How I Got Into Princeton – Story #6

Shanaz’s Story

I was always a well-rounded student growing up, so that mentality followed when I started high school. Even when I was offered more challenging courses, I made sure to continue pursuing my electives, such as orchestra, Spanish, and yoga.

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

As captain of her high school’s Marine Corps Fitness team, Shanaz led her team to win national championships, all while maintaining top grades and outstanding performance in her electives.

“All my goals and motivation were intrinsic,” says Shanaz. In addition to her inherent drive, she credits her success to a vibrant support system of parents and teachers.

Please read below to learn more about Shanaz 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.




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: Queens, New York
Where did you grow up? Bethpage, New York


# of older siblings:  1
# of younger siblings: 0
Sibling Education Levels:  Bachelor
Where did your siblings go to college?  Baruch College (NY)


Parent’s Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Personal Banker at Chase Bank 
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: Associate’s
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: Autobody Mechanic
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: Middle School

Parent Beliefs

How would you characterize your parent’s parenting style?


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 3
Mental Health 3

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

Although my parents encouraged studying, they never hovered over me or even checked my grades. They were supportive of my extracurriculars but often became frustrated if I complained too much. In their perspective, they would rather see me drop a commitment if it meant I would be less stressed. This can be good or bad; they did everything they could to help with my busy schedule, but also wanted to see me spend time relaxing with friends and family.


Middle School

Middle School: JFK Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: Bethpage High School
High School City, State: Bethpage, NY
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 250



Did you work in high school? No
What kind of job/s did you have? N/A
Avg # hrs/week worked: N/A

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

My main extracurricular was Marine Fitness. Not many high schools have this program, but it’s basically a competition based on the old Marine Corps Physical fitness test.

Other extracurriculars include varsity gymnastics, our school spirit club, and student civic club.

How much time did you spend on these things?

We practiced almost eight months out of the school year. Practices were held three times a week, each about 2-3 hours. We were also expected to work out and keep in shape for the rest of the week and even during breaks.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

I joined Marine Fitness sophomore year after overhearing my friends talk about it at track practice. Eventually, I quit track to focus on Marine Fitness.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

My coach was definitely responsible for helping me realize my potential. I remember him pulling me aside my first practice to tell me that Marine Fitness might be a really good fit for me. It also helped that he was my AP Biology teacher and would always ask if I did my workouts outside of practice.

What level of achievement did you reach?

I became captain of the team my junior year. As a team, we won the national competition my junior and senior year. As an individual, I placed 4th nationally my junior year and 1st my senior year.

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

I am a naturally driven person, so I was basically always competing with myself to get better. I saw the workouts our coach recommended outside of practice as mandatory rather than optional. That meant spending time every day doing sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups—three of the five events in our competition. I also listened to my coach’s advice meticulously, which meant taking recovery and nutrition very seriously.

What kind of support did you have?

Obviously, my coaches supported me with every practice and were understanding if I was having a bad day. However, they also never let me slack off and take an easy way out. My parents were supportive by realizing my exhaustion from school and sports. If I said I was tired and needed to study, they never bothered me with additional chores around the house. They let me be independent because they knew I was working towards bettering myself.

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

With all of our practices, I was sore more days than not. However, I can’t complain since I never suffered a major injury. Most of my challenges were overcoming mental blocks, rather than physical ones. I always resorted to talking to my coaches if I was frustrated or nervous and they helped me through it.


What were your major service-related activities?

I was part of our school’s student civic club, which was focused on various community service projects.

How much time did you spend?

Although the club wasn’t super organized, we did manage to organize a few events throughout the year (blood drives, food drives, fundraising, etc.). Overall, I probably spent maybe three hours every month on service-related activities.

Why did you choose this activity?

Because I never experienced major hardships during my childhood, I always thought it was important to give back to greater communities. Even if it is was for just a couple hours, I would always volunteer if it meant making someone else’s life easier.


What did you do in the summers during high school?

In the summer after 9th grade, I babysat my cousins and spent time with my friends.

In the summer after 10th grade, I took driver’s education and spent time with my friends.

In the summer after 11th grade, I worked in a summer camp within our school district. I assisted a teacher in caring for and teaching math to first and second graders.



Class Ranking: 1
GPA – Weighted: 107.52
GPA – Unweighted N/A


How many times did you take the SAT? 2
How many times did you take the ACT? 2
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? 1460 (SAT), 35 (ACT)
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? Yes, I took an SAT class
How many hours did you study in total? 30
When did you start preparing for the test? January of my junior year
When did you take the test? I took the SAT twice in 11th grade. I took the ACT once in 11th and once in 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 M (800)
  • Chemistry (800)
  • US History (760)
  • Math Level 1 (760)

Which AP/IBs did you take?

Chemistry (5); Biology (5); Calculus BC (5); Psychology (5); World History (5); US History (5); Government & Politics (5); English Language & Composition (5); English Literature & Composition (5); Spanish Language & Culture (4); Physics 2 (4); Physics 1 (3)

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

National AP Scholar, National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, Tri-M Honor Society

What do you attribute your academic success to?

I was always a well-rounded student growing up, so that mentality followed when I started high school. Even when I was offered more challenging courses, I made sure to continue pursuing my electives, such as orchestra, Spanish, and yoga. Filling my schedule with different subjects helped me to balance the heavy workload of all my AP classes.

What kind of support did you have?

My teachers were always there to help, even outside of their extra-help sessions. During junior and senior year, they could see how stressed every student was! They would even change exam dates and deadlines if the whole class agreed.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?


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

In order to get good grades, I was either catching up or trying to get ahead on homework throughout the day. Nights before a big exam, I would have to stay up trying to cram all the information I needed to know. (I obviously do not recommend this technique.) By the end of the week, I was beyond exhausted. More often than not, I would make excuses for why I couldn’t hang out with my friends just so I could take a nap.

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

I think I am still figuring out the best studying technique for myself. However, I have gotten this far by simply focusing in class. Be present, actively listen, and try not to daydream. It makes it much easier when you sit down to study and need to recall information on a test.


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? 9
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 intended to major in biology but realized it was not the best fit during my second semester of freshman year.

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

Princeton University, Brown University, Duke University, John Hopkins University, Williams College, Boston College, Brandeis University, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Stony Brook

Which schools did you get into?

Princeton University, Duke University, Williams College, Boston College, Brandeis University, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Stony Brook

 (Waitlisted at John Hopkins)

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

My AP Biology teacher/Marine Fitness coach and my AP Spanish teacher

Why did you ask these specific people?

I had my AP Spanish teacher for three years of Spanish and I became really close to my AP Bio teacher through Marine Fitness. They knew me the best and witnessed my growth as an individual across many years.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wanted to show a perspective I held for much of my life that couldn’t be seen on the rest of my application. After many drafts, I wrote about how much I really did not know, in spite of all my AP classes and grades. I wanted to demonstrate that I was aware of how small I was in this vast world, but also how excited I was to explore and learn new things. And to make my essay more fun, I drew upon parallels between my life and Jon Snow’s from Game of Thrones!

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

I was not expecting to get accepted into Princeton, so when I did I was ecstatic. I spent countless hours exploring everything they offered online and realized I was not ready to commit to a certain career path. Princeton had so many opportunities to explore and pursue my passions. It did not matter how many times I changed my major. Princeton offered the resources to do whatever I decided in the future. I officially committed after visiting campus on spring break and fell in love with the welcoming and brilliant environment.

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 typically woke up at 6:30 and somehow found a way to be in first period AP Chemistry on time. I went through the rest of my schedule, which included three other AP classes, various electives (orchestra, yoga, etc.), and no lunch break! Thankfully my teachers never minded, so I always ate breakfast and lunch during class. Although I wouldn’t recommend this, I often had to finish homework I didn’t do the night before during class (if my teacher didn’t see). After school, I would drive home, have a snack, and take a nap (1-2 hours depending on how tired I was).

During the winter season, I had varsity gymnastics (5-7:30) and Marine Fitness (6-8:30). Because of the overlap, I left gymnastics early for fitness practice. Typically, there were 1-2 gymnastics meets a week. Competitions for Marine Fitness didn’t start until March and were always on Saturdays.

After practice, I would eat dinner and shower. Hopefully, I would start my homework around 10 and make it to bed by 12. And because I procrastinate on social media, I probably wouldn’t fall asleep until 1.

Obviously, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Certain times of the year (i.e. AP testing week, Marine Fitness national competition, etc.) were more stressful than others.

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

I would spend at least two hours doing homework, but rarely did I finish everything. I always had to finish homework in between classes the next day. I did not study for every test. Most of the time, I tried to pay attention and really understand the material as we were learning. However, certain subjects did require additional work which translated to cramming the night before a big test.

What time did you usually go to sleep?


What was a typical weekend like in high school?

Most weekends were spent catching up on sleep, homework, and chores. I also made sure to spend time with friends and family by going out to dinner or the movie theater.



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

I think I am just a naturally competitive person, so that always drove me to better myself every day. I was also never pressed by my peers or even my parents. All my goals and motivation were intrinsic.


What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

My parents never put immense pressure on me. They simply wanted me to do my best and get decent grades. In fact, they rarely checked what classes I was picking for the following year or my grades.

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

Ever since I moved to Bethpage in the second grade, most of my peers and teachers noticed that I was smart. I think this “reputation” just carried on as I entered middle and high school. It was a healthy pressure that kept me from slacking off.

How did you deal with this pressure?

I don’t necessarily think I had a lot of pressure to deal with. I was pretty independent so all the choices I made were self-motivated.


How did you balance everything going on in high school?

Looking back, I have no idea how I balanced everything either. Some things are set in stone, like classes and practices. It’s important to know where the flexibility in your schedule is that way you can fit in friends, homework, and other commitments.

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

Not procrastinating is essential! I always had a little voice in my head saying, “just get it done.” By finishing your work earlier, you’ll have more time to unwind after a long day. Even simple things like starting your homework at lunch or reading a chapter on the bus ride home can really add up.

Significant Events

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

No major event dramatically changed my life.

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 in a predominantly white neighborhood, so I definitely stood out as a person of color. I was cognizant of the fact from a young age, but thankfully it was never something that became an obstacle. I was surrounded by a tolerant and accepting community, so I never felt out of place.


How do you identify yourself? Indo-Carribean
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?

My parents are from Guyana and immigrated to New York during the 80s. Having immigrant parents definitely exposed me to a lot of different cultures. Guyana, and the Caribbean in general, are historically influenced by so many groups. So, growing up with those stories, foods, religion, etc. helped me to be more tolerant and eager to learn about different cultures.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Altruism, dedication, friendship, humility, respect, understanding

What was your #1 core value?


How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I always went out of my way to help people no matter how many commitments I already had on my plate. I would help tutor people, paint banners, order sweatshirts, etc. Taking on more responsibilities not only made me more efficient in managing my time, but also helped to fortify relationships with my friends, teachers, and coaches.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

I have always been told that I am really humble. I think it is really important to step back, reflect, and appreciate the opportunities and people in your life. Of course, you should take pride in your accomplishments, but make sure to recognize everyone who helped you get there. Staying humble also helped me to stay focus and consistently find new goals.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

Middle school was a really awkward time (as it is for everyone), but I recall being really outgoing and open to trying new things. In high school, I became really focused and dedicated. By my sophomore year, I knew who my friends were, which extracurriculars I enjoyed, and which classes I wanted to take.


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

There wasn’t anything particularly different about my family; we’re fairly normal.

What do you think makes you unique?

Based on my personality and the inspiration I draw from the people around me, I genuinely enjoy learning new things and testing my limits. Finding new goals, no matter how large or small, helps me to grow as a person and stay interested in what I am doing.


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

I don’t have a major influence that specifically stands out. However, as I was growing up, I resorted to reading and listening to music as an outlet. Both not only helped me to relax but also explore different art forms and genres. They are a fun way to take in new information and connect with others.

[Favorite books: Harry Potter series (of course), And Then There Were None, The Catcher in the Rye]

[Favorite artists: Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino, Kid Cudi]

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

I immediately went to my Marine Fitness coach if I had a problem or questions. He was beyond reliable, honest, and never failed to help me. To this day, I still rely on him for advice and support.


Important Lessons

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

Growing up, my parents definitely taught me the importance of family. At times when I was really stressed out (and I admit a little moody), they always reminded me to respect those who care about you. Family isn’t something everyone has or something you can learn out of a textbook. It’s essential to have a mutual and caring relationship with them because they’ll always help you deal with whatever obstacle you’re facing.


Any advice you would give to your high school self?

If I had a chance to talk to myself right before freshman year, I would say slow down and appreciate every moment. The days are long, but the years go by so fast. Also, spend more time relaxing–both by yourself and with your friends. It’s not worth stressing out over every little thing. Just do your best and breathe because everything works out in the end.


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.