How I Got Into Princeton – Story #19

Devon’s Story

“I dedicated a lot of time to being able to be competitive and successful.”

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

In high school, Devon pursued a rigorous schedule of academics and extracurricular activities. She earned high marks on AP exams and membership in National Honor Society, and spent her free time horseback riding, running in Track & Field, and tutoring.

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

My drive to succeed was mostly an internal drive to do the best I could in everything I tried to do,” Devon says. “This wasn’t always a feasible goal, so as I got older I had to learn how to prioritize what I truly wanted to succeed in.”

Please read below to learn more about Devon 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 Devon describes the challenges she faced and how these 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: Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Where did you grow up? Santa Barbara, CA, USA


# of older siblings:  2
# of younger siblings: 0
Sibling Education Levels:  Bachelor ‘s Degree, Attending College
Where did your siblings go to college?  UCSB and Southern New Hampshire


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

Parent Beliefs

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

My mom was laid back, my dad was strict and protective.

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

Academics 4
Extracurriculars 3
Service 2
Family 5
Friends 3
Physical Health/ Fitness 4
Mental Health 4

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

Both of my parents had the philosophy of being happy with my best even if it didn’t meet my expectations, but I often felt pressure to meet certain standards in academics and extracurriculars anyways. My dad was more focused on academics and expected me to get certain grades, although his expectations were based on what he thought I could achieve and not necessarily just getting the best grade possible.

My mom had/has very strong feelings about family, which I think have transferred to me as well. She always puts family first and is very inclusive in who is included in our “family” whenever we have holiday dinners, which pretty much means there is an open invitation to any friends who want to come.


Middle School

Middle School: La Colina Junior High
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: San Marcos High School
High School City, State: Santa Barbara, CA
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 500



Did you work in high school?  Yes
What kind of job/s did you have? I was a working student at a competitive hunter/jumper showjumping stable. I also tutored private clients, usually in math.
Average hours/week worked? 15-20 hours as a working student. 2 hours as a tutor.
Why did you work? I worked in order to pay for my own horse’s training and horseback riding lessons. I also worked because I enjoyed riding many different horses a day and it made me a better rider. Lastly, I enjoyed the community and the responsibility it gave me.

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

Horseback riding and track & field.

How much time did you spend on these things?

Horseback riding: 15-20 hours. Track: 10-15 hours.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

I have been around horses since I was born, as my mom rode when she was younger and my older sister has been riding since she was 5 years old. I ran in a few track meets in elementary school but only got serious about it when I entered high school.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

I took horseback riding lessons from the age of about 5 until I left for college (when I stopped riding). I also rode/exercised multiple horses a day as part of my job.

In track, I went to practice 4-5 days a week from January-June starting my freshman year of high school. I started practicing 3 days a week in the preseason during my junior and senior years as well. I currently run track for Princeton and have practice 6 days a week starting in September and ending mid-May.

What level of achievement did you reach?

Horseback riding: I participated in the Emerging Athletes Program, qualified for various medal finals, year-end high point champion in multiple divisions.

Track and field: Channel League champion, runner of the month, qualified for CIF division finals.

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

I achieved these by practicing and dedicating myself every day and never skipping small details that seemed insignificant at the time. I also listened carefully to my coaches in both sports and made an active movement to change what I was doing based on their feedback.

What kind of support did you have?

I had a lot of support from my coaches and family in both sports. My horseback riding trainer was very supportive in giving me the working student position so I was able to pay off my own training, as well as giving my opportunities to ride and compete on other horses. 

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

I don’t know if the correct word is sacrifice, but I dedicated a lot of time to being able to be competitive and successful at both of these sports. This made me sacrifice hanging out with friends, going to parties, and other social things. For example, I was late to my senior prom because I ran at the Division Prelims track meet.

One challenge I had to overcome was the limited number of hours in a day, especially in the winter when daylight doesn’t last very long. This caused me to overschedule myself because I committed to too many things, but I overcame this by prioritizing everything and learning to be better about time estimation.

Another challenge I encountered was the subjective aspect of the hunter/jumper showjumping world. The types of competitions I competed in were subjectively judged in how “perfect” your ride was over all of the fences, which allowed the results to be very influenced by money as the fancier/prettier moving horses were more expensive. As I worked for all of my training and usually had horses of my own that were not considered to be the fanciest or had difficult quirks to work with, I often felt discouraged. I overcame this by realizing that the important thing in the sport was to do the best I could do given the circumstances and to celebrate the bond between my horse and I. My hard work was recognized when I was accepted into the Emerging Athletes Program.


What were your major service-related activities?

I volunteered at my old elementary school to tutor the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade math superbowl teams and at my high school to tutor my peers who were receiving failing grades.

How much time did you spend?

3 hours/week.

Why did you choose this activity?

I chose these volunteer activities because I enjoy tutoring and I wanted to give back to the schools I attended/previously attended.


What did you do in the summers during high school?

Summer after 9th grade, I stayed in Santa Barbara to hang out with friends, worked at the summer camp at my horseback riding stable, and went to horse shows. I went out of the country for my first time with my mom when we travelled to Thailand for a few weeks. I also went backpacking with my dad for a week, which we did almost every summer.

Summer after 10th grade, I did pretty much the same thing as the summer after 9th grade, except I travelled to Italy for vacation and Germany to horseback ride and learn from a trainer who specialized in training young horses.

Summer after 11th grade, I did pretty much the same thing as the other summers, except I didn’t travel anywhere. I became more serious about track in 11th grade, so I also trained for track.



Class Ranking: 3
GPA – Weighted: 4.8
GPA – Unweighted 4.0


How many times did you take the SAT? 2
How many times did you take the ACT? 0
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? SAT: 2270
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? No
How many hours did you study in total? 10 hours the first time, 20 hours the second
When did you start preparing for the test? A few hours before each test date
When did you take the test? 11th grade and summer after 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 Level 2- 800, Ecological Biology- 760

Which AP/IBs did you take?

AP Biology (5), AP Calculus BC (5), AP Chemistry (5) , AP Environmental Science (4), AP English Language and Composition (5), AP Microeconomics (5), AP US History (5)

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

AP Scholar with Distinction, member of the National Honor Society.

What do you attribute your academic success to?

I was diligent about studying for the AP tests. For NHS, I applied to the program and did the required community service.

What kind of support did you have?

Some of my teachers held review sessions for the AP tests and focused their classes on preparing for the test itself, which was very helpful because then I had to do less work on my own.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?


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

I had to sacrifice a lot of time in order to study for the AP tests, when there were plenty of other things I would rather have been doing.

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

I found it helpful to study in groups because it is beneficial to everyone when someone is confused about a concept. Explaining things to other people helps solidify concepts in your own mind and having a peer explain something that you are confused about is usually easier to understand than a teacher explaining it because a peer is more likely to understand why you are confused.


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? 18
Were you a legacy applicant at any of these schools? My dad and grandfather attended Princeton.
Were you recruited for athletics, arts, music, etc…? I was recruited for track and field at various schools (but at Princeton, I walked on to the team).
Did you declare a major? Did this end up being your actual major? No, I applied undeclared.

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

Princeton University, Duke, UC Davis, UCLA, UC Berkley, UC San Diego, Stanford , CalPoly SLO, Pomona College, Claremont McKenna College, UNC Chapel Hill, Lewis and Clark College, Scripps College, Brown University, University of Virginia

Which schools did you get into?

Princeton University, UC Davis, UCLA, UC Berkley, UC San Diego , CalPoly SLO, Claremont McKenna College, UNC Chapel Hill, Lewis and Clark College, University of Virginia

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

My AP Calculus teacher and my AP Biology teacher

Why did you ask these specific people?

I asked my math teacher because I had him for two semesters (Calculus AB and Calculus BC) and I knew that he knew me well and noticed my strong work ethic. I asked my biology teacher because he was a really fun teacher and we always joked and talked about life, so he knew more about my personality than any of my other teachers.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about my horse that I had throughout the first 3 years of high school, the bond we created, and how it affected me when she died unexpectedly. She was a very difficult and sensitive horse, in the sense that she was scared of virtually everything (from puddles on the ground to leaves blowing in the wind). Because of this, I had to work extremely hard and be very patient in order to get her to trust me and focus on the cues I was giving her instead of the things she was scared of. 

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

I chose to apply to Princeton because my dad went there, but I chose to go there because I fell in love with the campus and the track team when I visited. Although the track coach had already filled his recruiting spots by the time I talked to him since I did not apply early, he said that I would be on the team if I got in. I loved the idea of having an immediate family on campus and the people I met from the team were amazing. They all took the time out of their busy school days to show me around and talk to me about school, track, and life in general.

It was a scary decision to move all the way across the country to a school where I didn’t know a single person, but I was really attracted to the different lifestyle I would be able to experience while at Princeton. I wanted to know what living in the snow was like, what the “East Coast vibe” was, and so much more. This was another appeal of the school that influenced my decision to go there: the completely different lifestyle that I would have there. 

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 go to school from 8-1:30, have 3 classes for an hour and a half each (my school was on “block schedule” so we had fewer classes a with longer class periods, but then you switched classes halfway through the year). In the fall, I would go straight to my horseback riding stable where I would work/ride until dark, usually around 6 or 7 pm. In the spring, I would go to track practice until 3:30 pm three or four days a week and then go to the stable after that. I would then go home, eat dinner, do homework, and relax.

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

1-2 hours. I tried to do most of my homework during class.

What time did you usually go to sleep?

11 p.m.

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

In the fall, I would go to the stable in the morning on Saturday for about 6 hours and then hang out with friends and relax for the rest of the day. On Sundays, I often hiked and went to the beach. In the spring, I usually had track meets on Saturdays. 



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

My drive to succeed was mostly an internal drive to do the best I could in everything I tried to do. This wasn’t always a feasible goal, so as I got older I had to learn how to prioritize what I truly wanted to succeed in. 


What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

My dad expected me to try my hardest in school, which resulted in expectations of certain grades that he knew I should be able to get. My mom expected me to stick to my word and work to pay for my own horseback riding lessons. Above everything, both of my parents had strong expectations for me to be honest.

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

I felt a lot of pressure to succeed throughout high school. Looking back, I think most of it came internally from what I thought my parents expected me to do/be, not what they actually expected of me.

How did you deal with this pressure?

I dealt with this pressure by keeping myself extremely busy and distracting myself. Also, horseback riding was really good for keeping myself calm and in a good mental space through all the pressure. 


How did you balance everything going on in high school?

I balanced everything by being really busy and having everything scheduled. It was helpful to schedule time for myself and time with my friends, so that I didn’t get too busy for those things.

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

It is really important to take time for yourself and time to do fun things with your friends and family. It’s easy to get caught up in stress and your busy life, but taking time to stop and do something you enjoy is really important. Also, when scheduling things, always overestimate the time something will take or else you end up being late to everything.

Significant Events

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

In junior high school, my parents got divorced. This changed the logistics of my life a lot, as I now switched houses every week and had to adjust to living in two different places. This made me a more flexible and understanding person.

The summer after my junior year of high school, my horse died unexpectedly from a ruptured intestine. This was a very important event in shaping my future, as it affected how I felt about horseback riding. I didn’t enjoy horseback riding as much after this happened because I didn’t have a horse that I had a strong bond with anymore, which caused me to focus on track more. This affected my decision of where to go to college, as I started considering running track in college. 

Other Challenges/Struggles

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



How do you identify yourself? White
Which languages does your family speak at home? English
How many languages are you proficient in? 2, English and Spanish
Do you identify with multiple cultures? No

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

My culture has not influenced me.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

The values that were most important to me in high school included kindness, honesty, hard work, and motivation.

What was your #1 core value?

My #1 core value was probably motivation, in the terms that I exemplified it the most. But the value that means the most to me was kindness; I really wanted (and still want) to be a kind person to everyone.

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I demonstrated motivation in high school but was always striving to do better at whatever I was doing. Whether it was academic or athletic, I was always trying to do my best. 

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

I think my most important personal qualities are open-mindedness and dedication. Being open-minded allows me to learn new things and meet people that don’t necessarily have the same interests/views that I do. I think dedication is an important quality to have because it can be applied to anything, from relationships to sports to school. 

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?

I learned so much while growing up, and am still always learning, but some of the most important lessons I have learned are: be kind to everyone because you never know what makes them act how they do, finding someone you trust to turn to for advice and a listening ear makes your life so much better, hard work truly does pay off, and staying honest and true to your morals is always the better option even if it is harder.


Any advice you would give to your high school self?

I would tell myself to chill and enjoy life more. In high school, I was always overscheduled and busy, which caused me to never really enjoy what I was doing at the moment because I was rushing to finish in time for whatever I had to do next. 


Check out our first profile and learn about Erica’s journey.

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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.