How a Magnet Student Got Into Harvard (and other tips)

Advice for College Apps (so you don’t cry during rejection season)

Standardized testing:

I was late to the standardized testing game (I took my first ACT in September of my senior year which I submitted). So I wouldn’t freak out if you haven’t achieved the scores you want by the end of junior year. But I do really encourage everyone to try and get your testing out of the way junior year; it will be a big stress reliever trust me. I fell under the test-optional trap and did not even plan on studying for these tests, but I think a big reason I got a lot of merit scholarships is because of my test scores. I feel like there is a big emphasis on taking the SAT at magnet but for me personally, I really excelled at the ACT, so I highly recommend trying the ACT if the SAT isn’t your thing. Also, I had no clue that the PSAT actually matters!!! I wish I had studied for it because if you qualify then many merit scholarships become available. For example, you can get a full tuition scholarship from Fordham if you are eligible. 



Ok so when you look up the deadline for colleges you are likely going to see the regular decision deadline but some schools have a different deadline in order to be considered for merit scholarships. This is really important to pay attention to! Schools such as Boston University and Boston College have earlier deadlines to be considered for merit aid (these are the schools I applied to but I am sure there are many more). This disparity in deadlines can also apply to honors colleges. I know for USC and Clemson you have to apply by mid-November to be considered. Definitely meet these deadlines because switching to an Honors College is a lot harder. Also, anyone that qualifies for the Pell Grant or identifies as low-income APPLY FOR QUESTBRIDGE!!! This is an amazing opportunity to get a full ride to some great public and private universities. The application just opened up, so all juniors can start applying now. And make sure you get your fee waivers!!!


Easy applications:

If you irrationally freak out about not getting into college as I did, I highly recommend applying to colleges with easy applications. Here is a list below of easy apps that my friends and I applied to:

  • Northeastern: no supplementals are required
  • All the UCs (there is one application for all California public universities)
  • Northwestern (1 why supplemental)
  • The University of Notre Dame (1 why supplemental) (rip I wish I applied here :l)
  • Wellesley (1 why supplemental)
  • Fordham and Vassar (basically the same supplemental)
  • William & Mary (1 supplemental)
  • Middlebury College (no supplementals)
  • Pace University (no supplementals unless applying for merit scholarships)
  • DePaul University (no supplementals)
  • St. Johns University (no supplementals)
  • Long Island University (no supplementals)
  • Smith College (no supplementals)
  • Agnus Scott College 
  • Loyola University Chicago
  • Clemson 
  • USC


Checking for your major: 

Ok, so a lot of people (including me) fall into the trap of picking colleges based on location. But it is important to make sure that the college offers a diverse array of majors that includes the one you want but also allows you the flexibility to change your major. If you are somewhat undecided or know that your major might change it may not be best to apply to strictly stem or liberal arts offering schools. Especially for everyone considering engineering, keep in mind that many liberal arts colleges do not offer many opportunities for engineering majors. 


College interviews:

So far I have attended 3 interviews, but keep in mind that most universities do not offer interviews so this may not be a stressor for you as it was for me. So before any interview, you want to look up who your interviewer is in order to get a better idea of what kind of person they are. You also want to be very punctual when responding to their emails because trust me they judge this. If you have the opportunity to have your interview in person definitely take it! This can seem more intimidating, but it is a lot easier to communicate humor, and interest, and decreases stress when you aren’t talking to a computer screen. But don’t worry if you have to have it on zoom because I did for one of them and it went completely fine. Also, make sure you prepare questions you want to ask and definitely research the school. They want to know what kind of student you would be if you attended their university. Also, remember these interviews are supposed to be casual, you don’t need to provide a resume (unless they ask for one) or dress super fancy. They really are helpful for you to get a better understanding of the school. 


The in-state fear:

Like many of you, I went into this college process with some stereotypes of Clemson and USC, but when I actually talked to the students they had mostly positive things to say. Going in-state can save you BANK, and you can later invest that money into graduate school or lessen financial stress overall. Students who did not want to go in-state originally told me that it is really about the people you meet. If you can establish a good friend group, you will be happy anywhere. There are also so many study abroad programs that students can get involved in if traveling is really important to them. Another pro to some may be that there is usually a pretty strong magnet network at these schools which can be comforting when transitioning into college. A tip from Disha: apply to be a RA at Clemson! (you get room and board and meals fully covered).

USC Admitted Students Day Statement (Ellyse Ramos): “I went into USC thinking that it was going to be a certain type of people everywhere and I thought that it was going to impede on my friendships because the people you are surrounded by are important to me. But when I went to the event I actually met a few people I really liked so it changed my perspective. Learning about the Honors College I was pretty impressed; they have a lot of opportunities and they treat their students well. I really liked the honors dorm a lot it was really relaxing vibes. The lighting was really nice. You can either room in single or double and all the rooms were clean and comfortable”


Advice from 2023 Seniors:

Leila Tabrizian: “Start looking for scholarships early because, by the time I found them, the deadlines had already passed. Also, even if you have a dream school like me, apply to other places!! Also, if you are eligible for a fee waiver, go for it because the application fees pile up.”

Lilly Skinner: “Take the time to find schools you know you can get into and afford. Deferral and early decision rejection season hit hard for a lot of us, and some of the hurt can be blunted by knowing you have another good option. Also, a lot of people don’t realize that the sticker price for some schools isn’t very accurate- in some cases, a private out-of-state school can be less expensive than a public one. In conclusion, make sure you have MULTIPLE AFFORDABLE safety options you are happy about. (and reuse essays)”.

Katherine Nguyen: “Be prepared to cry! Also if you get rejected it helps to find someone even more qualified than you who also got rejected”

Leo Li: “There is always time to write another essay. Be prepared to write 20 essays during winter break (who actually writes during the summer)”

Kia Blackwell: “You should look at what scholarships you can get and apply. Be proactive and keeps track of all the deadlines because I learned you can’t submit after the deadlines pass”. 

Arcade Crouse: “Don’t worry about figuring out what you want to do if you are undecided.”

Makenna Lankford: “Get a google doc and put all the prompts on a google doc and highlight the ones that you complete because you will see that there are a lot of repeats”. 


Sooo what we have all been waiting for…


How did Angela get into Harvard?


When asked what parts of her application helped get her into Harvard, she responded “honestly I don’t really know. That sounds like a bad answer and it probably is but I feel like when they look at your application, they look at it holistically. I don’t think they look at one specific component of the application, so all of the components have to be strong to present a strong overall package”.

Sooo basically she is saying that you need some really good grades (they want to see that you are challenging yourself with the resources available to you so take the APs)  and extracurriculars that go beyond school sports and clubs. I would check out internships that are similar to the major you want to pursue and try to go beyond only doing one the summer before senior year. I know that Greenheart, SC Aquarium, and MUSC provide some really good ones.

Next Question: When did you get a request for an interview and how was it?

“I think I got a request for an interview about a month after submitting and we met at a cafe (at the Harbinger shout out to Leila). I think the interview went pretty well; we just had a conversation. I prepared a little by researching what I wanted to talk about and why I was interested in Harvard because normally they will ask you that. I didn’t have a script that I was going to say or anything; I just had an idea going in. During the interview you really have a conversation with the person; mine was not very question-answer question-answer. Just go in and be yourself and say what comes to you like you do on a normal basis”

Did you fill out all sections of the activities list on the Common App?

“Yes I did fill out all 10 activities”

Could you elaborate on your research and what you did with AP Seminar?

“So I did research outside of school by reaching out to a lab at MUSC. So basically I worked in a professor’s lab”.  When asked if this was her most impressive accomplishment she responded “I also mentioned my piano (she is so so good) so I don’t know which extracurricular stood out more”

The extra Harvard supplement does not have a word count but she said that hers wasn’t really long, so if you are applying don’t worry about writing a dissertation.

Are you planning on going to Harvard?

“For now yeah. But as other decisions come out (such as MIT) maybe it will change”

Angela has yet to decide if she is going to say ‘I got to Harvard or I go to a school in Cambridge’”