events

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

I think growing up in Poland strongly shaped my high school self. I wanted to make my parents proud since they came to this country to provide me with the best lifestyle possible. Therefore, I wanted to utilize all the tools they gave me.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

I grew up with parents who did not speak English and that frequently became another time-consuming task as I had to translate various documents, fill them out, and attend doctor appointments as well as procedures.


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

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

I used to be embarrassed about being Polish, for I felt that many people would judge me, yet right now I feel proud to have an additional culture.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Religion and service (helping others) were the most important to me. I always wanted to help others and believed in being selfless. Back in high school I always put others in front of my own needs.

What was your #1 core value?


How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I demonstrated these values by being involved in a ton of service extracurricular activities from volunteering at a hospital to running a free homework help center.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

I consider myself to be empathetic, trustworthy, creative, and honest. I am very personable and relate to others. I often smile a lot and go around all happy go lucky. I can make conversation out of anything and listen to others.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

I was very shy and annoying in elementary school and middle school. I was frequently awkward and did not believe in myself yet I was also outspoken on certain topics. On the other hand, in high school, I became much more confident and was able to speak up a lot more in class.


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 moved from Poland and we solely speak Polish at our house. My mother speaks no English while my father speaks some with a heavy accent.

What do you think makes you unique?

I think my upbringing makes me unique. I lived in Poland till I was 11 years old and therefore have become a big blend of two cultures. I am fluent in Polish, yet I pass as a native English speaker.


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

My brother was a major influence as he is 8 years older than me and was always a figure I have looked up to.

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

I would most often go to my guidance counselor as she and I developed a great relationship. Occasionally I would also reach out to my friends and their parents.


Important Lessons

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

If you want something you have to work for it. A growth mindset is an important quality to develop. A growth mindset is the idea that you aren’t born smart and capable of doing everything, but instead that you work for it. Often talent is not “innate” but simply fostered and developed. One of these “talents” I was able to develop through this mindset was my ability to work hard, for example. I spent hours studying and through this I became better at math, science, etc. None of it came “naturally,” it was growth through hard work that allowed me to excel in these areas. I worked hard to learn the idea that being smart doesn’t just occur, you have to work for it. You have to have a mindset that realizes growing takes work. Your mind will grow with time and work. Plus, this also means that if you put your mind to it you can achieve anything.


Any advice you would give to your high school self?

If you want some type of opportunity just ask for it. The worst they can say is no.


Check out our first profile and learn about Erica’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.