Carolyn tells us about her college application process, and how she was accepted into Harvard, Stanford, & Yale and decided to go to Yale even though Harvard & Stanford initially gave her better financial aid packages. 

Part 2 is here.

Transcription

Kamila
Hey college kids. Welcome back to my podcast who cares about college? In today’s episode, I’ll be interviewing Carolyn. So could you please introduce yourself?

Carolyn
Yeah. Hi, everyone. My name is Carolyn. I’m a senior at Yale College majoring in ethnicity, race and migration. I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland, where I went to Baltimore city college, high school. And yeah.

Kamila
I’m also from Okay, so, start me, let’s go to the beginning who initiated the college process for you? And this could be anything like LSAT, a CT preparation, college tours, whatever it was.

Carolyn
Yeah, I started this feels like so long ago now. But I feel like the college process really started for me when I went on a couple tours sophomore year before of high school. And I think my parents were trying to do a lot of different tours in like different regional areas. So we would go do like a northeastern tour, I think we spent time with my uncle in Boston, and like, went to all the Boston College’s that I thought I might be interested in. And at that point, I was studying for the LSAT, also, so

Kamila
and so obviously, you mean you go to Yale? Was there ever any pressure from parents? Or perhaps you went to like a really competitive school? Was there pressure to go to a top school to get into an Ivy League?

Carolyn
I mean, definitely, definitely not. I think both. Both my parents went to a state universities, or my mom went to UVA and Arizona and my dad went to Fordham in New York, and they both went to state universities, I don’t think it definitely was never a pressured thing. Although I definitely felt, um, I definitely feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself, to get into a top school, I guess which now looking back on, it does feel a bit silly, because I do feel like it matters a lot less than I thought it would. And but I was really invested in the process just individually. And it did also help that my I am a legacy student, which I feel like definitely factored into how I thought about schools, how I was influenced as a kid, probably a lot of privilege that I had in the college admissions process, my grandfather went to Yale. So I grew up, kind of being around the university, my grandparents are also from New Haven. So that was just kind of my dream from when I was six years old, just always wanting to go to the university and hearing stories about it and becoming really attached to it, which I don’t think is healthy, because I don’t think it’s good to have like a super dream school. But I did. And it worked out for me. But I do think looking back in high school, I just wish I definitely spent a little less time on the process. But I don’t think a lot of that came from my parents, it was definitely really self driven. Although my parents were very serious about applying to a range of schools also, and definitely somewhat involved in the college process.

Kamila
And did you have I’m just curious, did you have any siblings who went to college before you like, did you have anything to look at? Like, oh, this is how the college admission process goes?

Carolyn
No, I am the oldest. So I have a younger sister who’s a senior in high school now. So she’s going through it again. And it is just a constant reminder of how stressful it is. But especially during the pandemic, which I really can’t imagine. But I yeah, I was the I’m the oldest child. So that was I think it was also so new for my parents that they just really let me drive a lot of the process and that I just had to figure it out. And I think I’ve always been a pretty, pretty self motivated person. And I kind of knew even going into junior year, like what my top schools were, and where and what I was interested in to.

Kamila
So going into a secure back to high school. So going into high school, how did you approach high school because I mean, there are multiple approaches. So people who are like really driven and know they want to aim for these top schools, they usually come in knowing like, Okay, I’m going to take this, this, these APS, I’m going to sign up for these many clubs freshman year, and then figure out which ones I like and stick with them. You know, they have like this whole process planned out in their head. Whereas some people come in and they like, they don’t know what they’re doing, or they just come in not really caring too much. They just like, Okay, I’m going to take which classes I enjoy the clubs I enjoy and such. So how was it for you?

Carolyn
Yeah, I mean, I think it was definitely a balance of things. I didn’t ever want to do anything that I didn’t like doing just because I wanted to get into college, but I also felt like I wanted to direct my passions in a specific way that was also directed towards college. So I think the answer to that is kind of like balancing this desire to achieve with a desire to also enjoy my time in high school. And my my high school was actually an International Baccalaureate school so I didn’t also have as much flexibility in terms of Have what classes to take? I think we had two APS offered sophomore year. And then for the rest of the time junior and senior year, I was doing the International Baccalaureate curriculum, which is sort of something that was started in international schools and then moved to the US, it’s a little more writing focused than APs. And so I ended up getting my diploma in that. So it really then that was something that was definitely really competitive, and a lot of work and a program that I knew I wanted to do going into high school. But that was also part of, I think, being in the Baltimore City public school system, you’re choosing between kind of a lot of different magnet schools and programs. So I have friends who went to the art school, I have friends who went to Baltimore Polytechnic, which is more of like the STEM school, and then I went to what kind of is considered the more liberal arts school because it’s so writing focused and heavy, and you end up doing kind of like a college level paper at the end of your senior year. So that was some academically that was what I was thinking about, I think extracurricular leave, I was really thinking about what things I wanted to do that were already in line with my passions. And my high school had a really good debate team. So I joined that first year, and my neighbor was also the debate coach. So that helped, he was like really motivated in terms of doing that. Now, it’s kind of my, I guess, my main activity in high school. So I traveled nationally doing that. And that took up the majority of my time. And it was, I’m glad I did it. But it was also pretty intense. And then other than that, I ran the newspaper for a little bit trying to get it off the ground, I played the cross, which was mostly just a for fun thing in the city, because it’s not a very competitive league compared to like the rest of Maryland. But that was something that was really fun for me. And then I also tried to do different things during the summer. And that was kind of geared towards college, I wanted to be busy pretty much every summer doing something that would look sort of good on college applications, although I also would encourage people just like do things that you’re also really passionate about, I applied for a State Department program that went didn’t was an exchange program with Indonesia during the summer. So I did that after my sophomore year. But overall, I think, um, and then after the Baltimore uprising in 2015, I joined kind of like a social justice organization at my school that did a lot of student organizing, like against the new standardized testing program in Maryland Park, there was a lot of organizing around the 2016 election. And that was something that was just really important to me. And something that I won’t pretend like it didn’t matter, on my college applications that that was part of my application. And I was interested in political science and ethnic studies. And then I think came across and and that Baltimore was a really big part of my college application. So and I think a lot of the extracurriculars that I tried to do in high school were geared around kind of being interested in politics, social justice, etc. And that was something that I did in high school and then tried to get across on my application. But I hope, I definitely thought a lot about checking boxes, but also tried to push myself away from doing that, because I think that it also is really clear to admissions officers when you don’t when you do think too much about what exactly you’re doing.

Kamila
Yeah. So let’s quickly talk about international baccalaureate. So can you explain it a little bit because my school doesn’t do that we only do APs. So does every international baccalaureate student do the same program like just every no matter which state you go to which country, it’s just the same program?

Carolyn
Um, it really depends on what classes that your school offers. So I have a lot of friends in college who went to international schools and who are international students, and they took different types of courses. But essentially, everyone does the same program. I took IB, English IB history, although mine was history of the Americas because it was an American school. And it really depends. Some people take IB world history, but it’s and then you take IB math, one type of science, but you get to choose I did physics. Um, so this is pretty similar to APS in that way, and that you are doing some kind of core curriculum. And then I ended up taking, you have to take kind of a philosophy class, your senior year called theory of knowledge. And I also you also get to take an elective mine was theater, I had friends who took anthropology, I had friends from other schools who took economics, other programs. So it’s there’s a set number of courses because it’s a centralized program similar to AP. And then it just depends on what your specific school offers. So it’s not Yeah, it’s not totally dissimilar. But all of your courses end up being IB courses, which I think is different than AP because sometimes people will take like a certain Number of AP courses and a certain number of non AP but all my courses were within the IB curriculum because I chose the IB full diploma track. And then I think you could also choose the IB certificate track where three of your course three to four of your courses were IB courses. So there were people at my school who also chose to do that.

Kamila
In sophomore year, your school offered to AP so did you take those APs?

Carolyn
Yeah, my school offered AP Lit and AP US History. I ended up doing this weird thing. I don’t know there were lots of kind of confusing things about the curriculum. Might when I was doing it because I think my school was still kind of transitioning into doing entirely IB programs. So sophomore year I took AP Lit and AP US History. And then junior year I ended up taking AP Calculus AB the first part because sophomore year I took the first year of IB maths, and then junior year I took AP Calculus A B and then senior year I took the second year of IB HL maths, which is sort of similar to AP Calculus BC. So I ended up kind of doing this roundabout thing, I ended up taking three AP courses in high school total.

Kamila
Okay, and since you have taken both AP and IB courses, you mentioned earlier how IB is more writing based Is there any other difference between the two, between AP and IB? Besides

Carolyn
a couple, so all the IB courses are also two years long. So they’re a junior and senior year, you end up taking a big exam. So the last month of my senior year was basically spent studying for these huge exams that you take to get your ib diploma. And you have to get a certain total number on those exams to get the IB diploma. And those are all taken at the end of your senior year. So it’s instead of being a year long course and you take the exam, it’s to your course, you take all of your exams. And then there’s also an extended essay. So I had to write a 4000 word research paper that was considered like a class. And then we had to also take like an extra class that was tea, okay, which is theory of knowledge that was supposed to kind of incorporate an interdisciplinary perspective on teaching and knowledge. So that was basically how the program works. So it is a lot different than AP, I’d say, way more intense, it seems more intense. At the time, it didn’t feel that intends to be of although it definitely feels like a lot of work. And there are a lot of different projects and final writing things incorporated into each of the classes. It’s kind of hard to explain the whole system because it’s super complicated for some reason. But I really enjoyed it. I feel like it really prepared me for the kind of like college, I felt like AP was a lot about the exam and what score you were going to get on the exam, which IB was that way as well. But the exams were a lot more essay based, and about kind of accumulating your knowledge over time. So that was something that was really different for me. And I’m glad that I did.

Kamila
Yeah. And so can you tell us the score that you got? In the end? It’s like at a 40 something right? For the IB? I

Carolyn
don’t remember. God? Yeah, maybe like I did not do as well as I was supposed to. Basically, before you get for you take the exams, you get a predicted score that your teachers get based on like what they think you’re going to get. And then because you apply to colleges, before you take the exams, they’re at the end of your senior year. So by the time I took my IB exams, I was already into Yale, I already knew where I was going. And I kind of gave up caring about things. Because I do that Yale, there are schools in the UK that like will reject you if your scores are much lower than your predicted on the IB just because it’s such a popular international system. But I knew American universities, it didn’t matter as much. And I saw I think my score, I still got a diploma by a lot. But I think my score did not end up being that amazing, but I can’t remember what it is. Yeah.

Kamila
And so you mentioned that that in Baltimore, specifically where you live, there were you mentioned three schools that high schools that you could you could choose from. So why did you choose this school? That I mean that you attend it? Was it like specific programs? Or was it because it aligned with things that interested you? So how did you pick the school that you wanted to go to?

Carolyn
Yeah, I mean, I just really knew that I wanted to do the IB program because it seemed like a more comprehensive kind of program surrounding the liberal arts curriculum. And that was kind of the buzzword around when you were choosing high schools in Baltimore, which is a really confusing process. There are also a lot of like career based career kind of tech, vocational, technical, high schools, there are more magnet high schools, neighborhood high schools, be art school, and then but I was really only choosing between Baltimore Polytechnic and Baltimore City College and I just knew that I did not want to focus on science and math. And that was pretty I have a bad decision. So I just knew I was more interested in politics. I also knew that a lot of students at city where I ended up going, were really politically involved in Baltimore, which was also really important to me. So although Yeah, I’m trying to also think that also feels really long ago when I was in high school in 2013. But that, that was definitely some what how I ended up basically making my decision was that I didn’t really want to go to the STEM focus High School, because that wasn’t really my main interest.

Kamila
And so that’s interesting. Most high schoolers, even college students don’t don’t know what they want to do. But you were like, you know, relatively liberal arts, politics focus. So was that just kind of naturally you were really interested in that kind of just drove your whole high school process? Like, how did you come upon such an interest at so young?

Carolyn
Yeah, pretty much. I don’t know. I feel like for a long time, I’ve just been really interested in public service and politics. And some of that has to do with my parents. And they just talked to us a lot about it. When we were little, I went to a lot of political rallies in 2008. And I just became really interested in it. And then as part of partially moving to Baltimore, when I was nine, also had a huge impact on how I saw the world and what the world looked like, from my perspective, and I think it really expanded my own perceptions and influenced, yeah, influenced me in every possible way. I feel like I owe everything to being able to be in this like amazing city where people were just doing such amazing work to push history forward every single day. And I really noticed that in high school, and that really drove what I was interested in, I really came to college, knowing that I wanted to do something to make the world sort of better, and because it really seems like it’s going into doom. So I yeah, that’s why but I ended up knowing that I was interested in what I came to college was like racial justice. And, like, I think every experience that I had in high school really influenced that for me, and knowing about the achievement gap and the school to prison pipeline. All of those things. Were, yeah, my main kind of motivators in my college process, and how I’m thinking about jobs down to.

Kamila
And so your extracurriculars, would you give kind of a list of earlier definitely reflected. So can you go deeper into your extracurriculars? You know, what you did? What present positions you held what you accomplished? So like, first one was debate club, you said, that was a really big part of your high school like time, so can you describe that how you got into it?

Carolyn
Yeah, definitely. Um, I went to the so I started debate my freshman year in high school, and just immediately kind of really jumped in. And I did policy debate, which is sort of the really fast version of debate where you talk super fast, and you read a bunch of evidence really fast. And there’s two people on each team. So it’s a bit different than kind of other forms of speech and debate. And I just started traveling for that. We had a really big fund at my high school, even that was a public high school, someone had left a really big endowment, so that we could travel and stay in hotels and do really amazing things, which was a huge opportunity. I think, especially being in Baltimore. So I got to go to like Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, all over the east coast to Wake Forest. So that also had a huge impact on how I saw colleges because I would go to different universities for like high school debate tournaments and things like that. And I just started doing that freshman year. I did it sophomore year. And then I think senior year I was president, but I stopped doing it so much senior year, because it just was really exhausting. I didn’t have the same partner, which was really important. And I started doing like more teaching for freshmen. So senior year, I started doing that a little bit more and stopped competing as much. But junior, I got to go to San Francisco with my partner. So that was really fun. And we went to like a national urban Debate League tournament. And so all of those things, were really instrumental to how I saw colleges, how I saw politics, I did an enormous amount of research for that. Because you have to you end up having to do so many policy, so much policy research, to end the topic changes every year. So we would do a lot of research in the summer. I went to debate camp, a lot of summers, that that was something that I did that I get off leave but I did out and so I I think the summer after my sophomore year, or after freshman year, I went to Michigan State for three weeks ended a debate camp there. My freshman year right before my freshman year to prepare for to go to debate. I before I went to high school I did like a week long debate camp that by neighbors that I should do, and he was a big my debate coach ed who I also babysat his kids like once a week he was a really big influencing factor in my high school experience also, and just like really encouraged me, and also wrote a bunch of recommendations and pushed me, I think towards college and debate had a huge impact on I think my college application overall, really invested

Kamila
in the veiling cams? And can you tell us about the competitions and how they work? Like, did you get selected amongst like people within your Debate Club traveling and like, did you win any national competitions?

Carolyn
Yeah, I mean, it ended up being I think it was a really inclusive process. So any basically anyone who got to travel and, and came to practice and put in the time could travel to the tournaments. And then when you were at the tournament, they were mostly like, from high schools all up and down the East Coast. And people knew like, they were like the top teams. I was never in like the top of the top teams. I think for a while I was really invested and seemed like we were going in that direction. And then one of my partners quit. And so it we ended up like not really making it that far. Although Yeah, we came in ninth place at the national, like big national one that I went to in San Francisco in junior year. But overall, it was just Yeah, out. And all the tournaments are structured in the bracket form, so you would just go and then people would make it really far. I was definitely not the best person on the team. But I was really invested in it. And I also just really liked it because I really liked hanging out with everyone and getting to travel with everyone. And then also my senior year, I really liked teaching the younger kids about debate and taking them to travel and I was kind of like the mom of the team my senior year. So I definitely was not like a national champion or anything like that. I knew people who were and that was so not me, but I was definitely really into it. And I’m it was just an I wanted to stay like a fun thing for me. I didn’t want it to be was so wildly intense, but I was really intense about it for a while and then I kind of petered out once I got

Kamila
in. So you said you weren’t you were president senior year. So okay, can you tell us how difficult that was? Because I mean, it’s different for every club. So it was like debate a relatively big club at your school. And it was like kind of difficult to climb up to President or Vice President.

Carolyn
Yeah, it definitely. It wasn’t difficult to become president or anything. I think I was one of the few seniors who was still under the because it was such an intense club, but it did have a lot of people on it. So it was a lot of organizing, organizing travel tournament, trying to keep my debate coach organized, because he was and then doing a lot of running a lot of the trainings for the younger kids. So that was kind of like my main role. And but it I don’t know, my high school really wasn’t particularly competitive. So I was really kind of able to do whatever I wanted. I wanted to start the newspaper. So I just became the editor because no one else was going to be of I wanted to be president of a club. No one said no. And everyone got a role. Like I think my debate coaches gave everyone a title that they could put on their college applications. And yeah, I just was never very particularly competitive in the way that I think other people’s high school experiences were in different counties, and at different schools. Like I always just felt like if I wanted to do something at City, I could do it like join the lacrosse team that would not have been possible in like Towson or Hereford. I was not that good at lacrosse, but it was not that hard to get onto the team and do things for fun, which is also a really hard lesson to learn once you get to college, and everything is and everything at Yale was like quite competitive and required an audition, and I was not used to that. So that’s definitely something that I learned coming here.

Kamila
Yeah. And on your college application. I’m sure you wrote debate club because it was one of the big things. But did you also include the different camps? You went to over the summer, like the one week debate camp before freshman year, and then the three weeks after freshman year?

Carolyn
Yeah, I think on all my summer, all my summer activities were included in some section of the common app. I have no idea. I can’t even remember what it looks like now. But I definitely included all of that. I said, I went to debate camp this year. I, the summer after my junior year, I worked at like a non. I did like an internship at a nonprofit. And I lived with my aunt and went into Philly every day. And I included like every single summer experience because I just felt like it was important to do some kind of thing every summer. And but also that was a huge privilege as well to get to do that.

Kamila
Didn’t colleges care about what you did over the summer? Like do they want to see this person? Can this person started this?

Carolyn
I think so. Yeah. Although I have no idea because the college process still seems really opaque to me. And even be Yeah, just really. Even now being four years at Yale, I just have no idea how they exempt people into the school at all. It seems really random still, but I’m I felt like it matter that I did something, and also that a couple of the things that I did were competitive like I applied for the State Department program, it was a free program where I got to go to Indonesia for free, but it was quite competitive. Like, I think it was like seven out of 100, people got to go or something like that. So that I felt like I wanted to put on because there was something that I had applied for him, but accepted to, I think the debate camps were just to demonstrate that also, this was a club that I was really invested in. And this is how I spent my time being a leader in high school, or things like that, because they want to know, I think colleges do want to know that you put a lot of time into a specific thing. And they want you to paint yourself. This is what I always tell people when they ask for advice about code is they do want you to construct like a narrative of yourself in your application. And my narrative myself had a lot to do with debate and leadership in high school, and being involved in policy and social justice and all of that. So that’s kind of how you have to be able to describe your how you are to the university. And so my summer activities and my extracurriculars, were all part of building that narrative. So we

Kamila
just say to have like a focus on something like regardless of what it is just have a focus on something and have like, you know, things to build it up like, you know, your summer camps really built up how important debate was for you. So is that what you’re saying? Like a kind of focus?

Carolyn
Yeah, I think so. I think they like I also had a friend, one of my friends now, he was really into doing a lot of different outdoorsy stuff like he built trails in the Adirondacks, one summer, he, he went hiking a lot. And that’s what he wrote about in his application. And that wasn’t even like an extracurricular thing. I think it’s just to give them an idea of who you are and what you care about. And that’s all they really want to know. And if that comes across in your application, I think that’s really helpful. Because I just think they read a lot of them. And if you can show in a really concise way, like this is who I am. And if you’re passionate about a lot of different different stuff, then that’s also okay. And I think it just made sense for me to in a way where I was just basically only had 500 words, a couple of supplementals and a bunch of my resume to portray who I was to really build that up throughout high school, and in my resume, AND, OR, and in my common app.

Kamila
Okay, so let’s move on to an extracurricular you mentioned. So, actually, let’s go to newspaper first, and then we can talk about your State Department programs. So tell me about the newspaper like how did it start? How did you get interested in interested in it?

Carolyn
Yeah, I honestly can’t remember how I got really involved in it. I just my high school is really old, also, which I guess I should have mentioned earlier, it has a huge alumni association. It was it’s been a it’s what, like the third oldest public high school in America. And so there used to be a newspaper ad it called the Collegian and I think like an alum or something, maybe wanted to restart the paper, because it had basically gone like totally different. And so I was taking tech at the time, and I hung out in that teacher’s room a lot because he had a couch. And so we would just kind of hang out there. And I think he got a ping pong table, too. So we would hang out there during lunch after school. And he was the one who ended up becoming the advisor for the paper. And so then I was just like, Yeah, I’ll edit this and started and it was really difficult because we didn’t really have any money. And we only had like this weird setup thing. And people weren’t that committed. So I kept having to chase after people to write these random articles like movie reviews, interviews with teachers, things like that. And so I would have these meetings every week. So that ended up being a lot of work just because it was really like I was trying to get a club off the ground that that basically didn’t exist and my sister is also running it now. And I think they’re still having a hard time restarting it. And so yeah, it was just also a really fun thing for me though, I also do really like bossing people around to be honest, so that was really fun. And but the newspaper was never it never got a lot of readership or was that serious, but also didn’t have the money to print it out. I have a friend one of my roommates and best friends here, her she went to like international school in the Philippines, and they printed out their paper she it was really fancy looking but ours was just like some random program that I vowed that we had the money for and we printed maybe like once a month and it was mostly just like really silly articles and but and I kept and we lost a lot of people all the time because we weren’t that committed to it but it was something that was something that I was just glad I got to write on my college resume because I felt like it came off is way better than it actually was in real life but which is okay, I think it’s okay to hedge your resume a little bit because I did work really hard on it but it wasn’t that professional or anything but that was the newspaper

Kamila
you but you said you held like did you hold like the top position the like editor.

Carolyn
Yeah, I was considered the editor in chief. So I got to put that on it because I restarted the paper. And so I got to write that. But it definitely being editor in chief of my school paper, which is why I think it’s really important to look comparatively because big editor in chief of my high school paper, I think, is really different than being an editor in chief of some other high school papers. Even here, I was part of like the Yale Daily News for a while and we hold these conferences for high schoolers to come and see like a college paper. And some of the high school papers from these local Connecticut high schools look great, like high schoolers look crazy. So it’s definitely seems like a really different amount of work. But I still have to write it on my application.

Kamila
Yes. So long as the college’s never know. Yeah. What actually was? Yeah. So okay, so the one I wrote that really interested me was your program, the State Department program to Indonesia? So you said it was pretty competitive. So can you tell us about almost as competitive as like a top college? Right? I mean, a 7%? Acceptance?

Carolyn
Yeah, I guess so. I’m not sure exactly how many people I think when I asked him because I was trying to write something on my actual resume about it. The person who ran it said, yeah, about 100 people applied. And yeah, that was after my sophomore year, my mom worked at the State Department for a while. And in a totally different department than, like, have what the what they do with educational exchanges, but she just said, Oh, this thing came up on my email, like you should try and apply for one of these, like summer exchange programs that they have at the State Department. And so and it was a collaboration, I think, with George Mason University. And you basically, you spend three weeks in Indonesia, learning about social issues, I stayed with the host family in Bali, which was super cool. And then we went to Jakarta and learned a little bit more about issues there. It’s more of a college town. And we also we stayed at like a little University hostel there. And then for three weeks, a bunch of Indonesian students also got to come over. And because most of these programs are actually not geared towards us citizens, they’re mostly geared toward international students who want to do exchange programs. With the United States, although I think we have one of Germany’s something else that a couple of my friends did in high school, actually. But most of the end, and then the Indonesian students come back to America for three weeks, you go back to your home, but you spend like a week in America, with the Indonesian students. We did like different kinds of like team building exercises, conversations, and then I went back home. And that was basically my summer. And it was really amazing, because it was one of the first times that I’d ever traveled abroad. And it was by myself with a bunch of other random students who I didn’t know. And it was just a really transformative experience living with a host family. Being on my own. I had a really hard time at first, but it was just the most amazing experience. And I met these really amazing students who I’m still in touch with. And I’m really glad I did it. Yeah, it was my second. Yeah, it was the second time I’d ever traveled abroad. Because that summer, I also went to Cuba because my Spanish teacher organised this educational trip that my parents decided they would actually pay for because it was Cuba, and the borders were basically closed except for educational trips. So I’d done that that summer. And then I went to Indonesia. And it was just like the craziest summer of my life. Still,

Kamila
that sounds amazing. And can you tell us a little bit about what you did in Cuba? Was it similar to what you did in Indonesia?

Carolyn
Um, not really, it was kind of more of a tourist trip, we went, although for and educate more like an educational tour, it was right when they thought the borders were about to reopen to that Obama was going to normalize relations with Cuba. So it was really cool, because everyone in Cuba was really excited about it. There were all these hotel deals happening. And then as soon as Trump got elected, they shut the borders down again. So now I think no one can go even for educational trips. But it was, I think, two, maybe 10 days long, and we got to visit different like hydroponic farms, we went to like an educational facility like a nonprofit. We went to the beach, like once we went to all these different historical sites, so it was more of like a tour through Cuba. But it was still really cool. And it was just, I was just this crazy time, because I think everyone there was so hopeful about the future. And obviously, I think things have changed a lot since then. But it was just like, it was really fun. I they accidentally served us real mo Ketos at this meal once and my teacher freaked out. And it was and I got to go with all some of my best friends from high school. So that was a really just a really fun experience.

Kamila
That’s amazing. And you put both of these on your college application.

Carolyn
I don’t know if I put the Cuba thing on my college because that was just a maybe I did I think that that was just a big that my parents basically paid for as an exchange program that mice that I think it was like through education first tours and my Spanish teacher organized it. So it was more of like a fun thing rather than kind of an educational thing, although it probably was somewhere on my resume. But I don’t think it was pebbly feature, because it was just literally like, a trip that I took.

Kamila
Yeah. And any other like major extracurriculars that you put on your college application?

Carolyn
I don’t think so I think really debate and newspaper were my two big things. And yeah, I think I think that’s it.

Kamila
I have a question about, I guess we could say extracurriculars and such. So in most top schools, you’re gonna find kids who are really good academically, like they’re not going to admit someone, unless, you know, like, they’re an athlete is like a special case. But most students need to have a really good GPA really good. We didn’t talk about standardized test scores. Okay, we’ll get to that. But they have to have good like standardized test scores to get into the school to be considered a competitive applicant. With extracurriculars, I’ve heard two sides. So some people try to do as much as they can, because they want to look like they have a lot of interest. And then some people, it’s, I guess, it’s called like, the spike theory is where you pick one passion that you you’ve like, it’s your passion, obviously. And you really invest your time in it. Like you go to competitions, you become like national competitions, you really invest your time and you make an impact with it. So at Yale, because that is the top school that you go to, do you see both kinds of people, or do you see more of like one or the other people who were kind of, like, very, like all over the place with their extracurriculars are more like really focused on one thing?

Carolyn
Yeah, that’s a good question. I. Honestly, I do think people at Yale feel like they have to have a thing that they either they did in high school, and they continue to do in college. So I do feel like in general, I know more people who did do one specific thing. But I also do know a lot of people who did a lot of different extracurriculars, I also feel like I ended up doing like, a lot of doing a lot of random stuff. Although I invested a lot of time in debate, I also just kind of did a bunch of things with my church and did a bunch of things did mock trial randomly my senior year, but just because it seemed like fun. And I know a lot of students who also did that. I also know people who were on Broadway, basically, and did theater, like their whole lives. I know people who started nonprofits in high school, I, my one of my best friends here, she started a little school for street children in the Philippines and in high school, and that was her kind of main activity. And so I do think that there is this perception that people do that, I guess what you’re saying is called the spike theory, I’ve never heard that. So that’s really interesting. But that people do have to have a thing that they get really invested in. But I think it’s also if you have multiple things that you’re really invested in, then that’s okay. I think people just, I think what they’re trying to get across is that admission, admissions officers can tell when you’re just patting your resume with things, and that you’re not really, that you don’t really care about, and that you feel like you have to do and I always think that that’s a bad idea. And you should just do the things that you want to do in high school. And that will come off because I feel like people can see what you’re really passionate about and what’s genuine. And if you do something really unique, that’s okay. I feel like I didn’t really do anything that was particularly crazy or unique or cost a lot of money. And that’s okay, that’s also okay. I just feel like you have to be as genuine as possible in your college application. And about what you’ve done in high school. I also know people who are first gen who like had jobs in high school and worked a bunch and didn’t do a bunch of extracurriculars. I know people who applied for a bunch of free stuff in high school for different programs, I people who were first gen but then went to prep schools because they applied to these like various programs. So definitely people who are really high achieving I, I just feel like are really passionate about something. And that came across in their extracurriculars, but maybe that means they did want extracurricular but that also just being maybe meant that they did a lot of different things in high school. And but I feel like it that is about having a passion and being the type of person who is really motivated about something.

Kamila
Yeah. Okay. And so let’s quickly do standardized testing because I mean, I’d have no idea how it completely forgot that but can you quickly give us a rundown of you know, the LSAT, your AC T whichever one you took preparations and what you ended up getting?

Carolyn
Yeah, um, so I took the LSAT, I took the old LSAT so because my year was I USD are just crazy transitions. I feel like in a lot of ways, but my class year they were transitioning from the old sad to the new LSAT. I really wanted to get the LSAT out of the way I just hated studying for it. I thought it was such a waste of time. And but I did have to study for it. So I took the LSAT only December of my junior year. So I took it once I got a 2300. And to prep for it, I did. I did take a class, I took a math LSAT prep course class with a couple of my friends. And then I also had like maybe three or four sessions with a writing tutor, like an LSAT tutor who mostly worked on like the verbal section of the application. This is when they still had like SAP words and stuff like that, which I think is off the PSAT. I’m not even sure what it looks like. But so I had that. So I had that as well, because my mom was just like, really stressed out about me taking the LSAT, I think, and I’m really grateful that my parents did have like, kind of the financial ability to at least give me some time because I was also really unmotivated about studying for it. So I think the tutoring sessions and the class just gave me like a set time where it was like, Okay, now now is the time when you’re studying, and it might be with another person. But it’s also just so you can kind of block out this time. But that definitely was a factor. And I’m really glad I had that preparation. I think I got in 800 on the verbal section, like a 770 on the reading section, like a 730 on the math section.

Kamila
So the whole thing 2400 And you got to 2300? That’s really good. Yeah.

Carolyn
Just after you take it, it just does not matter at all. I feel like it was nice that I got a good score the first time because I really didn’t want to take it again. And so I was just happy with keeping that and not trying to kind of perfect it as much as possible. I think people got those kinds of scores, who still tried to super score. And like keep taking it. I think that’s a really bad idea. I feel like if you get a score that’s at all within the range of a school, you should just keep it because it by personal, totally non professional opinion at all, it looks better to have one pretty good score than to have a perfect score that you got after taking the test like three times. And it just it takes along. It’s so exhausting. And I think a lot of schools Yeah, a lot of schools made it optional this year, which is chaotic, but awesome. And I in general, I felt like it was just a really pointless endeavor. But I’m but I also got a really good scores, which I was happy with. So I guess that also sounds kind of Oh, yeah.

Kamila
Yeah. But yeah, that’s mean, that’s good. I mean, your standardized testing and grades like met the requirement for presume it met the requirement for you. Okay, so let’s move on to actual colleges. Yeah, actual colleges now and the college application process, the actual common app. So tell me again, in a little bit more detail how you went around and pick the colleges that ended up being on your application? Like, what were you looking for? Was there anything that you definitely did not want? Or you definitely wanted?

Carolyn
Yeah, I think one thing my parents were really serious about was coming up with a range of schools. So having like a few safeties, a few targets, and if you reaches, because even though my parents I think weren’t that invested in me going to a really elite school, they did want me to have options, and I was really intense person in high school. And I guess I still am, but I think they didn’t want they wanted me to have a few options. So I knew I really wanted. I was really, really invested in Neil. So I applied there early, and early action, but I didn’t want to apply anywhere. Early Decision because of the financial situation. I didn’t want to be locked in anywhere where I did not have a really good financial aid package. My dad’s a professor at Maryland, so I knew I was getting free tuition there. So that was a factor. I applied to Maryland also early. And that was basically my main safety I knew on Maryland is a top 10 State School. I was excited about the Honors College, I would get it my parents that they would buy me a car if I went there because they’d save so much money. So I applied there as well. And I have a lot of friends who obviously went to Maryland, it’s a huge Baltimore cities, and schools all over Maryland are huge theaters. And then I just made a list of schools that I would submit applications to if I didn’t get into Yale. So some of my target schools were Boston University, I applied to I was applied to Northeastern, I really liked the Boston schools, I was pretty sure I wanted to stay on the East Coast, which was also a factor. I didn’t want to be wildly far from my family, which ended up being really amazing. I definitely recommend like thinking about it. Cuz I think originally I was like, I definitely can’t go to school in Maryland, or I can’t go anywhere on the east coast. But it’s been so amazing to be close to my extended family here and be on the Amtrak line also. So those are my top Yeah, so I applied to Boston University, Northeastern, I applied to Wellesley, I really, I when I was little I had this weird obsession with Hillary Clinton. So I applied to Wellesley and I really liked the idea of a women’s college and I really liked the environment when I toured it I, and then I have like a list of other schools that I think I was going to apply to. And a lot of this really hinged, I had started a lot of applications. But I put the most amount of time into my Ellika application. And a lot of it really hinged on whether I was going to get in. I also applied to Wash U, because they had a lot of merit scholarships. I applied to Washington University in St. Louis. And I also grew up in St. Louis, and my dad got his PhD there. So I really knew that I liked it a lot and had a really I want to apply to schools that also seemed like they had good like happiness ratings, good college environments, etc, etc. And I ended up getting into Gale early, but I had also already submitted a lot of applications. At that point, I also ended up getting the National Merit. So I had already applied to Boston University, Northeastern all schools where I knew that the National Merit Scholarship would apply. And so I got into Yale, I got into Maryland, bu Northeastern, which offered me like a scholarship for the National Merit. And I just really it was like a sec. Oh, yeah. So national merit is a CT or a CT, right, like, depending on it’s actually based on your PSAT. So I took the PSAT junior year, like everyone does. And you if you get a high enough score, you become like a National Merit semifinalist, there’s a cut off for how high your score has to be. And if you’re a national merit, semifinalist, then you can submit an application and become a national merit finalist. And then some people get the National Merit Scholarship. So I got $2,500, my first year at Yale from them, but there are also schools that will give scholarships if you’re a national merit scholar. So like Boston University says, if you get any here, we’ll give you $30,000 a year just because you’re a national merit. Oh, my Oh, sounds amazing. So that was really cool. And I was it was really exciting. It was also something that I put on my college application that I was a national merit semifinalist.

Carolyn
And it was only based on your PSAT scores. I think, I don’t know what they’re out of now. I got a 1470 on it. out of 1600. I think I’m so sorry. I forgot to mention that earlier. But I this is bringing back to the college process for me. So I ended up getting to Yale early, which was really unexpected, but really exciting. And then Yale didn’t give me that much money. Because I was like, if I get into you, I’m going there. 100% Yield is need based only my family’s financial situation is honestly pretty good. I had a I had a college savings account, which also factored into their financial situation. So I got less money because of that. And I had a 529 I don’t even know what all these words mean. But I had money that my grandparents had saved. And at the time, yeah, my family’s financial situation was good enough that I didn’t get that much money from Yale. And but also it wasn’t, it was like so I got like so little money that my parents were like, there’s no way we can reasonably pay this basically, or they were like we will but we’ll probably have to take out loans and I wasn’t really excited about taking out loans in undergrad. And so then I ended up end on then they said, and then we I knew that a lot of other schools would match your financial aid so he didn’t give me that much money when I got in early. And so I ended up applying to a bunch of other Ivy League’s so I if I got into one of those, and they gave me more money than Yale, because every school calculates need based aid differently. And even though it’s need based, I think they do like a lot of finagling. So it’s based, it’s technically based on your FAFSA, but schools totally calculated differently. So I definitely recommend like if you get into a school and you’re not super happy about your financial aid package, you can totally go back to them and say, I got into this other school match their financial aid package, which is what I was hoping to do. So I ended up applying also to Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford. And those were and I had already applied to Wellesley, bu Northeastern, and Maryland. And I, but I knew I still really wanted to go to Yale. That was my dream school. But it was really just like kind of a financial thing. I also ended up applying because I applied to Washington University earlier because I wanted to be in the running for scholarships. Once I was accepted into WashU. They invited they invited me to interview for different scholarships. So I also got like a half tuition scholarship from Washington University. That was, yeah, half half of tuition per year. And then I ended up getting the Banneker key at Maryland, so I would have had a full ride to Maryland also. So all of these are looking like really great options and but Yale was like really my dream school even though I was getting money from all these other places.

Carolyn
And I ended up also so then in March, so I applied regular decision to Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, and In March, I got into Harvard and Stanford also. And so I really wanted to go to Yale, still, but then those seemed like really good options, I really did not think I was going to get into any of these schools, it did not seem like it was going to happen. That was it was just this huge surprise, and, and then gave me more money also. So I visited Harvard and Stanford, I visited a ton of schools in April, because I just at that point, I, the college process, just shockingly, went really well for me. And so I just didn’t know what I was doing at all. And I went to a visited a bunch of schools stay, I got Stanford give me a stipend to like fly out there. So I did that for a weekend, which was really fun. And I really loved it. But so in the end, I was really kind of choosing between Yale, Stanford and Maryland, because I had a full ride at Maryland. And it seemed, and Yale was still going to be pretty expensive, even though they hadn’t matched my financial aid from Stanford and Harvard. But ended up with getting that bout the same amount of money from those three schools. But I would have had to pay literally no money to go to Maryland. And I didn’t really like Harvard that much when I visited, it just seemed like really intense. And everyone just kept telling me how much it didn’t, nothing else mattered Harvard because it was Harvard, I just kept thinking other things do matter, the Environment Matters. And I just really loved the environment at Yale and Stanford. But I really just ended up choosing Yale because it was just always my dream. And I really loved it. And I did end up wanting to stay on the East Coast, I wanted to be able to go back home when I wanted to. And that was I think, I don’t know, my story is kind of just about like, I ended up choosing my dream school for a lot of money over another really amazing school where I would have had to pay nothing. And that was just an enormous privilege that I was able to do that because my parents really were like, wherever you want to go, we will make it happen, no matter what. And they they really did. And a lot of that had to do with my grandparents really supported me as well in college, so I haven’t had to pay anything. And I’m graduating with no loans, but feels expensive. It ended up being worth it for me, but not everyone needs to make that decision. And but I’m really glad I did. So that is a bit about how my application process what

Kamila
I mean, I know that for top schools is there are many factors that play in and a lot of it is just kind of like some people call it like a lottery school. So sometimes it’s just like, you get if you don’t get into it doesn’t mean you’re dumb. It just means like,

Carolyn
I don’t know, they chose some other person. But like you still got into Harvard and Stanford. Wow, it was really weird. I just felt really released, it was just a really surreal, surreal senior year experience, because I felt like it had nothing because you you know, in your head, it has literally nothing to do with your merit. But people once you get in act two, like it does, but it’s really totally random. It’s based on what they want that year. I’ve read a lot of books and have talked to a lot of admissions officers now because I work as a tour guide. But I don’t know anything about the admissions process as of yet. But I do like talk to admissions officers sometimes who are just like, sometimes, we need an oboe player that year or a baseball player. And that’s who we end up letting in because that’s the kind of we just need to build a different community every year. And so, but people really act like it has something to do with something amazing that you’ve done. And I just felt like it was this total coup that this happened. But it was still really exciting. But it was very awkward at the same time. Oh,

Kamila
my God. It’s amazing, though. Okay, I have one question about UMD. Because I mean, I am a Maryland student, and it’s just something that interests me. So I’m sure you would have gotten into UMD whether your dad work there or not. Because I mean, UMD is still a tough school to get into. It’s a really good school. But like, if you’re like, if your GPA is good enough, your standardized test scores good enough in your extracurriculars are you’re probably going to get in so does having a parent who works at UMD give you like a leg up in the college admissions process, because it’s not exactly a legacy but it mean it’s

Carolyn
something I’m not sure I mean, maybe it does. I don’t know how much UMD also looks really in detail. I think a lot of the state schools get like a such a high volume of applications that they are letting people in based largely on scores and then looking at more of your essays for scholarships and things like that. So and the Honors College I’m not sure maybe it did have something to do with my with my dad, I I really have no idea. I do know a lot of Yale students whose parents work here so that probably is a factor. And definitely being a legacy is a factor. I do think they look at all of these things like they definitely look at every part of who you are as a person and your background where you come from. I think being from about a Baltimore City Public School definitely also helped I don’t think, um, which also felt a little bit disingenuous because it wasn’t like I came from have like really socio economic like a lower socio economic status. But I think that fewer people from my district were applying to Ivy League like it’s not like the DC area Prince George’s County where I know like the top 20% of every school are applying to Yale, my one of my best friends at Yale went to Stuyvesant in New York, which is this kind of top magnet school in the city. And it was crazy competitive, and everyone she knew was applying to all these schools. And frankly, like just not as many people at my high school or in my city, we’re applying to these like, elite, quote unquote, elite, the more I spend the time at UVA less, I think it’s super elite and more ridiculous, I think the whole thing is, but that was definitely true that I came from that the applicant pool that I was in based on my region was really different than I think were other people were where if you go to a prep school, or you go to a really, if you’re in a really competitive district, it’s really different. And so because they are looking at you compared to your peers. So that’s definitely something that I think played a factor. And I’m sure they look at whether your parent works at UMD, and whether your parent works at any university. I also know that some that I had friends whose parents worked at Hopkins, and Hopkins will pay for you to go like half your tuition at any school. So if your parent works there, but I think you can’t apply to Hopkins, if your parent works at Hopkins, but they’ll pay for half of your tuition anywhere else. Although maybe you can’t, I can’t remember exactly what the situation is. But definitely I had parents who were professors who got really sweet deals, and it was going to be a sweet deal for me to go to Maryland because I already, if you do get in, you have tuition remission. And then I also got a scholarship, that would have been really helpful. And the Honors College is an amazing support system, a lot of my friends from high school ended up going to the Honors College. And it’s a really, I think, kind of a smaller environment at Maryland, because I had friends who wanted to go to smaller schools and have that environment. But we’re worried about going to a state university. And I think the Honors College was a really great space for that as well.

Kamila
I’m going to go ask my dad to work at Johns Hopkins now. Wow. That’s amazing. Okay, so back to like the actual college application. So did you apply to most of these schools by common app?

Carolyn
Yes, I did all common app. I think that was the first year they had the coalition app. And it was not up and running properly. I don’t know when i You knew used any other kind of application besides the common app. So I have, I had no experience kind of using these two different applications. But I know that that exists now. But I can speak to any of it. I use the common app for everything.

Kamila
And can you tell us again, like just like with other things, how you approached your personal statement, which is like the really long? I think it’s 650 words now 650 word essay, like how did you approach it? Did you take it really seriously? And then, like, what did you write it about? If you don’t mind sharing?

Carolyn
No problem? That’s a really good question. I ended up writing my personal statement about going back to Korea, with my family after my junior year of high school, so I had never been to Korea. My mom is adopted from Korea. So my whole family is white. But my mother came over from South Korea when she was five. And has like very little memory. But she ended up finding her birth family. When I was really little, maybe in like 2006 I think she went on like Korean Oprah and set and like said some of her memories about Korea, and her birth family ended up locating her and so she had gone recently in her job involved a lot of travel to Korea, she was in she became an adoption agent. And but I had never gone my sister I’ve never gone and we’ve never gone together as a family. So I wrote my personal statement about meeting my mother’s birth family. And just kind of how I’ve had felt really disconnected from being from being Korean. I’m half Korean and half white, but it never really felt like I had any connection to Korea at all because my mother’s family was from we’re like farm basically, like Irish farmers from Missouri. And from my end, I love my grandparents so much. And I think it had nothing to do with them. But I always had felt really, like Korea wasn’t really a part of me at all. And I just looked kind of ethnically ambiguous. But I ended up writing my personal statement about how my connection to Korea when we were there really had nothing to do with feeling like when I left Korea that I was more Korean or that I had developed more of a connection but just kind of realizing the enormous personal sacrifice that my mother’s birth family had made in sending her to Korea and feeling really privileged to just get to be writing college applications right now and wanting to kind of make choices in the future that have this really far reaching impact on people. So that that was My personal story was about basically, I’m sure looking back on it, I would think that it was really cheesy. I hate writing personal statements now and have been writing a lot of like fellowship applications for jobs. It’s so not fun, I did not have a fun time writing my personal statement for the common app, and had a lot of teachers look at it, I had my parents look at it. I added a bunch of times, I think I started writing my personal statement about something else, you end up going through a lot of drafts. I think I started it in September. And I really didn’t finish until November. And it’s really not that long. It’s only 600 words, which now seems very short to me. But it’s really hard to write about yourself in a way that doesn’t seem incredibly cheesy. So that’s all I will say, and I and I feel like, over editing also becomes a thing where I got really stressed about my college applications, and writing all these personal statements and essays and there is a point where you just have to let go. So definitely recommend doing that as well. But that’s what I wrote my comment up about. So it was a very, like personal serious essay for me. I also had friends who wrote it about something not so serious. And one of my friends wrote it about how she just really loves birthday parties. And now she’s at Yale so that so it doesn’t have to be about something like really emotional and personal. That’s just what I ended up doing. Because it was what felt the most genuine to me at the time. But you can really be about anything. Yeah,

Kamila
I get you cheesy things are just

Carolyn
it’s just hard to write about yourself in a way that feels like genuine at all. I

Kamila
like you put in every sentence, just like

Carolyn
definitely, definitely. Okay,

Kamila
so personal statement out of the way. You clearly worked really hard on it. Can we get to the supplementals now. So each school, of course, has different supplementals. But they relatively have the same topics and subjects. So can you tell me how you approach those? And did you like reuse any supplemental essays from multiple colleges?

Carolyn
Yeah, I’m sure I did. I think I wrote for Yale, the supplementals have changed since then. I wrote one about debate and how I love teaching debate to kids, it was about something that you love doing. I think I wrote one for Harvard, that could be about anything I wrote about going to Indonesia and staying the night at an Islamic Boarding School. And I wrote one for Princeton, it was like a quote essay. There are a lot of different options. I think I picked the one for Princeton. That was about a quote and I use like a James Baldwin quote, because we happen to be reading that while I was reading my college essays and it really stuck out to me. And, and then there’s always like a why you chose that school essay. Those were really hard for me because it was also hard to come up with a genuine reason besides like, Oh, I just need to go to college. I will your school seems cool. And some of them just end up sounding really cheesy. I feel feel like when my sister now that my sister’s applying, I’ve gone back and looked at some of my essays. And they’re just so so weird to look back at. And yeah, I think I just wrote a lot of supplementals about different extracurriculars, because I do feel like they asked that of you. And then some of the hardest ones. For me, were actually writing the ones where it’s like, finished this sentence. Like if you could teach one class at Yale, it would be XYZ. And those were so difficult for me because I was like, I don’t know what they want to hear. And then I just ended up writing totally random stuff. So I think I wrote like, when I asked what your favorite movie was, I just wrote Mulan, because that’s genuinely my favorite movie. So that’s always what I also told me, that’s always the anecdote that I tell people also about applying to schools is that’s the place where you also have to be as genuine as possible. I think this girl that I know, at Yale also wrote on her college application, like if I could be anything, I would be a burrito. Some people try and be really funny. That was not me. I was not not that funny. So I just wrote a bunch of stuff that I felt like was true. I wrote what my actual favorite song was, it was like a Chance the Rapper saw because I was so into chance to rapper at the time. And so those were those were the supplementals that were actually hardest for me the ones that were a single sentence or something to finish because I just had no I felt like they wanted to hear something specific and I guess they really don’t so so. That was something that I thought about but a lot of my a lot of my essays were about extracurriculars, I think I reused an essay about Cuba a couple times and about writing about kind of learning about Cuban history or something like that, but they were really random.

Kamila
That concludes part one of my interview with Carolyn make sure to subscribe so you know in part two comes out. Also check out my blog, a college kid.com for college related content on there, but other than that, I hope to see you in the next one.