How I Got Into Princeton – Story #5

Amanda’s Story

“They always had the news on, and we watched The Daily Show together — daily, of course. I think I just absorbed [my parent’s] clear interest in politics.

Unsurprisingly, Amanda is now a politics major at Princeton. However, during high school, her major extracurricular activities were actually in science. She competed at the highest levels in Science Olympiad and Science League and also enrolled in a 3-year research course during high school.

Amazingly, despite a heavy extracurricular load, Amanda was somehow able to limit herself to only 1 hour of homework per night!

As is usually the case, her “intrinsic drive to do well” was also accompanied by unhealthy amounts of stress due to high expectations from parents, siblings (both Princeton graduates), high-performing peers, and of course herself.

She also struggled with coming to grips with her sexuality and was initially resentful of having to observe the Sabbath on Saturdays when she could have been out with friends or participating in other activities.

Please read below to learn more about Amanda 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.

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: Clifton, New Jersey
Where did you grow up? Livingston, New Jersey

Siblings

# of older siblings:  2
# of younger siblings: 0
Sibling Education Levels: Sibling 1: BA, Sibling 2: MD
Where did your siblings go to college?  Both went to Princeton (Classes of 2016 and 2012, respectively)

Parents

Parent’s Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Tax Lawyer at Thomson Reuters
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: JD
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: Small Business Owner
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: BA

Parent Beliefs

How would you characterize your parent’s parenting style?

Not quite helicopter level, but very involved in my academic life, and my mother in my personal life

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

Academics 5
Extracurriculars 5
Service 4
Family 4
Friends 3
Physical Health/ Fitness 1
Mental Health 2

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

They wanted me to have the best chances possible in life and they felt that education was the key, so they valued my academic and extracurricular performance. They saw these areas as central to me getting accepted into a good school and therefore starting on a good path in life.


SECTION 2 – SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: Heritage Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: Livingston High School
High School City, State: Livingston, NJ
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 451

SECTION 3 – ACTIVITIES

Jobs

Did you work in high school? Yes
What kind of job/s did you have? Tutoring
Avg # hrs/week worked: 2

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

Politics and science

How much time did you spend on these things?

I spent around 2 hours a day reading and watching the news, focusing on political news, and I spent 6 hours a week on Science Olympiad (as well as 1 or 2 hours a day in science class, depending on my exact academic schedule)

When did these passions/interests first come about?

My passion in politics came about at a very young age, mainly from my parents. They always had the news on, and we watched The Daily Show together — daily, of course. I think I just absorbed their clear interest in politics. Now as a Politics major, I continue to pursue this interest as my own. My interest in science came from my father, who minored in geology in college. Although he is not a scientist, he has so much knowledge and curiosity for it — he would often take me outside during the day to look at rocks and out at night to discuss astronomy. So it felt natural to participate in the “Rocks and Minerals” and “Astronomy” events when I competed in Science Olympiad in both middle and high school.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

I did not really nurture my interest in politics in high school other than by continuing to read the news and watch The Daily Show with my parents every day. It would not be until college that it became my primary passion — I decided to major in Politics and joined the College Democrats, eventually becoming president. I also interned for Phil Murphy for Governor of NJ campaign the summer after my sophomore year at Princeton, a very personal experience as a resident of New Jersey myself. From all these experiences I learned more and more about politics, both as an interest and as a science in and of itself, and I have only become more passionate about it.

On the other hand, I really nurtured my interest in science in high school, participating in the Science League and Science Olympiad competitions and trying to take as many science courses as I could. I enrolled in a 3-year science research course that threw me into the world of research; I worked for two summers in a neuroscience lab and wrote up a final research report presenting the results of a study I conducted at this lab. I developed a very close relationship with one of my science research teachers, who also taught me in AP Environmental Science and coached our Science Olympiad team. All of these experiences developed my interest in science and neuroscience in particular to the point that I even applied to Princeton thinking I would major in neuroscience! Once at Princeton, I took a diverse range of science courses because my interest never faded, even as I majored in politics.

What level of achievement did you reach?

I am currently majoring in politics as a rising senior at Princeton. With science, I medaled gold several times in the Science Olympiad competition and reached the top 10% level in the Science League Biology competitions. I also placed in the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, where I presented the work from the neuro lab that I had done as part of my science research course.

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

By working hard and putting in the time. 2-3 times a week I would stay after school for at least 2 hours to work on Science Olympiad, and I spent 2 summers working in a lab for science research.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents and sister, who herself had taken the science research course at Livingston High before me, strongly encouraged me to take it, emphasizing how much I would learn as well as how impressive it would look to colleges on my transcript that I committed myself to a 3-year program and independent research. I know that they were absolutely right. They also supported me through my extracurricular work, picking me up from late nights at school and letting me work with friends at the house on the weekends on competition preparation.

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

I sacrificed free time and time spent hanging out with friends and family to participate in Science Olympiad and Science League — yet I also gained many friends from both of these activities.

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

I was a volunteer for 3 years at the Friendship Circle, an organization dedicated to working with special needs children.

How much time did you spend?

3 hrs/wk

Why did you choose this activity?

My siblings had both volunteered and enjoyed their experiences, and I supported the group’s mission. I spent most weekends volunteering and formed many memorable connections with the children with whom I worked.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

In the summer after 9th grade, I went to summer camp because I had done so for the past 6 or so summers. 

In the summer after 10th grade, I worked in a neuroscience lab near my home for around 6 weeks to do research for my science research course, which ran from 10th through 12th grade.

In the summer after 11th grade, I did the same thing I did after 10th grade, but my research was with a different researcher.


SECTION 4 – ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: My school did not provide exact rankings, but I was one of the top 10 students in my class.
GPA – Weighted: 4.86
GPA – Unweighted 4.98

SAT/ACT

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? 2340
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? No
How many hours did you study in total? 30
When did you start preparing for the test? 3 months before
When did you take the test? October and December of 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? 

  • Chemistry – 760
  • Spanish – 780
  • Biology M – 800
  • US History – 800

Which AP/IBs did you take?

Environmental Science – 5; Biology – 5; US History – 5; Psychology – 5; English Language and Composition – 5; Calculus AB – 5

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

AP Scholar with Distinction in 2015, National Merit Scholarship Commended in 2014/2015, Bronze medalist in NJCTE writing competition in 2014, Gold medalist twice in National Spanish Examination and third in NJ in 2014; medaled multiple times (gold and bronze) in Science Olympiad; top 10 percent in Science League Biology; placed fourth in Junior Science and Humanities Symposium; National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society, National Science Honor Society

What do you attribute your academic success to?

I attribute these achievements to working hard and challenging myself to go the extra mile even when I didn’t want to or felt I didn’t know enough to compete.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents supported me every step of the way, pushing me to do my best but also emphasizing that none of these achievements defined my worth, which took some pressure off.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

No.

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

I had to spend a lot of time that could have otherwise been spent hanging out or taking personal time to watch TV, for example, but it was all worth it because I proved to myself I could accomplish certain things, boosting my confidence for the future.

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

I don’t think any one approach or set of approaches was particularly helpful. I think just the overall time spent, even at the cost of free time and some fun, was what helped me.


SECTION 5 – THE COLLEGE APPLICATION

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? No
Were you recruited for athletics, arts, music, etc…? No
Did you declare a major? Did this end up being your actual major? I communicated that I was interested in majoring in Neuroscience, but I ultimately majored in Politics.

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

Princeton University, Rutgers University

Which schools did you get into?

Princeton University, Rutgers University

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

My AP English Language and Composition teacher and my AP Environmental Science/Science Research teacher / Science Olympiad coach

Why did you ask these specific people?

I felt I had formed the closest connections with them from all my teachers/mentors in my life, so I knew they could speak the best about me and my qualifications.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about some lessons learned from my time volunteering with the Friendship Circle.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

My brother got accepted into Princeton in 2008, when I didn’t really know anything about college, and so Princeton stuck in my head as the only college I really knew. When I visited him at campus, I fell in love, and when my sister got accepted in 2011, I knew it was my first choice, both because I had already liked it for a few years and because I wanted to share the special experience with my siblings of having attended the same college. I also knew it was one of the top schools in the country, and I wanted to benefit from the unique opportunities that attending such a university entailed. The day I got accepted still counts as the best day of my life.

Gap Year

Did you take a gap year?

No

If so, why?

N/A

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 junior year of high school?

I got up at 6:30, took the bus to school, and class started at 7:50. My school was on a rotating block schedule, so I had 3 classes before lunch at 10:50 – 11:40 (still consider this way too early for lunch!). I then had 3 classes after lunch until 2:40 at which point I usually stayed after school, either to tutor for an hour or work on Science Olympiad or Mock Trial for 2 hours. I then went home, did around an hour of work, had dinner, and watched TV or read a book before bed.

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

1

What time did you usually go to sleep?

10:30 PM

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

My parents are observant Jews, so on Saturday we would observe the Sabbath, which entailed not using any electricity. So, while most of my peers were off doing sports or extracurriculars, I spent the day reading books and the news at home. Truthfully, I was resentful at the time, wishing I could be out and able to participate in more activities or hang out more with friends, but looking back I know that having that dedicated time to just read for hours on end was invaluable for me.


SECTION 7 – WHAT MAKES YOU YOU

Drive/Motivation

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

Expectations — my parents had expectations for my success and I had expectations for my own performance. I also felt pressure to succeed and get into Princeton since both my siblings did and attended. Mostly, though, I wanted to succeed; I have always had an intrinsic drive to do well, even when the stakes are non-existent, whether it’s a trivia game or an ungraded test. I think this drive comes from the expectations my parents have of me, and at times it can lead to unhealthy amounts of stress, but I definitely think this drive got me into Princeton.

Pressure/Stress/Expectations

What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

As noted, they expected me to do well, and I did feel a decent amount of stress and pressure from this. To their credit, though, they never placed on me the expectation that I should attend Princeton or get accepted, and it was clear they would have been happy for me to attend any college — they just wanted me to not slack and to fulfill the potential they thought I had.

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

I felt a lot of pressure to succeed, and it came from my parents and from my siblings both having attended Princeton. I also felt a lot of pressure from my peers/friends, most of whom were ranked comparably to me at Princeton. At times they felt like my competition, particularly during college application season, and I know now how unhealthy that feeling was.

How did you deal with this pressure?

I watched a lot of TV and spent a lot of time with family and friends not doing work. I tried to not work more than 1 or 2 hours a day during the week.

Balance

How did you balance everything going on in high school?

By keeping a list every day of what I needed to get done and planning the order of how I would get them done before I started working. Also, I planned to have free time in my schedule every day — time to relax. I have always been a firm believer that having time to not work makes you more productive overall when you are working.

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

What I just noted — always scheduling personal time that involves not working.

Significant Events

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

None that I can think of.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

I struggled to come to grips with my sexuality (I came out as bisexual in college). Although Livingston is a fairly liberal town, high school is still a rough place for people who are different, and there were no support structures at school, really. I know now that many of my peers were not straight, but I had no clue at the time, so it was an isolating experience to discover a new part of my identity and deal with crushes on other girls. I didn’t know how to process it for a while.

Culture/Identity

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

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

N/A

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Focus, dedication, humor, compassion

What was your #1 core value?

Focus

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

By working hard both in class and outside of class and by trying to be a good friend and family member, one who listened and demonstrated kindness

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

My assertiveness, focus, and quirkiness

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

It was very much in flux, particularly as I struggled with parts of my identity. I didn’t really know who I was, and middle school and high school are very tough places when you don’t have a fully formed and confident sense of self. I would say I was similar to who I am now, but more immature and insecure.

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 parents’ Judaism, which as I noted forced me to spend more time reading on the weekends, which I think shaped my love of learning.

What do you think makes you unique?

My sense of humor

Influences/Mentors/Support

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

My mom, The Daily Show, and books by Michio Kaku

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

My mom.  


SECTION 8 – CONCLUSION

Important Lessons

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

Hard work pays off to some extent, but sometimes extenuating circumstances mean that no matter what you won’t achieve your goal. The most important lesson I learned, though, was that it’s ok to not achieve all of your goals, that the trying is what counts and what will instill in you lessons and skills you’ll carry with you moving forward. The goal itself is transient.

Advice

Any advice you would give to your high school self?

Take a deep breath and appreciate the present — the future will always be waiting for you, but the present moment is just that — a moment. Spend less time stressing about things because there will always be something to stress about and you’ll do yourself a favor by worrying less. Everything works itself out.


NEXT STEPS

Haven’t read our 1st profile yet? Check out Destiny’s journey here. Alternatively, you can also view a summary of all our other stories here – How I Got Into Series.

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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 Wong and Kevin Wong

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.