How I Got Into Princeton – Story #9

John’s Story

“I never felt pressure to succeed academically, I just enjoyed learning and wanted to see how well I could do. However, I did feel enormous amounts of pressure on the wrestling mat, mostly pressure that I put on myself.”

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

As a nationally ranked Division 1 wrestler, John balanced a tough regimen of practice and schoolwork with an equally important commitment to happiness and socializing with friends.

I enjoy pushing myself and trying to win, so I simply followed my passions and interests,” John reflects. “This, combined with my internal drive, ultimately led me to happiness.”

It also led John to Princeton.

Please read below to learn more about John and the personal qualities, values, and support system that have allowed him to succeed.

We recommend reading from beginning to end but feel free to skip around. Our favorite section is the “What Makes You You” section where John speaks about the benefits and misconceptions of a rural upbringing.

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: Harrisburg, PA
Where did you grow up? Harrisburg, PA


# of older siblings:  5
# of younger siblings: 2
Sibling Education Levels:  Two sisters have bachelors degrees and one has a masters degree. My oldest brother is currently in law school. My next oldest brother is in college but plans to attend medical school next year. Two younger brothers are in high school but both plan to attend college.
Where did your siblings go to college?  Scranton University, Franklin and Marshall, Gettysburg, Layfette, Lehigh


Parent’s Marital Status: Married
With whom do you make your permanent home? Both
Parent 1 Current/Former Occupation: Lawyer
Parent 1 Highest Level of Education: J.D.
Parent 2 Current/Former Occupation: Nurse
Parent 2 Highest Level of Education: Bachelor’s

Parent Beliefs

How would you characterize your parent’s parenting style?

They have high expectations; however, they are very laid back. My parents want me to do whatever I want to do and encourage each of us to pursue our unique interests.

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

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

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

My mom says “do what you like to do, and never work for money.” I personally have never felt any pressure to succeed from my parents, only support and guidance. My parents never checked my grades, asked what classes I was taking, or looked at my report card in high school. They just expected that I would do well, and therefore they did not need to check up on me. I think my parents emphasize independence and intrinsic motivation in all eight of their children.


Middle School

Middle School: Central Dauphin Middle School
Type of School: Public

High School

High School: Bishop McDevitt High School
High School City, State: Harrisburg, PA
Type of School: Catholic
Class Size: 200



Did you work in high school? Yes
What kind of job/s did you have? I worked as a cashier at Hershey park and a counselor at wrestling camps and clinics. I also did landscaping.
Avg # hrs/week worked: 20

Extracurriculars/Passions & Interests

What were your major passions/ interests in high school?

Wrestling and hanging out with friends.

How much time did you spend on these things?

Wrestling and weightlifting for 20 hours a week. Hanging out with friends and socializing for 20 hours a week.

When did these passions/interests first come about?

I started wrestling in 3rd grade.

How were these passions/interests developed over time?

I was good at wrestling and really enjoyed it. My parents never put pressure on me to achieve but allowed me to wrestle as much as I wanted.

What level of achievement did you reach?

Nationally ranked in high school, division 1 wrestler.

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

Wrestling was a major part of my life. I was very committed and wrestled all year round. Fortunately, the area I grew up in had several good training opportunities and I was able to become very successful.

What kind of support did you have?

My parents wanted me to pursue my passions and stay busy.

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

I had to sacrifice a lot of leisure time. I didn’t really ever play video games or things like that.

However, I never think of it as a sacrifice because I only participated in extracurriculars that I truly was passionate about. I strongly discourage taking certain classes or signing up for certain extracurriculars to try to look impressive. If you do what you love, you are more likely to be successful and happy. My advice is that you only have one high school experience and to make sure that you always stay busy doing the things you love.


What were your major service-related activities?

I worked a lot as a peer tutor and did volunteer work at the homeless shelter in Harrisburg.

How much time did you spend?

Five hours a week.

Why did you choose this activity?

I love to tutor, and I also loved helping the homeless. I did these activities because I loved and enjoyed them – not to look cool! This is a huge thing that high school kids do not understand. There are millions of service opportunities: pick those that excite you.


What did you do in the summers during high school?

Wrestling practice all three summers and work (mentioned above).



Class Ranking: 7
GPA – Weighted: 4.5
GPA – Unweighted Unknown


How many times did you take the SAT? 1
How many times did you take the ACT? 0
What were your SAT and/or ACT scores? 800 math, 650 reading, 610 writing
Did you take a class or receive private tutoring? No
How many hours did you study in total? 100
When did you start preparing for the test? The summer before I took it. Started in August.
When did you take the test? October 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? 


Which AP/IBs did you take?

Calculus BC (5); Biology (3); Physics 2 (3)

What were your major academic achievements in high school?

I won several major awards. I was voted a finalist in the John Travers Award. This is where they took the leading student-athletes across 100 high schools in my area. I was one of the final 4 males. I also was voted to the district 3 wrestling hall of fame. I won a scholarship for being a successful student-athlete in district 3.

What do you attribute your academic success to?

I think that from before I could remember, my mom was constantly teaching me. From the time I was in first grade, I had to dress myself and pack my own lunch. As the 6th of 8 kids, I was forced to figure things out for myself and also be competitive. I think the reason I did well in high school was that I wanted to do better than my brother, and I think I was able to do well because I was self-motivated.

What kind of support did you have?

Yes. I received a ton of support. My family is very large and we all have very different interests and skills. My parents always believed that they should not pressure us to do anything specific, but rather ingrained the ideas of full effort and hard work into us. So they supported me in doing whatever I wanted, as long as I was working very hard. 

Although my siblings and I all share the exact same DNA, we all have chosen unique and different paths. This is due to the overwhelming love and support of my parents, who celebrated our differences and never cared about any results. My mom always says it’s the effort that counts and that she loves us no matter what. My dad simply says there are 3 rules: “be kind, be kind, be kind.”

Did you ever receive private tutoring?


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

I worked hard and put in the time and effort to be successful.

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

Remember that each teacher is different and makes tests in a unique way, so I approached each class with a different strategy. Also, work smarter, not harder – focusing on time management and efficiency is a valuable skill that is necessary for success in college.


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 (recruited)
Were you a legacy applicant at any of these schools? No
Were you recruited for athletics, arts, music, etc…? Recruited for wrestling
Did you declare a major? Did this end up being your actual major? I did not

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?

A couple of teachers with whom I had a strong relationship and my wrestling coaches.

Why did you ask these specific people?

I knew these people on a personal level for many years and knew that they would write good, honest letters about me that were personalized and not generic.

Common App Essay

What did you write about in your common app essay?

I wrote about an experience that I had in wrestling my freshman year of high school.

Why Princeton

Why did you choose Princeton?

I felt at home at Princeton, and I felt like I could reach my full potential as a person there. They offered the best total college experience – not just academically but all around – and I thought that I would be happy there.

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 would wake up at 6:30 AM, prepare for school, and then leave for school at 7. I would tutor until the first bell at 7:48. After the conclusion of school, I usually went straight to my strength and conditioning coach from 3-4 PM then went home to eat and refuel before practice at 5 PM. After wrestling ended, I came home at 7, ate dinner, and started schoolwork near 9 PM, usually falling asleep near midnight. I had practice every night but lifting only 3 times a week; the day I did not have lifting I went to another extracurricular during that time period.

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

1-2 hours

What time did you usually go to sleep?

12:00 AM

What was a typical weekend like in high school?

When not competing, I made a conscious choice to focus on leisure time on Friday and Saturday. I would go to football games, sweet 16 parties, or find some other way to socialize and hang out with my friends. I usually started school work on Sunday, which I reserved for that purpose. I think this approach allowed me to work very hard during the week, as well as live a balanced lifestyle so that my mental health was accounted for. On weekends I was competing, I would usually be losing weight and traveling all weekend, and often needed to stay up late on Sunday night or wake up early on Monday to try to finish my school work.



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

I was always a competitive and independent kid. After seeing the success my older brother had in high school, I was simply determined to compete with him and therefore studied hard. However, I made sure to only take classes I wanted to take and ones that I had a genuine academic interest in. Learning is natural and fun and doing what you like is a recipe for success. I always liked the quote “nothing great is accomplished without enthusiasm.”


What kind of expectations did your parents have for you?

My parents never verbalized any expectations for me. They only told me to focus on my effort and not the result, and that I should pursue my interests.

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

I never felt pressure to succeed academically, I just enjoyed learning and wanted to see how well I could do. However, I did feel enormous amounts of pressure on the wrestling mat, mostly pressure that I put on myself.

How did you deal with this pressure?

I tried my best to focus on the effort and not the result. After all, I realized I simply could not control the result and that worrying about it had no effect on it.


How did you balance everything going on in high school?

I think that doing what you love and taking leisure time when needed was what allowed me to balance everything in high school. I truly believe that I was busier and spent more time on extracurriculars than anyone I know. However, I did not feel too stressed because I only did things I enjoyed. I think that this is also what allowed me to be very successful at what I did.

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

Do not try to fill your application with lots of extracurriculars that you are not committed to and did not really like. Many kids attempt this strategy, and in my opinion, it is not successful. Colleges want well-rounded universities, not necessarily well-rounded kids. It is better to be the best at one thing than mediocre in several – a school would rather have the best math student, writer and pianist then three kids who are only okay at each. With this in mind, it is my opinion that when doing things you truly enjoy, you will be happier and more motivated and energized – hence, more successful. Furthermore, this will make you unique and allow you to stand out to colleges.

Significant Events

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

I think being the 3rd of 5 boys, right in the middle, and very close in age to all the others shaped my high school self. It made me super competitive and gave me a very high motor.

Other Challenges/Struggles

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

I think I went to a pretty rural school without a ton of opportunity. Only 6 AP courses were offered, and kids rarely got a 5 on any. All 5 of my older siblings went through this school, and in that time, they only ever heard of 1 kid going to an Ivy League school. I think what allowed me to get into an Ivy League school was specialization, I didn’t necessarily do a ton of activities, but the ones I did do I really excelled in and that allowed me to stand out. 


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?

I do not think I was affected by it because I was raised in an area that was not very diverse; everyone was similar to me.

Character/Personal Qualities

What values were most important to you in high school?

Winning, enthusiasm, family, happiness, and friendship.

What was your #1 core value?


How did you demonstrate those values in high school?

I enjoy pushing myself and trying to win, so I simply followed my passions and interests and was therefore happy.

What do you consider your most important personal qualities?

Probably the ability to figure things out. I guess I am just very curious, analytical, and open-minded, so I enjoy solving puzzles and figuring things out. I like to try to be efficient and I spend a lot of time planning.

How would you characterize your personality growing up?

I am an ENTJ based on the Myers Briggs test. I am outgoing, curious, and competitive. I love being around people and socializing; I had a very large social circle in both middle school and high school and was often a social leader.


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

I think growing up in a rural area was great. Unlike in cities, there is not much to do. As my father tells me, “You’re a human being, not a human doing.”

Rural areas are places where people can learn to enjoy life and those around them, and not get caught up in the blinding and impersonal speed of cities and urban areas. This way, I always felt a sense of love and meaning in my life. I loved knowing the people around me and developing personal relationships. People walk slowly, ask about how you are instead of what you’re doing, and are truly kind to one another in rural areas.

Hence, the sense of community and meaning that is missing in cities really helps to motivate the individual to use their gifts and talents to the best of their abilities in rural areas. This is why farmers are willing to work so hard for essentially nothing. People in cities may be confused about people in rural areas, because they are concerned more with things to do than developing their personal life. (Of course, this is a generalization, but I think that it is the general trend in cities vs. rural areas.) I think cities are places for great opportunity. But in my opinion, I think it is best to raise children in an area where they can breathe fresh air, play outside in the woods, and learn to be a human being. After witnessing the staggering success of my family, I think this is very true. 

What do you think makes you unique?

My ability to think for myself and figure things out. My personality and interests.


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

My dad, my wrestling coaches, and my older brother.

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

My dad.


Important Lessons

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

Nothing great is accomplished without enthusiasm. Enjoy what you do and you will do it well. For example, my neighbor enjoys landscaping. Although this is not considered a very lucrative business, because he likes it so much his company has become successful in the area, and I would speculate that his yearly income might be as much as the income of someone who works on Wall Street.


Any advice you would give to your high school self?

If it is possible to take a class in high school to test out of it in college, do it. It’s much easier in high school than college and will help you get ahead.


Check out our first profile and learn about Erica’s journey.

Like what you read? Subscribe to our mailing list, and we’ll let you know when we release similar articles and other in-depth guides. Please also share using the buttons on the side.

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.