2 years ago
Harvard prospective students

How Can I Distinguish Myself? | Tales From the Youngest Child of a Family with High Expectations

Here's the deal. I'm African, specifically Nigerian and my parents expect nothing but success. My second older sister was accepted into almost all of the Ivies. She attends Harvard right now and family and friends spread out over 3 continents know of her success. I feel so lost. I feel unintelligent. I'm in 9th grade and I placed into Honors English 2, Honors Biology, & College Prep Geometry. Placing into regular math really hurt me honestly. Geometry already isn't my strong suit, but now I have to work extremely hard to place into Honors Algebra 2 for next year. My semester one core classes' grades were largely low As. I have a W 4.2 GPA, yet I still feel like an idiot. I got an 1160/1440 on the PSAT 8/9. I didn't make the tennis team (not even the freshman one), and I just feel like a waste of space. The main ECs I am involved in are Voices of Black Youth (our equivalent of a Black Student Union), in which I am the freshman representative. I am a Student Council Delegate, Speech & Debate member headed to District, and Robotics Team member. On paper, this may sound exceptional, but my College Preparatory All-Girls Highschool is filled to the brim of cardboard cutouts like me with the same grades and extracurriculars. I have a bunch of goals in place for myself, but I can't help this overwhelming feeling that what I'm doing just doesn't matter. That I won't matter. I don't write this to be some sob story. I just want to know what I can do to feel comfortable about my high school career.

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Let’s welcome @stripedburrfish to the community! Remember to be kind, helpful, and supportive in your responses.
@ashleybrooksa year ago [edited]

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3 answers

Accepted Answer
2 years ago

There is good news - college applicants are assessed holistically, on far more metrics than their grades and extracurriculars. An area that you can take advantage of to shine in the admissions process is your essays.

Many applicants do not realize what a powerful boost an exceptional essay can be for their admissions profiles. According to admissions officers themselves, the majority of the essays they read all sound the same, relating to the same cliché topics (e.g. sports, the midnight struggle with AP Calculus, vaguely "helping the community," etc.) and written without a great deal of creativity. You can stand out by writing an essay that stands out. Here are a few ways that you can do so:

- Be personal with your topic. Choose a story that shows who you are rather than directly stating who you are. Talk about moments like your most important childhood memories, your identities, and your hopes and dreams. Show lots of personality.

- Be unique. Write a quirky and original essay that no one else could think of. Despite not having the most competitive academic profile (top 13% class rank, 1490/1600 on the SAT, a C in AP Physics) I was accepted into Georgetown's SFS in part because I wrote an essay about how McDonald's shows the solution to world peace. I read that one applicant was accepted to the Ivies after writing a deeply philosophical essay about how he does his best thinking in the bathroom.

- Write creatively. Write a hook that intrigues the reader and paint a picture with words using vivid detail.

You can learn to write a great essay by reading other great essays. This CollegeVine article has soon good examples. I also recommend the book "On Writing The College Essay" by Harry Bauld. Hope this all helps!

a year ago

Hey! I see a lot of myself in you. Similarly, my family has always placed a premium on education, but by the time I reach my final year, the bar will have been set much higher.

You're doing really well for a first-year student. Your PSAT scores are excellent, and you will further strengthen your applications by remaining active in high-level leadership roles in Voices of Black Youth and Student Council throughout high school. You should want to be the school newspaper's editor-in-chief, student body president (start making genuine connections with your classmates right now), or National Honor Society president.

You could use one of your extracurriculars as the basis for an off-campus initiative that would set you apart from your peers. This may take the form of a podcast that offers advice on how to succeed in debate, a summer programme for youngsters that focuses on helping them become more confident public speakers, or even private coaching. If you want to help people prepare for debate competitions, you can start a YouTube channel (maybe in collaboration with a debate group). You might also use the channel to discuss issues unique to Black student life or Black culture.

One additional strategy to get more involved in extracurricular activities is to offer substantial new incentives to the clubs you already belong to. For instance, the event Voices of Black Youth often hosts influential and powerful Black people in positions of authority to share their thoughts and experiences with the youth attendees.

You're doing well in school, so keep up the good work and get nothing but As (I have faith in you). If you want to get at least a 33 or 1500 on the SAT or ACT (I took the SAT), then you should use Khan Academy to study and take practise tests. Having a growth mentality and working with a teacher who is prepared to explain concepts you don't comprehend is crucial. A qualified educator in either mathematics or English would be my recommendation.

Take advantage of college or magazine summer programmes. In addition, I think it's helpful to watch "how I got in" films made by people from the same cultural background.

Plus, it's fine if you missed out on tennis. Unless you are really strong at a sport, like nationally rated, I've heard that sports don't do that much for your application. I offer this not as someone trying to make someone feel better with shallow comments. They're also really demanding. You'll be able to concentrate better on your studies and extracurricular activities without that distraction.

Keep in mind that there are some things you simply cannot accomplish. Nothing to worry about. When I found out I hadn't made the top orchestra as a senior, I was devastated. Even if I didn't put in as much time practising as I should have, that's because I was engaged in other, more rewarding activities. Your life span is limited.

Ahead of time, I can tell you that I have used similar thoughts to yours to propel me toward success. While it occasionally helped, more often than not it just made me too wound up and miserable to do any good at what I was trying to do. Like the time I was in the middle of the SATs and started bawling. I've learned the hard way that dwelling on the negative only makes the next four years a living hell. What's the use of getting into Harvard if you're going to spend your time there miserable?

Relax and think about how well you've been doing so far. And I want you to take this summer to really immerse yourself in a new passion that has nothing to do with school because I'm so proud of you!

2 years ago

Hey! You remind me of myself. I am also from a family with high expectations, only I’ll be a senior next year.

For a freshman, you are doing so well :). Your PSAT is great, and if you stick with and seek the highest leadership positions in Voices of Black Youth and Student Council throughout high school, it will greatly help your application. You should aim to be either the editor in chief of your school’s publication, the student body President (begin now to build meaningful bonds with your classmates), or NHS President.

To distinguish yourself from your classmates, you might need to start a project outside of school using one of your extracurriculars. This could be small business dedicated to tutoring people in the subject you’re best in, a summer camp dedicated to help young kids with public speaking, or a podcast about tips and tricks for debate life. You can create a YouTube channel (try to partner up with your debate organization) for giving advice for debate competitions. Or you can use the YouTube channel to talk about Black culture or Black student life.

However, another way to boost your extracurriculars is to create big new incentives for your clubs. A good example is inviting Black authority figures and influencers to speak at Voices of Black Youth.

Your grades are good, but try to maintain all a’s throughout your years (I know you can do it!). When SAT’s or ACT’s (I took the SAT) roll around, do Khan academy practices and practice tests to prepare so you make at least a 33 or 1500. The key to doing this is a growth mindset and help from one of your teachers who is willing to give you help on questions you miss or don’t understand. I would suggest a math or English teacher.

Make the most of summer programs, either done by colleges or publications. I would also recommend watching “how I Got In” videos done by people of a similar cultural background.

And it’s honestly okay that you didn’t make tennis. I’m not saying this as someone who’s trying to make someone feel better with shallow words — I’ve heard that unless you are insanely good at a sport, like nationally ranked, sports don’t do that much for your application. And they’re super stressful. Without that stress, you can focus more on your grades and extracurriculars :)

And you have to remember that you can’t do everything. It’s okay. I felt so sad when I didn’t make the highest orchestra as a senior. But it was because I was too busy with my other, more fulfilling extracurriculars to focus on practicing, and that was okay. You are a finite human being.

I can tell you ahead of time that I’ve leaned on thoughts like the ones you’re having to push me to succeed. Sometimes it worked, most of the time it made me so worked up and sad that I couldn’t focus on what I was doing well enough to do well. Like when I started crying halfway through my SAT’s. I can tell you that negative thinking just makes you miserable for four years. And if you get into Harvard but are too miserable to enjoy it, what’s the point?

Take a deep breath, remember how well you’re doing. And pick up a hobby you like, completely separated from school and do a lot of it this summer :) I’m proud of you!

What are your chances of acceptance?
Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
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Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

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