How to Get Into Harvard: My Admissions Journey
Get the inside scoop from Admissions Expert Maria on her journey to Harvard.
2022-01-05 How to Get into Harvard: My Admissions Journey
[00:00:00] hi everyone. Welcome to CollegeAdvisor’s webinar titled how to get into Harvard, my admissions journey, uh, to orient everyone with a webinar timing, we’ll start off with a presentation and then answer your questions in a live Q and A, um, the sidebar. You can download our slides and you can start submitting questions in the Q and A tab.
Now let’s meet our panelists.
Hi everyone. My name is Maria Acosta and I’m a Harvard class of 2020 grad. Uh, I studied sociology and health policy and was also pre-med throughout that time. And I’m really excited to talk to you guys a little bit more about, um, my journey. And getting [00:01:00] the, my admissions journey to Harvard and also answer any questions you might have, um, at the end of this webinar.
All right. So, uh, we are now at our first poll of the night, which is what grade are you in? Uh, so we’ll go ahead and start collecting responses for that question at this time. Uh,
so please go ahead and submit it. Maybe. What, uh, what was your favorite course at Harvard or one of your favorite courses at Harvard? Yeah. I’m sorry about that. You went out a little bit. Can you repeat that question? Yes. Sure. Uh, can you tell us what was maybe one of your favorite courses at Harvard? Sure.
So I think probably I have two favorite courses. One of them was, uh, medical, ethics, and history. Um, I took that one my freshman year and really. Um, and then I took another one that was, uh, anatomy and physiology. Um, both really pre-med, but I think there were, um, what I really enjoyed was the professors really got a [00:02:00] chance to like, talk more about kind of, um, just like different multi multi-disciplinary perspectives on them.
So instead of just talking about like the history of, of, um, of like medicine and science, like they were also able to talk a little bit more about like the ethics and different like events that happened. And then for anatomy and physiology also, they got a chance to, um, talk a little bit more about like other factors outside of just like memorizing kind of like systems and things like that.
So I really enjoyed those two classes. All right. Thank you for sharing that, Maria. Um, so, uh, the responses have rolled in, so we have 6% of you are an eighth grade, another 6% of ninth grade, 24%. Um, uh, in 10th grade, 52% in 11th grade, uh, 9% in 12th grade and 3% in other. So, uh, it looks like majority of you fall within 10th and 11th grade.
So, uh, but we still welcome everyone to the seasonings webinar. Uh, hopefully we you’ll get a lot out of it.[00:03:00]
Great. So, um, I think one of the first questions here is just, um, talking a little bit more about like, when I even started thinking about college admissions, um, I think, uh, like the poll showed there’s a lot of you have different grades, different ages, different, um, steps on the journey to college. And so I just started out as early as possible.
Like the first time I even thought about it, which is middle school. Um, and the only thing I thought about in college is like, well, I really want to be a doctor. And I guess, like, I, I means like I should go to college and then I should go to medical school. And so, um, I thought about, um, you know, like what would it mean to actually go to college?
What was the track? I thought more about a career than I did, like, oh, I just want to go to college. So I was like, okay, these are the steps to get to like where I want to be. Um, that may resonate with some of you. Um, some of you might not know at all, like what career you want to go into or like different jobs that you’re thinking about in the future.
So college was also just like a thought, like, even if I [00:04:00] don’t end up being a doctor, like I will learn something that can lead me to like a better career in college. Um, so that’s kind of like the first very like elementary thought I had. Um, and then when I really started solidifying, like, you know, what does college mean?
How do I actually get there? Um, was in high school. So I started getting like advertisements. I don’t know if some of you already in high school I’ve been getting just like random, just again, kind of ads. It’s not really, if you haven’t gotten those, like, that’s, that doesn’t mean anything. It just means like colleges like know like the addresses of some like different neighborhoods and we’ll send out publicity pretty much.
It has nothing to do with like admissions or anything. But that’s like, when I first started realizing like, okay, like colleges are trying to advertise their programs, their, um, their schools. Um, and then sophomore year, I actually, um, went to a couple of college fairs and started getting a better idea of like, okay, so what do I need to do in high school to prepare, um, what are the different programs the different schools are offering?
Um, and then [00:05:00] I also applied to a dual enrollment program. So for those of you who might not know what that is, um, some schools and community colleges will allow high school students to take classes at the college for free. And so usually have to like do a. Uh, test before you, uh, you are able to enroll and, um, it’s like in, like they compliment your high school credits.
It’s not like you’re just switching out and only doing college classes. It’s in addition to your high school classes, you can also take college classes. Um, so I applied to a dual enrollment program that was a high school in of itself. It’s called school for advanced studies. And, um, that meant I did college in the morning and then I had my high school afternoon classes.
And so with that in mind, like I just started like getting a better understanding of, okay. So like college classes really different from some of my high school classes and like expectations managing, like also just like, um, how to like talk to professors, how to do the coursework in college versus high school.
And then, um, I [00:06:00] started actually, um, thinking about like how to prep for applications my junior year. So that meant, um, I started reading more books about like, what is the sat I had never heard of the sat. And so like, I like started doing some research about that. I started, um, my high school offered like a prep program.
It was more like not someone teaching you or anything, but it was like online. Like you can take a lot of like practice sections. And so that was my prep. I did a lot of just, I didn’t, I never took any classes or anything for sat or act, but I just did, I would read through like, I don’t know, maybe like a couple of sections a week of just, um, the type of questions that were asked and then practice a lot of them.
Um, and so that’s how I was studying for sat act. And then also researching schools. So many of you probably with your advisors, especially if you’re in 11th grade, possibly, if you’re in 10th, um, have already started researching what schools you might want to apply. And, um, that’s definitely what I was doing my junior year.
And then, um, something that a lot of [00:07:00] seniors sometimes leave for their senior year is, um, asking for letters of recommendation. Um, but I knew a lot of like the professors or the teachers that I was going to ask probably were going to have a lot of, uh, like other seniors ask them. So I started like, just hinting, like, you know, if I, um, got a chance to like ask a little bit early about, you know, would you want to meet you to like, talk a little bit more about like my goals while the things like I’ve done well in your classes and like start getting the idea of like, Hey, like this is, um, a class I really enjoyed your teacher that I think could really talk about like my academic and like, just like personal like strengths.
Um, and so that’s how I started building, um, kind of relationships with teachers so that they could write letters of recommendation. So that’s kind of how I practice. And then that culminated in like my senior year actually, Like, you know, applying and going through the process. So that’s kind of the timeline of how I thought about college admissions.
Um, and then what factors were the most [00:08:00] important to me in the college application process? So I think definitely for me was financial aid. Um, I like really needed a full financial aid. And so I think in my mind it was, I was either going to a local school where I could live at home and have like a lot less expenses and, um, would probably get more of like NC tuition.
Um, or I was going to go to a college that provided really like generous financial aid. Um, the second thing is I really wanted a liberal arts education. Um, I knew that I wanted to study medicine, but I wanted a little bit more of just freedom and like leeway to study other things that I was passionate about.
So that included like what I ended up majoring in, which is like sociology, it got to study a lot of. Different cultures, different social movements, um, even like health policy and like global policy, um, global health policy. So those were all things that I knew that if I got into more of like a technical school or a program that really focused on stem, you know, I would get my premed credits [00:09:00] done, but I would kind of miss this other, like section of like passions and interests that I had.
Um, so I really cared about a liberal arts college and then location. Um, I’m from Miami, Florida. So I lived in like a city most of my life. Um, and I really wanted to live in a city again for college. Um, so I was mostly looking at some of the schools in like the Northeast, um, and like mid Atlantic. And so I, um, location was really important for me.
And then also, um, just proximity to health centers. So I knew I wanted to do research again in preparation for medical school and just to get a feel for what research would be like. So I wanted to be near like hospitals. Um, health research institutions. So I, um, I, again, like I ended up going to Harvard, which is so close to Boston and there’s so many great hospitals and health centers that I got a chance to, um, do a lot of research there.
And then, um, I think like most of you probably, if you’re watching this, you’re [00:10:00] probably really want to shoot for as high of a ranking as you, as you can. Like, I, I know ranking sometimes change from year to year, but for me it was like, you know, as long as they can give me full financial aid and it’s a liberal arts school in like a good location, I’m going to try to just shoot as high as I could.
Um, so those were like, I guess the four main categories of factors that, um, I was thinking the most about. Um, and then QuestBridge. So QuestBridge was part of, um, kind of just. Way, I was thinking about applying to college. So just to give a bit of like context about what it is, um, it’s a college admissions program for low income students.
So it’s only, you’re only eligible if your parents make a combined income of less than 65 K. And so, um, this is really geared to like again, helping, um, low-income families, um, and the pro it has two different types of programs. But the one that I particularly was a part of was the match program. So they [00:11:00] have 47 partner schools that include a lot of the IVs.
And then what I call IVF. Which is like Stanford and MIT and a lot of these schools that like have fantastic rankings, but they’re just not called like in the original Ivy league. Um, and then, uh, there’s like regular admissions as well. But in the smash program you apply really early. So usually the early admissions is like November 1st, for those of you who are doing like early action, early decision, but this was like extra early.
This was, um, an early October deadline. So almost at the beginning of your senior fall. And then you also use the common app, which is that universal application that a lot of schools use other than like a lot of the California, like UC schools. Um, and then you do a couple additional essays that are part of just the QuestBridge, um, like website and program.
So, um, that I just found out about it through my college counselor, but if this is the first time you’re hearing about it, definitely feel free to go on questbridge.org.[00:12:00]
All right. So at this time, uh, we’ll move on to the second poll of the night, which is where are you in the application process? Uh, so we’ll go ahead and start collecting those responses at this time. Um, and in the meantime, Maria, uh, just another quick question to kind of fill in the time. Um, what was one of maybe your favorite college traditions at Harvard?
Um, traditions? I really enjoyed like the formals. So there is, um, end of the year, end of the semester formal. So we had winter formal at the end of the fall semester and, um, just like different house formals at the end of the spring semester. And those were just opportunities for like, um, YouTube. It was usually like a dance party and like dinners and like just like a really nice opportunity to meet a lot of the community and to like dress up and have fun for like an evening.
So I think that was probably one of my favorite traditions. Thank you. Um, all [00:13:00] right. So some of the responses have started to come in. So a 22% of you, um, so you have not started yet, uh, 46% of you are currently researching schools. Uh, 15% say that they’re working on essays. Uh, 9% of you say that you’re getting your application materials together and 7% are almost done.
So a wide range of answers there. Um, all right. And what can go ahead and continue on. Great. Thank you. It seems like, yeah, there is a wide range, a wide range of, um, people in different like, uh, steps on your way to, uh, finishing your application. So I hope that this is, this has been and will continue to be helpful, um, regardless of what stage you’re in right now.
Um, so my application strategy was like I mentioned on applying to QuestBridge early. So that was that, um, I so applied end of September, I started, um, so the early October kind of like deadline was [00:14:00] more like to get in, um, a lot of like the, like the actual QuestBridge application, but I submitted like my common app applications early.
Cause you would do those hand in hand. So I applied to the, on the QuestBridge, um, app September late, September, early October. Um, and then I had to confirm, um, like what that meant was I had to confirm teacher recommendations junior year. Um, because again, it was so early in the senior fall semester that I didn’t want to risk.
Um, you know, other teachers like not being able to, or not like not having really thought about what they wanted to write. So I had asked junior year and then I bumped that ass the first week of school, just so that they had it on their radar. I think a lot of students kind of think that like their teachers will just be like readily available to write a teacher recommendation, um, right off the bat.
But I think that’s something you definitely have to work towards. Uh, kind of build that relationship if you don’t want like a generic letter, that’s writing for a lot of people. Um, so [00:15:00] I did that the first week of school, and then I also had to start like writing the essays in the summer. Um, because again, if I wanted to make it for that early fall deadline, I knew I had to start getting some of those early.
And so the common app, uh, like the personal statement, the big one that goes to like every school, um, that like all the prompts are already out. Like they don’t really change year to year. And so I already knew that. And so I was writing it during the summer. I also on new, like QuestBridge, like I already knew like the crossbridge, um, like essay questions as well, or like some of them at least.
And then, um, although school sometimes do change the essays from year to year, it’s usually the same, or like a variation of the ones that they have the previous year. And so again, I had a chance to look over, um, I didn’t write like full essays for those schools, but I was starting to make outlines. Um, a lot of, I guess like the strategy was like, front-loading a lot of the work.
Um, and then I also confirmed my safety and likely school [00:16:00] applications, which like I mentioned where, um, a lot of the local schools, because they provided the best financial aid for me, unless I went to like, again, one of the, the schools that had like large endowments and could pay for like a large percentage of my financial aid.
Um, so I found out that I was a finalist for QuestBridge in October, um, which was like a big relief. And then I matched with Princeton on December 1st. So again, that was a big relief in that I knew like where I was going, like where I thought I was going by December 1st. Um, so I had a school, um, and then I decided, okay, like Princeton’s a good school.
I really like it. I loved the program. I would only apply to schools. I for myself would have one to go more, not necessarily because of ranking or anything, but I, for example, like standard. I, um, for my knee and like very coastal, I like that, you know, Stanford is also great. Education may be a place that I felt a little bit closer to like my home environment, hope culture.
Um, and then with Harvard, I like the [00:17:00] city and just like the opportunity, especially in such like a big academic and medical hub, um, that Boston is, um, like the surrounding area of Harvard, um, another big job. So I applied to those two schools, regular decision, and then found out I’d been to Harvard, uh, admitted to Harvard in February through like a really early letter that was later confirmed on like in mid March, which is usually when they come out.
Um, and then, yeah, so that was kind of like my journey of, you know, from applying to early, early on early senior fall to pretty much mid senior spring. Um, and then what aspects of my application do I think were the most successful. So I think the essays were really the defining factor. Um, I like no students who went to Harvard who had like much lower grades and like stats in me who got in.
And then I knew people who didn’t get into Harvard who had much higher stats, much higher, like GPA and much higher, like [00:18:00] sat and whatnot. So I think one of the biggest factors was like being able to differentiate myself through the essays, talking a little bit more about like, okay, like what would I bring to the campus that maybe other students wouldn’t, um, how would I be able to contribute and how would I be able to like help foster, um, like an environment of creativity and like academic research, um, and a lot of the things that like harbored by.
So I really tried to highlight that as much as possible in my essays. Um, then the other thing is I think that asking my teachers early was a really great move in. Like they got a chance to know that, you know, well, one, I got them confirmed, so it wasn’t just like, I was looking for a random professor who was still open.
I like knew exactly who I wanted to ask and like what they would be able to talk about in their letters. Um, like I knew my, like, math teacher had seen me, like through two years straight and had like, seen me both, like, you know, in like an academic capacity. And then like also like helping [00:19:00] out peers and like, especially before AP exams, like doing different like sessions where she like, could talk about like my personal character in and outside of the classroom.
So I think giving the space early on to be like, okay, who do I really need? To write my recommendations and then giving them the space and giving them materials. Like, I would actually like print out, like, Hey, this is like my resume. If something of that like about this, like resonates with you, like, feel free to like, write about it.
But like, if you put yourself in the shoes of a teacher, they have to do that for a lot of students. So the more material of like, Hey, these are things you can talk about in like your own experience. Um, that’s like really helpful. So I think that was a big factor. Um, and then the QuestBridge application, um, I think just being able to like secure a really great school, like Princeton early on was super helpful because it helped me to, um, just not be as stressed out as I was writing essays for like Harvard and Stanford.
Um, some of you who might have just finished the Stanford essays, like there’s a lot of essays, [00:20:00] small and like large essays. And so, um, it helped me to like have looser to feel, not as stressed out about having to like write them, um, And then obviously, like this always helps just like trying to get like strong grades and test scores, um, and just a deep engagement in your extracurriculars.
Like it doesn’t, it’s not about like doing all the extracurriculars, like being a leader in everything, but just showing deep engagement, regardless of like what role or type of extracurricular you’re doing. Um, so I think those were some of the things that were really helpful for me. Um, and then more generally, uh, what do you think makes for a successful Harvard application?
So again, I just spoke a little bit about like my own personal experience and like what I felt like was strong in my obligation. I think a lot of that also translates to just generally, like what helps in Harvard application. I know, um, like they really value like a genuine description of your passions and interests.
Like if you think about it, like the people applying a [00:21:00] lot of the people applying to Harvard, like at some point were like professional athletes. Like I knew a girl who actually was like a professional athlete. Had been on like a national team, other people who had been like in world, like competitions, internet, like you can just think of like the amazing, like, crazy, like things that people have done who are applying to this school.
And so it’s not that they’re not impressed by like these really great accomplishments, but they also care about like the person and like who they’re bringing into the community. So they want someone who like, yes, like, it’s fantastic. If you have great successes in your passions, like whether academic or extracurricular, but as long as you’re able to like genuinely talk about like how much you enjoy them instead of like, you know, just being driven for like success, just for the purpose of like success instead of because it’s an actual passion.
Um, I think that’s something that was really valued in the community. Um, A lot of that sometimes showed in like the openness in your essays. Um, so being willing to like talk about, again, those passions and interests, but also like a bit about your background [00:22:00] and your identity, because again, trying Harvard places, a big focus on just like diversity.
And so if you’re able to talk about your background and your identity a little bit more, they can place like, oh, you know, like this person will be able to like, you know, bring different perspectives into the community. So being able to talk about that is really important. Um, thoughtful recommendations.
Again, you can talk a lot about like yourself in your essays and like in the way you describe your activities, but it also speaks, um, a lot, like if you have somebody who can back that up and who can speak really well about you, um, again, both in an academic and an out of classroom, And then like strong scores.
Like I mentioned before, there’s no need for perfection. There’s people, who’ve got much higher scores than me who didn’t get into Harvard and people who scored much less than me, who, who did get into Harvard. And so it’s, this is not to say like psych off in your like, academic, like stats, but it doesn’t mean like, Hey, like strive [00:23:00] for the best you can do.
And like, make sure that that is shown in both your academic, like scores as well as like the way you write your essays, the way you approach, even small things like writing descriptions of your activities. Like all of those little things, like matter. Um, uh, so like up until now, I’ve been talking a little bit about like how I heard about.
College, like what my journey was, what my application strategy was. Um, now we’ll talk a little bit about just like my experience. So, as I mentioned, I graduated in 2020, which means, um, I was one of those, um, lucky, uh, seniors in 2020, who didn’t quite get to finish school, um, in person I had to finish it virtually.
And so, um, definitely like was more of like a 3.5 years instead of the full four. But I would say those were some of the best, like years that I’ve experienced. Um, if you think about it, especially like a residential college, like Harvard, um, it was living with your closest friends. Like I was able to, um, [00:24:00] just like talk with my friends all the time.
Like we would talk about like what was going on in our classes and what we were thinking about like just our different passions and interests. Some of us studied like economics, others, medicine, others, political science, and being able to talk about like, Uh, world events and like thoughts that we had in our classes and things we were learning was in itself, just a fantastic education.
Um, I think part of that is because Harvard was selecting for students who like would enjoy that type of environment. Like obviously there was a lot of other social, like events and things you could do, but all in all, it was people who like were genuinely passionate and like interested in learning new things and like talking about them.
So it was really great to, um, just be surrounded by a lot of people that way. Um, and then, um, yeah, the classes were also really fascinating. Um, I think they’re probably the hardest classes I’ve had ever, even though like, um, maybe in high school you’re experiencing like a really high [00:25:00] course load and you’re taking a lot of maybe APS or like classes that just feel like it’s a lot.
Um, and with like Harvard, it was like, okay, all of a sudden, instead of like eight classes, I have four classes, but those four classes were really intense. Like I was reading. It wasn’t just, you know, you do your busy work, you read your textbook it’s you actually get assigned a lot of like research papers and you get really, like you get asked to like, do a lot of analytical thinking on you, topics that you might have never heard before.
Um, so it was both like hard, but also really fascinating. Um, and again, just have to like rethink the way that I learned. I think in high school it was just like, I need to check everything off. Right. I need to get like my homework in. I need to study for my test. I need to study for the set. It was a lot of check marks.
Um, whereas in college I felt like, yes, like I had to make sure I had like things that I finished on time, but it was a lot more about like, am I actually like really internalizing what I’m reading? Like, am I able to make connections to like other things happening in like [00:26:00] maybe lots of previous chapters before in the like, or like previous units in the same class?
Right. So it’s more about, especially at Harvard, there was a big focus on analytical things. And being able to connect things that you were learning with, things that you’ve learned before. Um, so again, just a totally different way of learning. And then that also translated to like, test taking, like I had no, like over my entire like college experience at Harvard, I did have a single multiple choice or like fill in the, like, like a scan-tron or anything like that.
It was all about even in like my classes where it was like math, where you expect to bubble in an answer or something like that, that’s like very clear. You still had to like, explain like why you came to this answer or like, it was a lot of like, um, things you were learning, but they, the questions you were asked were in.
A word problem, where you had to understand, okay, what’s the situation and how can I apply the technical knowledge I learned in this class to answer [00:27:00] that question. So again, very focused on problem solving, analytical thinking. Um, so that was academics. Um, and then for extracurriculars, I think I, I had some of the most amazing like extracurricular experiences.
Um, I joined like an outing club where like we would go hiking and like I went ice climbing and, um, just had really great opportunities to travel a little bit and be in the outdoors. Um, also like had joined like a Harvard yearbook, which again, exposed me to just, um, getting to know more about the university, getting to know more about the students and just, um, yeah, just really great opportunities and whatever passion, like whatever, like field or think you’re passionate about or interests that you have.
Like, I’m sure you’ll find an extracurricular. And if not, like there’s always opportunities to like create a club. If there’s something in that like. They wanting to do. And there’s other like minded students, um, really great research opportunities. I, um, got a chance to do research [00:28:00] at like three different hospitals and just started feeling my way for like, okay, like what are the things I enjoy in medicine?
What are the things I don’t want to study? What are the things like? Um, kind of the skill sets that I want to build. And I think, for example, I realized I don’t want to be pipetting. So like, for those of you who are maybe, um, not so creative with like medical, like research, like some of it is a lot in like the wet lab.
So, you know, you have your like working with different liquids and fluids and whatnot. That’s a very different type of research than if I’m like helping run a clinical study. And I’m looking more at like, you know, analyzing data. Harvard part of the college Harvard experience was also figuring out, okay, it’s not just about research.
It’s like, what type of research do I want to do? How can I get connected with different labs in the area? Um, so that was another big part of my college experience. Um, and then, uh, outings here also, like I said, like I joined like an outing club, which was a lot of like the nature and like going out, um, [00:29:00] into like, again more like hiking and stuff like that.
But there’s also a lot of like other outings in like the city. So, um, getting to watch like the red Sox play like that was, uh, or getting to watch like the Celtics play basketball. It was all opportunities to get involved with like the city community, um, that I really enjoyed. Um, and then I’ve been saying like Boston, which is the surrounding area, but Harvard is technically in a city called Cambridge, which is also like a really wonderful city.
Um, and so I, uh, yeah, in a nutshell, the academics, the friends, and just the different ways of thinking that I got exposed to at Harvard. For a fantastic college experience.
Um, and so some last advice that I would give to students who want to get into Harvard is to just really take the time to research the programs of study and the life at Harvard. And then you can, you can really do that by like going on the website and like checking out different, like majors, what we call it, Harvard concentrations or minors, which is what we [00:30:00] call secondary.
So it’s just two different terms, but at the still main, major and minor, and, um, actually check out like, is this a program of study that like you are interested in? Um, there’s so many fantastic schools and like, obviously like Harvard is like a really great school, great like very obvious name, but like being really real about like, is this the topic that I’m really interested in?
Is this the type of. For example, you might be really interested in like physics, for example, but maybe a Harvard you’d learn a lot of like skills, but also like a little bit more of like the theoretical skills, maybe there’s other schools where you have more applied opportunities to like put those skills into action right down the road.
Like also am I that’s like MIT, right? So it’s just thinking about what are the offerings at Harvard and does that really align and fit with like what I want to do? And then, um, speaking with, uh, students, uh, so if you were to like email the, the, the admissions office, like there’s, there’s tons of students that work at the admissions office, not as admissions officers, [00:31:00] but as people like who are sometimes like answering emails, doing admin, running some of the programs.
And so there’s always opportunities to speak to a current student and actually ask them, like, how did you enjoy, like being at Harvard and getting a chance to like genuinely have data instead of just being like, you know, this is a great school. Why not getting the data for, is this the right fit for me?
Um, and then the second thing I’ve kind of alluded to the whole way through is just starting your applications early, um, starting like studying for your standardized tests your junior year, and hopefully taking them like junior spring. Um, just because it frees up some of your senior fall, like you’re writing so many essays and, you know, you’re still taking classes, lots of things can happen.
And so something that was really helpful for me was I got all of the standardized tests out of the way junior spring so that I didn’t have to worry about them anymore. Um, and then, um, finishing my personal essay in the summer, again, freed up a lot of my senior fall, um, and then doing the outlines for the [00:32:00] supplements also by the end of summer early fall, and then giving yourself, and I do this, like, even like when I was at Harvard, I do this, not like with my job, giving myself like soft deadlines.
So I know what the hard deadline is, which is what, like either the school was telling me or like my teachers are telling me, or like my boss and then like putting the softer deadlines before that, so that I have time. Get it done and then like take a break and we’ll over a little bit like noodle with like, does this make sense?
Are there things I haven’t added and have a week to really edit it? Um, even after, so you should be doing several rounds of editing before you get to a point where like, okay, I would turn this in, but what I would do is like, get to that point and still take a whole week to be like, okay, let me just take a really clean break and go over it one more time.
Um, so giving myself soft deadlines for that. Um, and then, uh, the third thing would be to just check the logistical side of the application. So it’s not just about like, you know, writing your [00:33:00] essays and getting your teacher racks, like submitting your common app is like making sure everything in like all the little like categories.
If you’ve gotten a chance to go into the common app, like all the tabs have that green check mark. And if they don’t all have the green check mark, you can turn it in. Really being thorough about how they completed everything for the schools. I want to turn this in for that includes, um, you know, the essays, your activities, whatnot.
Um, also making sure your teachers you’ve sent your teacher recommendations, which they will, the teacher will get a link to send it to the school, through the common app, but you have to invite your teachers to do that. So that’s something you would have to do on your application. And so like making sure you actually invite them, that’s a big one.
Um, doing your standardized tests and also sending your scores from act or from the college board sat, making sure you actually like pay to like send them over to your schools. Like it’s not enough to just write it in your common app. You actually have to go through the act and college board websites [00:34:00] to send that.
Um, I got, like I said, all of the sections of the common app filled out and then another thing, sometimes people miss is like the payment method. You know, if you’re on free and reduced lunch or you have some like financial aid waiver, you don’t have to do that. But for those of you who. Don’t you would have to put payment, like your payment method.
And I actually had a friend who like, for whatever reason, like his credit card, was it, his debit card was in passing, like something was wrong with his card and he did it on the last day and wasn’t able to turn it in. And so just making sure like your payment method is yet another stuff to make sure, like, you don’t want to get stuck on those like little logistical hurdles, um, and then being authentic in your applications.
Um, I’ve mentioned like that throughout, like just being very genuine about what you are interested in and like what you care about. Um, and lastly, just taking intentional moments during your application process to just refresh your perspective, like you above being like a student or a college applicants are like a fanatic, like person, [00:35:00] individual who has lots of different like responsibilities to steward.
One of which is being like a student and applying to college if you’re here at this webinar. But, uh, again, just putting it all into practice. Um, so yeah, that’s um, this last light here. All right. Awesome. Uh, well that, uh, that is the end of the presentation part of the webinar. And I hope everyone found this information helpful.
I remember that you can download the slides from the link in the handouts tab. Uh, so now we’re moving on to the live Q and a, uh, I’ll read through the questions you submitted in the Q and a tab, paste them into the public chat so that everyone can see and then read them aloud so that our panelists can give you an answer.
And then as a heads up, if your Q and a tab, isn’t letting you submit questions, uh, just double check that you joined the webinar through the custom link in your email and not from the webinar landing page. All right. Uh, let’s go ahead and get started. So I’ve already started [00:36:00] putting some questions into the public chat, uh, and so we’ll do.
Go through it in chronological order. Um, so the first question for you, Maria, is what’s the pre-med tracks that is stressful. Um, I think the pre-med track includes a lot of courses that are like naturally difficult. Like I’m naturally like a little bit intense to, for example, a lot of like the chemistry, the biologies, like, um, they often have like a lot of like homework and a lot of like tests and things that you have to be like on top of.
Um, and so it was in that sense, it was a little bit stressful of like, there’s just a lot of things to do for those types of classes. Um, some students to the pre-med track is a truck that you can be on regardless of what major you do. So like you can study music and still do your pre-med requirements.
So all you have to do in school. It’s not like you’re graduating with a degree that says like, pre-med necessarily. Like you are doing a degree in something and then taking the classes that you [00:37:00] need in order to apply to medical school. And so if you do that, and then you also maybe do like another really intensive class in the same, uh, you do a really intensive major, such as let’s say, you’re doing physics, and then you’re taking a lot of like your pre-med requirements.
You know, you might be having a lot of stem classes at once, which can be really overwhelming. And so for me, it was a little bit less stressful because I had, um, I studied sociology and health policy, which was a lot more like writing. And so I used two different like strategies of like, there’s some I’m studying for my tests for like my, um, my stem classes.
And then I’m also like being able to like break up some of that time by like writing essays, um, doing a lot of readings for my other classes. And so in that way, I helped to like mitigate the stress a little bit more. Um, but in general, like the fact that you’re having specific requirements. Medical school and that include like research and like shadowing hours.
Like that could be [00:38:00] stressful.
Uh, the next question for you is how did you prepare for the sat? Yeah, so as I mentioned, um, there’s lots of different ways to do that. Like some people pay for classes, some people, um, just like read books. I think the best way that I did it was I just, I didn’t really read books or like took a class. I just kept on doing a lot of practice sessions.
So I just got really familiar with the type of questions that were being asked in the sat and act. And that wasn’t like, oh, I just like, knew the answer when the questions come up. It was like, at the beginning, like, I didn’t know, I got a lot of the answers wrong when I was doing my practice tests when I was doing practice questions.
But instead of just being like, oh, I got that right. I got that wrong. It was like, let me look at like, what’s the explanation. Cause usually when you get. In the back of like a book that had like, uh, questions or if you’re doing an online like, program that has like lots of questions, like, you’ll see why like, oh, the question was right.
Like they will actually give an explanation for why that answer [00:39:00] was. Right. So I would go through and say like, okay, let me learn the why behind this question. So that I like started learning the strategies of how to answer that type of question. And it didn’t matter if they changed the numbers or like the specific thing they were looking for.
I knew the type of question. And so it really helped with that. Perfect. Um, what,
what drew you to Harvard as a SUSAR Kayla? I think you went out a little bit. Do you mind repeating that question? Yeah, sure. Uh, what drew you to Harvard as opposed to other schools you were accepted? Yeah. So, um, I think it kind of matched the four things I was looking for. Um, first the financial aid was fantastic.
Um, they kind of have a policy of like, there is no merit based financial aid. Like if you get in that’s based on merit, but once you, once you’re accepted, they want to make sure that like, [00:40:00] you’re like not being able to pay for, for the tuition doesn’t stop you. And so they gave me a full financial aid. Um, so that was like a big thing.
Like I was definitely looking for, um, schools that had like the, the flexibility and like the resources to do that. Um, then I obviously like Harvard has like a really great ranking and that comes along with like really great professors, really great opportunities to do research with people and like take classes with a lot of like professors who are really experts in their field.
Um, that is true of a lot of universities. Um, I just knew at Harvard specifically, like there were, um, there are a lot of professors that are like that. And so, um, that definitely drew. Um, to that school, um, the proximity to Boston and also like the school isn’t in Boston, proper is in Cambridge. And so I was like, okay, it feels a little bit more like a college town it’s, um, not as hectic as a big city, like Boston, but it was right across the river from Boston.
And so, um, thinking about like [00:41:00] the type of like activities that I would do and like how I wanted to like live in a city and another big draw. Um, yeah. Um, so, um, another question for you is, would you recommend talking with admissions at the colleges you are applying to? Um, I do, but not for the sake of just like, I want to get my name out there.
Um, there will be so many students that will do that. And so it’s not like they will really, really remember like the, like every student that reaches out. I would definitely recommend reaching out if you have like a genuine question. Um, like I think one of the best things you can do is reach out and say, can I speak to a student that goes to this school?
Like, that’s really helpful for you to know, like, what does it really like? Cause you like, Harvard is a fantastic school, but I wouldn’t say that Harvard, even for the most accomplished smartest person is like the right fit for everybody. It has this specific culture. It has some things that it does really well.
Some things that other schools do [00:42:00] better. And so chatting with the student really helps you to like, get a better perspective of whether it’s the right fit for you. Alright. Um, do you choose your, your concentration before you apply? Um, you can describe, you can know down, um, like the, I think in the common app, there is a question where you can see like your intended concentration, which is.
Like they don’t hold you to that. Like a lot of colleges, like if you’re applying to this school year playing under this program of study or under this major, but with Harvard, like you don’t even have to declare your concentration until sophomore year. So I actually changed, technically I changed my concentration like three times before I actually declared my concentration.
I started with molecular and cellular biology. And then I was like, this is way too many stem classes. Like I need, I want to be able to study a little bit more. Um, and then I want to be able to study a little bit more about like other non stem related things. Like, again, culture is public policy. Um, [00:43:00] and I thought, okay, maybe like neurobiology, it gives me a little bit more flexibility because it’s still very STEMI, but it wasn’t as many requirements.
And then I was like, Nope, this also doesn’t fit what I want to do. I can take a neuro bio class, but I don’t have to like major in it. So I ended up going into sociology. And so I didn’t, that that was not something I declared. My before applying, it was definitely something I declared like a year after being in college.
All right. The next question for you are, are AP and honors classes important for a mission into an Ivy league? Um, you know, if we live in a country or if they just simply attend a school here in the U S uh, where these classes are not available, you know, are they at a disadvantage? Yeah. So what I would say is Harvard doesn’t care as much about like, oh, how many APS have you taken?
How many honors have you taken? They care about where you challenging yourself, given the, the opportunities [00:44:00] that you had at your school or in your country or in your city or in your environment? Like where you did you challenge yourself? Where were you taking within your school? Like where you’re taking the best classes that were available?
Because like, if you’re taking a ton of. Regular level classes, but you had the opportunity to take an honors or AP class at your school or in your environment like that doesn’t show the academic rigor that they’re looking for in a student. And so the answer is like, yes, yes and no. Like they care about you challenging yourself.
If that means taking more AP and honors classes, like great. If you didn’t have the opportunity, they’re not going to count it against you. But like, I think they are looking for, they don’t want you to come to Harvard and feel like, you know, I don’t like, I just I’m super lost. I never learned this. Like even, so there’s a lot of like intro level classes.
Like there’s a, there’s a lot of international students and not all, like, some are much more advanced in like the educational system here. Some didn’t have the same resources. And [00:45:00] so it just depends on. Your specific area region within your country, within your school. Um, and so they want to make sure they try to level the playing field as much as possible, but if you’re not even challenging yourself within your given environment, you’d like, you’re not showing the promise of someone who can be academically rigorous.
Alright. Um, Harvard decided to go test optional for the next few years. Uh, does that mean if, uh, even if I score high on the sat, the admission officers won’t take that into account? I think they will definitely like, I, the way that I’ve been trying to explain this, because it’s not like schools have come out and say, if you take the standardized tests, then like you have an advantage versus those that don’t like the purpose of this.
It has been a really crazy past two years for everyone on earth. And so they recognize that like, not everyone will have the same opportunities, one to take the test or two to study for that test. And so if you’re able to, you’re giving them an extra data point, [00:46:00] right? It’s like if you know, an extra data point about somebody else, like that can help you come to like a conclusion.
So it’s, it’s, uh, it opens the door for, uh, for admissions officers to say like, oh, they also did well on their sat. Right. They also did well on the act, which is always yes, helpful, but it’s not like a determining factor. Like I wouldn’t, I would focus if you have the chance to do it. It’s definitely a pro, like, I’m not trying to disincentivize anyone from doing it.
Like, definitely, especially like, if you are like, if you’re living in the city that has like test centers, like again, a lot of people in the admissions officer, like the admissions office. They know, they can like very easily on Google, like look up test centers in your city. And if they see that there’s one around, right?
Like there might, they might question like, okay, why didn’t this person take it? Um, so I would say it is best to arrive on the side of taking it because I think it will show, you know, this person [00:47:00] has an extra, like academic, like data points that we can use to see, you know, they’re academically rigorous in this area of standardized testing as well.
If you don’t have the opportunity, there’s also a section in the common app where you can explain, like, I think the question is like, is there something else you would want the school to know that you haven’t already written? So for example, maybe there’s a testing center in your area, but for whatever reasons you’re taking care of like your grandparents, like jury of the day, or like other siblings, um, other like family circumstances that didn’t allow you to take the test or study for it.
Like those are areas where you could explain it, but in the absence of those details, like you are. The admissions officer to connect the points, however they want to. So it’s best, I would say, definitely fill in that section that says like, is there anything else that you want to tell the admissions officer, if you didn’t take the test so that they know why instead of just leaving it blank and like potentially assuming that you could have taken it.
Okay. How, [00:48:00] how are the exams? What are the exams like at Harvard? Yeah. Um, so I think I alluded to this a little bit earlier on, which was, um, the focus is so much more on like, are you learning the material? Like, yes, there’s a lot of the memorization of do you know, the topic of this class and like the different things that we’re learning, but also can you problem solve?
Can you be an analytical thinker? So even like, when I thought like my calculus questions, they were not like, find like the answer to this equation or like. Um, like come to this, like unique, like, like it, it was much more okay, let me analyze the situation. So they would give me like a narrative, like a story of what was going on and it had to deduce key details.
So I had to say like, okay, so the, this is what they’re asking of me. Like, I need to find why. And so let me remember the topic of like, what equations do I need to use in what order? And then I have to problem solve based on the information that’s given [00:49:00] to me, how can I reach these inputs that I need to put into my equation?
And so it makes like having a mastery of, uh, the actual equation and knowing it and the topics and how to use it, but also how to problem solve to figure out how can, like, how can I find what I need to put into that? And so that’s an example of like math, which can sometimes be like, oh, I just need to like, you know, solve this equation.
Um, and this was like, if it was true in a stem class, even so much more in a lot of my humanities classes that with like, okay, read a lot of these papers. Now make an argument, not just proving that you’ve read the articles by like citing the articles, but also like to make a convincing argument. So again, the big focus is let’s make sure you leave Harvard with the, with the capacity to problem, solve, to think about things critically, and then use your major or intended program or your program of study to like narrow in on like knowing the content and being knowledgeable [00:50:00] about that like specific area.
All right. Um, so very quickly, uh, for those in the room who aren’t already working with us, uh, the college admissions process is overwhelming for parents and students alike. Our team of over 280 admissions experts and former admissions officers are ready to help you and your family navigate at all in one-on-one advising sessions.
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Uh, and once you’re registered for our free web platform, you can explore webinars, keep track of application deadlines, and search for summer opportunities. All right there on our web. Now back to the Q and a, um, the next question for you, Maria is, um, in what year did you start taking classes related to your [00:51:00] concentration?
Uh, and what steps are needed to major in medicine? Yeah. Um, so just a quick clarification, you never really major in medicine, you major in a specific like, um, like program study, like for example, like for me it was sociology. Other people like major in economics or business or what not, uh, medicine it’s too, if you’re intending to go to medical school, which is a whole separate, like application and process, that’s your graduate school, you do, pre-med a pre-med track, which means you’re taking classes that you need in order to apply to medical school, but you’re never majoring in medicine.
Um, there are some like universities, not Harvard, but other universities that do a mixed program where you are. Potentially like fast-tracking a lot of your undergrad classes and then you have the opportunity to start medical school early with their college as well. Like you would, their university, like you start their undergrad program and then you like transition into their medical school program.[00:52:00]
But that is not the case at Harvard. Like you were taking your full four years, um, under like studying, getting a bachelor’s in a specific concentration, not medicine. Um, and then, um, sorry, the question was, what was the original question? I kind of got stuck in the, just making sure I clarify the, the pre-med part.
Sure. It says, you know, what year did you start taking classes related to your major? And then what, you know, what steps are needed to major in medicine. Yeah. And so for your pre-med, the steps really vary, um, from medical school to medical school, in terms of like what specific classes they might. But in general, like the steps to getting there is like, usually do like a series of like chemistries, including labs, a series of biologies, including labs.
But each college also has usually like a career office or like a pre-med advisor and they walk you through like, okay, well, there’s some, I knew some [00:53:00] students who started their pre-med are in either junior year. And so they had lots of pre-med classes back-to-back-to-back, which was really hard. I didn’t start mine until my sophomore year.
I took medical release or actually I started my freshman year. It just, I didn’t take my, like really stem, like hardcore premed classes till sophomore year. I used my first year to just really explore what major I wanted to do. And so, for example, I mentioned I did, um, History, um, medical ethics and history, right?
So that was a pre-med class that counted for my pre-med requirements, but it was also, um, one of my electives for sociology. I just took you because I thought it was interesting. So I used my first year to explore what was interesting because I was naturally interested in sociology and naturally interested in medicine that ended up being a cost that counted for both my pre-med track and my major.
Um, so, um, I technically started a lot of that. My freshman year. I didn’t start to like really plan out my course of study [00:54:00] for my major and my course of study for pre-med until the beginning of my sophomore year. And the next question for you is if I have a job over the summer and won’t have time to write essays, do you think it’s better to prioritize saving money for college or, or prioritize, prepping for applications?
Um, I think that’s a really hard question. It really depends on like, what’s, um, it depends on like how much time you have during your semester to do some of your other, some of your application work, right? Like if you have, if you still have to work during the semester and on top of that, you have school and on top of that, you’re doing applications.
You might as well just do applications and like work in the summer, instead of all three in the fall semester, if for whatever reason, like, you know, your, um, like the financial situation in your household, it’s such that like, you really have to [00:55:00] work that summer and the hours don’t allow it. Like maybe there’s things that you can do to maybe like, really focus in on that, like the first half of the summer.
And then the second half of the summer focus more on applications. And so I think there are ways to strategize to try to do both. Um, I, again, Varies from person to person, which is more important for you. Like peop like some families have like a really serious, like everyone needs to be working. And like it’s, it’s not just affecting yourself, it’s affecting like your family.
And so it might for yourself be your conviction that you want to work that summer and that you will make up that time. In other ways it might be that like, no, maybe for some reason, like you’re able to, your family can front load some of that like work and whatever, like to be able to pay for college or whatnot, and you can work on your applications.
It’s really family-based. I think instead of answering the specific question of which is more important, I’ll just give things to consider as you’re making that decision. One is like, what is your family [00:56:00] situation and what it would mean for you to work versus not for some people that can be like a very serious thing to not work that summer.
Um, for others, it might just be like, oh, I might just not have the spending money I had before. Or like, I’d have to come from areas that make me like uncovered. Right. So that’s one thing to consider. Second thing to consider is the type of schools that you’re applying to. Um, if you’re applying to in-state schools, you might have better chances of like both.
If you focus on in-state schools, you might have a chance to have better financial aid, as well as like, you know, having more time to write your essays, because like you aren’t as worried about having to pay for college. So that’s another consideration. Um, another one would also be just like how much, like what course load you have in the fall semester.
Maybe you want to make your fall semester specifically like less rigorous than maybe if let’s say you’re a sophomore. Now maybe you can plan your junior year to be a lot more academically rigorous and like have your fall, your senior fall be a little [00:57:00] bit, not as intense so that you can focus more on your applications and still work in the summer.
So those are all kind of like tweaks that you can make to your situation. Um, and considerations that you can have in mind.
Okay. Um, so the next question for you is, you know, what extra curriculars, um, our, our schools like Harvard looking for. Yeah. So I don’t think they’re looking for specific extracurriculars. Oh, sorry. I think I went, I’m sorry. D did you get a chance? Did I go in and out or, um, I’m not sure. I’m not sure. So I’ll just repeat the question.
Uh, what extracurriculars are schools like Harvard looking for? Yeah. Okay. Sorry. I, um, like my computer frozen, I would just wasn’t sure if it was, it was my computer. Okay. Um, so. I don’t think that like, Harvard is not looking for a specific [00:58:00] extracurricular of like, they care more about like sports or they care more about music or they care more about like the arts, like it’s, um, they care about finding a student who is very passionate about those extracurriculars.
So like, if you’re a student athlete, like, great. Talk about that and talk about the way it’s not only like allowed you to pursue a passion, but also like allowed you to bro, as an individual person, whether that’s like discipline or like through like determination, whatever it is, like making sure you’ve built in like why the extracurricular helped you.
Um, also like they care about not so much, like how many extracurriculars you do, but like how involved you are and how much you like being a source of like change and like impact. So for example, maybe you’re doing a club. It’s very local. Like maybe you really like your big, big, big, like, um, like area of extracurriculars.
Isn’t like service and you’re serving at like, um, a nursing home close by. Maybe that’s not as [00:59:00] big as like, you know, you playing for like the national orchestra, like doing something like that. But maybe it’s like you to vote so many hours because like, you really want to be impactful in like these people’s lives and you want to serve them.
And like that is still deeply. Like, that is something like Harvard is also looking for like someone who is willing to like serve others. Take time to like, actually, um, like maybe like, again, if you are serving in that capacity, like, are you being creative about how you’re serving? Like, are you starting a new program?
He music programs at like this nursing home, are you recruiting your friends who are like musically talented or who are like good at acting or whatnot and like changing something. That’s just like volunteering at a nursing home to like, Hey. I can put on a play at the nursing home. I can bring my like friends who are musically talented and do like recitals here.
Right? So they’re looking for people who are so passionate about this, that they’re able to not just spend time there, but like actually again, be a source of change and [01:00:00] impact by using those creative ideas to help other people.
And the last question of the night, uh, for you, Maria, is can you tell us, um, and this question was posed many times in the Q and a, um, can you tell us what you wrote about in your essays that you feel sets you apart from others? Um, and then if you feel like that is maybe too, uh, too personal of a question, then just kind of give maybe your best kind of writing tips.
Yeah. Um, so I I’ve actually answered this question. We find like other webinars, but like my, um, I wrote about, um, I’m originally from Columbia and then I wrote, I wrote about like the transition from. Columbia to here and kind of feeling like I was in some ways losing my culture as I was like, also like trying to assimilate to like, like American culture and like what it meant to like, have that like cognitive dissonance of like, what is my identity?
Like in both [01:01:00] culturally in language, like, again, I had never spoken English until I had come to the U S and so it was, I wrote about the different dimensions of coming from like an immigrant household in like being in the U S and be like, okay, what are ways I can bridge these different seemingly like cultures?
And like, how does, how did those, like, growing up in Miami and being born in Columbia and also like growing up in parts of Columbia, like, how did that inform, like my passions, how did I inform, like, why I wanted to be a doctor, how I thought about different things in like life. Um, and then. So that was like my personal statement.
I structured it in the way of, um, like when, and sorry, we’re going a little bit over. So I, something that I just want to emphasize, I won’t go into details like how I wrote the essay, but, um, structuring content, moderate a lot. It’s not just the content. So I just gave you like what the content of my essay was, but I structured it in like a creative way, like for [01:02:00] some people.
And like, you have to find what your structure is for some people that’s like, if someone’s really passionate about like, like, um, literature, like using the story of their life and pulling it out as if it was like a chapter of a book and like using that as like a structure. So think about as you’re writing your essays, both what you want to say and how you want to structure essay and how you want to tell that.
So I’ll stop there. I know we’re a little bit over. Yeah, no, totally. Well that concludes our Q and a for this evening. Um, thank you so much, everyone for coming out tonight and thank you to our wonderful panelists, Maria. Um, that is the end of the webinar. Um, so we had a really great time telling you about how to get into Harvard.
Uh, here’s the rest of our January series. So please mark these dates in your calendar, uh, and we look forward to seeing you in the future and at this, uh, have a good evening. Bye everyone.