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21 JUL 2021
Having attended a tiny, poverty-stricken high school in a rural US town, Eunice faced seemingly every obstacle possible when it came to applying to universities. Nonetheless, she worked with her Crimson team to perfect her essays, polish her extracurriculars, and build a personal narrative that resonated with admissions officers — and now she’s headed to Harvard University, ranked #5 in the world and #2 in the US!
Eunice was a recent guest on Crimson’s Top of the Class podcast, where she discussed everything that led up to her acceptance to some of the world’s best universities. This is the first half of her story — stay tuned next week for the second part!
Below is the transcript of the Top of the Class interview between Eunice and podcast host, Alex. The transcript is edited for clarity and to remove vocal filler. Click the following links to download the full episode or stream it on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
Hi, Eunice. Welcome to the Top of the Class podcast. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?
Hello! My name is Eunice and I'm from Macon, Georgia. And I am an incoming freshman at Harvard College. I applied for sociology, religion or government, which is what Harvard calls political science. In high school I was very active in civics and community service and I liked talking about race and culture so a lot of my extracurriculars were around those interests as well.
Perfect. Well, we'll get into all of that in just a moment. But firstly, massive congratulations for gaining admission to Harvard. Tell us a bit about Macon, Georgia?
So I'm originally from Gwinnett, to the north of Atlanta. It's a pretty nice suburb. I moved to Macon after my first semester of high school because of my father's new job.
When I moved to Macon, it was a completely different area. We would call it a city, I guess, if we consider the population, but according to The Washington Post, it’s the most redlined city in America. So there are serious issues with white flight and redlining, and there's a huge educational disparity in Macon.
My high school was one of the better public schools but we have a 99% poverty rate. When we come to school, students are required to have clear backpacks or mesh. We walk through metal detectors in the mornings and sometimes the principal and administrators would come into classrooms and check students’ backpacks randomly. And we also have a drug dog named Daisy.
So it's a completely different environment than I was used to back in Gwinnett, where college was something that was obvious to my school — but when I transferred to Howard, I felt like I was in middle school again, because there were rules everywhere. So that took a bit of adjustment for sure.
So out of your high school, was it unusual to aspire to Harvard?
Oh, yes. Our school doesn't really send students to Ivy League institutions. Not that it has never happened before — but when I told my college counselor I would like to go to Harvard, what she said was not, ‘oh, let's work on this so we can get you to Harvard.’ Instead, she sat me down and looked at Harvard’s class profile and she was like, ‘Do you understand that there's a 5% acceptance rate and that means out of 20 students, you have to convince the admissions committee why you should be there?’ So, you know, she wanted to give me a reality check.
So that wasn't something our school knew much about. Even in my graduation speech, I wasn't allowed to talk about college or AP courses, because that would be exclusive to certain people. So that gives a little bit more context about where I'm from.
With what I told people about Harvard, it was never something that even seemed like any bit possible to the people around me, not even my family.
Why was Harvard still the dream school, despite all these challenges that were around you?
I think part of it was the name — I'm going to be really honest about that.
I used to play violin, and I was arguably not bad at it. I was in the prestigious Youth Symphony in my state, but my violin teacher said to me, ‘Eunice, what do you want to do?’ So what does that mean? That means, okay, you're not really good enough to pursue this as a career. So I was like, ‘you know, teacher, I'm not really sure. I'm thinking of maybe classics or linguistics’ — and she was like, ‘well, then you're gonna have to go somewhere like Harvard.’
And I don't think it was necessarily to knock me down. It was just that even in the Atlanta Symphony, which is a really prestigious orchestra for professional musicians, they also had their own issues in terms of finances or with classical music dying or whatnot. And so that was one reason.
Another reason was, when I did get in, I told my maternal grandparents who were super excited. But my grandmother was like, ‘oh, but isn't it expensive?’ and I told her there's no parent contribution, so my mom and dad don't have to pay. She was s0 happy about the fact that it was affordable — more than anything else.
So, to me, I guess it's just a narrative. I'm not necessarily first-gen, because my dad went to seminary here; but I'll be the first one in my family to have that traditional four year college experience in the United States. So it sort of symbolized a fantasy that I had, to sort of make sure that my parents' efforts weren't for nothing. And to be able to say it's that American dream, I guess, is a really strong narrative for children of immigrants.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, let's get into the application a little bit. What did you see as your strongest elements and what would you say are the elements that you perhaps had some doubts around?
I was worried about my awards: I had a lot of regional awards, or state awards, but I didn't have specific spikes — so I was a jack of all trades, master of none sort of student. So it was so hard for me to figure out. I was like, ‘Okay, I don't have a spike. But I need to have a theme.’
For example, there are students who would do ISEF or research sciences or the US Senate Youth Program, and our school knows nothing about that. It is so difficult for someone in my school, where teachers aren't really passionate about extracurriculars; so there were parts when I compared myself to my other friends who did their applications.
In terms of the Common App, you can list up to 10 activities, and I had too much. So I was pretty involved, to the point that it was pretty exhausting and easy to get burnt out all the time. And when I look at my friends who are also Coke scholars, they did so much — they weren't just taking tests and making good grades, they really worked hard to make an impact, and actually make a difference in this world in a positive way.
I think that is something that is really common for all of us: we learn not just inside the classroom, but outside the classroom. And my essay sort of went into that a little bit — it was about stepping outside of my paradigm and seeing where other people are coming from. Often, we have a hard time understanding what other people are saying, and why things are the way they are. So I built my application on that story of wanting to build understanding, and wanting to be a bridge that connects people together.
That related to my areas of interest in terms of possible majors or concentrations that connected to my extracurriculars. I have published articles talking about racial issues or current events, and I was an activist for different disparities, like educational disparity or gender disparity. So I think it was really important for me to have one theme going through my application, so they could sort of see what I was doing.
I also loved math. So I did math. I was a student who kind of did a bit of everything — but I don't think that would have been really helpful had I not had that one theme trying to bring it all together.
You also mentioned journalism, which I know is a big part of what you do. So talk to me about how that plays out.
So I was on Student Council, and in the summer we were unpacking boxes and helping teachers reorganize their classrooms for the school year. One of the English teachers was going to start a journalism club, like a newspaper and broadcast club, and so she scouted me and she said, ‘Eunice, would you be interested in doing daily announcements and also writing for a student newspaper?’ And I was like, ‘of course, I've always dreamt of writing for a newspaper and doing student publications!’
But mainly, most of my journalism was done outside of school — I worked for several news publications. There were some international publications that I was a director for too.
One was specifically tackling gender disparity and female empowerment. Another publication was tackling educational inequities and promoting STEM education in areas like Macon. And then there was a national publication that was mainly for Asian students for civic engagement, so I would write about different current issues.
It was a mixture of reporting what happened and then there were some articles where we wrote personal stories or about personal experiences, or wrote arguments for certain policies — and my favorite were always the personal stories. I liked writing about my experiences, and how they shaped how I think about race.
There was one article that many people ended up reading and really identified with, and they would contact me on social media, and it was a time for us to heal.
I always wanted to build more constructive discussion. Obviously, there are people who are going to reject news or information from certain places that don't agree with them. But a lot of times there are disagreements because people are just ignorant about what others are experiencing. I mean, there's always more that I could learn about the black community or black experiences or even white experiences. There's always more we could learn about the other side.
You also mentioned that community service was a big part of what you did. Can you talk about that a bit as well?
I campaigned for certain politicians and also worked for our youth commission, which was a program and I was part of the 2019 cohort. But our advisors left the program, and I didn't want it to die because it was one of the only ways students in Macon could volunteer in civics. So I became an alumna advisor and returned for two years.
Were you thinking strategically? Because I know a lot of students approach the Ivy League applications thinking, ‘I need to have some volunteering, I need to have some extracurricular that speaks to this part of my profile and this part of my profile’ — and they try to be very strategic about what they do and what they don't do. Was that the approach that you took? Or were you just doing things that you were attracted to?
That's a good question. I didn't think about how impressive it would be at all. To me, I kind of despise that a little bit.
When it comes to volunteering, there are schools that require volunteer hours, and you have to have 100 hours to graduate high school. But our school didn't really have any of that, and the college application doesn't really ask for hours anyways. So I wasn't trying to volunteer to look good in front of colleges — I only felt like doing the things I did in terms of activism or writing or volunteering because I wanted to, and hopefully that came across in the application. Because I think that sort of sets people apart — and I don't like it when people are taking advantage of different struggles that real people experience for themselves.
Want to follow in Eunice’s footsteps to gain admission to your dream university? Crimson has helped scores of students do the same, beginning with a personalized roadmap of the steps you should take from choosing where to apply to submitting your applications. Learn more about what Crimson can do for you by clicking the link below to schedule a free consultation with an Academic Advisor today!