Standout Essays Archive​​

Check out essays from some of our top Ivy Scholars Students.

See the writing that got accepted (and rejected) and give these awesome essays the second life they deserve!

Congratulations Nika!

Nika will attend Columbia University where she will be a member of the Division 1 Fencing Team. Nika is not only an awesome student, but a charming, funny, well-rounded individual who loves art museums, dressing up for Halloween, and dogs! Check out her essays below.

“Who are you?”

My answer to this question used to change more frequently than undergraduates switching their majors. After years of searching, however, I have finally settled on a consistent response: I am a peacock.

I was introduced to this peculiar idea during the first group activity at the National Student Leadership and Engineering Conference, a two-week program that hosts career-focused courses for high schoolers. I sat alongside 49 other confused students when the “Animal Personality Matrix” was introduced. I met this activity with opposition, afraid we would not retain our true selves after being separated into groups based on our fur-to-feather ratio. Nonetheless, I completed the personality quiz and found that I have qualities associated with lions, owls, and koalas, but I am predominantly a pheasant with extravagant plumage: the peacock (interactive, playful, expressive).

I put my personality to the test during the first competition, which asked my teammates and I to construct an economically efficient mini-wind-turbine with limited resources. The judges explained that to get money for these resources, each team must showcase their talents. The owl in me (conscientious, detailed, prepared) quickly surveyed the situation, developing a master plan which included at least one person in line to showcase talents while the rest of the group built the turbine. For a few rounds, the plan ran smoothly. Then everything came to a halt when Carl, a self-proclaimed engineering nerd, professed himself talentless.

Worried that our group dynamic might be compromised, I put down the handheld generator I was wiring, mustered up some lion courage (direct, confident, results-oriented), and gave Carl a pep talk. Instead of pressuring him, I did everything I could to make him feel comfortable, cracking jokes and sharing my go-to icebreaker: a childhood anecdote in which I embarrassed myself by colliding with onlookers while attempting to showcase my cartwheel. Carl paused, deliberating, and finally agreed that he had nothing to lose.

Five minutes later, our group roared encouragement as he showed off his double-jointed shoulders and break-dancing skills at the talent table. While Carl embraced his inner peacock, I connected with the koala in me (supportive, patient, sensitive) and felt proud to have gently urged the most reticent of birds to spread his wings.

The zenith of the conference came in the final activity: the product pitch. As the rest of the students filed into the auditorium, I guided my group to the stage where a zoo of eyes viewed us expectantly. We quivered with anticipation, collectively reflecting on the week of preparation that would become synonymous with this moment. I remembered how my internal peacock rumbled during our prototyping sessions, my expressive nature manifesting with each fresh idea I contributed to our carbon emission-fighting machine’s construction. My inner bird’s chirps had grown louder as I facilitated intricate connections between my peers, weaving everyone’s research into a cohesive product pitch. 

As I stepped up to the microphone, my feathers finally unfurled. “Why does the climate want privacy?” I asked. A beat, then: “Because it’s changing.”

After a moment of silence, the audience howled like a pack of rhesus monkeys stumbling on a Kit-Kat. They were hooked. Over the next fifteen minutes, I playfully relayed climate change jokes to supplement our clean-energy product presentation. Not only had I fanned out my kaleidoscopic sheath of feathers to the public for the first time, but I was chosen as my group’s MVP after we won the overall competition.

In our moment of victory, I understood that the alleged confinement of personality typecasting can serve as a foundation for growth and exploration in every imaginable direction. The conference helped me discover the joy in leading my classmates and friends to uncover and exercise new talents. Now I eagerly scan the open waters for new possibilities with a peacock figurehead perched at my bow.

List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words or less)*

challenging / welcoming

Pushing past mental boundaries through a demanding course load

Disengaging from toxic competition

individual / collective

Tailoring an athletic and academic program to fit my needs

Learning through discussion and making cross-disciplinary connections

artistic / scientific

Enjoying an art exhibit or show with a friend and deriving inspiration for my painting practice from it

Getting my hands dirty in the lab and thinking up novel solutions to engineering conundrums

philosophical / practical

Discussing Kantian theories over chai tea

Interning for innovative engineering firms

structure / chaos

Drawing upon a core curriculum to establish a foundation for profound exploration

Experiencing an epiphany while navigating a busy street


Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)*

Curiosity is an integral part of my identity that has led me to discover my passion for harnessing the power of technology to benefit society. How can we make the huge technological advances of the 21st century accessible to everyone rather than a select few?

I am thrilled to answer this question through a mechanical engineering major at Columbia. In conjunction with the communal learning and critical dialogue that the Core Curriculum fosters, I am eager to engage with the interdisciplinary program in rehabilitation robotics with Professor Agrawal and biomedical research projects with Professor Ateshian. This combination of structure and freedom is well-suited for my product design and entrepreneurial interests and also satisfies my intellectual curiosity. 

Furthermore, since I started fencing in 2013, I’ve dreamed of being on a Division 1 team. The individualized training that Columbia’s fencing program offers along with the opportunity to practice at New York Athletic Club with some of the world’s best fencers will help me achieve my athletic goals. After speaking with Coach Aufrichtig and watching the Columbia Lions compete at NCAA championships, I know that no other team in the country would make me more proud to be a student athlete. 

My curiosity extends far beyond athletics and academics. From baking my favorite bread for social justice with Challah for Hunger to fighting for diversity in STEM with the Society of Women Engineers, I can’t wait to contribute to Columbia’s vibrant community. I am excited to be immersed in the heartland of all of my interests and plan on making frequent trips to the Frick and local Russian banyas. 

No other university offers the perfect balance of academics, athletics, and culture. At Columbia, I will channel my curiosity into solving accessibility issues in technology while engaging with the greater community of the City.


For applicants to The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. (300 words or less)*

A friendly receptionist led me and my mom past a fake plant and through a set of glass doors into what looked like a classic Silicon Valley startup. Business-casual hipsters sporting translucent glasses struggled to power walk to their feng shui work stations without spilling their matcha lattes. “So this is Tesla?” my 13-year-old brain wondered. We navigated miles of “flexspace” until arriving at a door distinguished only by its elaborate keypad. In a few quick motions, the receptionist conjured a portal to another universe: “So this is Tesla.”

The sea of jerking mechanical arms assembling car parts in whirring harmony hypnotized me. My trance was only disrupted when Mom’s arm pushed me back, narrowly saving me from a man on a bicycle cutting through a maze of conveyor belts on the bright, linoleum track. Having returned from my reverie, I switched gears into problem-solving mode and began to discern the role of each robotic limb, thoroughly captivated by the calculated movements and the power of their collaboration.

After years of pondering my Tesla experience, I discovered I am most passionate about how we can use everyday tools and objects in ways that have a global impact. For example, in my dual enrollment engineering class, I am redesigning a pinhole camera for people with limited dexterity. The possibilities don’t stop there. How can we manufacture a video game controller for someone with arthritis? How can we improve office chairs for those suffering from scoliosis? How will we redesign a race car to be wheelchair-friendly?

It is up to the contemporary engineering community to develop creative solutions that unite people regardless of physical condition. I am eager to examine such questions and contribute to the groundbreaking, cross-disciplinary environment that is fostered at Columbia.


List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)*

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

Antigone – Sophocles

Essentials of Comparative Politics – O’Neil, Fields, Share

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

Hamlet – William Shakespeare

Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton

Othello – William Shakespeare

The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri

The Non-Designer’s Design Book – Robin Williams

The Odyssey – Homer

The Overcoat – Nikolai Gogol

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Coleridge

The Sun Also Rises – Hemingway

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe


List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)*

Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

The Gnostic Novel of Mikhail Bulgakov – George Krugovoy

A Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Brief Answers to the Big Questions – Stephen Hawking

Dr. Chung’s SAT II Math Level 2

Educated – Tara Westover

I Think I am in Friend-Love With You – Yumi Sakugawa

Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Rilke

Notes on “Camp” – Susan Sontag

Politics and the English Language – George Orwell

So the Story Goes – Johns Hopkins University

The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud

The Elements of Style – Strunk & White

The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

The Nose – Nikolai Gogol

The Old Man and The Sea – Hemingway

The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps – Alan Gelb


List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)*

Arts & Letters Daily

Bloom’s Literature

Harvard Business Review

Mashable: Tech Section

MIT Press Journals: Daedalus; Linguistic Inquiry; Open Mind

NPR: Hidden Brain

Project Gutenberg

Radiolab – WNYC Studios


The Atlantic

The Economist

The Oatmeal

The New Yorker

The New York Times

Vanity Fair


What the Fashion


List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)*

Camp: Notes on Fashion (MET)

Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography (MFAHouston)

Nari Ward: We the People (CAMHouston)

The Impressionist Pastel (AIoChicago)

Pop América: Vital Dialogue Crosses Borders (Nasher Museum)

Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art (MFAHouston)

Works by Cy Twombly (Menil Collection)

Apocalypse Now


Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Russian Ark

The Martian

The Shape of Water

Black Mirror


Mad Men


Peaky Blinders

The Americans

The Politician

Rice University lectures: 

Introduction to Neuroengineering

Principles of Economics

Kiss Me, Kate! – the Roundabout Theater Company

Picasso at the Lapin Agile – Alley Theater

Boléro Triptych – Stanton Welch; Houston Ballet

Swan Lake – the Russian Ballet Theater

The Fountain of Bakhchisarai – Mariinsky Theater

LENINGRAD at Hard Rock Hotel

Pink Martini at the Houston Symphony

Megan Thee Stallion at Revention Center

Spoon, Cage the Elephant, Beck – Night Running Tour

The Rolling Stones at NRG Stadium

Please share how you believe your experiences, perspectives, and/or talents have shaped your ability to contribute to and enrich the learning environment at UT Austin, both in and out of the classroom.

As a kid, sitting beside my dad in his Tahoe on our way to school, I created a morning ritual of asking questions:

“Papa…do the floodlights at McDonald’s have a light sensor to detect the sunrise?”

Curiosity was an integral part of my identity, so the discovery that some questions “should not be asked” did not sit well with me.

“What’s with the gender imbalance in STEM careers?”

As a sophomore, I dug for answers through an IB research project. I learned that even children’s toys contribute to the false masculinity surrounding the sciences; “girl-themed” versions of spatial skill-building toys like Legos and Lincoln Logs are developed as an afterthought.

Refusing to be limited by narrow-minded advertisers and Danish toy manufacturers, I began fearlessly pursuing my interest in STEM. I joined the robotics team my junior year to expand my knowledge and contribute new ideas in a collaborative environment. Now, I wear my safety glasses and gloves with pride and don’t doubt my abilities based on gender. Asking questions has also led me to discover my interest in mechanics:

“What if you drill the hatch mechanism to the base at a lower angle so it can act as a support for the pneumatics?”

During build sessions and process meetings, asking questions has not only solidified our designs, but my passion for engineering.

As I enter college, I am eager to contribute to my environment through unbounded curiosity. I intend to lead by example and empower other young women to pursue STEM fields, undeterred by stereotypes. Most importantly, I will continue to ask productive questions without worrying about whether or not I’m allowed.


Leadership can be demonstrated in many ways. Please share how you have demonstrated leadership in either your school, job, community, and/or within your family responsibilities.

Masked faces atop white bodies charge at each other with weapons held high. The audience is on the edge of their seats, awaiting the outcome of the bout with bated breath. Instead of using traditional metal swords, however, these knights fight with plastic blue foils and the tops of their helmets barely reach my hip.

Every Tuesday and Thursday after school, I drive straight to Alliance Fencing Academy to work as an assistant fencing coach for children aged 5-10. Over the past three years, I have learned how to confidently manage 20 pipsqueaks as they yell at each other through their masks and trip over their feet.

At first, it wasn’t so easy. Although I was eager to share my knowledge and love of fencing, a horde of children running around a gym in matching fencing uniforms felt more like herding kittens than teaching a class. Explaining nuanced fencing strategy to tiny people with limited vocabulary and short attention spans is a delicate process. Initially, the plethora of mistakes the kids made overwhelmed my experienced eye. Over time, I stopped focusing on abstract concepts, and began giving simple, physical corrections. “Keep your tip on the target. Retreat after your counterattack. Bend your knees!”

Two hours later, as the children stuff their gear into fencing bags, I start to warm up for my own lesson. As I practice my explosive flèche and long lunges, the kids ogle and new students often gasp, “I didn’t know you were a fencer too!” Living this dual role as a student and coach has broadened my perspective on both learning and teaching. My firsthand knowledge of how a fencer responds in practice combined with my coaching experience yields a double-edged perspective that allows me to be an effective leader in my loving fencing community.


Please share background on events or special circumstances that may have impacted your high school academic performance.

Halfway through my junior year, a shooting at Lamar High School prompted my family to transfer me to Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart for my second semester. While I maintained my grades throughout this trying transition, my level of participation in extracurricular activities dropped as I settled into my new school. When I finally joined the robotics team at my new school, I  lost my seniority and was unable to secure the leadership position that I had anticipated at Lamar.

At the same time, I lost my placement in advanced classes as a result of my transfer from International Baccalaureate to Advanced Placement; thus, I was unable to take the IB tests for which I had been preparing. Because I could only be placed into one AP class when I transferred, I was unable to replace the IB tests with the appropriate amount of AP exams.

Although being forced to transfer so close to graduation was frustrating, the experience made me less ignorant to my environment and gave me the skills to face future unforeseen circumstances. Within my first week at Duchesne, I found that the change had already helped me discover new academic interests (such as morality and justice) and become more adaptable not just to a new building, but different teaching styles and student culture as well. Adjusting to the new school community empowered me to cast an appreciative, yet critical gaze on my surroundings, opening my eyes to new opportunities and ways to excel in any institution. With this fresh perspective, I developed the tools to take the first step toward embracing change through creative solutions.


Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major? 

A friendly receptionist led me and my mom past a fake plant and through a set of glass doors into what looked like a classic Silicon Valley startup. Business-casual hipsters sporting translucent glasses struggled to power walk to their feng shui work stations without spilling their matcha lattes. “So this is Tesla?” my 13-year-old brain wondered. We navigated miles of “flexspace” until arriving at a door distinguished only by its elaborate keypad. In a few quick motions, the receptionist conjured a portal to another universe: “So this is Tesla.”

The sea of jerking mechanical arms assembling car parts in whirring harmony hypnotized me. My trance was only disrupted when Mom’s arm pushed me back, narrowly saving me from a man on a bicycle cutting through a maze of conveyor belts on the bright, linoleum track. Having returned from my reverie, I switched gears into problem-solving mode and began to discern the role of each robotic limb, thoroughly captivated by the calculated movements and the power of their collaboration.

Four years later I experienced the most pleasant déjà vu as Professor Scott Evans led me through UT’s futuristic EERC building. He pointed out a wall of 3-D printers and a labyrinth of workstations in the InventionWorks room with students across multiple disciplines working together on their senior projects. In one corner, an architecture major and an electrical engineering student were putting the finishing touches on an automatic chess board. The magnetic pieces on the board responded to an AI-generated chess game, reminding me of the robot-human teams operating Tesla’s conveyor belts. 

While the Tesla tour awakened my passion for STEM, exploring UT’s laboratories solidified my path as a mechanical engineer. I am eager to contribute to the groundbreaking, cross-disciplinary environment of UT Austin.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – and that is the goal of true education.” Explain why both are of equal importance, in what ways will a Liberal Arts Honors interdisciplinary education help you grow in these areas? (250 words)

My personal definition of intelligence is the ability to apply knowledge rationally. However, intelligence alone is not enough to pursue a successful endeavor. Applications such as developing an economic forecast, designing a smartphone, or creating a business plan not only require knowledge of science and commerce, but also a strong sense of ethics and understanding of human behavior. 

My diverse upbringing has enabled me to think logically and to see the big picture. Without a broad interdisciplinary background, I would have found it difficult to distinguish truth from falsehood, stereotypes from propaganda, and reality from fiction. To maintain the flexibility and adaptability of my character, I seek an interdisciplinary education that will help me think both critically and morally while staying inspired to achieve noble causes for the good of the world.

I am interested in making economic changes to promote the accessibility and global use of technology. To create this market shift, I must understand the behavior of producers and consumers as well as the role global policies play in international economic, social, and environmental spheres. This requires an in-depth study of history, philosophy, sociology, and psychology. By taking classes such as Reacting to the Past, Experimental Life, and The Nature of Inquiry, I will gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to become a global citizen. The Liberal Arts Honors program will foster my creative attitude and independent, moral thinking while perfecting my writing, negotiation, and presentation skills, enabling me to become an effective global leader. 


What do you see as the largest problem facing society today? What do you see as the negative effects of this problem and how would an interdisciplinary education in Plan II Honors give you the tools to begin to solve this challenge to the greater good? (250 words)

Global society’s rapid, economically-motivated technological development disregards quality of life for a large percentage of humanity, and has created an accessibility gap that needs addressing. This gap affects not only minority groups, but the majority of economic classes, and I am eager to spend my career working with communities of designers and engineers to do my part in eliminating this gap.

In my engineering class, I combated this issue by redesigning a pinhole camera for people with limited dexterity. The possibilities for future product improvements do not stop here. I want to design and manufacture a video game controller for someone with arthritis and improve office chairs for those suffering from scoliosis. I want to combat Siri and Alexa’s androcentric tendencies. It is up to me and my student community to fight issues of accessibility and unite people of all physical conditions. 

From designing an interactive voice technology devoid of misogynist tendencies to aiding my arthritic grandma in winning the Fortnite championship, I will work to unite people of all backgrounds by bringing them to the highest standards of living. To accomplish these goals, I must pursue an interdisciplinary approach to education. I want to take advantage of the Plan II Honors program to become a clear and creative thinker who can act globally and continue to stay inspired to achieve noble causes for the good of society. Plan II will facilitate my acquisition, development, and application of interdisciplinary knowledge towards technological advancements that are guided by morals rather than money.


Help us get to know you better. Please write five sentences (numbered 1 – 5) that give us some insight into you, your life, your interests and your experiences. There are no right answers–feel free to be creative and think outside the box.

  1. Mikhail Bulgakov begins his classic novel, Master and Margarita, with a confrontation with Satan on a bench in Moscow, and I unknowingly sat on the same bench when I was 14 years old.
  2. I often serenade my dog with trending rap songs, teaching him to be hip so he can impress the ladies at the dog park.
  3. My grandpa helped me appreciate Russian culture when he taught me how to make pelmeni dumplings from scratch, letting me in on the secret ingredient: a resourceful combination of pork, lamb, and beef.
  4. In second grade, I walked the streets of New Orleans as a life-size isosceles triangle for Halloween.
  5. I spent 6 weeks on an oil painting depicting my mom bagging groceries at Whole Foods, which I presented to her on her birthday as a symbol of gratitude for her caring nature and excellent snack preparation skills.

Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work or family responsibilities. (50-150 words)

Dressed head-to-toe in a white fencing ensemble, I emit an angelic aura. Hidden behind the helmet, however, is a ruthless killer instinct. When a tiny flick of the wrist or foot shuffle can determine the result of an entire competition, I must conjure vicious yet level-headed plans of attack. I’ve learned to balance my inherent empathy with a resolute, unapologetic vigor, emerging victorious from the toughest tournaments while maintaining my moral compass. 

Cultivating this balance through fencing has permeated every facet of my life. I approach exams like fencing bouts with careful analysis and application of strategy, unleash ruthless zeal at robotics competitions, and continue to perfect the tenets of good sportsmanship with my peers.

Over the last seven years of training, I’ve built character with every touch I score that I am eager to continue developing as a member of the Stanford fencing team and greater academic community.

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 words)

AI scans every face at traffic intersections and grocery store entrances. Instagram conjures advertisements that depict our unspoken desires. Rather than fretting over Trojan bankers, users worry that Alexa and Siri are gossiping about their private conversations. By not addressing data privacy concerns, we are accelerating towards a 1984esque reality.

How did you spend your last two summers? (50 words)

Two summers ago, I swerved with my new driver’s license from MegaCamp where I clashed blades with distinguished fencers to the airport where I powered through SAT practices between connecting flights. The following summer, I competed in design challenges at Rice University and hiked scenic trails in Banff National Park.

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 words)

The Eiffel Tower’s elegant lattice and iconic shape are almost as intriguing as its controversial construction amidst Paris’s concerns of architectural regularity. I wish I could have witnessed the two-year assembly and ultimate unveiling of this feat of engineering at the 1899 World’s Fair.

What five words best describe you? (5-10 words)

Be Risky Engaging And Delicious. BREAD. 

When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50 words)

I came for Cillian Murphy; I stayed for gang activity, corruption, and revolution. Set in post-war Birmingham, Peaky Blinders is a cinematographic masterpiece, but more importantly, helps sharpen my Cockney vernacular in case I ever get in serious “barney rubble” during a brawl in a British pub.

Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 words)

I want to break into SLAC. Exploring the National Accelerator Library without limitations would be my version of Night at the Museum. To see the Test Beams in their natural habitat – ugh, a dream come true.

Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time? (50 words)

My mom joked that I should use the extra hour cleaning my room. I one-upped her, saying I’d spend it designing a robot to clean it for me. Although room-cleaning robots already exist, mine would also untangle necklaces, keep a missing-sock memory bank, and dust my lucky elephant statue collection.

The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (100-250 words)

The jovial receptionist led a sulky 13-year-old (me) and a teetering-on-fury lawyer (my mother) past a fake plant and translucent glass doors into what looked like a classic Silicon Valley startup. Business-casual hipsters sporting translucent glasses struggled to power walk to their feng shui work stations without spilling their matcha lattes. We navigated miles of “flexspace” before arriving at a door distinguished only by its elaborate keypad. In a few quick motions, the receptionist conjured a portal to another universe: “So this is Tesla.”

The sea of jerking mechanical arms assembling car parts in whirring harmony hypnotized me. Fully jolted out of my teenage mood swing, I switched gears into problem-solving mode and began to discern the role of each robotic limb, thoroughly captivated by the calculated movements and the power of the robots’ collaboration. What struck me most about my Tesla experience was how seemingly banal, everyday objects can be programmed in harmony to create something extraordinary and new. Most fascinating to me, the syzygy of the Tesla assembly factory can be applied to anything: from my engineering class assignment to redesign a pinhole camera for use by people with limited dexterity to my next personal project — improving office chairs for those suffering from scoliosis.

The idea that the next extraordinary invention might come from objects we interact with on a daily basis makes me genuinely excited to learn the cross-disciplinary systems that will aid me in creating beauty from chaos.

Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate – and us – get to know you better. (100-250 words)

Hail Mortal,

I am Nika, Russian goddess of strength and speed, deliverer of victory. Before you commit to roommatehood, I must warn you that wall to wall my wingspan does reach. My plumage grows with each foreign land I grace with my presence, so prepare for a burst of feathers each time I pass through our door. 

In addition to splurging on coordinated dorm decor with me, you must endorse conflict and relish in chariot joyrides. You shan’t be afraid of heights, for I will frequently require your assistance in handing out garlands of victory to worthy candidates on campus.

We will have loads of fun scoping out selfie spots on campus during golden hour and relaying the gods’ messages to our people. After quizzing each other before exams in Lathrop, we’ll delight in bathing in the blood of our enemies. 

You must enjoy musical performances for I will frequently break into celebratory, post-victory songs on my lyre. You must be brave, fortunate, and assertive for I have no patience for losers or introverts. If it sounds like my hubris might get in the way of our camaraderie, know that I am actually quite open-minded; I merely have high standards.

If you possess these aforementioned qualities, I will grant you the strength and speed needed to emerge victorious from any undertaking and provide you with an endless supply of Nike shoes.

Can’t wait to become BFFs!!


Nika Goddess O’Victory

Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (100-250 words)

My family history reminds me to never take freedom for granted.

Both my great-grandfathers fought in WWII, serving in active defense of the Soviet Union. Their wives remained in Leningrad, surviving the 872 days of Siege and burying half of their families who died from starvation. In search of freedom from communism, both my parents left everything behind and came to America as refugees, eventually becoming naturalized citizens and succeeding in their respective fields.

“When I was your age…” stories have shown me how my family struggled while living in communal apartments, waiting hours to buy a mere six slices of cheese, and being denied higher education due to their Jewish status. The difficulties that shaped their lives have indirectly shaped my own.

As a first generation American, I do not take the privileges I’ve been afforded for granted. Instead, I recognize the opportunity to aim above the already high expectations that first generation Americans often face.

I seek to actively preserve my heritage by taking Russian grammar lessons, making borscht with Babushka, and learning Russian fencing terms from Coach Andrey so I can accurately relay my exciting bouts to aunts and uncles.

I honor the sacrifices that were made to afford me the privilege of American citizenship by engaging with my Russian heritage. By remembering the past, I am able to move gloriously into the future.

Congratulations Adam!

Adam will attend Princeton University where he will both continue his dance training and study philosophy and psychology. In addition to Princeton, Adam was accepted to Harvard University, Stanford University, and Skidmore College. Check out his essays below!

Traveling back from a last-minute audition, I rested my head against the train’s frosted window as my exuberance dissipated into the old industrial buildings and barren trees. The stained, stiff seats of the Boston commuter rail became increasingly uncomfortable as I realized my acceptance to the Houston Ballet Academy on full scholarship launched me down a path of uncertainty and unfamiliarity.

Two years earlier, when I moved to Providence, Rhode Island from New York City, I was a staunch proponent of New York’s superiority and the balletic style of the School of American Ballet (SAB). My head inflated with the knowledge and perspectives I cherished from New York; I was often too critical of my new home state and peers.

Tightening my blinders, I trained at a studio where I could dance without fear of any paradigm-shattering intervention from teachers. I resisted many corrections and even refused to wear the uniform; I thought a return to the comforts of New York was imminent.

However, my closed-minded plans were shattered when SAB rejected me from their summer program and I was forced to consider schools of different styles. Soon thereafter, Houston Ballet Academy offered me a spot in their summer intensive program. I was relieved, grateful, and apprehensive about changing my balletic approach.

My first day at the academy, my self-image was immediately challenged. I stood at my barre spot before class and observed the year-round students execute masterful pirouettes, tours en l’air, and révoltades. As I watched my new peers, I caught my first glimpse of how little I actually knew.

My limits were revealed further when I sprained my right ankle four times in a year-long period. As I sat in the treatment room again with my ankle wrapped in ice, I realized my understanding of dance technique was as underdeveloped as my musculature – it was time to shed my former preconceptions.

I began striving to understand kinesthetic work in dance. I learned to observe other dancers to improve my own work. I consulted physical trainers to address my muscular imbalances, mitigating my perspective imbalances in the process. More generally, I consulted older students about the nuances of Houston Ballet’s professional environment and clarified my artistic intentions through movement: to explore and share. 

Living in the dorms, I found myself surrounded with people of drastically varying perspectives. I debated gender with a conservative from Oklahoma, discussed ethical constructs with a dancer-turned-rock-climber from Oregon, and delved into the philosophy of ballet with a bilingual Japanese-American friend. Being surrounded by talented, driven students from all over the world opened my mind to alternate viewpoints while honing my critical thinking skills. I ventured into new realms of intellectual and kinesthetic thought, seeking to broaden my understanding of dance, athleticism, and art.

I had thought my four hours of dancing per day after school in Rhode Island was rigorous. Now in Houston and enrolled in online high school, the average dance day was nine to ten hours; some days exceeded twelve during busy rehearsal periods or show runs. Dealing with the physical stress of my new schedule further encouraged my holistic development: I adopted healthier sleeping, eating, and stretching habits to prioritize my body’s well-being.

I have discovered that training to be a dancer is more than just physical work in the studio – it entails development as an athlete, artist, and thinker. As with innovative academic research, the artistic and intellectual synergy of dance at a professional-level academy warrants deep thought, humility, and exploration. My daily practice has required me to become comfortable with the uncertain, the unfamiliar, and the uncomfortable to gain the openness necessary to learn and grow. Now, I am eager to be challenged in the studio, the classroom, and throughout life.

Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way. (Princeton)
Open Ended (Harvard)

During the Spring of 2019, I spent countless hours alone in the dance studio striving to find my artistic voice after full days of training. Inspired by renowned Canandian dancer and choreographer Crystal Pite, I explored the language of dance through improvisation, seeking to  express myself as she could through her deeply emotional, intellectual work.

After zealously watching Pite’s pieces online, learning her movement phrases in contemporary class, and building off her style in improvisation, I was ready to make something of my own. So, when the opportunity arose to choreograph at Houston Ballet Academy’s summer intensive, I seized it.

I had a large cast of dancers, an original score, a Dalí painting my composer used as inspiration, and very few rehearsals to make an artistic statement. Consequently, I spent hours upon hours wrestling uninspired movement out of my body, desperately trying to force creativity. After a week of unproductive, embittering work, I thought I would never be able to create powerful art like Pite’s The Seasons’ Canon or The Tempest Replica.

Frustrated, I sat in my room reflecting on my process. I wanted to craft fiercely physical movement loaded with emotional meaning – as Pite did so compellingly – but had no idea how to reify that desire. I thought about her treatment of dance as a universal language that can speak to people viscerally. Then it hit me: I had no clear message. Pite used the language of dance to express something specific, whereas I had been treating movement as a vapid series of physical gestures. The image of the Dalí painting arose in my mind – it conveyed loneliness, pain, and melancholy. I would do the same with my piece.

I jumped on my computer and consulted one of my favorite clips of Pite’s work: the dancers of the Royal Ballet rehearsing Flight Pattern, which examined the refugee crisis to Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. In the piece, she used claw-like hands to emphasize the body’s ability to fill and carve out space, which seemed oddly evocative of the pain in the painting.

The next day, I took the movement and played with it. I improvised with my hands tense and claw-like and soon felt like they were wielding power. I thought of Pite’s tool of using opposing forces in the body to incite dynamic movement and runimated on power’s corrupting nature. As I felt the rest of my body resist and react to the motions of my hands, the theme became clear: my piece was about the volatile, exploitative relationship between humans and power.

I stopped moving and started to write. I wrote about my impressions of power, how different people deal with its burden, and its manifestation in one person versus in a group. I crafted formations and envisioned lighting and costume schemes, deciding that a green, dark background and contrasting black-and-white costumes would underscore my theme effectively. Every night, I researched contemporary pieces by various choreographers, always including a clip of Pite’s work.

By the time I started rehearsing with my cast, I had spacing and counts for the entire piece, detailed notes on each section, and a finished opening. I strove to be decisive yet adaptable, entering the rehearsals with solidified ideas but incorporating my dancers’ input and feedback. The sections that best expressed the theme were the most collaborative in creation, where I used my prepared ideas only as starting points. When I saw my cast execute it masterfully on stage, I silently thanked Pite for unknowingly guiding my creative growth.

Crystal Pite taught me that artistic creation is an achievable, rewarding process if armed with the proper tools and perspectives. Taking from her paradigm, I had developed my own creation that communicated a visceral, challenging, and disconcerting take on power. Because of her, I look forward to creating new work that inspires others and enriches my corner of the world.

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (50-150 words)

During my Freshman year, I helped teach weekly dance classes to children and adolescents with autism and Down syndrome. Our early Saturday-morning gatherings were spirited and invigorating, yet often chaotic. In the first few classes, I struggled to rein in their energy and teach productively. However, by crouching down to look them in the eyes and engage with them personably, I focused their energy into movement while striking meaningful connections with them. We relished our time twirling with hula hoops, leaping across the studio, and sharing hugs and laughter.

Later, we choreographed a piece to Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” and brought our enthusiasm to my high school’s outdoor Fall Festival, nailing every step to a roar of applause. Joining hands with the class and joyfully bowing on stage, I felt pride at facilitating a meaningful, transformational experience for my new group of friends.


What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 words)

Society’s infatuation with social media hinders individuals’ psychological development. Instant dopamine hits – like having your photo liked or browsing influencers’ pages – are today’s mechanisms of “happiness.” This system dissuades people from discovering a truer, deeper sense of meaning possible only through unplugged self-reflection.


Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 words)

While I look forward to enthusiastically debating peers under gargantuan palm trees, I am most excited to meet Professor Robert Sapolsky. For the past few months, I have been devouring lectures from his Human Behavioral Biology course, which have altered my fundamental beliefs about human nature and the world.


Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help you roommate – and us – get to know you better. (250 words)

My Future Roommate,

Please don’t be fooled by the seeming minimalism of my side of the room – white bedding, a desk with only my computer, the one book I’m currently reading on my nightstand, and nothing else. The drawers are a different story. I appreciate aesthetic cleanliness because it counterbalances the hyperactivity of my mind and schedule; decluttering and digitizing my life has allowed me to work and learn efficiently.

To that end, if you hear me asking Siri what ‘cryptomnesia’ or ‘enantiodromia’ mean, know that I’ve already written the terms down on my electronic word list and just need a reminder. Feel free to contribute – I’m striving for two thousand new additions by the end of my college experience.

I believe that a hot mug of dark roast is one of the finest pleasures in life. I will be happy to make two cups every morning. However, I understand if you prefer tea, especially rooibos – there is something to be said about its delicately nuanced flavor.

Do not be alarmed if you see me moving like a piece of seaweed caught in the thermohaline circulation as I walk about the room. It helps ground me into my body and gives my spine a nurturing massage. I also just have fun exploring movement. It’s all in good health, even if I look possessed sometimes.

I am eager to meet you and spend our first year at Stanford together, or at least coexist peacefully. 





Congratulations Nicole!

Nicole will attend New York University where she will major in psychology. Nicole plans to attend medical school after college, studying to become a plastic surgeon for patients with birth defects / deformities and victims of accidents. Check out her essays below!

“Nicole, hand me the scalpel.”

Carefully, I pass the surgical tool as the patient anxiously awaits the removal of the lemon-sized cyst on her head. Soon, Dr. Marjorie makes her first incisions on the scalp, slowly cutting away the scar tissue that had accrued over five years. Thirty minutes later, the woman leaves the office, free of the pillar cyst that had embarrassed her for years. Her smile reminds me why I want to become a surgeon.

My love of medicine developed over the summer of first grade, when I visited my friend Madison every day in the hospital as she battled cancer. I sat on her bedside reading Charlotte’s Web as she awaited her chemotherapy treatment. In between story time, I carefully observed blood draws, admiring the doctors’ steady hands as I inquired about the differences between blood tests and the purposes of each procedure that day. Simplifying the complexities for me– the nosy little 8 year old– I came to see doctors as benevolent caregivers.

The following September, Madi passed away. Rather than serving as a melancholy reminder of my loss, the hospital represented one of the most meaningful and rewarding summers of my life. As the shock of her loss began to fade, I dreamed of becoming a doctor myself and helping other people like Madi.

In middle school, I helped others the only way I could: by listening. In between periods, my friends often complained about their appearances, criticizing their weight and acne-pocked skin. One friend was so obsessed with her weight that she only ate fruit and compulsively exercised. When over at my house for dinner, she refused to eat anything. Recognizing the severity of her obsession, I began to see the real life implications poor self image could have on physical and mental health.

The following weeks, I tracked her eating habits and listened to her concerns about her appearance, hoping to help her feel more comfortable in her own skin. Finally, after months of perpetual reassurance, she sought professional help for her eating disorder and entered a rehabilitation center.

My interests in medicine and the psychological impact of body image converged when I began watching an internet famous plastic surgeon, Dr. Miami, on Snapchat. During lunch, I’d absentmindedly eat my tuna sandwich as I watched endless streams of tummy tucks, rhinoplasties, and liposuctions. I was in awe not only of the procedure, but of the trust clients placed in the doctor’s hands. I was eager to earn that level of trust and luckily had a lot of practice with my middle school friends.

It may seem odd that a girl opposed to body image problems would fall in love with plastic surgery, but the field is about more than just expensive enhancement procedures. Some view plastic surgery as a luxury, but for burn victims, breast cancer survivors, and patients afflicted with birth defects, it can be a life changing procedure that gives them the confidence required to build their lives. Plastic surgery would allow me to not only help others struggling with physical conditions, but also help them overcome their insecurities and learn to love themselves.

Entering high school, I took every medical course I could– from medical terminology to health science to clinical rotations– all so I could acquire the knowledge base needed to help others’ lives. I interned with Dr. Marjorie Nigro, a local dermatologist, to finally get hands-on experience with patients: taking medical histories, performing skin assessments, and mixing chemical compounds in preparation of surgeries. I breathlessly observed as she treated patients with botox, fillers, medication and methodically performed surgical procedures.

From the hospital to the dermatology office, my curiosity has only grown over the last ten years . In college, I will bring my inquisitive, empathetic, and dedicated nature to the classroom as I build the academic foundation that will allow me to construct a professional career reconstructing other peoples’ lives.

We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU? Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand – Why NYU? (400 word maximum)

My parents have taken my brother and I on countless trips over the course of our childhood. Each summer, they instilled us with the value of cultural diversity by taking us to a new place. When I was 12, my mom decided we would go on a mother-daughter trip, which later became an annual tradition. Luckily, our first trip was to New York City. I was awestruck during my first taxi ride, eyes peeled as I marveled at the chaos. In that moment, I set my heart on making the city my home, and have never wavered.

I would be particularly proud to be an NYU student because of the university’s foundation in a wide range of perspectives. As with my own family, rather than treating differences in background as a hindrance, students and faculty members embrace diversity, creating an environment that encourages open conversation. The International Study Abroad programs offered will allow me to pursue my academic passions alongside people with unfamiliar perspectives. It’s  my dream to spend a semester in Berlin or Abu Dhabi both learning the local language and engaging with psychological topics.

While on a campus tour this year, I was introduced to NYU’s catchphrase, “campus without walls.” I deeply respect the way NYU encourages students to live without boundaries because such a philosophy fosters learning and exploration, and teaches students to overcome minor discomforts in order to make room for major breakthroughs. The campus’s lack of physical boundaries will allow me to engage with both student life and the city on a larger scale. From International Neuropsychological Society meetings to positive psychology dance classes, I’ll be able to attend psychology events nearly every week.

Most importantly, I am eager to be academically challenged by NYU’s top-tier psychology program. The ability to work on novel experiments and access programs like Research Experiences & Methods will enable me to achieve the high standards I have set for myself. I am particularly intrigued by Professor Judith Alpert’s groundbreaking research focused on psychoanalysis and the psychology of gender. She asks, “What would psychoanalysis be like if Freud had been a woman?” a question I have often pondered and am keen to explore. Furthermore, I am enthusiastic about participating in the Cognitive Neuroscience and Social Psychology Honors Program during my sophomore year as these initiatives are the perfect stepping stones toward my future career in the medical field.

Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major?

When my introverted friend Sandra suggested that I start journaling to better understand my feelings, I couldn’t help but scoff. The following day at school, she handed me a fuzzy notebook with a sequined pink heart on the cover and my lighthearted teasing grew into genuine irritation. Why did she think I needed a journal?

That night, in the midst of a YouTube hole, I discovered “Psychology Crash Course,”. Clicking tentatively, I worried that Siri might have been eavesdropping on Sandra and I. I have always been intrigued by the labyrinth that is the mind, and upon understanding the true definition of psychology, I was immediately engrossed. Now, every night before I go to sleep, I open the YouTube App and watch lectures by psychology professors, summaries of case studies, and videos promoting personal mental health.

Two years ago, I stumbled upon a video titled “Ask a UT Psychologist,” in which University of Texas professor, James Pennebaker, explained the astonishing studies he and his undergraduate class had conducted to develop a couple compatibility theory. They argued that it is possible to determine if a couple will remain together by style matching conversational elements, and I immediately thought, “I want to be one of those researchers.” 

A few nights ago, I spent three hours straight watching videos about Sigmund Freud’s psychological contributions. Let’s just say I had more than a few nightmares to interpret the next morning. I am eager to turn my video-binging hobby into a profession through the countless opportunities UT gives psychology majors to learn interactively and participate in novel studies that will shape the future of psychology.

Leadership can be demonstrated in many ways. Please share how you have demonstrated leadership in either your school, job, community, and/or within your family responsibilities.

By the time I could read The Berenstain Bears on my own,  my mother was already asking me to entertain my wild younger brother, Thiago. After being diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder at the age of six, Thiago began taking medication and my role as a distraction evolved into that of an unofficial tutor, a title I still proudly fulfil today.

In elementary school, Thiago was distracted and disorganized, often losing assignments and earning bad grades. Everyday, we would sit on the floor of my dad’s office organizing the assignments stuffed in his messy backpack. During study sessions, Thiago would often grow impatient and make excuses, which I eventually recognized as inadvertent calls for help. Furthermore, as I developed an increased understanding of Thiago’s shortcomings, I began to employ more dynamic teaching techniques. In geography, for example, recognizing that he was a visual learner, I’d print empty maps and help him fill them in.

As the afternoons passed, Thiago began to grasp the ideas he had initially struggled with, and eventually learned to work through most assignments on his own. After years of problem solving, time management, and patience, the countless hours we spent on multiplication tables and fractions were rewarded; last year my brother got the highest grade in his freshman Engineering class without my help.

Although Thiago has evolved into an independent student, I will carry the leadership skills I developed on my dad’s office floor with me for a lifetime. Teaching has made me a better learner and the more I learn, the better leader I become. Regularly, my friends comfortably approach me in the hall for help with everything from molecular diagrams to Spanish verb conjugation. Because of my sessions with Thiago, I can eagerly and confidently offer my help when approached by my peers.

Please share how you believe your experiences, perspectives, and/or talents have shaped your ability to contribute to and enrich the learning environment at UT Austin, both in and out of the classroom.

In my family, exploring and learning has always been encouraged and the standards my parents have set for my brother and I are higher than Christ Redeemer’s head. The daughter of two hardworking immigrants, I spent my early life with family in Brazil and living in Venezuela for my father’s job. This nomadic upbringing along with summer visits to see my extended family in Brazil and countless Hispanic friends in my hometown has helped me not only to be trilingual, but more importantly to stay close to my roots.

Along with the delicious food, lively company, and close-knit community, I have witnessed untold hardships that many Brazilians face in their everyday life and feel fortunate that I don’t have to look over my shoulder as I walk through my neighborhood like my parents did. When I was 9-months old, my dad was shot at a bank in the “safest city in Brazil” and in 2010, while my cousin was visiting Rio, his GPS took him through a favela where he was surrounded by several armed men as he stared down at a laser on his chest. He was lucky to survive what should’ve been a normal car-ride.

As a proud Brazilian-American, I am passionate about making a difference for people like my father who have been less fortunate. On campus, I plan to join the Go Brasa club and S.M.I.L.E., organizations that both highlight the vibrancy of Brazilian culture and help those less fortunate in the community.

In addition to the exploration of my Latin American roots, I am excited for the opportunity to participate in student groups like “Women in Psychology.”, where I will connect with other women who share my academic interests.


This student was not only accepted to his top choice school – the University of Pennsylvania – but was also accepted to Brown, Cornell, Vanderbilt, Carnegie Mellon, Washington University, UT Austin, University of California Los Angeles, University of California Santa Barbara, and with scholarship offers from University of California San Diego, William and Mary, and Brandeis.

I opened the door to reveal a scruffy 6’2” millennial wearing bright thrifted clothes and a contagious smile. Was this the man who was supposed to teach me Beethoven? It turns out he wasn’t. Jerred was a jazz pianist and anything but a traditional music teacher.

After four years of classical piano lessons, my technique had improved but I found my interest in a steady decrescendo. Although Mozart’s sweeping requiems and Chopin’s delicate etudes bring my mother to tears, my apple fell farther from the tree. By my freshman year, I knew I desired freedom of expression. What I didn’t know was that the fast-talking, bike-commuting, anime-watching jazz pianist standing awkwardly in my doorway would rekindle my passion for music.

Despite having little in common, I grew fond of Jerred’s quirks and looked forward to our lessons. From Joseph Kosma’s “Autumn Leaves” to Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology,” we spent our weeks reviewing the jazz classics as I steadily grew familiar with the genre. I began to transition my skills from sight-reading to chord building and from repetition to improvisation. The more I learned, the more liberating music became. Rather than being confined to the sheet music of celebrated composers, I had become a composer myself. 

With a newfound passion for music, I tried my hand at singingemphasis on tried. My first musical breakthrough occurred in eighth-grade history class when I rapped about the Founding Fathers for extra credit. To my surprise, the class erupted in laughter and even the teacher applauded my wordplay. While a Jewish private school student is by no means the most conventional rapper, I found I had a surprising talent for Presidential rhymes. 

Armed with yet another musical perspective, I spent countless hours composing, and before long, teamed up with my best friend and guitarist Daniel. We spent the better half of Summer ‘17 producing original rap music for our first album: Downpour.

We lost track of time as we fiddled with our instruments and experimented with new sounds. Despite many nights spent laughing away at the YouTube Recommended tab, we managed to release Downpour in August. Soon enough, the line “bring your umbrella fella, ‘cause it’s gonna be a downpour” became the anthem of our school’s hallways.

We settled on the band name Subpar at Best to show thatat the very leastwe recognized our amateur status. In hindsight, the name was a pretty accurate description of our first album. It wasn’t terrible, but it surely wasn’t winning any Grammys. From the grainy production to the mediocre lyrics, I was disappointed in the end result. Although our classmates were enthusiastic, I felt then as if we had wasted our precious summer.

Despite my initial hesitancy, Daniel and I returned to make music the following summer. We upgraded equipment and even lined the walls of an old closet with egg-crate foam to craft a makeshift recording studio. We managed to refine our sound by better layering our tracks and recruiting talented vocalists. I also challenged myself to establish characters through thoughtful lyrics and cohesive narratives. Ultimately, I was much happier with our second album.

Even still, we improve with every new release. We continue to develop our music and ourselves by seeking out and exploring new genres to fuse with our ever-evolving sound. Much like my transition from classical to jazz piano, our music has shifted from rap to indie rock. No matter the genre, I’m fortunate to be writing lyrics and arranging chords, and that Jerred imparted me with the skills to make music of my own. Producing music has taught me that even when stagnancy settles on the keys, it’s always possible to branch out and try a new approach. I’ve learned to never settle for subpar at best.

How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected.


This morning, I read from right to left in an ancient script devoid of vowels and punctuation. The Talmud is an Aramaic collection of arguments concerning Jewish law, which I’ve studied in school since seventh grade. Rather than dogmatically memorize the laws of Judaism, my class parses through the Talmud’s challenging text to strengthen our reasoning skills. I’ve always been fascinated by the methods of the Talmud’s sages. It spoke directly to my innate passion for logical reasoning and philosophical inquiry.


To nurture my blossoming interest, I took a philosophy elective as a junior. We spent much of the year dwelling on the enigma of consciousness, pondering fascinating thought experiments, and considering viewpoints from Kant to Descartes. I often left class feeling less sure of the truth than when I entered, though my teacher assured me that Plato would be proud.


As much as I loved probing the depths of reason, I came to realize that thoughts, however profound, are merely thoughts. Whether through court verdicts or government legislation, philosophy needs real-world application to impact meaningful change. With this in mind, I joined my school’s Model United Nations team. My experience negotiating, drafting, and passing resolutions, in conjunction with my philosophical foundation, helped me engage in effective discourse.


Such discourse is disappearing at an alarming rate. In today’s political climate, I look around and notice significant polarization. Our inability to compromise is threatening our nation’s democracy. When we can’t pass new legislation, we lose the ability to bring ideas into the real world. This past summer, I spoke with Penn Professor Sophia Rosenfeld about her book Democracy and Truth. As we discussed approaches to minimize polarization, she emphasized that the responsibility falls on my generation to take part in an open dialogue. Our democracy depends on it.


Taking her advice to heart, I’m eager to work toward my goal of depolarization at Penn with philosophy as my engine. I plan to take courses like Public Philosophy, where I’ll learn to discern philosophy’s role in civic life and democratic society. I will join clubs like the Penn Political Coalition, which promotes civil discourse across the political spectrum. I also hope to conduct research under Professor Matthew Levendusky, who studies partisan media influence on mass polarization.


Penn is the ideal environment to pursue my interests in philosophy and politics. Rather than confine me to my major, the College of Arts and Sciences offers a unique interdisciplinary education. As such, I will be able to explore my interests across far-ranging and seemingly unrelated fields, from moral philosophy to astrophysics. I take comfort in knowing that my future career could lay in any building along Locust Walk, just waiting for me to find it.



At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classroom, too. How will you explore the community at Penn? consider how this community will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape this community. (150-200 words)


Descending the stairs of Van Pelt Library after a productive afternoon of studying for the summer courses I was taking at Penn, I froze in my tracks. I suddenly recognized Oscar Hammerstein’s “All the Things You Are” echoing across campus. As my favorite jazz song accompanied the picturesque sunset, I realized that Penn was the perfect instrument to play out my musical ambitions.


Along with taking advantage of the rigorous academic opportunities that Penn offers, I am eager to join the Penn Jazz Ensemble as a pianist. Surrounded by varied and talented musicians, I’ll hone my craft, train to collaborate on stage, and engage with a wide array of musical styles. With my experience in both classical music and hip-hop, I offer a unique stylistic perspective that will further diversify the Jazz Ensemble.


I also plan to join the Penn Hillel where I’ll attend Jewish events, and club basketball where I’ll work to improve my game. Coming from a tight-knit Jewish community and basketball team, my experience will lend itself to a cohesive environment both on and off the court.


From gliding across the keys to dribbling a basketball, Penn will bring my wildest dreams to my fingertips.



Deferral Update


University of Pennsylvania Office of Undergraduate Admissions,


I hope you had a pleasant holiday season and that you took some much deserved rest over winter break. I am eager to tell you how my own life has been since we last spoke in November.


I’ve spent the past few months excelling academically while maintaining my hobbies and extracurricular activities. With the basketball season in full swing, I’m spending upwards of ten hours a week–excluding travel time for away games–playing with my team as we mount our school’s best varsity season in years. We’re currently sitting at a 13-1 record, undefeated in our district and revving for a deep playoff run. As my team’s starting power forward, I’ve been training hard to increase my stamina and improve my free-throw percentage.


I’ve also recently stumbled across YouTube creators William Osman and Michael Reeves, electrical and software engineers respectively, while browsing my Recommended page. Although I had never previously realized the extent of my interest in any technical field, I was soon compelled to learn basic computer science as its ubiquity and versatility became increasingly evident with each video I watched. Winter break offered the perfect opportunity to expand my technological skill set. I finished Codecademy’s Code Foundations course and, after much deliberation over which language I should learn, I settled on Python 3. By coding programs like receipt generators and physics calculators, I used Codecademy’s exercises to practice defining and implementing functions. I’m currently learning control flow and boolean expressions, which computers utilize to make decisions based on a programmer’s criteria. I’ve realized that my acquisition of coding knowledge is an extension of my long-standing fascination with logic as evinced throughout my application.


Over the last few months, I’ve continued composing music while keeping up with my AP classes and extracurriculars. It brings me pleasure knowing that I can both manage a substantial workload and continue to make time for my passion. This delicate balance I have fostered has left me feeling confident in my ability to continue producing music in college.


Alongside my busy schedule, I have also balanced several college applications. After having researched dozens of top-tier colleges across the nation for the regular decision round, I can now proclaim even more confidently that Penn is the perfect fit for me. Penn’s emphasis on a personalized, well-rounded education cultivates the ideal environment to carry out my academic endeavors. My interests span a wide array of topics and would greatly benefit from a school that values excellence across the academic spectrum. 


Beyond the prestigious academic environment at Penn, honestly, I’m drawn to Penn’s people. Every time I’ve visited campus, I’ve felt entirely welcomed. Home even. From the kind student who removed her earbuds to give my family directions when she noticed we were lost to the astrophysics grad student who captivated me with her charismatic teaching style, I haven’t found another school that comes anywhere close to Penn. 


I hope you find me as good a fit for Penn as I find Penn for myself.

Congratulations Faizan!

Faizan was also accepted to UT Austin and Rice University. Although he was rejected from Harvard, we think his essay is well worth sharing and should serve as encouragement for students who are disappointed with their admissions results. Getting rejected from a highly competitive school does not mean that you are not a highly competitive applicant and more importantly, does not mean you lack intelligence, passion, or motivation. Sometimes it’s just not the right fit. Oftentimes there are factors that go into your specific admissions decision that we will never know. Rejection is just one part of life that we all experience and all must get used to. It’s never fun, but it does make us stronger!

After a grueling scrimmage, I trudged off the muddy field with helmet in hand. As I wiped a bead of blinding sweat from my temple, I saw it: “SAND-N******” hastily painted across my locker.

When I moved from Bangladesh at four-years-old, I was welcomed — well, tackled — by American football in all its Texan glory. The organized chaos of expressive grunts and collective roars from the sidelines needed no translation; everyone spoke the same tongue under the Friday Night Lights. I felt at home — protected, even. Now, looking at the jagged blood-red letters dripping before me, the locker-room suddenly felt like a war zone rather than the sweaty sanctuary I once cherished.

After the incident, I sat alone on the empty benches, feeling dejected and disillusioned as I waited for my parents to pick me up. Should I tell Coach? Unsure of how to respond without causing further conflict, I kept my head down.

A few weeks later, a heavy afternoon rain washed away my disillusionment, leaving compassion in its wake. After my post-practice trek back to the locker-room, I noticed my teammate Kevin slouching in silence as he peeled off his mud-stained jersey.  Contrasting his usual loud energy, his eyes instead sunk dolefully to the ground. Initially, I was hesitant to risk something worse than letters painted on my locker. Potential conflict aside, I couldn’t ignore his visible pain, and reflexively asked him what was wrong. Through angry stutters, he slowly revealed his story: his father was absent, his mother drug-addicted, and he was struggling to care for his six-year old brother.

His story resonated with me. I told him about how I too had to care for my brother as my father sought medical treatment abroad and my mother worked to keep us financially afloat in his absence. I urged him to carry the leadership and persistence he demonstrated on the field into his own household, focusing on his strengths rather than his flaws. For the first time since the incident, he looked me in the eyes. His softened gaze said it all; empathetic communication can bridge even the widest gaps. 

Equipped with this newfound awareness, I approached James – the teammate responsible for painting those divisive letters on my locker – the following Friday night. After a tough loss, we were the last two in the locker-room. 

“I’m not mad at you,” I said, puncturing the tension. He looked at me.

Hoping that my own vulnerability would encourage him to share the reasons for his actions, I opened up about how my family and I had been subject to similar racially charged attacks for years. I told him how my mother, in a post-9/11 America, was forced to remove her hijab in order to find employment. 

Hearing my struggles, he felt compelled to reveal his own. His father, an African American, was shot by a white officer before he was born, preparing him for a life painfully aware of any potential racial tension. I recognized his aggressive actions were driven by fear rather than genuine resentment. Through sharing my story and finding common ground between us, I showed him that our differences were merely surface level.

Although I decided to hang up my helmet the following year, I carry my locker-room lessons with me everywhere I go. From how I resonate with judges through humanized debate arguments to how I connect with film audiences by composing relatable scripts, I use vulnerability to bridge divides within every field (pun intended).

Communication is a contact sport. The locker-room is simply a microcosm of our society. From helmets to hijabs, to improve our world we must actively seek to understand each other and embrace our commonalities. After all, we’re all on the same team.

Rice is lauded for creating a collaborative atmosphere that enhances the quality of life for all members of our campus community. The Residential College System is heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What personal perspectives would you contribute to life at Rice? (500 word limit)*

I love icebreakers. In elementary school, my go-to icebreaker fun fact was, “my parents are best friends!” Despite the inevitable confused look on my peers’ faces, I explained how, in Bangladeshi culture, the prevalence of arranged marriages makes love marriages very unorthodox (in a way, my parents broke their own ice!). For me, though, my parents’ story inspires me to break more than ice; it motivates me to break social norms for the pursuit of unity. 

As a Muslim-American, I grew up struggling to reconcile my heritage with my community. In a post-9/11 America, expressing Islamic pride and aspiring for the American Dream seemed mutually exclusive. Especially at my school, where socioeconomic status and cultural background predetermined “cliques,” I struggled to “break the ice” between my community and me.

After my sophomore year, I received a unique opportunity to document an often invisible, yet urgent issue on Rohingya refugee camps: the mental health of refugees. For me, the opportunity was more than just a research project. It was a chance to rediscover myself: observing refugees’ emotional state in their environment could teach me to adjust to my own.

The experience was brutal. Thousands of men, women, and children were visibly hopeless, searching for lost family members and friends. However, one particular child, Mustafa, was distinctively memorable. We met in his cottage, the walls covered with his colorful paintings and art. I learned that he was fifteen (like me) and fled Myanmar after painting an Islamic mural on the wall of a government building. On different degrees, we shared many internal struggles; back in Myanmar, Mustafa lost touch with his Muslim identity because of the social connotation around it. He told me how his mural was more than just an act of defiance – it was an attempt to solidify his identity by expressing its beauty. For Mustafa, the mural was his icebreaker.

Mustafa’s story resonated with me on a personal level. He inspired me to bridge gaps with others by pridefully expressing my own culture. After returning home, I took the initiative. I started making short films to visually display the beauty of my heritage and customs to others. I used debate as a platform to advocate for equal treatment. Even in my school’s Muslim Students Association, I pushed to change the “Muslims-only” rule for activities and meetings. If we were going to stop perpetuating this toxic cycle of Islamophobia, we had to stop isolating and start expressing ourselves. 

I learned how bridging gaps between communities requires expressing our cultures unapologetically. Uniting my Muslim community with my American one also helped reconcile my internal identities. I am now, in its purest form, a proud Muslim-American. 

Despite Houston’s well-known diversity, self-segregation is a visible norm among different groups. In this environment, it’s imperative to use our cultures as icebreakers, sharing them with others without fear of judgment. With fellow Owls or between ethnic communities, I hope to carry my affinity for icebreakers into Rice University.

There is a breadth of intellectual opportunities here at Rice. Further explain your intended major and other areas of academic focus you may explore. (150 word limit)*

The US is separated from my home country, Bangladesh, by over 3500 nautical miles; the difference in perspectives is just as great. In studying Social Policy Analysis, I hope to understand these differences and how they affect cultural and political relationships. 

With the Rice Social Policy institute’s emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, I hope to suffuse my studies with greater psychological nuance in order to understand nations’ governments, peoples, and conflicts. When I cannot find intellectual solace in a textbook, I can visit Rice Cinema to watch a community’s culture, rather than hear about it. 

 In one of Texas’s most gerrymandered districts, Rice also prepares me to understand how political differences shape social interaction. In the age of polarization, compromise is necessary for collective progress. Be it running for student government or working with Professor Brace through the Century Scholars Program, my political career to do so can begin at Rice. 

What aspects of the Rice undergraduate experience inspired you to apply? (150 word limit)*

My first “Why Rice” moment came when I read Kinder Institute’s article: Refugee Realities. I marveled at the detailed analysis of refugee settlements and was struck by the unique tone of compassion.

When I visited the campus, I discovered the source of that compassion: the Rice community. I was welcomed by students who shared their zealous college pride as they directed me to Fondren Hall. The name tags on the dorms displayed Rice’s diversity, and my second “Why Rice” moment came when I realized I could become part of a small campus that welcomes a multitude of cultures. I also witnessed students from different disciplines working together and yearned to participate in collaborative undergraduate research. Of course, I’ll save my competitive spirit for intramural football.

One day, at Rice, I hope to write articles on subjects that pique my interests rather than just cite them in debate.

Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work or family responsibilities. (50-150 words)*

Congressional Debate encourages me to humanize complex and polarizing issues by considering the human implications of the statistics I am citing. Whether arguing against stricter refugee limits or in favor of green innovation, my advocacy has always gone deeper than the substantiation on my legal pad. 

More importantly, debate has taught me to make my voice heard. From my elementary school playground to my high-school hallways, I struggled to speak up against the oppression that I faced for years after moving to this country. Debate has inspired me to actively seek compromise and change against societal problems like this. Though Congress is centered around representing constituents from our districts, it’s been a platform for me to represent much more. Be it my refugee grandparents in Bangladesh or my Muslim community here in America, I am motivated to constantly challenge injustice. 

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)*

The hyper-materialistic digital world we live in often causes us to unwittingly neglect our mental health. With the rise of apps like Instagram, constant comparison often yields feelings of inadequacy. I am eager to contribute to the genesis of virtual safe spaces that promote awareness and discussion of internal experiences.

How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)*

In Bangladesh,  I researched the mental health of Rohingya refugees and helped build a school whose walls are now covered with kids’ paintings and poetry. In America, I competed at debate nationals, studied global violence at Notre Dame, acted in an award-winning short film, and conquered my fear of water.

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)*

Despite a culture of arranged marriages and spousal visas, my parents were best friends before getting married. Their story represents more than just true love; it motivates me to overcome social norms in my pursuit of happiness. I wish I could’ve donned my kurtha and witnessed my parents ceremonial vows.

What five words best describe you?*

Deep conversations with Uber drivers.

When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50 word limit) *

N.W.A — America’s famous rule-breakers, and the most influential rappers of all time. 

Shakira — Houston’s Hispanic heritage inspired me to take Spanish in high school.

Binging With Babish — a crossroads of cuisine and cinematography.

MSNBC, Fox, The Onion — two satirical news sources, and one reliable one, respectively.

Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 word limit) *

I am eager to get involved with the Stanford Storytelling Project. Writer’s Studio workshops like “Building Community with Story” and “Writing the Translingual Voice,” one-to-one mentorship through StoryLab, and courses like “Documentary Fictions” will provide me with the opportunity to hone my artistic voice (and snag a few free snacks).

Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time? (50 word limit).*

In middle school, my friends and I wrote, directed, and acted in several short films. From Flowers Blooming to Bearded Nightmare, our films were our voice. With an extra hour, I would create my next short film Sleeping Through the American Dream on the experience of first-generation immigrant teenagers.

The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (100-250 words)*

At nine-years-old I still couldn’t understand a lick of English despite having already lived in America for five years. I remember complaining to my mom in Bangla, “এটা আমার জিহ্বায় ঠিক মনে হয় না”: “it just doesn’t feel right on my tongue.” As a result of my self-imposed linguistic barrier, I had to be socially perceptive, tuning into facial expressions, body language, and tone. Although I eventually gained English fluency, my perceptual skills have followed me throughout the course of my life. Today, reading people is a not-so-hidden talent that inspires me to tailor every interaction to my audience.

The worst advice I have ever received as a public speaker is to just “forget the audience is there.” For me, intellectual excitement lies in discovering the human element hiding in the depths of the abstract. As a debater, I customize tractible arguments that elicit emotions in my opponent. As a filmmaker, I frame stories that resonate with my target audience. As a friend, I provide nudges, laughs, and tear-welcoming shoulders based upon perceived needs.

I am excited to continue honing my perceptual skills as a member of Stanford’s diverse community. There is nothing more intellectually invigorating than gathering perspectives and predicting how those perspectives will play out in a variety of contexts. It is comforting to know that if I spontaneously forget how to speak English one day, I will still be able to understand the universal language of humanity.

Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate – and us – get to know you better. (100-250 words)* 

Hey man!

They say that being yourself is vital to any friendship, but there’s something you need to understand about me: I am the most myself when I am not myself at all. Simply put — I. Love. Impressions. 

When we first meet, I’ll greet you with my classic Texan-made Matthew McConaughey impression: firm handshake, soft smile, and a sly “alright, alright, alright”. When the room gets a bit messy, I’ll whip out my Barack Obama impression. With authoritative hand gestures, an assertive undertone, and thoughtful pauses, I promise we’ll both be motivated to do a ten-second tidy at the very least. Before a long day, I may use the shower as my 50’s jazz bar to release my inner Frank Sinatra. After all, there is no better alarm than Summer Wind. 

Of course, if things get tough, I’ll do my best to suppress the temptation to impersonate Dr. Phil. Both of us will have our rough days, and I hope that we can voice our emotions and console each other like Frodo and Sam do. I value communication over everything, and my many impressions are simply creative ways to talk it out.



P.S. — If my Yoda impression ever I start, promptly stop me please do. I’ve been told it’s more confusing than entertaining.

Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (100-250 words)*

Fueled by our disappointment in the lack of unity both within our high school and the greater Houston community, my friends and I started BackPAC, a non-partisan political action committee with the mission of raising political awareness and facilitating discourse among the youth demographic. In classroom #1588, we’ve hosted weekly discussions that bridge polar opposite viewpoints by fostering genuine listening and ensuring that everyone is given a voice.

As a club, we have managed to forge a fundamental agreement about the contentious issue of gun control: school safety should be the ultimate priority regardless of political stance. We’ve contacted state congressmen and legislators, pushing for school safety reform laws. After a year of countless calls and emails, students are now mandated to wear their IDs to school. Though progress has taken significant time and effort, this rule is a tangible step toward true reform and proof of the power working collectively to bring about impactful change.

After two years, BackPAC is the largest student-run political action committee in the country, spread across 25 states with over 100 chapters. By registering each of these chapters as official voter booths, we’ve increased voter registration among eligible high-schoolers by almost 400%. No matter how much we grow, however, the smallest interactions are still the most inspiring. A turban-wearing student shaking hands with a football player is enough to have made all of our efforts well worth it. After all, it’s more than just a handshake. It’s progress.

A single, dim light bulb hung from the dingy ceiling. Its flicker momentarily illuminated Eram’s face, revealing the powerful amber in her eyes. We sat at a stained folding table, discussing her life as a Rohingya refugee. She was sixteen, just like me, and had fled to Bangladesh after participating in a Muslim Women’s March against the Burmese government. Her parents were killed before her eyes, and her younger sister was missing.

Seven months earlier and 8,719 miles away, I peered over my father’s shoulder at his Bangladeshi newspaper on the kitchen table: “800,000 Rohingya Displaced, Millions More Dead.” I was astounded by this headline, but even more baffled by the fact that I hadn’t seen reports of this mass exodus to Bangladesh on any American news source. Every report that I could find on the Internet treated refugees as pieces of a larger political game.

I yearned for something beyond cold, hard statistics, and knew that in order to gain the human-level understanding of the issue I craved, I had to visit the refugee camps myself. I contacted the principal of Dhaka Medical College in Bangladesh, proposing a research project and promising to raise awareness of the refugee crisis in America. Two months later, I was on a plane to Kutupalong, a UNHCR camp.

When I first arrived, I exited a chipped, sky-blue rickshaw, and found myself standing at the top of a hill at the center of Kutupalong refugee camp. People were strewn across the muddy ground and their “homes” were nothing but pieces of rusty metal, splintered wood, and torn fabric stapled together. They drifted about with eyes fixed on the ground and shoulders drooping. 

It looked like the warzone the refugees had fled from had followed them to the camp. Anger kindled inside me at the sight of the deplorable conditions. Although I had always felt proud of my home country’s hospitality – the very hospitality that provided refuge for my grandfather in the 1950s – within seconds of arrival, that pride was extinguished by overwhelming guilt.

The first person I interacted with was a frail child of about seven years. His ribs poked out from beneath his skin, his clothes were shredded, and his eyes were lifeless. When I reached out to shake his hand, he held out both palms, thinking I was offering him food. I knew right away that he needed more than my privileged pity.

Had my parents not immigrated to America to escape growing tensions in Eastern Bangladesh, this could’ve been my life. Motivated by this realization, I embarked upon my proposed research question with vehemence: how do camp conditions affect the psychological development of Rohingya children?

In Dr. Masuma’s cramped wooden cottage, I set out to analyze the refugee children’s 82% mental health disorder rate through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, whilst grappling with the fact that the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees could barely fulfill the baseline physiological tier. I learned that Dr. Masuma was one of only eight therapists on the entire site. With a total population of 120,000, there was one therapist for every 16,000 refugees. Moreover, most refugee children were unable to articulate their thoughts and emotions to the already scarce English-speaking therapists. My fluency in Bangla allowed me to conduct 6-10 informal interviews every day. The children told me about their missing family members, their inability to read or write, and their struggles with interacting with others in the camp. During these talks, I discovered the primary reason for the wide-spread depression was a lack of purpose and belonging, which was evident in the way the children aimlessly ambled around.

My interview with Eram was a pivotal moment for both my research and my own perspective. She was a painter. Her latest piece was a rally sign depicting a hijab, alongside the text “If you don’t fight for human rights, you don’t have the right to call yourself human.” She was recuperating from her exile from Myanmar, preparing to rejoin the fight for justice. Her glowing amber eyes exuded a hope that was hard to come by in the camp. I knew I had to find a way to spark the same resilient spirit in the other children.

The camp offered no intellectual opportunities or place of assembly, so I set out to transform Dr. Masuma’s cottage into a school. I designed an English as a Second Language (ESL) curriculum to foster communication between Bangla-speaking refugees and English-speaking UN agents. With the help of donated art supplies, I encouraged kids to exercise their imaginations. We watched classic Disney movies, learned how to throw frisbees, and danced to world music. Within a few weeks, the school found traction, creating a newfound sense of camaraderie.

I’ve kept up with the children ever since. A little over a year later, forty-five students have passed their first English diagnostic test and the walls of the school are now covered with colorful paintings and expressive poetry. Every other week I receive a photograph of the class — each new picture twinkles with bigger and brighter smiles as their eyes shine with hope.

My experience at the camp was far more than just a research project or an informative trip. Not only did it implant my interests in international affairs and psychology, but it also showed me the humans behind the cold statistics I’m used to encountering on the news. In my ambitions to fight for peace across the world, I now know who I’m fighting for instead of just what I’m fighting against. Whether I’m crafting a debate speech or joining a political rally, I’ll remember my conviction of fighting for human rights; Eram was right — it’s what makes me human.

Congratulations Aditya!

Aditya is thrilled at the prospect of attending McCombs School of Business at UT Austin and is currently on the waitlist for Vanderbilt. He is an awesome student with a kind heart and we can’t wait to see him thrive as a college student!

Fourteen pairs of eyes looked expectantly at me across the table where I stood with Bible in hand. It was my turn to lead daily prayer. I held the leather-bound manuscript reluctantly and examined the near-translucent pages, unsure of where to begin. 

When I left Strathcona-Tweedsmuir International School after five years, I traded a classroom of diverse friends who encouraged me to wear traditional garb for Diwali for Texas classrooms filled with religiously homogeneous strangers congregating for afternoon bible sessions. Despite Grace Middleschool’s local prestige, its forceful departure from the polytheism and idolism inherent in my Hindu tradition was isolating.

At first I approached this new, stifling atmosphere with my usual enthusiasm. As I introduced the possibility of multiple omniscient beings in bible class, my peers’ anticipatory glances turned to rolling eyes and exasperated sighs. Soon, rather than opening up about my distinct religious perspective, I sat silently at my desk and internalized my beliefs. My academic success was stifled by the pressure to push aside Hinduism’s approachable multitude of gods in order to understand just one.

Dogmatically accepting the beliefs of others would negate the values I learned in both my academic and religious education. Intent on learning firsthand about Christianity, I scoured the Bible, biographies of Christ and comparative texts  to accumulate historical context and identify points of compatibility between the two religions. I learned that both religions uphold a code of righteous action: the Ten Commandments in Christianity and folk tales of penitent virtue in Hinduism. They also both extoll sacrifice in the face of violations of this code. 

The surprising intersection between the two religions helped me to recognize a substantial common ground and open myself to an inner paradigm shift that I had not previously considered. I saw how we dress the same idea in different clothes. How underneath the obvious differences lie common principles at a fundamental level that made the differences seem minute in comparison. Following this epiphany, singing along at church and leading Bible studies at school felt compatible with the Hindu ideals I grew up embracing.

Though I didn’t realize at the time, through my exploration into Christianity, I was building invaluable, research skills. Understanding the nuances of alternate religions has helped me gain sensitivity to diverse perspectives; rather than relying on predisposed facts to form my opinions, I always search for a common ground. As a debate captain, I have diffused tense arguments over controversial debate topics by mediating conflict with an open mind and appreciation for the diversity of my team. Meanwhile, as a debater, I have employed the same rigorous research and study skills I honed during my foray into Catholicism to ensure I enter tournaments with a dossier of arguments capable of withstanding extreme scrutiny.

My newfound skills also extend to the professional sphere. As an intern at Adam Henderson Law, I recognized the importance of understanding multiple viewpoints to sustain a successful law practice. When a construction worker hobbled into the office one day and inarticulately described how he managed to get his leg wedged under a telephone pole, I assisted the specialist as she guided the frantic client through a labyrinth of paperwork and policy. It wasn’t efficient typing that made her great at her job, but rather the ability to understand the perspectives of the person in front of her. In shadowing her work, I was reminded of the importance empathy plays in building common ground,  and actively used my internship as an opportunity to diligently refine my own. 

I now enthusiastically  engage in agnostic discussions, allowing me to form opinions that were previously inaccessible. Rather than feeling cornered by the perspectives of others, I embrace both points of compatibility and differences between my views and conflicting beliefs. The next time I am handed the Bible, I will orate it proudly with an appreciation for its distinct perspective.

Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major?

Our engineering class president presented us with a daunting task: to plan, construct, and market a bridge capable of withstanding a 30-pound weight with a total budget of only $7.

As the de facto leader of my group, I tackled the initial design myself. After a long weekend of drafting, I had only a trash can overflowing with failed models to show for my effort. Handing the design over to my “draftier” teammates, I refocused my efforts on project management. To remain within our slim budget, I created spreadsheets to track purchases and researched cost-effective materials. I also used the communication and public speaking skills I had developed as a competitive debater to support the design team and ultimately market our bridge through a concise and compelling presentation.

Three weeks of late nights staring at my computer screen flew by and it was time to put our bridge to the test. Our tiny wooden bridge was no match for the 30-pound weight that crushed it in seconds. 

This partial failure led me to the realization that my participation in Engineering Club was never meant to build a STEM career, but instead to illuminate my capacity for business. It’s not the architectural blueprints that intrigue me, but the late night research, strategic marketing discussions, and product management.

Since this defining moment, I have continued to hone my business acumen through both academic and extracurricular pursuits and I look forward to further exploring innovative ideas and practices as a student at the McCombs School of Business.


Leadership can be demonstrated in many ways. Please share how you have demonstrated leadership in either your school, job, community, and/or within your family responsibilities.

“Our lecture today is taught by one of our own high schoolers,” the debate coach announced to the googly-eyed middle school debaters. “…On Kantian Philosophy and its implications on public policy.” 

As I walked to the front of the room, confused stares and innocent laughter transformed to terrified silence.

Since ninth grade, I have tutored middle school debaters in moral philosophy, world events, and case writing. In the beginning, the constant shower of raised hands and perpetual restatement of explanations quickly drained my patience. Over time, I reflected on the conceptual difficulties my students faced, and realized that I too had once been an “ignorant” middle schooler shifting restlessly at my desk. 

As a result, I learned to slow the pace of my lessons and built in extra time at the end of practice to ensure that each individual student could be heard, rather than steamrolled over. I knew the only way for them to become better debaters and for me to become a better teacher was to encourage questions and dive deeper into fewer topics, rather than overload my class with more information than they could handle.

I resolved to embrace their curiosity in the most effective ways possible. Starting with lesson plans, I created structured lectures and activities that could deliver the intricate information in a digestible fashion. Last year, for example, the novices engaged in a series of start-and-stop debates; whenever they made any errors, I would pause the round and explain how to avoid such mistakes in the future. Now, instead of spewing random factoids, my students anticipate their shortcomings and can successfully replace old, ineffective habits with new, dynamic ones .

Today I lead by prioritizing the needs of others, adapting strategy to circumstance both in and out of the debate room.

Please share how you believe your experiences, perspectives, and/or talents have shaped your ability to contribute to and enrich the learning environment at UT Austin, both in and out of the classroom.

I used to lie in bed for hours reading comics illustrating the noble deeds of gods in parables from the Mahabharata or the tales of Ganesha. To me, each panel was an intriguing, illustrated portal into my culture. 

As an immigrant twice over – once in Canada and once in the United States – the fear of losing my culture and religion in the face of blizzards and country music is not foreign to me. With every move, my accent changed and visits to the temple decreased. Over the years, I have realized that cultural assimilation often comes at a religious and personal cost. 

Today, as a volunteer at the Cultural Heritage Project, I work to ensure that others don’t experience the same cultural disconnect I have. Through collaboration with a cohort of Hindu immigrants, I am establishing a cultural exhibit at my local temple that untangles the complex history of Hinduism in an interactive and captivating manner. Just as comic books helped demystify Hindu parables in my childhood, the Hindu trivia game my team created engages visitors with stimulating questions that recontextualize fundamental Hindu tenets in a familiar light. Through light-hearted competition, people forge cultural connections stronger than any spatial disconnect caused by immigration.

At UT, I am eager to bring this collaborative and culturally nuanced perspective to the classroom, where I will work with peers to unpack complex economic and socio-cultural principles. Outside the classroom, I will continue to advocate for religious, cultural, and ideological diversity through Advocates for Unity, a student organization that works to create cultural cohesion in education. On UT’s top-10 ranked debate team, meanwhile,  I will foster critical discussion over pressing issues. Through these pursuits, I am dedicated to promoting an environment that is conducive to both academic inquiry and social harmony.


McCombs Honors Prompt: Discuss a single piece of business news in the last year that has affected your view on the need for a high-quality business education, and tell us why this has affected or reinforced your desire for a business education. You do not need to go into detail about this piece of business news—a quick reference to the event will suffice. It can be something that occurred in your community, in the U.S., or internationally. Spend the majority of your response on how this event affected your views.

 In the past decade our oceans have been polluted by billions of gallons of oil, ravaging ecosystems and damaging coastal economies. In 2018 alone, US businesses and oil refineries offshore were responsible for 137 oil spills according to a recent report from Resource Watch.

Upon reading this report, I was astonished by how few precautions businesses took to prevent these ecological disasters. Several oil firms refused to adopt environmentally sustainable practices, spending less than 20 minutes on safety checks for each oil rig. The lack of regard for oceanic ecosystems by corporate giants is deeply disconcerting.

Both ExxonMobil and BP have steadily increased their annual profits since 2013, but very little of that capital has been invested in creating sustainable energy solutions. Before reading Resource Watch’s report, I naively assumed that brand-image was determined by commitment to ethical actions, and that profits would follow suit. If that were the case, however, how could so many profitable businesses disregard environmental concerns and continue to be profitable? After ruminating on the ubiquitous nature of corporate pollution, I have become convinced that businesses are morally obligated to promote ecologically sustainable practices. 

Through McCombs’ Business Program, I hope to learn about the nuances of business processes to further understand the ways corporations can toe the line between ethics and profitability. The tight-knit community of honors scholars in combination with discussion-based courses and experiential learning opportunities offered by BHP will enable me to achieve my business goals while ensuring that my moral compass is pointing in the right direction. 


This awesome student is one step closer to pursuing her dreams of becoming a doctor and transforming the healthcare industry from the inside. While this student did not get into Brown, we think her essays are well worth sharing, and display a great fusion of personality and content. Getting rejected from a highly competitive school does not mean that you are not a highly competitive applicant and more importantly, does not mean you lack intelligence, passion, or motivation. This hyper-intelligent, talented, funny, and incredibly passionate student is going to make an impact on the world no matter where she is!

Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about an academic interest (or interests) that excites you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue it. (250 words)

When I was little, I wanted to be a doctor/president/singer. I no longer want to have that many slashes to express my profession, but I still have a myriad of interests. Although I want to major in economics and then pursue a medical degree, I have many passions outside of my intended career that Brown’s Open Curriculum will allow me to explore. 

I am interested in the effects of a wide-range of policies, but what intrigues me the most is the way they’re formulated. Although the term “policy” sounds mechanical, policies are created by people like you and I who are susceptible to human emotions and biases. As an active member of my school’s Model UN club, I often participate in simulated negotiations and the passing of bills and proposals; I look beyond the obvious implications of the issue at hand and dissect the thought processes that lead to the creation of new legislation.

At Brown, the Open Curriculum will allow me to further explore the psychology of politics. I can take
Psychology of Business and Economics as well as Human Factors through the Psychology Department, while in the Political Science Department I can take Media and Democracy. While I no longer dream of being a singing doctor president, Brown provides an enriching environment that will allow me to become a well-rounded person who is capable of achieving an even wider range of ambitions.

At Brown, you will learn as much from your peers outside the classroom as in academic spaces. How will you contribute to the Brown community? (250 words)

From Mosaic Club to Model UN, I’ve participated in every activity under the sun, but I’ve learned the most from the one that literally happens under the sun: rowing. I have been rowing since I had my braces on, then off, then on again, and this sport is the bedrock of the person I am. 

Standing at 5” 1’ at best, I am a coxswain, also known as the small person who yells at the rowers. Being a cox requires me to take in a torrent of information and create a game plan that is continuously updated. Whether it be counting strokes, keeping the boat aligned, or deducing who is rowing out of sync and how to correct them, I am responsible for providing instantaneous feedback to my team. During regattas, along with staying focused and mentally agile, I must make sure my rowers are concentrated and motivated until the last stroke.

As agonizing as being scrunched in a small box for two hours may be, the physical discomforts of coxing are nothing compared to those of rowing. When my 8th grade crew was too small to even warrant a cox, I had to pick up the oars myself and strap into a future of callused hands and perpetual exhaustion; every time I sneezed or laughed, I was acutely aware of my abs, or lack thereof.

From quick thoughts to quick taps, rowing splashes me awake at the crack of dawn and rocks me to sleep every night. The mental fortitude I have gained from my time on the water has prepared me for any crab my oar catches; even if I flip over, I’m back on the boat without missing a stroke.

Tell us about a place or community you call home. How has it shaped your perspective? (250 words)

Throughout my life, I’ve been on the move. New Jersey, Australia, and Houston have all contributed to my character, but I wouldn’t say that any of those places are home. In 2014, I found my home at Canberra Girls Grammar School (CGGS) in Australia. Although I only attended this school for one year, that feeling of home is etched in my memory forever.

CGGS was different from the very first day. Instead of feeling excluded, as I had in my previous school, I was welcomed. My classmates wanted me to sit with them on the bus, eager to get to know me and stay friends with me. When I wasn’t allowed to go to the school dance, my friends signed a petition to convince my parents to let me go.This place taught me what a good friend is–someone supportive and who goes the extra mile without blinking. I strive to be that same kind of friend to others.

Even though I left the school five years ago, that community has shaped me into the person I am today. In addition to the close friendships I still maintain, this school introduced me to many of the passions and interests that I still have today.  My love for rowing and public speaking began at CGGS and continue to grow as I participate in Model UN and my local rowing club. Yes, I no longer attend the school, but I will always consider myself a Canberra Grammar Girl.

PLME Program Essays

Committing to a future career as a physician while in high school requires careful consideration and self-reflection. What values and experiences have led you to believe that becoming a doctor in medicine is the right fit for you? (250 words)

Two days after my mom left for India, my dad started complaining about his lower back. His pain quickly escalated from a dull hum to a piercing scream and I started to panic. As much as I thought I knew everything at 15 years old, my dad’s chronic kidney disease episode forced me to confront my ignorance not only about kidney function, but about basic skills like driving and cooking.

With my mom gone, I was the only able body in the house. I wouldn’t let my lack of driver’s license or medical training stop me from doing everything I could to alleviate my father’s pain. I Googled “kidney home remedies” and was forced to rely on Web MD and Dr. Paul’s “six superfoods to alleviate kidney pain in 24 hours.” My dad had to hobble to the car and drive to the store so we could bulk up on celery, pineapple, and nettle juice. While I knew that medications like Tylenol might make the pain more bearable, I was worried about exacerbating his condition.

Thankfully, after a week of putting 40 drops of nettle juice into warm water three times a day, my dad’s illness subsided. I knew my relief was only temporary and I was determined to be better equipped the next time around. Taking care of my father imbued me with a renewed sense of purpose. I realized that being a doctor wasn’t just an option; it was the only option.

Most people describe a career as a physician/doctor as a “profession”, beyond a job. Describe for us what “professionalism” and “the profession of a physician/doctor” mean to you. (250 words) 

In 5th grade, my parents dubbed me a “Doctor Without a Degree,” and I’ve held that title proudly ever since. I got a taste of what it takes to be a “Doctor With a Degree” during the summer of 2019, when I interned at MD Anderson. From punching in early Saturday morning to late nights scrolling through NCBI, the researchers’ diligence was omnipresent and gave me insight into the rigor of the medical profession.

I decided to commit myself to that same level of professionalism. Between 11-hour shifts, cutting countless tissue cross-sections to be exactly 10 micrometers, and dissecting mice to extract their lymph nodes, I upheld the standards that had been set by my mentors. I learned that the core of professionalism is something beyond neat hair and shined shoes; it is the willingness to go the extra mile.

In addition, professionalism in the medical field means providing care for the patient, rather than just treatment. It’s explaining why the patient needs to pump their ankles, not just telling them to do it. It’s spending however long it takes to understand the patient’s issues and using that information to formulate the best treatment plan. It’s treating all patients like they’re your mother or father because they often are someone else’s. Professionalism in the medical field stems from the harmony of compassion and logic, a delicate balance that I will strive to cultivate, even after I become a Doctor with a Degree. 

How do you envision the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) helping you to meet your academic personal and professional goals as a person and as a physician of the future? (500 words)

It was two days before the Model UN conference. As I – well, “Venustiano Carranza” – dug into Mexico’s preventative measures against the Spanish Flu, I realized that politics and the private sector held almost as much power as scientific findings when it came to controlling infection. While a pandemic simulated by high school students might not be perfectly indicative of the real world, medicine and politics go hand in hand on the subject of healthcare.

As a second grader, I learned that we have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Healthcare is the foundation upon which those human rights stand. Without access to life-sustaining resources, we lack the freedom to think beyond the bare necessities, let alone explore our dreams and passions. Healthcare facilitates the distribution of such resources and enables the realization of the core values that America was built on, yet it is not accessible to all Americans.

My main concern is the efficiency of the healthcare system. The US spends around $3.5 trillion per year on healthcare, money that could be better allocated if issues like misdiagnoses and the health insurance oligarchy were resolved through better training for doctors and price ceilings for insurance companies. The industry is a vast yet intricate part of our society that encompasses multiple disciplines. From overpriced, highly addictive narcotics to financially-crippling medical bills, every scenario involves both politics and economics. For this reason, I plan to major in economics and take political science courses before pursuing a medical degree. By following this course of study, I will obtain the perspectives of the government, private sector, healthcare provider, and most importantly, the consumer.

The unorthodox path I plan to take can only be met by Brown’s unconventional approach to education. As part of the PLME program at Brown, I will be given the freedom to develop wide-ranging perspectives on healthcare, delving into the rigors of medicine while receiving a top-tier liberal arts education. I am eager to take courses like Health Economics with Professor Lancaster and Ethics and Public Policy with Professor Cheit and to attend seminars like Health, Hunger, and Household throughout my undergraduate career. While learning how to handle a scalpel and perform a running stitch, I will also understand the weight of the caduceus emblazoned on my lab coat. Furthermore, the PLME program takes away the added pressures of the MCAT, which will allow me to focus on learning as opposed to studying. This will allow me to dedicate myself to experiential learning opportunities like lab work and volunteering in a health clinic. 

While Venustiano Carranza may not have had the resources to effectively manage the infrastructure of the healthcare system, armed with a Liberal Medical Education, I certainly will.

These essays got our student, Jane, into Rice Early Decision. 

Please explain why you wish to study in the academic areas you selected above. (150 words)

“We regret to inform you…”

My thoughts turned to the grueling months I spent practicing the same violin passages repeatedly. How did I fail when I worked so hard? Gradually, however, I began shifting my mindset; I started wondering how some people can improve faster with less struggle. This shift led me to reevaluate my practice methods and eventually my academic learning strategies. To further pursue this insight, I took an educational psychology class and was so entranced that I resolved to major in Cognitive Sciences to devote myself to studying the process of learning and how to help those who struggle with it.

Courses such as Neuropsychology of Language and Memory will allow me to understand the neurological mechanisms behind learning, and through Developmental Psychology, I will learn how human intelligence progresses over time–crucial to creating optimal teaching and learning practices for each students’ stage in life.

Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you? (150 words)

This past year, I’ve had the pleasure of being a research assistant for the Medicine | Race | Democracy Lab at Rice. What I particularly loved about this experience was exploring my academic interests outside of class and being able to contribute to the wider pursuit of knowledge. At Rice, I see myself continuing this effort at the Houston Education Research Consortium to study factors of educational inequalities and how to combat them.

To apply the knowledge I’ll gain through this avenue of inquiry, I’ll take part in Academic and Cultural Empowerment at Rice, which will enable me to live out my values of empowering others with equitable education. I also intend to take full advantage of the networking opportunities between Cognitive Sciences students and professionals by joining Omega Psi. Outside of the classroom, I envision myself joining the Cornerstone Christian Fellowship to foster a strong community with fellow Christian Owls.

Rice is lauded for creating a collaborative atmosphere that enhances the quality of life for all members of our campus community. The Residential College System and undergraduate life are heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural tradition each student brings. What life perspectives would you contribute to the Rice community? (500 words)

The ear-splitting peal of bagpipes and the sign on the door told me that I’d reached “Room 101: Highland Dance”. Once inside, I was eager to join the dozen girls gracefully jumping to the beat of the music until I overheard a group of premier dancers (the highest level dancers) chatting together. I’d almost forgotten a harsh truth of the universe; for a lowly “intermediate” dancer, the group–that cozy, exclusive conversation–was unobtainable for me. So, I walked past them and warmed up in solitude. This spiral of self-deprecation continued until I was assigned the same new steps as the premier dancers for a competition. Naturally, I expected the highest level dancers to grasp them quicker than I ever could. To my surprise, however, we shared the same struggles with the steps, like remembering which foot went in front first and which arm went up when.

We even laughed about our struggles together. Gradually, I realized how my obsession over everyone’s status led to my close-mindedness and self-imposed isolation. These dancers were not aloof goddesses who’d burst into flames of rage if I approached them; this group of people was composed of exactly that — people. In hindsight, it seems obvious, but it was a fact that had been obscured by my insecurity. I also realized the reverse of my former outlook towards the premier dancers applied to the beginner and novice dancers “beneath” me. From then on, I made an effort to put surface-level qualities — be it dancer level, age, socioeconomic status, race, etc. – aside and simply reach out to others because we are people.

I began this by initiating conversations with dancers of all levels, asking about their dance experience and how they were doing in general. Soon enough, I expanded on this by making an effort to be the first to welcome newcomers at school and church. Beads of nervous sweat formed on my forehead beforehand, but I constantly reminded myself of what it was like to be disillusioned by insecurity and superficial qualities; it was now part of my mission to help people break out of this mentality. Eventually, I decided to reach out further to those outside my immediate community by creating the Active Learners program to demonstrate that traditional, superficial notions of intelligence are false. I encouraged the students to look beyond those notions by adopting a growth mindset, in which the path to improvement involves constantly finding the best strategies to improve –the same mindset I will bring to Rice.

What I especially appreciate about Rice’s culture is that from the moment freshmen set foot on campus, it’s made clear–through the enthusiastic O-Week welcome to the required Critical Dialogues on Diversity course–that Rice Owls also actively look to form deep connections with people across apparent divides. In the future, I look forward to being a part of this environment, and I hope to continue learning more about how to put superficialities aside to reach out and help others.

These essays helped our student Lisa get into both UCLA and UC Berkeley.

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. (350)

Peering through the side of the staircase, I observed my parents arguing. Their stern voices were loud, yet the exhaustion plainly marking their faces sent an even clearer message. It was the same argument they’d previously had behind the closed doors that failed to prevent their shouting from reaching my curious ears. I don’t remember what they used to argue about, but I remember how unhappy they seemed. I’ve learned that while people often forget what you said and forget what you did, they never forget how you made them feel. The things we carry as children never leave us; they shape our perspective on the world.

With this awareness of the abiding influence of childhood experiences, I took upon the challenge to make an impact on the children in my community. A chance encounter with Big Brothers and Big Sisters encouraged me to join a club at school with a similar mission. House of Tiny Treasures cares for children impacted by poverty so that their parents can focus on stabilizing their domestic and financial situations. At length, I became the Vice President of this club, through which I educated members on the psychological effects of early childhood trauma and organized virtual and in-person events for local children. The club president and I planned these events around holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day because these special occasions tend to foster memories children cherish as they grow older. Working and playing with these kids, I hope that I can make even the tiniest positive impact on their lives. If I am able to put a smile on a child’s face for even a couple of hours, while I know they probably won’t remember the arts, crafts, or singing, I hope the feeling of happiness is a memory they can treasure and take with them through life.

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? (350 words)

After overhearing a conversation between my classmates about their American Girl dolls, I set my heart on getting my own. That Christmas, I received my very own blonde, blue-eyed doll, but it was not accompanied by the sense of inner security and belonging that I had subconsciously expected and hoped for. My thick black hair, my small brown eyes, and my soft features told the room that I was different before I even had the chance to speak.

I had always known that I wasn’t like my peers, being the only Asian girl in my grade until middle school. Lacking the easy security that came through commonality, I had hoped that if I could successfully suppress enough of myself, then the rest of the world wouldn’t see my differences. Eventually, this misguided attempt transformed into a weight of otherness that chased me into high school.

At a Big Brothers Big Sisters event, my buddy Amara and I reflected on the chosen topic of self-love. As I instructed her to draw a self-portrait traced with words one might use to describe her, her eyebrows furrowed in distress. I suggested “beautiful,” but she stared at her paper and justified her stagnant pencil by pointing to her darker complexion and tightly-coiled hair. Shocked to hear such self-destructive, yet familiar comments, I urged her not to define beauty through comparison and to search for it within. As her facial expressions softened and she began to smile at me, I realized shared experiences connect people through vulnerability.

A change in perspective is sometimes all we need to conquer our demons. In my case, I realized that the feeling of being different that I had grown accustomed to was not unique to me. Amara showed me that these battles are not meant to be fought alone. With this newfound awareness, I chose to retire my American Girl doll – a symbol of resentment, shame, and suppression. As it collects dust on my bookshelf, it stands as a reminder of my battle to find my identity.

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350)

For a moment, my stressors vanished. The cool, salty breeze swept the hair away from my face. To my right, the still ocean extended to the shores of North Vancouver; to my left, cliffs enclosed the dozens of trails tread underfoot by scores of awestruck hikers. Pushing one foot in the front of the other, I made my way around Stanley Park for the third time. Looking beyond the crystal clear water, picnickers settled on the man-made beach, and the vibrant falling specks of orange and yellow, what I noticed most of all was the cleanliness; the lack of pollution allowed the beauty of the park to speak for itself. Coming from Houston, a city much too hot and busy to bother maintaining sidewalks and parks, the eco-friendly atmosphere inspired me.

As summer drew to a close and the school year began, my recent experience in Vancouver (a second home to me) motivated me to further investigate environmental sustainability here in Houston. Despite not being selected for my school’s Sustainability Committee, I searched for further opportunities beyond the classroom, and I familiarized myself with The Sierra Club. After several rounds of cold calls and emails, I was offered the position of Student Coalition Membership Chair of Houston — a role that pushed me outside my previous comfort zone of environmental sustainability and expanded my skill set to include engaging with potential recruits, socializing with fellow Houstonians at local events, managing social media sites, and communicating with other chapters across the nation. Through strengthening my networking skills, I was able to simultaneously advance my goal of creating an eco-friendly Houston.

Entering my senior year, I was finally selected to join my school’s Sustainability Committee. I tackled numerous projects such as reinstating the recycling program which had been inexplicably halted during COVID, solving the issue of city fines caused by the student body’s improper recycling, and introducing biodegradable to-go boxes and straws. Collaborating with all sectors of the school, I helped educate students about proper methods of recycling and the real impact it has on our planet.

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350)

As thousands of civilians waited on the docks of Saigon, American soldiers promising safety threw ropes over the sides of their boat. With only their four children and the clothes on their backs, my grandparents climbed up.

Welcomed with open arms by America and the Catholic Church, my family was unimaginably lucky to survive that ordeal and find refuge. I’ve increasingly grown to understand that I am a member of an international community of refugees. A generation ago, with the support of generous institutions and kind strangers, this foreign country became home. Now that my family has established itself on secure footing, I feel a moral and social obligation to use my time and resources to help other, more recent arrivals to this community. Volunteering with PAIR, I mentor middle school refugees and help them with English language acquisition and building social skills in order to foster academic success. Empowered to share my perspective,  I’ve worked with children from Cuba, Venezuela, Afghanistan, and Tanzania, learning about their resilience and courage in the face of adversity along the way. Being only a few years older than my students, I am able to curate personal and insightful relationships with them, while maintaining a position of mentorship. Whether we are tackling difficult social studies assignments or rotating between games of Uno and HedBanz, I focus on fostering a safe environment upheld by support and void of judgment.

Serving as a weekly constant for students who are still adapting to the tumult and disruption intrinsic to a cross-continental move, I aim to ease their acclimation into the US and act as their cheerleader for each milestone. As a member of a community that crosses borders, ethnicity, and time, I aspire to create a home built on empathy and support for others, just as others once did for my own family.

These are the essays which got our student Jack into MIT: 

Please tell us more about your cultural background and identity in the space below. (150)

As an Indian-American, I grew up steeped in the culture of two great nations. My family makes annual trips to India, and I’ve grown to feel equally at home in both my parents’ birth country and their adopted homeland. I love Marvel movies just as much as I adore Bollywood, have an appreciative ear for both Indian and western music, and a samosa is just as irresistible to me as Domino’s pizza.

Hinduism is another integral component of my life’s philosophy. To me, Hinduism means practicing love and kindness towards all beings, and it teaches me to appreciate the journey I’m on rather than obsessing over its outcome.

My cross-cultural upbringing has shown me there’s more that unites human beings than that which divides them. This understanding has imbued me with a deep compassion that transcends geographical, racial, and religious boundaries.

Tell us more about why this field of study at MIT appeals to you. (100 words)

I first learned about the Fibonacci sequence in a book about flowers. The idea that mathematical laws governed things as seemingly random as flower petals was perplexing to my elementary-aged mind, but a seed was planted in my mind. Computational biology is rooted in these patterns – the perfect folding and measuring of a protein, the complex code of an RNA strand – and it’s these patterns I want to decipher. At MIT, learning from great minds like Dr. Pulin Li will lead me on a path towards understanding the patterns that define our lives, harnessing computational power along with life itself.

If you think that additional information about your family will give us a more thorough impression of your background, please include it here. (optional; 250 words or fewer)

Even at age 78, my grandparents continue to practice medicine at their clinic in rural India. My grandmother, an OB-GYN, has served generations of families, and many of the children she delivered years ago have returned to her for help delivering their own children. I’ve often seen her receiving gifts of homemade sweets or homegrown vegetables in lieu of payment from poor patients facing financial adversity, and her dedication to her calling has greatly shaped my character. Her legacy of service and hard work is one my parents have perpetuated in their own journey as immigrants.

My father’s constant DIY projects around the house and his insistence that we replace our own depleted iPhone batteries or cracked screens taught me the value of self-sufficiency and perseverance. Meanwhile, my mother is just as diligent a worker – but behind the scenes. An avid reader, she spent her days helping my brothers and I with schoolwork or sharing her love of books with us, made even more valuable by the knowledge that she chose to prioritize us over her own career. Thanks to her, our kitchen is a joyful place where we bake and cook nutritious meals together.

I see every opportunity as a privilege, taking nothing for granted, whether it’s playing basketball or volunteering at the hospital. By giving every new venture my all, I hope to honor my parents’ sacrifices and embody my family’s values of selflessness and determination.

If you have or had any extenuating circumstances regarding your activities (including disruptions due to COVID-19), please tell us about them here. (optional; 150 words or fewer)

For summer 2020, I was accepted to work as a research intern at the University of Texas Health Science Center under, whose research deals with the structure and function of membrane proteins. However, UT Health canceled internships both that summer and the summer of 2021, and consequently I was unable to carry out my internship. Additionally, I’d planned to shadow a doctor in his research and clinical work at MD Anderson Cancer Center, but this, too, couldn’t happen. I also applied to attend PROMYS, a math camp, but due to the pandemic this program was canceled.

I’d planned to organize a summer camp teaching self-defense to adolescents with intellectual disabilities using my knowledge of taekwondo. While COVID upended those plans, I used this time to learn organization and fundraising skills which will help me execute it, hopefully next summer.

We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do for the pleasure of it. (250 words)

My first possession was a tiny green trowel. I guarded it jealously, once using it to dig up some soil seemingly choked with weeds. The next morning, my dismayed mother mourned the “weeds”, actually jalapeño seedlings.

I’ve always been drawn to our backyard garden. The arbor my father and I painstakingly built stands tall, shrouded by vines. Gourds longer than my forearm hang from stakes, and in their shade grow rows of ginger. A lush carpet of mint fills the air with fragrance, and basil grows side-by-side with daisies.

This paradise requires maintenance, but the time I spend with my hands submerged in soil has done more than give me a permanent farmers tan – it’s shifted my worldview, in small, impactful ways. Take the clover sprouting around my plants. Initially, each was quickly uprooted as I labored to keep the beds free of the devious weeds. But as I watched bees drone through the (admittedly, pretty) clover blossoms, I wondered if they were really so bad. The clover inevitably faded by summer, and letting nature run its course would attract pollinators and save me lots of weeding. A perfectly clear plot may look better to me, but is that really how the earth was intended to be? Gardening is my outlet for the day’s stress, and I’m okay with letting Mother Nature take the reins. In the backyard, I’m not an enforcer – I’m a caretaker, content to let the earth guide my hands, finding beauty in every leaf and weed.

At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (250 words)

Over the summer of 2019, I had the time of my life trading laughs and playing cards with campers at Camp CAMP, an organization for people with developmental disabilities. I left that summer already excited to return the next year, so when the world was forced into quarantine during summer 2020, I was initially lost, all my previous plans derailed. I felt helpless watching my extended family struggle in India, separated by half a world and a travel ban.

To combat this purposelessness, I took up tutoring, Zooming in with children of healthcare workers who were too busy to read to them. But as unfortunate as this situation was, I couldn’t help but think of a worse one: the children missing meals because they couldn’t get their free school lunch, or who didn’t own books with which to continue learning from home.

The bookshelves in my own home, piled with workbooks and fairy tales I hadn’t touched in ages, became a call to action. While difficult in a world of “six feet apart!” and widespread fear, I collected over 600 children’s books for underserved kids, and hundreds of dollars in donations for a local summer school program. Driving around with my newly-acquired license, I collected box after box of books from neighbors and friends, destined for children in need. Now, when I look at the slightly emptier bookshelf in my room, I see a reminder that somewhere, a child is reading my favorite copy of Frog & Toad, laughing and learning.

Tell us about a significant challenge you’ve faced or something that didn’t go according to plan that you feel comfortable sharing. How did you manage the situation? (250 words)

When volunteering as a counselor at Camp CAMP, a summer camp for kids with intellectual disabilities, I’d been assigned to hang out with Dan – a charismatic kid, but prone to tantrums. One day, as we stood near the woods playing catch, the ball bounced off course and Dan bolted after it into the trees.

I followed, calling for him to stop. We’d soon gone so far into the forest that the path was beginning to fade. Dan finally slowed, plopped down in the dirt, and refused to move. I had no idea what to do. Why didn’t they cover this in the training sessions???

Mind racing, I found myself with nothing left to do but sit quietly with Dan until he felt so inclined to get up. Suddenly, a particular flower caught his eye, and as he ambled over to investigate, I saw my chance. I gestured towards a colorful bird, smooth stones, a perfectly climbable rock, and as he explored each one, we began inching towards camp.

We trudged into the cafeteria just in time for dinner, and as I helped him load his plate, a sense of accomplishment drowned out my exhaustion. I was proud of Dan for working with me, and proud of myself for keeping calm. I often can’t control my situation or people around me, but I can control myself. I can choose to trust in myself, think creatively to get out of any forest, and this self-confidence is essential for leaders in any situation.

Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (250 words)

Growing up in Houston, I loved spending my days exploring museums, theaters, or the Marshall Space Center learning about van Gogh and Moon missions, and this curiosity found a perfect outlet in the Montessori schools I attended for ten years. Excursions to courtrooms and marine science institutes fostered my love of adventure, and in the classroom I learned long division from materials like the “racks and tubes”. The emphasis on unstructured work meant I was rarely given detailed directives, so I quickly became a self-guided learner, taking initiative and setting goals independently. I applied these principles outside the classroom, too, beginning my service journey by volunteering at local preschools.

As my love of science and math grew, I became aware of another Houston landmark: the Texas Medical Center. The largest medical complex in the world, it’s a symbol of Houston’s spirit of discovery and collaboration. In 2018, TMC scientist James Allison won the Nobel in medicine just as I was exploring biology as a freshman, and it drove me to immerse myself in the sciences, something I achieved by interning at TMC.

There, I saw posters for medical conferences alongside flyers advertising makeup classes for cancer survivors and meditation coaches for patients. I learned that good hospitals exceed science, standing at the intersection of social work and medical innovation. I hope to apply such an approach to combat intellectual disabilities, a journey I can begin at MIT learning from great minds like those behind the Genetic Neuroengineering Group at McGovern.

Here are the essays which helped our student Beth get into the University of Pennsylvania to study Computer Science: 

Considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected, how will you explore your academic and intellectual interests at the University of Pennsylvania?  For students applying to the coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer these questions in regard to your single-degree school choice; your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essay. (300-450 words)

The Penn Computer Science curriculum provides students with an in-depth theoretical foundation and critical thinking skills. As someone who’s passionate about solving problems regarding mental health, law enforcement, and biases in technology, I can clearly envision leveraging Penn’s resources to combat these issues.

I have found that the quickest way to accelerate my critical thinking skills is to directly dive into a hands-on project. My experience at an AI4ALL summer camp was a perfect example of this. We worked on a disaster relief project using NLP to analyze geotagged tweets in the aftermath of natural disasters and flag those which called for urgent help. Rather than being daunted by the enormity of the intellectual and technical challenges inherent to such projects, I came to class every day practically giddy at the prospect of tackling problem after problem. Do we use a supervised or unsupervised ML algorithm? How do we input the tweets? Which data structure would be best to store them?

There is no better way to get involved with a meaningful project in a hands-on setting than during a hackathon. Pennapps is one of the world’s premier platforms to rapidly ideate, collaborate, and implement solutions. I’d like to be both a participant and leader at Pennapps to inspire others to innovate in the same way that AI4ALL inspired me to use computer science to create change.

AI4ALL also kickstarted my interest in data ethics, privacy, and fairness in algorithms. One issue that stood out to me was the lack of data regulation, which led to wrongful arrests of marginalized groups through facial recognition software. To combat this, I worked with a data privacy and ethics group to research facial recognition legislation, worked with expert lawmakers to advocate regulating/banning this technology, and filed FOIA requests at various police departments to gain insight into exactly how this technology was being used. With our comprehensive research, we wrote a paper outlining the issues we discovered and their possible solutions, and also hosted a nationwide webinar to educate others.

At Penn, I want to explore research opportunities in the Algorithmic Fairness and Data Privacy sector at the Warren Center for Network and Data Science to develop technology that reflects the morals and values of society. Sebastian Angel is one of the professors leading this charge with his work at the Security Research Laboratory. I’d love to work with him to understand the ways that biases permeate algorithms and potential solutions.

With a CSCI degree and a concentration in AI, I hope to be a driver for the future of ethical AI, contribute to impactful technological advancements, and ensure the creation of equitable and fair solutions for all.

At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classrooms, too. How will you explore the community at Penn? Consider how this community will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape this community. (150-200 words)

Ad libbing motivational speeches before every tennis match and screaming myself hoarse in support of my teammates has taught me the value of community. As a member of the varsity tennis team and founder of badminton club, my goal has been to create environments where teammates are able to be their authentic selves. I will continue building resilient, inclusive communities in which people can build meaningful relationships and express themselves at Penn by joining club tennis, club ping pong, and badminton.

I could have used more of this community spirit while learning computer science; as the only girl in every CS class I’ve taken and one of the very few women participating in hackathons, I’ve experienced the difficulty of feeling welcome and secure in environments that seem aloof at best and hostile at worst. As president of the Girls Who Code club, I’ve offered dozens of girls exposure to the field. Recognizing that representation helps people find role models and empowers them to imagine various future selves, I’ve hosted weekly discussions with and about women leaders in CS. At Penn, I’d like to join the Society of Women Engineers to continue working to close the gender gap, which hinders innovation and stifles self-actualization.

Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with.

Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.

Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand.

In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.

As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.
Arda E.
I used Ivy Scholars to mainly help me with college applications. Within weeks of using this service, Sasha was able to simplify the already complex process. When it came to writing the Common App essay, Sasha didn’t just help with grammar and syntax, he brought my essays to life. Sasha also worked tirelessly to help solidify my extracurricular activities, including research and internship opportunities. Without his help, I would have never had an impressive resume.

Sasha is not only an extremely knowledgeable tutor, but also a genuine brother figure. His guidance, throughout my last two years of high school, was everything I needed to get me an acceptance letter from my dream schools (UC Berkeley, Tufts, Emory).

When it came to testing, Ivy Scholars worked like a charm. Sasha offered a very comprehensive plan when it came to completely acing my standardized tests. Without his test taking strategies I would have never gotten straight 5s on my AP tests and a 35 on the ACT.

Working with Sasha, I didn’t just become a good student, I became a genuine scholar.
Samson S.
We worked with Ivy Scholars during my son's senior year. I was concerned that we may be too late to take advantage of college advising but the Ivy Scholars team quickly and confidently directed us through the steps to ensure no deadlines were missed. Sasha's knowledge about schools, what they looked for in candidates, and how to maneuver the application process was invaluable. Mateo and Ryan worked with my son to help him create an essay that would get noticed and I am so appreciative he had their guidance.

Prior to securing Ivy Scholars, we tried using a less-expensive online service which was a terrible experience. As a parent, Ivy Scholars brought peace of mind to an area that was frankly overwhelming. This service was invaluable in the knowledge that we gained throughout the process. He has also met with my freshman daughter to provide guidance for her high school courses, career paths, extracurricular activities, and more.

Prior to signing with Ivy Scholars, I tried a less expensive online service and was very disappointed.

As a result of our work with Ivy Scholars, I am pleased to say that my son will be attending Stern Business School at New York University this fall! I highly recommend Ivy Scholars. Highly recommend!