How I Got Into Princeton – Story #8

Rachel’s Story

“In high school, I began a longer journey of overcoming performance anxiety and negative internal dialogue that allowed me to thrive during my hardest academic years…”

Meet Rachel, a member of Princeton’s class of 2019.

Like many, Rachel’s journey to Princeton was not without its challenges. In addition to battling performance anxiety and negative self-talk, Rachel navigated acceptance issues and problematic relationships in a new high school environment.

Ultimately, Rachel overcame these challenges to become the top of her class at the #1 high school in Washington D.C.

She cites her Christian faith, a large supportive family, and a self-driven desire to excel in all things as her anchors and keys to success, especially within her academic career at Princeton.

Please read below to learn more about Rachel 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 “Academics” 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: Washington, D.C.
Where did you grow up? Dawsonville, Maryland

Siblings

# of older siblings:  2
# of younger siblings: 3
Sibling Education Levels:  Bachelors of science, current undergraduate, high school senior, junior, freshman
Where did your siblings to go college?  Brown University and the University of Maryland

Parents

Parent’s Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Physician 
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: M.D.
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: N/A
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: B.A.

Parent Beliefs

How would you characterize your parent’s parenting style?

My parents were both strict and loving. They shared clear values largely derived from our Christian faith. They put our family first, grandparents included. When it came to our education, they were serious about it. Education is important to West Indian parents, especially since my family in the U.S. are all immigrants.

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

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

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

When it came to academics, my parents were very intentional. They absolutely see education as a way to sharpen your mind, better yourself, and grow into the person you are meant to be. They changed our schools if they felt we needed stronger programs. They were even willing to have all six of my siblings and I enrolled in six different schools at one time because they cared about our fit. They cared about grades, not for the sake of being able to show off good grades, but because they saw them as a reflection of us working hard, learning well, or needing assistance.


SECTION 2 – SCHOOLING

Middle School

Middle School: Lighthouse Christian Academy
Type of School: Private

High School

High School: Benjamin Banneker Academic High School
High School City, State: Washington, D.C.
Type of School: Public
Class Size: 94

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?

Piano.

How much time did you spend on these things?

About 8 hours a week.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

My family had owned a piano since I was a child and because I read music and knew the keys, I could fumble my way through the treble part of some sheet music. And then, my freshman year of high school, I decided that I wanted to properly learn how to play the piano.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

My piano teacher did the most to nurture my passion for piano. She encouraged me to challenge myself with difficult music and consistent practice in order to grow my skill. She also had a way of helping me keep perspective when I was not pleased with my progress or otherwise stressed and consequently not playing well. She taught me to think positively and confidently.

What level of achievement did you reach?

By my senior year, I was able to play pretty advanced ragtime pieces by Scott Joplin and some music by Billy Joel.

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

My weekly lessons, my at-home practice, and my teacher’s ability to identify where I was and where I could be were largely the reason I was able to grow so much in four years.

What kind of support did you have?

I had the support of my mother who drove me to lessons, my family who tolerated my playing and came to my recitals, and my wonderful teacher.

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

I had a long commute to school. It was between 1-1.5 hours every day. When I finally reached home, I would need to practice piano and log my time. Ideally, I would practice 5 days a week for between 30 minutes to an hour. If I slacked, it would be evident during my Saturday lessons, which was not good if a recital was coming around.

The reason I kept up my practice even though it meant starting homework later than I would like was that I loved it and I needed it. I also had a great teacher who kept me going. My mother also sacrificed her Saturday mornings in order to bring me to practice and pay for my lessons. 

Service

What were your major service-related activities?

I would volunteer weekly in the children’s ministry at my church and at a STEM afterschool program at a middle school near my high school.

How much time did you spend?

3.5 hours a week

Why did you choose this activity?

Prior to high school, I would regularly volunteer for my church’s children ministry during the summer. My high school had weekly community service requirements, so I decided to become more committed to my church’s children ministry. I’m so glad I did because my now weekly involvement allowed me to realize my love for working with children. 

My high school also placed me at the middle school I previously mentioned in order to help me fulfill my community service requirements. I continued there each year because I enjoyed the relationships I formed with middle school students and developed great relationships with the school’s administration.

Summers

What did you do in the summers during high school?

The summer after 9th grade, I attended a meteorology camp at Howard University. Our camp had partnerships with Howard, NASA, and NOAA, so it was very enriching exposure to meteorological careers and research. Even though I didn’t see a future in meteorology, I applied because I had greatly enjoyed the meteorology component of my 8th-grade science class.

The summer after 10th grade, I worked as an office assistant at my father’s medical practice, helping the staff with daily administrative work and larger projects. 

The summer after 11th grade, I participated in a four-week long study abroad experience through the Experiment in International Living Program in Peru. I applied to this program because I had a Spanish teacher who really supported my love for Spanish and knew that in order to grow more, I would need an immersive experience. She guided me through the application process and supported me the whole way. I had actually tried the summer before but did not receive sufficient funding. She encouraged me to apply again and I’m so glad I did!


SECTION 4 – ACADEMICS

Grades/GPA/Awards

Class Ranking: 2/94
GPA – Weighted: 4.481
GPA – Unweighted 3.7

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? 2210
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? No
How many hours did you study in total? ~10 hours
When did you start preparing for the test? In 9th grade (see more below)
When did you take the test? 11th grade spring and 12th grade fall

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? 

  • Spanish 720
  • Math 1 710
  • Biology 610

Which AP/IBs did you take?

  • IB SL Spanish – 7
  • IB HL Biology – 6
  • IB HL History – 6 
  • IB HL English – 6
  • IB SL Visual Arts – 5
  • IB SL Mathematical Studies – 6

How did you study for the SAT?

My preparation was mainly through my high school. They began preparing us with the PSAT in 9th grade. They gave us a free test the spring of our junior year. My English teacher also used some time each day to reinforce our vocabulary and give us practice questions. I also used test prep books from the local library to practice in my own time.

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

By my senior year of high school, I received five scholarships for my first year of college. I was the salutatorian of my graduating class, and because of that was on honor roll all throughout high school. I participated in the IB diploma curriculum and received my IB diploma after scoring sufficiently on my final IB exams. Lastly, I had to write a 20-page research essay for this curriculum and that was a pretty big deal in high school, so I am proud of that!

What do you attribute your academic success to?

First, I think staying on top of my work, using a planner to remember deadlines, and checking that my homework was graded and shown as “submitted” on our online system was a key to these achievements. Daily homework goes a long way and missing homework can strain yourself and relationships with teachers. It does require discipline to stay on top of it. I also think that good relationships with my teachers were central to these achievements. I felt supported by many of my teachers. They encouraged me to dream big for myself. And lastly, I would say that I really wanted to do well in all my classes, so I worked hard and studied.

What kind of support did you have?

I had the support of teachers and family who believed I could do well and communicated that to me.

Did you ever receive private tutoring?

No.

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

In high school, I began a longer journey of overcoming performance anxiety and negative internal dialogue that allowed me to thrive during my hardest academic years: junior and senior year.  

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

I used to listen to classical music when I was working, especially when I was writing essays so that I could overcome my writers’ block. 


SECTION 5 – THE COLLEGE APPLICATION

Applications & Acceptances

Did you apply as an international or domestic student? Domestic
Did you apply regular or early? Early action
How many schools did you apply to? 6
Were you a legacy applicant at any of these schools? I had an uncle attend Princeton in 1990
Were you recruited for athletics, arts, music, etc…? N/A
Did you declare a major? Did this end up being your actual major? I listed biology and International Relations as possible majors. I ended up majoring in the School of Public and International Affairs

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

Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, University of Maryland, University of Richmond, and University of Pennsylvania

Which schools did you get into?

Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, University of Maryland, University of Richmond, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Letters of Recommendations

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation?

My Spanish teacher, biology teacher, history teacher, supervisor of the children’s program at my church, and my piano teacher.

Why did you ask these specific people?

Honestly, I chose teachers who I knew would write convincingly about me because of the effort they would put into the recommendation and their desire to speak to my strengths.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about a time that I had experienced failure and learned through it.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

The first time I visited Princeton, I was a freshman in high school. My oldest sister was touring colleges so I joined her and I fell in love. I honestly felt overwhelmed by the beauty of the space. So, Princeton became my dream school because I didn’t know as a freshman that there were more important things to consider with college.

Come senior year, I became interested in public policy and social justice. It turned out that Princeton had a wonderful school for that so I applied early, was admitted, and was most pleased by their financial aid offer. I felt like it was where God wanted me to be, so I went.

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 5:30, leave the house at 6:30, and arrive at school a little over an hour later to attend an early morning class for IB students. Then, I would have my regular class and attend an after school class also for IB students. I would usually return home at 6:30 p.m., practice piano, eat dinner, and then do homework until about 11 PM on a good night.

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

I probably did about 5 hours of homework each night, on my commute home after school and once I reached home.

What time did you usually go to sleep?

I usually went to sleep between 11 PM and 12 AM. I couldn’t afford to stay up later because of my wakeup time.

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

Each weekend, I would go to piano practice on Saturday mornings, spend time at home with my family, do chores, complete homework and scholarship applications (during my senior year), and attend church on Sundays.


SECTION 7 – WHAT MAKES YOU YOU

Drive/Motivation

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

As I mentioned earlier, I really wanted to do well. I wanted to understand my subjects, produce good work, and earn good grades. Part of this was just because I cared about putting in the effort and seeing the result of that and the other part was performance anxiety. I struggled to handle grades that didn’t make me feel outstanding to myself or others. I later learned that this isn’t a healthy mindset for me. I’m learning that my work can be beautiful when my passion alone is my drive.

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 not good.

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

My parents expected me to do well, specifically to get As, because I always had since elementary school. They wouldn’t be angry if I got the occasional B, but they would see it as odd. I felt pressure from myself, from my friends who knew my general performance, and from my parents to succeed.

How did you deal with this pressure?

Most of the time, I used it as my drive, especially when things got stressful, because I wanted to do well for myself and others.

Balance

How did you balance everything going on in high school?

Time management and a very full planner!

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

I was taught in middle school to use a planner consistently and that definitely helped me in high school.

Significant Events

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

I’d moved schools a few times before the biggest change, which was moving to my public high school in D.C. All of a sudden, I was responsible for commuting about 3 hours daily, navigating a new city, and making friends in a completely new student body. There was also definitely a culture shock from the suburban and rural parts of Maryland I had only been exposed to. But all of the discomfort and novelty made me responsible and mature, so I’m grateful for that.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

My self-confidence in high school wavered because I wanted to be accepted, and even when I was, I felt insecure about being different. Because of that, I stayed in friendships or with boyfriends who didn’t always appreciate me or respect me well because I didn’t want to not have them in my life. Looking back, those poor relationships inspired me to make really good, dependable friendships in college, and it makes all the difference.

Culture/Identity

How do you identify yourself? Black American
Which languages does your family speak at home? English
How many languages are you proficient in? English
Do you identify with multiple cultures? Yes. My family is from the Bahamas and Grenada so I grew up in a multicultural home.

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

Yes, my cultural identity always has. In middle school, I went to a very small middle school in rural Maryland where my family was the only family of color. I didn’t understand how to bring my full racial and cultural identity to my school environment because diversity and inclusion were not really central to its culture or mission. This changed in high school when I went to a predominantly African American, then Hispanic, and then Asian school. We actually only had one student ever who identified as white and he attended for a few months as an international student. I learned the nuances of my Black Caribbean American identity in high school because students and teachers were educated on how to help foster it.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Acceptance, achievement, beauty, justice, hard work, kindness, empathy, comfort, compassion, spirituality, and service were the most important values to me in high school.

What was your #1 core value?

Acceptance.

How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I demonstrated these values through my work ethic that increased with each year, my attentiveness and kindness to my peers, my leadership in service projects, and personal spiritual growth in high school.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

I now consider my most important values to be my compassion, spirituality, and love for justice.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

In middle school, I was quirky, a little quiet, loved laughing with my friends, and passionate about my schoolwork. In high school, I was more mature, quieter, growing in self-awareness, kind, and really dedicated to my close friends.

Uniqueness

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

Yes. My family was large and it really defined who I became. For most of my life, there were 9 of us in my home (my grandmother, parents, and six children). Everything had to be a team effort, from cooking meals to cleaning the house to coordinating everyone’s social/academic/sports schedules. I think that made me a person who was considerate of others. It also helped me have a large heart – I was comfortable in large groups of friends because I was used to that feeling.

My family is also very expressive and energetic – much more than I am. But they forced me to surrender some of my introversion, which helped me have enough confidence to make friends in a completely new city and new school. However, feeling like a misfit was not always easy, even when I had friends. My family always emphasized staying true to yourself and our values, so when I compromised those things to “fit in” or pretend to have a different personality than I really did, I had my family’s values always in the back of my head, making me feel uncomfortable with my pretense. Things started to change my junior year of high school when I became more comfortable with friends in my IB cohort, myself, my spirituality and values, and my belonging at my high school.

What do you think makes you unique?

I am an extremely compassionate person and it impacts all areas of my life and personality.

Influences/Mentors/Support

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

As far as people, I would say my grandmother influenced me a lot. She has lived with my family since I was 7 and she showed me what a life of generosity, humility, and forgiveness looks like. She shared many life stories with me and my siblings, including lessons she learned from making mistakes.

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

I would usually ask my friends whose self-confidence I admired. Their self-confidence made me trust their judgment.


SECTION 8 – CONCLUSION

Important Lessons

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

I was taught to always trust in the Lord, no matter what, and that by far is the most important lesson that was passed onto me. It was not just my wonderful accomplishments that got me to Princeton – God’s provision and mercy were evident in surrounding me with teachers and family members who really cared about my intellectual and personal development, and encouraged me to go even when I was afraid to say yes. And, my fears were right –  Princeton has been difficult. But trusting in the Lord has brought me to my final year and I am so grateful for how far I have made it.

Advice

Any advice you would give to your high school self?

I would tell my high school self to love myself better and take deeper breaths. I think some of my internal drive to do well and be admitted to a great college was not always healthy. Some of the internal pressure I put on myself was too intense and unsustainable. I’ve learned at Princeton that you have to be kind to yourself and think positively about your abilities, intelligence, and skill when faced with new academic challenges. Self-negativity will lead you to breaking down under pressure.

 


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.