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From a Rural Town to Harvard: How Eunice Got a Full Ride to the Most Competitive US Uni | Part 2

11 AUG 2021

Despite getting into her dream school, Eunice’s application journey was full of uncertainty and challenges — but in the end, her application stood out to admissions officers and landed her offer letters from four Ivy League universities and several other top US institutions.

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 — you can read the first part here!

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.


Eunice’s Essays

Alex: 

I would have assumed there would have been a little bit more pressure for you as a journalist when it comes to writing the essay. Did you feel that?

Eunice:

I'm sure it is, because it would be weird if we weren't able to write a good essay. But to be honest, I really just had fun! For the Common App essay, I made that a little more serious about my interest in religion and how that shapes our political culture — but my supplemental essay is about pizza.

So I really just wrote about what I wanted to write about. And I have a specific voice when I'm writing it — it really sounds like a human, it sounds like me, and I think that helped. I think when we try to write college essays, and we add all these different adjectives that we found in a thesaurus, or we're using big words, they can kind of detract from what the essay is about. It’s much more strategic to use strong nouns and strong verbs, and use concise writing. So I didn't make it my goal to sound really impressive, even though there was obviously some pressure because I said I was a writer. I was really just trying to show them who I was as a person, so they see that overall theme and can picture what kind of person I will be on campus, not just a piece of paper with a list of stuff.

Alex: 

And at the end of the day, it's about conveying a message. So for you to think about, ‘I've got this message. How am I going to convey it?’ — what was that whole process like?

Eunice: 

Oh, it was so bad. I have serious writer's block, and when it came to my college essay, it took me so long for me to figure it out.

You know, there's only one essay that gets sent to all my colleges, so does it have to be impressive, but low-key not impressive? Or does it need to be serious or does it need to be funny? It stressed me out!

I think when it comes to college essays, students are really stressed out like me — and maybe they’re perfectionists, and they don't want to do anything unless it's perfect, so they end up procrastinating or they just don't know if their topic is good enough or if there's a better one out there. But you don't have to reinvent the wheel. I don't think my essay was unique in terms of the topic — it was about a moment in a class that, to me, was a lightbulb moment about life and people and politics or history or how we view the world. It wasn't something that was really out of the blue or abstract. What was more important in my essay was how I described what I was thinking in my mind. So the people who were reading my essays could tell how I thought, or how I process information, and how I applied that information to other contexts.

Alex: 

Well, it's great to hear that even students who get into Harvard are human as well and have struggles with this application. Now, you did mention that you did the AP subjects at a local state university, but how else did you show your academic standards were of the level required by Harvard?

Eunice’s Academics

Eunice: 

With my APs, because I did dual enrollment, I had to self study for six AP exams during my junior year. That was a nightmare. And there's not a single SAT tutoring place in Macon, Georgia.

So I worked with a student who is a year above and is at Harvard right now. He got a perfect score on the SAT! I worked with him for four days — and it wasn't much, we were just going over practice tests, but he helped me understand that I needed to not just practice the test, but also understand how the tests work. As soon as I understood how the test worked, things went much more smoothly.

So I took my first test in August and I got a 1530. I missed one on the math section. And I was like, ‘Well, I'm applying to humanities, social sciences. I don't necessarily need to work too hard on the math section because it's super-scored.’ So I took the reading section again, and then I got a 1560 total and that was my last attempt.

Alex: 

1560 is a very solid score in terms of the SAT! And you did six AP subjects as well. Do you remember the APs you did?

Eunice: 

In 9th grade, I took AP bio and AP Human Geography. I got a five on AP Human Geography… and I'm not going to talk about Biology. I didn't do too hot. I retook it in junior year, so I didn't even report it.

I also took world history and got a four, an I feel like I was robbed on that one. On AP Calculus I got a five, on AP Environmental Science I got a five, and on AP Language, a five. What else? AP Comparative Government was a five, AP Calculus BC was a five, AP US History was a four. For that one, I didn't even take the course. AP Government was a surprise — I got a four and did not report that because that was related to my major.

Alex:  

So you got a four in what you thought was going to be related to your major. So you didn't report it?

Eunice:

Yes — and I think it worked fine for me, because I didn't take that course anyways. So colleges would have no idea that I took the test until after I got in and sent it. The thing with APs is, people have different advice like ‘Oh, you should always report all your APs or they're gonna assume that you didn't pass.’ But there are some people who say don't report even the fours if they're related to your major, because that could cost you admission. I feel like if I reported my four, I wouldn't have gotten into schools I got into and obviously it’s less risky for me because it's not like they're going to see AP US Gov course on my transcript or anything. But I think if I reported it, that probably would have killed my chances.

Eunice’s Interview and References

Alex:  

Wow. Okay, so a very strategic move there.

Let's talk about the other two elements of the application, the interviews and the references. What was it like getting references from your school? And then also the interview process?

Eunice: 

My Harvard interview was probably my best one, because my interviewer studied psychology which is kind of close to Sociology. So the things that we were interested in that we could talk all day about, that's what we shared. And I really felt the strongest connection with him compared to my other interviewers.

There were some interviewers that were kind of like the ‘gotcha’ kind of interviewers, or they wanted a specific student, and it wasn't me. I also felt that and there were some dry interviews. I also did do the optional interviews that apparently weren't considered for admission, but I did those two just in case. I don't actually know if they factored in my admissions decision, but they did help me figure out how I could picture myself at that school.

Alex:

And how about the references? Some people say they mean a lot, some people say it doesn't mean much. What was your general understanding of them?

Eunice: 

My general understanding was they mean a lot. They prefer core teachers, but because of my weird experiences, I had professors who only knew me for one semester, rather than a year, like a traditional high school teacher would. So I don't think my references were as good as they could have been, which is why later, I ended up tracking down a teacher from a different school, and there was a community leader who watched me talk about politics and be an activist. So I asked her to write me a recommendation as well as an outside recommendation. I think those help describe me as a person better rather than just a student.

I was only at my high school for a year and a half, so most people knew me as a number. It was like, ‘Oh, Eunice is the person who's ranking first in the class, or she's a super smart or studious student’, but that was it. I didn't want my references to be just about me being smart, or me being a good student getting good grades, because that's everyone applying. I wanted references that kind of spoke to who I was as a person. So I really was careful about who I asked to write my recommendations.

I emailed them because of COVID and I told them, ‘This is what I learned in your class as a human being and as a student, and this is how it shaped me. If you do decide to write my recommendation, I do want you to keep this in mind, and how much your course meant to me or working with you meant to me, and how I grew as a human being in your course.’

How Crimson Helped Eunice

Alex: 

Well, that's a great tip for students who are looking to get references! I think it's certainly trying to find teachers who understand you as a person, not just as a grade, and trying to emphasize to them how much their class means.

Talk to me about your Crimson team. Who did you have as your strategist? 

Eunice: 

I worked mostly with Anjali. Poor Anjali. Anjali, if you're listening to this, I am so sorry for sending you essays at the last minute. You are my hero. I love you so much.

Alex:

She's great. Anjali is an absolute hero. So she was your strategist mainly? 

Eunice:

Yes. I also worked with Shannon too. She destroyed my essays. She did not hide her criticism at all and I was so grateful to her because she just helped me really step up my essay game too.

Alex: 

For someone who is from a journalist background, what kind of feedback were you getting?

Eunice:

I think Shannon was more grammar heavy, but both Anjali and Shannon were like, ‘Okay, that's kind of awkward phrasing or it's not clear’ — because these admissions officers are probably skimming thousands of essays, so we have to make sure that it's super clear.

They would also say things like, ‘This doesn't come off the way you thought it would.’ I wouldn't say that my essays were sob stories or something like that — but there's a way to talk about dark moments or negative moments without putting people off. It was things like, ‘That's not what the prompt is asking for.’ For example, with the ‘Why this school?’ essay, they're not just asking about how much we love that school — they're also expecting us to write about who we are and what we're going to be at the school and who we’ll be when we leave the school. It’s not only what the school will provide for us, but what we will contribute to the school and to the student body.

So there's all these implied other questions that we have to fill in to make a really strong supplemental essay. And I think they helped me a lot with that, like, ‘Talk more about this’, or ‘Let's cut the beginning’. That was always my problem was to cut the beginning, and then add more to the end. Because I always started off good, and then it was hard for me to find closure at the end.

The Admissions Rollercoaster

Alex:

Talk to me about receiving the news. I know you applied to a number of different colleges — talk to me about that whole emotional roller coaster

Eunice:  

I was so bitter because I got a lot of bad news in the beginning. So I was like, ‘Okay, I'm not gonna get in anywhere.’ And I was freaking out.

I think with this application cycle, there were students who got really, really disappointing news, who probably would not have if it was a different year — it was just so competitive. Nobody really knew what was going on. It was the first time a lot of these universities implemented test optional policies, so it was much harder for us to predict what's going to happen when it came to our specific admission cycle.

So it was easy to be bitter, and to look at students out there with good news and think, ‘I kind of hate you.’ With my Questbridge friends, whether it's on Discord or Reddit or whatever, people were talking each other down for good news. When I saw that, I was like, these aren't friends — these are toxic people that I don't want to be around. And what’s more, that's not what I want to be. I may be sad or bitter, but at the end of the day college is college and I knew that I wasn't going to be happy, if I wasn’t celebrating with other people about their success.

So because a lot of people had a lot of bad news this year, and with really ultra low acceptance rates, I was really cautious in what I posted, or what I said, when I started hearing good news. It was really difficult for me to navigate that understanding that, yes, I'm allowed to be happy about good news — but my happiness could bring other people pain. 

Alex:  

I didn't expect that you would start off that answer with ‘I was really bitter’! But in the end, where did you gain admission to?

Eunice: 

I didn't get into schools like UChicago or Vanderbilt, which came out a little earlier. Ivy Day, I believe, was postponed by a week — so I just kept getting discouraged. I was like, ‘Am I not enough?’ That really shook me in a really bad way.

So I started hearing good news from other private universities and then on Ivy Day, I got an email from Crimson Connect, which is a portal for Harvard alumni and admitted students. And I thought it was an email from you — Crimson Education! And I didn't open it, but if I had opened it, I would have known that I got into Harvard!

So at 8pm, I was just hovering over the button for the Harvard status to click on my status. And I prayed. And You know what? I actually, like, let it go. Honestly, for this one second, I was like, ‘I'm genuinely going to be okay if I don't get into Harvard.’ I thought ‘God, you told me so many different ways, and I was so stubborn, and I was so greedy about it. I was overly ambitious.

So I just took a deep breath, and my hands were shaking. And then I pressed the button. It said, ‘Congratulations!’ I just thought I was going crazy. I was reading it again. I was like, Is this right? Oh, my goodness. It was a crazy day for sure.

Alex: 

It's a crazy day. And that moment that you got in, how long did it take for that realization to fully sink in? Or has it yet?

Eunice: 

Well, I don't know. It was weird. You know, I know it sounds really bad for me to say this — but whether it was when I was announced as valedictorian or I knew I was going to get into Harvard, that happiness lasted like two seconds.

I realized that I just had this fantasy of Harvard, and once it happened, I thought all my life problems would go away. And there were other students admitted to Harvard and other colleges, and they thought that once they got into college, it was going to get easier. But they realized that they were the same person to the point that unless people ask me where I'm going, I don't tell them. Because even if it's people who have known me for years, they see me differently. But I'm the same person — and whatever it is, whether it's acceptance to Harvard or getting certain scholarships, those weren't going to give me the happiness I was looking for. I had to find that within myself, in my heart.

Eunice’s Advice for Students

Alex: 

I certainly understand that idea that once you get into Harvard, you don't tend to share it with too many people.

Now, let's talk about your advice for students who are looking to go forward into this application process and potentially wanting to emulate your successes. What advice would you give them if they would approach the application?

Eunice: 

I think the most important thing is to be prepared, because I know students who are so much more intelligent than I am, and they saw different results. Part of that could have been luck, but I also know that I applied to certain colleges, and I didn't hear good results, because I wasn't as prepared for them. So I would say it's most important for you to know what you're getting into, be as prepared as possible to really craft as strong of an application as you can — and thankfully, I had Crimson. Crimson was so gracious to provide me with a scholarship and to just assist me in this process, and without them, I don't think a student like me, from Macon, Georgia, would have been able to even go to Harvard.

Alex:

Well, I know that having the support of people who have been there and done that before is really important, right? And one of the things that I love about Crimson is that when a student does come up to us and say, ‘Hey, I'm aiming for Stanford, or Harvard, or MIT or Oxford, or Cambridge’ or whatever — we say, ‘Okay, cool. What have you got? Let's see if that's a realistic option.’ And if it is a realistic option, ‘Alright, then let's work at it. You've got a dream, let's see if we can make that happen.’

Eunice: 

Yes, I think that's so important, because I've never had that response before. Whether it's with my parents or with teachers or my college counselor, they felt compelled to tell me what I couldn't do. They felt compelled to give me a reality check. But I already did.

Yes, there is some level of delusion to be had if you're going to apply to certain colleges — but that wasn't what I needed, and I think students are more mature than adults sometimes want to recognize in terms of hearing bad news. And so it wasn't a reality check that I needed from Crimson. It was someone saying, ‘Okay, let's do what we can.’

Alex: 

Yeah, and that's super important to be able to get that support. But Eunice, it's been awesome having you on the show and getting all your insights and wisdom.


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!

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