How I Got Into Princeton – Story #20

Harry’s Story

Profile - HarryIf I want to pursue something, I am very good at figuring out what the best approach is and directing my energy into that approach.”

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

In high school, Harry pursued a rigorous schedule of academics and extracurricular activities. He was one of only 8 students in his year to attain all A*s at GCSE level, won the Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement at A-Level, and earned the History Subject Prize. He spent his free time participating in and coaching athletics and engaging in history discussion groups and other school societies.

Harry credits much of his success to mindful goal-setting and family support.

“The small things add up,” Harry says. “I’ve learned in academics and athletics in particular that, when pursuing a goal or seeking a particular outcome, it’s best to focus not on a big late effort or intense “grind,” but on a steady approach that incorporates habits and daily tendencies which all promote the end goal.”

Please read below to learn more about Harry 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 Harry describes his personal philosophies.

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.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

SECTION 1 – FAMILY
SECTION 2 – SCHOOLING
SECTION 3 – ACTIVITIES
SECTION 4 – ACADEMICS
SECTION 5 – THE COLLEGE APPLICATION
SECTION 6 – DAY IN THE LIFE
SECTION 7 – WHAT MAKES YOU YOU
SECTION 8 – CONCLUSION

Disclaimer

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.


SECTION 1 – FAMILY

Geography

Birthplace: Manchester, UK
Where did you grow up? Cheshire, UK

Siblings

# of older siblings:  1
# of younger siblings: 1
Sibling Education Levels:  Sibling 1: Completed a Bachelors Degree, History, in the UK. Sibling 2: Currently undertaking A Level exams.
Where did your siblings go to college?  Sibling 1: Bristol University. Sibling 2: At High School (Sixth Form)

Parents

Parent’s Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both Parents
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Wine Consultant / Runs an English Tutoring Business
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: Bachelors
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: Manager, Lords’ Marketing Consultancy
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: Bachelors

Parent Beliefs

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

Relaxed. They let me follow my passions, but also give advice and encourage me to think actively about important decisions. 

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

Academics 1
Extracurriculars 1
Service 5
Family 3
Friends 4
Physical Health/ Fitness 2
Mental Health Never directly made it a priority, but indirectly encouraged positive mental health with a focus on the above… Particularly physical health/activities outside of the classroom.

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

I’d say that my parents always encouraged me to pursue my passions and areas of interest, providing support for me to do this. They taught me to value family and good health above other things, and saw academics as an area of life through which fulfilment and personal growth could be achieved. They told me that I shouldn’t see it as a means to an end, i.e. doing Medicine to be a Doctor to get a good salary or doing Maths to go into accounting.


SECTION 2 – SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: The Grange School Hartford
Type of School: Private

High School

High School: The Grange School Hartford
High School City, State: Northwich, Cheshire
Type of School: Private
Class Size: 120/year group up until Sixth Form (last 2 years), in which my class was 91 strong.

SECTION 3 – ACTIVITIES

Jobs

Did you work in high school?  Yes
What kind of job/s did you have? Worked part time during Christmas and summer breaks. Worked at a Packaging Warehouse putting together Hampers, and at Summer Sports Camps. 
Average hours/week worked? Seasonal. During term time I didn’t work, since I couldn’t find time alongside studies and extracurriculars. I worked for around 2 weeks at Christmas (9hrs/day), and 3 weeks during summer (7-8 hours/day).
Why did you work? For money for living expenses (public transport,) and leisure money (seeing friends, cinema, food etc.)

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

Sports, Politics and Current Affairs, Philosophy & Political Philosophy.

I took part in a history discussion group where we talked about various historical periods/approaches to understanding history, and also led a political forum for students where we met during lunchtime to talk about current affairs & the UK/global political landscape. This ended up being heavily focused on the Brexit referendum and we engaged a range of students from different years. I think these made me more comfortable speaking in a smaller group setting and discussing problems academically, skills that I’ve found helpful in precepts at university. Being able to clearly explain ideas, refine them and justify them to others is critical in doing philosophy!

How much time did you spend on these things?

Sport ~ 20 hours/week. Other interests ~ 2 hours/week in school societies, and a good amount of time just reading and listening to news.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

When I was very young – around 15.  But more to the point, it was when I started to realise a bit more independence in my own life (as an early-mid teen) and started to set future ambitions based on what I enjoyed and valued!

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

Largely by my parents who encouraged me to take an interest in lots of things outside of school activities. I was very busy in the evenings after classes finished at school, and my family often did things together on weekends.

What level of achievement did you reach?

A good level. In sport, I represented England in the Multi-Events (Track and Field).

Each year, English Schools Athletics Association selects the top 4 finishers from the national championships to participate in a home countries international which takes place in Glasgow, Scotland. There, I competed for England against the other home countries and earned an international vest. It meant a lot to me at that point in my life as, just coming into my last two years of high school, I realised that I wanted to pursue my passion for track and field and that I had a genuine talent in it. I also spent all summer working hard to compete in the championships that qualified me for the England team, and can distinctly remember feeling amazing about being paid back for my hard work. Looking back, it made me really motivated to set goals and create plans to achieve them, which I tried to apply to my academics too.

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

I worked very hard from the third-to-last year (year 11) of high school. Committed 4 days a week and 3 school nights out of 5 to a pretty demanding training programme.

What kind of support did you have?

Good support. School teachers and staff were understanding of my commitment and parents worked incredibly hard to ensure I could follow my passion in track and field.

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

Had to give up a lot in terms of social life, missing out on things that an average teen would enjoy. By this I mean things like going out with friends on weekends when I would be training instead, staying at home in the summer to compete, when my friends would travel. There was also the challenge of being more disciplined in my time management, in order to create sufficient time for academics. But this helped me be more productive and efficient I think!

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

I did a good amount of coaching athletics, both in school and outside of school. In school, I took care of younger students’ soccer practices, and outside of school I organized and oversaw track and field practices for children from the local area (in Manchester).

How much time did you spend?

2 hours/week.

Why did you choose this activity?

I think sport has tremendous power to bring people together and give young people confidence and fulfilment. I also enjoyed the personal relationships I could develop through coaching.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

Summer after 9th grade, I relaxed. Saw friends, Went on vacation. I did sport, went to camps and met other kids. Saw parts of the UK with my family and went to the theatre, saw plays. Because that’s what I enjoyed doing, and I didn’t have too much of an eye on the future!

Summer after 10th grade, was pretty similar to the previous summer. But I did spend a little time in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster shadowing my local MP, as I became more interested in politics.

Summer after 11th grade, again, lots of leisure/cultural activities, often with family. I also visited universities in the UK, gained some work experience at a local marketing company and coached at a summer athletics course. I worked part-time, and started putting together my application for college in the US. I began to narrow down my choices, and by August I was set on either Cornell or Princeton.


SECTION 4 – ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: We didn’t receive class rankings
GPA – Weighted: We didn’t receive GPAs. However, I achieved 9 A*s at GCSE and A*, A, A in my A Levels. A* is the top grade in both sets of examinations.
GPA – Unweighted n/a

SAT/ACT

How many times did you take the SAT? 1
How many times did you take the ACT? 0
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? SAT: 1990
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? No
How many hours did you study in total? 8-10 hours, intermittently
When did you start preparing for the test? Around a month before I took it
When did you take the test? During 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? 

None.

Which AP/IBs did you take?

None.

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

I was one of only 8 students in my ~120 year group to attain all A*s at GCSE level. Gained full marks in Physics GCSE. Won the Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement at A-Level (given to students who earn at least an A grade in all their subjects). I also won the History Subject Prize, given to the highest achieving History A-Level Student in the school

What do you attribute your academic success to?

My parents – they always read to me, took me to see different things and ensured I was exposed to a lot of different learning experiences when I was young. I would also say I saw how hard my brother worked in his high school examinations and wanted to also work hard. The discipline of studying and setting aside time well in advance really helped me, especially in my last two years at school.

What kind of support did you have?

Besides my parents, I had a quality set of teachers and good relationships with these teachers. My relationships with those teachers started to form later on in my time at school and many were the result of doing extracurriculars where I’d spend time with teachers outside the classroom setting. Lots of this were the societies I mentioned, and also just casual things like playing pickup soccer against the teachers every Friday night. Lastly, I was lucky in that the subjects I chose for A Level had a small group of students in them. So, in history, philosophy and politics we had discussions and spoke individually with the teachers regularly. I’d talk over essays with them, and also ask for advice about universities, have them look over personal statements, application materials etc. In the last couple of years of school especially, 2/3 teachers really did start to become mentors more than anything else, which I’m very grateful for. They were invaluable in weighing up and making possible my future options.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

No.

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

Time management was the major challenge, but I never saw it as a sacrifice because I enjoyed my extracurriculars enough to justify the challenge to myself. It was a choice for me to pursue sport to a demanding level, and so I didn’t regret that finding time for academics became harder consequently. In fact, I found (and still find) that this forced me to structure my time in a productive manner!

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

Explain ideas and concepts to other people. When studying for exams that would test me on concepts and ideas, such as Philosophy, Politics and History, I would make an effort to explain key ideas to another person (family member, friend). This was really helpful! Additionally, starting on a blank page and just writing down an explanation sometimes really helped; I didn’t feel like I fully understood something until I was able to write it down and communicate it clearly on paper.


SECTION 5 – THE COLLEGE APPLICATION

Applications & Acceptances

Did you apply as an international or domestic student? International
Did you apply regular or early? Early
How many schools did you apply to? 1
Were you a legacy applicant at any of these schools? No.
Were you recruited for athletics, arts, music, etc…? Athletics, Track and Field. (Unsure whether this assisted my app as I was not an official recruit, but I spoke with the Coach who encouraged me to apply.)
Did you declare a major? Did this end up being your actual major? Philosophy. Yes! (Though I did consider Politics particularly until right before declaration deadline!)

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

Princeton University

Which schools did you get into?

Princeton University

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

High School teachers – My Head of Sixth Form and my Politics teacher.

Why did you ask these specific people?

I felt my Head of Sixth Form had a good knowledge of me as a person and student, he’d taught me in several subjects throughout my time at school and we’d often chat about different things outside of the classroom. My politics classes were often full of debate and I wrote plenty of essays, so I asked my politics teacher since he knew me very well as a student and had seen me improve academically in the last couple of years of school.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about social cohesion, since it had become a hot issue in the UK at the time (2014 Scottish Referendum, 2015 General Election, upcoming 2016 Brexit vote…) and I had been surprised by peoples’ reactions and sometimes hostile views.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

I really wanted to study there, it’s a beautiful place, and the idea of taking classes from some of the Professors I knew were there was really exciting to me.

Gap Year

Did you take a gap year?

No.

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


SECTION 6 – DAY IN THE LIFE

Typical Day

What was a typical weekday like in your junior year of high school?

Monday morning – Wake up, 7 am, breakfast, walk to train station. Get Train to nearby school, walk to school. Class 8:45 –3:50 pm, and during the day I would have spent my free periods doing homework that’s due later in the week. 4:20pm – train home. 5pm, drive to Manchester (30-40 min drive) to go to practice, which starts at 6 and finishes around 9. Drive back at 9pm, get in and have dinner. Be finished by 10pm, talk to family, read news, do any homework that needs to be done.

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

On a practice day, I did around 1 hour/night, sometimes less since I would work hard during free periods in the school day or lunchtime if necessary. On a non-practice day, I did around 2-3 hours/night.

What time did you usually go to sleep?

11 p.m.

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

Friday evening – relax. No practice, take a break from schoolwork, maybe go out and see friends but not too late as practice in the morning!

Saturday– practice 9 am – 1pm. Saturday Afternoon/Evening, see family, go to sporting event or go out into town, do 2-3 hours of schoolwork.

Sunday – do school work. Mainly essay work – if I had a piece of writing due I would do it on the Sunday, write in morning and edit in afternoon. Often this would take all day, as my A Levels of Politics, History and Philosophy required a lot of reading and writing time.


SECTION 7 – WHAT MAKES YOU YOU

Drive/Motivation

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

I knew I was lucky to have opportunities ahead of me (i.e. good universities and career paths), and wanted to make the absolute most out of them. Motivation was largely that I only had one chance to make the most out of myself and achieve something, coupled by the fact that I wanted to repay my parents in a sense for the sacrifices they made for my education.

Pressure/Stress/Expectations

What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

None. They supported me completely and never placed expectations.

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

I didn’t feel much pressure to succeed, because the only source of pressure was internal. I am good at zoning out external factors- within school, from peers etc. The main source of pressure came from the fact that I’d worked very hard, and my family had worked very hard, to set myself up well for success in exams and applications to university. I therefore didn’t want this to be in vain.

How did you deal with this pressure?

By reconciling myself to the fact that things don’t always work out, and that, even if they didn’t there is still a lot to be gained from the process of working hard and pursuing ambitions.

Balance

How did you balance everything going on in high school?

Time management – set deadlines for myself. Priorities – took care of academics and athletics above everything else.

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

Encouragement from parents to reflect on what was actually important to me, and to see things in the long-term.

Significant Events

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

When I received excellent GCSEs, it was a bit of a surprise, as I realized I was actually capable of excelling academically.

After this realization, I think I started to take school more seriously and become a more conscientious student. It wasn’t that I was ever a bad student or lazy in any way – I always did my work on time, but I did what I needed to in order to pass the tests and achieve good grades. After I received my GCSE results though, I realized I had the chance to really make the most of my education and use it to benefit my future. Having a smaller range of classes which I had genuine interest in at A Level was complementary to this shift in my approach, as I worked incredibly hard throughout A Levels and became a better writer and more intellectually curious. I came into contact with a bunch of new ideas in the social sciences that I found really exciting – I remember listening to a bunch of philosophy podcasts, reading far more about politics, and thinking about various ideologies and worldviews. My grades at A Level weren’t as good as at GCSE, which I found surprising given the hard work I’d been doing. Looking back, perhaps I focused less on satisfying the grading criteria, since I think I was a much better student (hopefully my teachers would agree with this!). Importantly, the hard work I did set me up well to manage the workload effectively at Princeton.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

Faced normal challenges in terms of confidence as an early teenager. I think sport gave me some form of identity and purpose when I was going through a stage of being a little unsure of myself, so this really helped me in hindsight.

Culture/Identity

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 German
Do you identify with multiple cultures? No

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

Growing up in a place with little ethnic diversity, identity was defined mostly in terms of socioeconomic factors for me. I’m not from a hugely wealthy family, but my parents worked hard so that we could attend a good school. So, my identity as someone with privilege in this regard affected the way I saw my future – I wanted to capitalize on the opportunity I had been given by my family.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Persistence, Patience, Thoughtfulness, Ambition, Foresight and Integrity.

What was your #1 core value?

Persistence. 

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

Working hard in all academic areas; pursuing different extracurricular opportunities despite the challenges this posed (time constraints, logistically challenging etc.); consistent athletic endeavor in the face of a couple of injuries.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

Enthusiasm, Resilience, Determination and Thoughtfulness.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

I was relatively introverted when I was younger and have generally reserved opinions/rarely been outspoken. I’d say that I’ve always been very thoughtful and analytic, which began to grow as I pursued philosophy and politics at school.

Uniqueness

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 encouraged me to participate in sports, be involved in the community and to work hard, which led to my brother, sister and I to be very ambitious and constantly active. Because we were interested and engaged with a lot of different things, we were always busy and organizing our own schedules, taking on some independence and ownership of our individual lives pretty early.

What do you think makes you unique?

Mainly fortune! But underlying good fortune, I would say hard work and a focus of priorities. If I want to pursue something, I am very good at figuring out what the best approach is and directing my energy into that approach.

Influences/Mentors/Support

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

My Mum and Dad influenced me the most, as they instilled in me the value of hard work, not by telling me to work hard, but by showing me by working so incredibly hard in their own lives to provide for my sister, my brother and me. Additionally, my Philosophy teacher in sixth form influenced me at a very formative time in my life. He really encouraged me to think critically about everything, and to question assumptions we are all making in our own lives about what is right and proper. Mostly though, he encouraged me to see that value and meaning is different for everyone, and so figuring out what provides these in your own life is the key. Ignoring the status quo and the pressure you might feel from others is central, and I think my teacher encouraged me to be more confident to express myself and pursue my own passions, thinking less about how I might be perceived.

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

Family. There were also a couple of friends I had in high school who helped me with certain things.


SECTION 8 – CONCLUSION

Important Lessons

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

It’s the small things that add up!

This might sound like a bit of a cliché, but I really think it’s one of the most valuable lessons in life! I’ve learned in academics and athletics in particular that, when pursuing a goal or seeking a particular outcome, it’s best to focus not on a big late effort or intense “grind”, but on a steady approach that incorporates habits and daily tendencies which all promote the end goal. A basic example would be studying for a German test – read an article of “Bild” every day or learn 3 new words each time you finish a class, rather than staying up for two days straight before the test and cramming it in. By the end of the semester, you will have done a huge amount of extra volume, with little additional effort per day! Plus, you’ll likely know the material better and for longer, and you will have trained yourself to be more disciplined, which carries over to other areas of life.

Advice

Any advice you would give to your high school self?

I f you’re working, you’re working; if you’re not, you’re not!

The balance between academics and extracurriculars lent my life an inherent structure, but I always felt that I could be doing a little more in some area because I wanted to achieve something more in that area! With the pressures of university, I’ve learned that being able to enjoy time without stress is important for a whole range of reasons, and so I would definitely reinforce this if I were talking to my high school self!


NEXT STEPS

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.