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Shaquilla - Harvard College - Class of 2016

student photo

I felt incredibly anxious because I was competing against thousands of students for only a few early action spots.

Until I came across Harvard's precollege summer program, it was not on my college radar. The program allows high school students to take Harvard courses, live on campus, and engage in college preparatory seminars. Thanks to some financial aid support, I was able to attend.

Hometown: Winder GA

High School: Public

GPA: 4.0 / 4.3 (weighted)

SAT: 1850

ACT: 30

Major: Economics

Goal: Be open minded and try new things



Harvard College (EA)Attending
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Freshman Year Update

The hardest part of starting college is getting a self-care plan. I am involved with two clubs, have an on-campus job, classes, and social time. It is so important to set aside time to reflect on your life, relax, and take care of yourself. I try to block out at least 30 minutes for a quick nap between classes to recharge. Also, academics are much harder, with three times the reading. When I need help, I visit the campus writing center and my professors during office hours. But the best thing about college is the people. It is awesome listening to all of my friends' stories and seeing the overlap of our diverse experiences. The times I have spent staying up late and talking with my friends in my dorm are the times I am definitely going to remember from college.

Sophomore Year Update

Compared to my freshman year, I am enjoying my sophomore classes more. I considered majoring in economics, but after talking to advisors and upperclassmen, I decided to concentrate on social studies. This major has a strong advising structure and allows me to take classes in economics, sociology, history, and government.

Outside of class, I am a programming chair for Harvard's largest student-run non-profit organization, the sports editor for The Harvard Independent, and a public service representative for my upperclassman house. I really enjoy all of these roles because I get to interact with students and non-students across the greater Cambridge/Boston area, and I have gotten to know the city outside of my campus. Escaping the college bubble is incredibly rewarding.

Junior Year Update

I am busier than ever with more difficult classes and leadership roles in my extracurriculars. Yet, I feel that I've hit my stride and have a better sense of what I want to get out of college.

I am still pursuing a concentration in social studies, now with a focus on representations of African-American women in the media. My biggest "up" was striking a balance between my outside interests and my schoolwork. I'm lucky because my passions (journalism and social justice) align with the material I'm learning in class, and this reciprocal relationship makes both experiences better.

Next year I will be a senior and writing my thesis—which feels a little daunting. Before I graduate, I want to do things like attend all those speakers' series I missed, eat in all 12 dining halls, and make sure I squeeze every experience I can out of Harvard.

Senior Year Update

Senior year is pumped up as the best year of college. But for me, it was the most stressful. I had a lot to balance with my extracurricular activities and my academics in addition to figuring out what I was going to do post-graduation.

Besides finishing my senior thesis, I really enjoyed my classes. My favorite was a journalism seminar I took with Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times. But my extracurriculars and volunteer work have probably been the most rewarding part of college. Not only did they teach me much, they introduced me to some of my closest friends.

After graduation, I'll be moving to Nairobi, Kenya for a year-long fellowship with Princeton in Africa. I'll be doing fund development and communications work with a non-profit organization supporting women in agricultural research.

A summer on "the Yard"

While participating in a precollege program doesn't necessarily increase one's chance of admittance, it can give you a glimpse into what you might experience as an undergraduate. Harvard seemed to offer the best of both worlds—on and off Harvard Yard. Students have the option to remain in the "Harvard Bubble" or venture out into Cambridge and Boston. These surrounding cities cater to college students and have amazing public transportation systems. Harvard also has a strong support system to help students make the transition from high school to college more easily.

Never in a million years . . .

I was a little nauseated at the idea of applying to such a selective school. I felt incredibly anxious because I was competing against thousands of students for only a few early action spots.

I never in a million years thought that I would get in. Although some schools release hints about whether or not a student got in, Harvard gave me no such indication. Then on December 15, it happened! I am especially proud because I am the first person from my county to be accepted to Harvard. I hope that I have opened doors for other students who might feel they don't stand a chance against the seemingly unattainable Ivy League.

My ups and downs

I expected my interview to be one of the most stressful parts of applying. For me, however, it was the best part. I met my interviewer at a café in Decatur. After ordering hot chocolate, we began with basic questions (GPA, standardized test scores, etc). As the interview went on, it began to feel like a conversation. I talked about the highlights of my application—my essays and extracurricular activities. Then I explained that although my test scores were low for Harvard, I earned top grades in a demanding course load that included an online AP class and a college class.

I also asked her questions about her experiences at Harvard. Hearing about her transition from a small town to Harvard was reassuring. She also described how the student body is incredibly diverse, giving me the potential to learn from people from all over the world. She made me realize that Harvard isn't on some golden pedestal but is a changing and innovative community made up of people working towards their passions. She also made me realize that Harvard isn't forbidding as it might seem. There are several programs that help students get support by connecting with each other and with faculty members.

But all was not rosy. I was a finalist for a highly competitive scholarship program that focused on government and politics. I worked extremely hard on the application and on preparing for my interview. Winning would have been a great supplement to my application. However, I wasn't selected. I was crushed and lost confidence in myself as a college applicant.

Another low point of the admissions process was being asked if I had gotten in or not. I had become "The Harvard Girl." It was stressful that so many people found out where I was applying.

What I learned

When it came to the essays, I came up with a system that really helped. I listed all of the potential topics and made a map of ideas for each one. The topic with the most ideas was the one I decided to write on. I took it step by step and continually met with my literature teacher for revisions.

I chose the topic "Describe a historical figure that has influenced you." I wrote about Queen Nefertiti. Not only renowned for her beauty, she was also a major cultural influence during her reign. I think this essay stood out because choosing her was unusual and I made connections between her life and mine. I began my essay with an anecdote about my first "encounter" with Nefertiti!

The money factor

Harvard's policies regarding aid are generous and far-reaching. Their aid is the major reason I can attend. I have also applied for several scholarships and am looking into getting a work-study job.

My advice

I am profoundly grateful for all of the help I have received to get to this point. When you apply to a college, make sure you say thank you to all of the teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and friends who stuck with you.

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