How I Got Into Princeton – Story #7

Jim’s Story

I think the most important lesson I learned growing up was regarding what it takes to be really good at something.” 

Jim spent a lot his childhood “starting and stopping.”

He ultimately became a member of Princeton’s class of 2019 and competed at the international level as an elite rower.

“My goals were things that excited me,” says Jim. “Imagining myself succeeding gave me energy and drive, and I channeled this into my work.”

Jim’s incredible self-drive and dedication allowed him to excel in both academics and athletics while overcoming his own personal barriers and championing his central value in high school: enjoyment of life and friends. 

Please read below to learn more about Jim 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 “What Makes You You.”

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: New York, New York
Where did you grow up? Rye, New York

Siblings

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

Parents

Parent’s Marital Status: Divorced
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Massage Therapist 
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: Bachelor’s
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: IT Consultant
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: Some college

Parent Beliefs

How would you characterize your parent’s parenting style?

Hands-on, but not overbearing

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

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

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

My parents never pushed me too hard in any one area. They encouraged me to be well-rounded and only pushed me when something was not quite reaching the mark.


SECTION 2 – SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: Rye Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: Rye High School
High School City, State: Rye, NY
Type of School: Public
Class Size: ~255

SECTION 3 – ACTIVITIES

Jobs

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?

Rowing team.

How much time did you spend on these things?

About ~15 hours a week.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

Fall of freshman year.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

Rowing started as just another extracurricular, but then over time it became a passion and defining part of my life.

What level of achievement did you reach?

Junior world championships (silver medal).

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

My junior year, I decided to give rowing my full commitment, so I began doing extra training by myself every day in addition to practice. It was a lot of independently driven commitment.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents were very supportive; they signed me up for private coaching for my extra training and pushed me to stay driven when I would lack motivation. My high school coaches were also very supportive of me doing additional training outside of official practices.

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

I sacrificed a lot of my time. Training hard twice a day meant a lot of early mornings and a lot of early nights. I missed a lot of social events and had to endure a decent amount of flak from my close friends for not coming out and being generally lame!

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

I was involved in a service-focused comedy improv group in high school. We would perform funny skits for local elementary/middle schools to educate them about social issues. The improv group was started by the mom of a classmate of mine who was involved with the local youth council and saw an opportunity to connect with the younger kids in the community by engaging the older kids.

Our weekly meetings involved improv warm-up games and working on an upcoming performance. We performed once a month either at local elementary schools or the middle school. The performances included light-hearted role-play skits, composed entirely ourselves, which presented social issues in a way that was fun, clear, and relatable. We addressed issues like cyberbullying, social media, alcohol and drug use, and mental health. Naturally, the content would differ based on the age group we were performing for. I was very involved with writing the skits for no reason other than I enjoyed it and I found that I was pretty good at it. I was also involved in the performances.

How much time did you spend?

About two hours a week.

Why did you choose this activity?

My older sister did it and she loved it, so I tried it and also loved it.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

I was a volunteer camp counselor at the local day camp run by the department of recreation in my hometown. My first summer with the camp was after 8th grade, right before starting high school. The first two summers were unpaid (I was technically known as a “counselor in training”) and the final summer (after sophomore year) I was paid (minimum wage, I believe). After 10th grade, I rowed in the mornings before camp.

My first year, I had kids entering first grade and the following years I had kids entering kindergarten. The kindergartners were much more challenging as this was many of their first experiences in an organized environment away from their parents or caretakers. The camp was a classic day camp; we would spend days doing activities like arts and crafts, sports, or playground; on some days we would go to the local pool. As one of the younger counselors, my role was partly organizational (I would move the campers’ lunches from place to place, keep track of all the kids before we moved activities, and help ferry them from place to place), and part fun (I spent a lot of time engaging in the activities with the kids to make sure that they were enjoying it and that everyone was included).

The summer after 11th grade, I went to a selection camp for the junior national rowing team. I narrowly missed making the team, so I was sent to a development training camp instead. I really wanted to try and compete internationally, and it also helped me look good for recruiters from colleges.


SECTION 4 – ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: No ranking
GPA – Weighted: 95/100
GPA – Unweighted 90/100

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? 2160
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? Yes, I had a private tutor
How many hours did you study in total? ~125 hours
When did you start preparing for the test? October of my junior year
When did you take the test? 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? 

  • US History (720)
  • Math Level 1 (710)

Which AP/IBs did you take?

AP US History (4), AP English Lang (4), AP English Lit (4), AP Psych (4), AP World History (3)

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

I was a national merit scholar semi-finalist; I was academic all-state in rowing.

What do you attribute your academic success to?

The national merit scholarship is based on performance on the PSAT. I didn’t really study for the PSAT, so I was a bit surprised to make it that far. I guess I would attribute that to good test-taking skills. For academic all-state, my success was based on my GPA. I would attribute that strong GPA to the support of my parents and good teachers at my school.

What kind of support did you have?

I had an on and off private math tutor (depending on how I was doing in math class), but generally my parents were very invested in my academic performance and would make sure that I was keeping on top of things and performing well.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

I had a private math tutor. If I was struggling in math, he would come once a week for an hour. I never took any high level (AP) math classes.

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

To be honest, academics were never very stressful for me. I worked hard, but not crazy hard, and not any harder than most of my friends. I think I was naturally pretty good at a lot of things so I just kept a certain level of achievement without slacking off too much or pushing myself much further.

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

I used a lot of flashcards. I have a good episodic memory, so if I had all the information I needed on flashcards, I could remember looking at them and most of the information would stick. I didn’t do anything too fancy when studying.


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? 1
Were you a legacy applicant at any of these schools? No
Were you recruited for athletics, arts, music, etc…? Recruited for rowing
Did you declare a major? Did this end up being your actual major? No

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?

My French teacher, my guidance counselor, and my physics teacher.

Why did you ask these specific people?

I felt that these people knew me well beyond just my performance in the classroom. They knew who I really was and I felt that they could speak to the things that make me unique.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about the last quarter of a rowing race and what that level of physical duress has taught me about myself.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

I visited Princeton when my sister was touring schools and it was the only tour that didn’t bore me to death. Then, when I was looking for myself, everything about Princeton felt right: everything from the campus community, to the academics, the size, and the rowing program all felt exactly right for 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?

I would wake up at 4:45 a.m. and go to rowing practice from 5 to 7 am. Then I would run home, shower, eat breakfast, and catch a ride to school with my neighbors. School went from 8 am to 2:30 pm. From there, I sometimes spent 30 minutes or so at office hours working on homework, but generally, I would go home, have a snack, and do another independent workout. I would do a bit of homework, eat dinner around 7:30 pm, and then maybe do a bit more homework in bed before going to sleep.

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

~1-2 hours

What time did you usually go to sleep?

9:30 PM

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

I would hang out with friends on Friday afternoon after school, but I would go to bed fairly early because I would have rowing on Saturday morning. I woke up around 8 AM on Saturday morning and go to practice, and then I’d come home, eat, and review practice test results with my SAT tutor. Saturday nights I would often hang out with friends. I didn’t go to parties too often, maybe once a month. Sundays were off days for training, so I would wake up late and have breakfast before going to the public library and doing an SAT practice test to be reviewed the following Saturday with my tutor (this was from about December to March).


SECTION 7 – WHAT MAKES YOU YOU

Drive/Motivation

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

Much of my motivation came from rowing in some shape or form. Before I really became committed to rowing, I didn’t have much to drive me or keep me regimented. After rowing became a real passion, I had structure from training, and I had a goal to work towards because all of a sudden it became possible for me to go to some amazing schools. I knew what kind of grades I needed to be good enough, so I worked to stay at a certain level academically. But I also knew that the better I was at rowing, the better chance I would have of getting into a good school, so much of my commitment was directed towards training.

Pressure/Stress/Expectations

What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

My parents knew that I was talented and smart, so they expected that I work and perform to the best of my ability. They never set goals for me that were unrealistic, but they would make it clear that anything less than what I was capable of was no good.

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

I had smart friends, and my sister was always at the top of her class, but a lot of the pressure I felt came from myself. This was largely because during my second half of high school, I was setting goals for myself, and they were goals that were lofty but also exciting. No one set goals for me (if I decided I didn’t want to try and be recruited for rowing, my parents would not have made me). But because I made them clear to myself and to my parents, I felt pressure to reach them and to not fall short of what I believed I could achieve. My parents were a part of this, but only because it was what I wanted.

How did you deal with this pressure?

Because my goals were things that excited me and things that I really wanted, I used them to drive my work. Imagining myself succeeding gave me energy and drive, and I channeled this into my work. I taped the logos of my target schools above my bed, and every night I would think about whether or not what I had done that day was helpful towards getting there. If it was, I felt good and channeled that energy. If it wasn’t, I felt bad, and I remembered that when I decided how to spend the next day.

Balance

How did you balance everything going on in high school?

I kept a pretty regular schedule, and made sure that my parents were aware of what I was supposed to be doing and when so that they could keep me on task when I felt the urge to slack off. Things would be pretty stressful at times, especially when I would find myself wondering whether I was really good enough for what I was working for. But I knew that if I kept to my schedule, that meant I was doing all that I could, and I couldn’t be disappointed with that.

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

I always set things up so that I would have lots of little nudges in the right direction. For example, if I had a specific workout on a coming Saturday, but I knew that I wouldn’t want to do it when the time came, I would tell my mom beforehand what I was supposed to do so that if I felt like bailing, either she would say something to me to make me feel bad for avoiding it, or I would do it simply to avoid that moment of guilt.

Significant Events

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

My sister graduated high school when I was finishing 9th grade. She was something like third in her class, and I remember sitting at grad parties and feeling down about myself hearing about all the awards, scholarships, and honors she was receiving. At the time, there wasn’t really anything remarkable about me as a student or an athlete, but I loved and looked up to my sister. So, when I started achieving more later on, it felt good to become the kind of person that had felt so far from myself a couple of years earlier. Another important moment was when a rowing coach who I respected and admired told my dad that I had the potential to go far in the sport if I wanted to. I had never had that kind of affirmation about my abilities, and that sparked my eventual commitment to the sport.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

I didn’t know this at the time, but I have had ADD for years. I was only diagnosed this past fall (my junior year in college), and being diagnosed/receiving treatment has completely changed my life academically. When I think back to middle/high school, I remember always feeling like I was capable of more than I was doing (academically). I was fairly smart naturally, so I often found myself being “good enough” and struggling to do more. I found it difficult to sit down and work for long periods of time, and I struggled with reading and focusing when I was by myself. I didn’t realize it was an issue so I guess it could have been worse, but in retrospect, I think it was something that held me back.

Culture/Identity

How do you identify yourself? White
Which languages does your family speak at home? English
How many languages are you proficient in? English
Do you identify with multiple cultures? My mom is from the United Kingdom, so I identify with British culture.

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

I would say it gave me a slightly more global perspective, but other than that it didn’t play a huge role day to day.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Achievement, enjoyment, friendship

What was your #1 core value?

Enjoyment

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I think I demonstrated these values by the way I balanced and structured my life day to day. I set high goals for myself and I pushed myself to achieve, but I never chased anything that I didn’t enjoy or anything that I didn’t truly want for myself. And no matter what I had going on, my friends played a major role. My high school friends remain some of my closest friends and we talk daily even when we’re at college.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

I consider myself to be very perceptive, personable, resourceful, positive, and level-headed.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

As I progressed through school, I did well and was very social. I was also occasionally impulsive and was known to get in trouble for being a bit of a class clown. I landed in the principal’s office a few times, but it was always for something I did to try and make some of my friends laugh. Once I got to high school, I matured and had more control over my actions. Throughout my childhood, I was always very curious and I thrived around other people.

Uniqueness

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

Every family is unique, but I don’t feel that there was anything about my family that stood out from those of my friends. My parents were supportive, and my older sister was a good influence. It was a good situation that definitely played a role in my success, but I don‘t think there were any extraordinary circumstances.  

What do you think makes you unique?

I think that I am very perceptive, I’m very good at taking the points of view of others, and I believe in myself. I was never “really good” at any particular subject or academic skill. I think that my special sauce is my ability to interpret and understand situations, environments, and decisions. As a result, I trust myself to do what’s best in the long run.

Influences/Mentors/Support

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

My parents were naturally very influential, and I had a few coaches that played significant roles in making me see my potential. Other than that, I don’t really recall having any major influences that guided me. I think I largely chose my own path and figured things out for myself. I read books, I listened to people, and I tried different things, but I never felt like one thing in particular was guiding me more than any other.

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

Depending on the subject, I would talk things over with my parents, my friends, or my coaches. But I would never really ask someone what they thought I should do. Again, I largely figured things out for myself. This might be me skewing things a bit, but as I think back, I can’t identify anyone that I went to consistently in search of guidance. I would talk things over with people to gain perspective, but ultimately I would decide what was to be done.


SECTION 8 – CONCLUSION

Important Lessons

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

I think the most important lesson I learned growing up was regarding what it takes to be really good at something. I spent a lot of my childhood starting and stopping. I picked up the guitar and I was good at it at first, but when it came to the point where improvement meant hours of practice, things dropped off. This same cycle occurred a few times. I was generally okay at things when I first picked them up, but the steeper part of the learning curve would throw me off. Through rowing and my increased academic commitment in high school, I finally began to learn that doing something at a high level requires a high level of work and dedication. This understanding has been hugely valuable to me as I work my way towards adulthood.

Advice

Any advice you would give to your high school self?

I’d probably say, “Hey, you know how you have trouble reading without jumping around the page and you can’t focus on a single idea without bouncing around between 5 others? That’s not normal, ask someone about it! Things don’t have to be so difficult.” Other than that I would probably encourage a bit more focus in math class (although the first piece of advice would probably help with this too).

 


NEXT STEPS

Check out our first profile and learn about Destiny’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.