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An Amherst grad on how she got in and you can get into your dream school.

Updated: Mar 13

We had the opportunity of interviewing JZ about: Getting into Amherst.


JZ is

  • a graduate of top liberal arts college, Amherst College in Massachusetts,

  • a medical student at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, and

  • a perfect scorer of the ACT.

Here are some main points she stresses:

  • I would say that my high school didn’t provide too many opportunities and that a lot of things I was part of were from me chasing down or looking for opportunities.

  • My inspiration was simply to make it a good essay that explained more about me or my upbringing than my lists of extracurriculars or awards could.


Q: What did you consider when choosing colleges to apply and attend?

A: Cost/financial aid, reputation, the relative benefit of a degree from that institution, the various doors that would be opened to me by that institution.




Q: What is one thing that you believed made you stand out and get into a top university?

A: Several years of laboratory research experience, which likely gave me more consideration by STEM-focused schools; and my experiences with writing competitions, which likely made me appeal more to liberal arts schools.




Q: How many leadership positions did you handle while in high school, what kind, and how did you manage to maintain it without dropping expectations?

A: Co-founder and co-president of Science Olympiad, senior captain of the tennis team, member of core competing team for In-The-Know (similar to Quiz Bowl), first chair flute in band, small group leader at church, editor in chief of the student paper--honestly I don’t know. Looking back on being in high school I’m amazed I had so much energy for everything. One key factor that helped me do everything I was able to do was that my parents were supportive and drove me to places/did what they could to help.




Q: What type of projects did you undertake on your own?

A: Research at a hospital lab, played a part in forming our Science Olympiad chapter, research through a summer scientific research program, also program with the US Institute of Peace in DC...wrote a lot.





Q: Were the opportunities in your high school more or less the reason why you got in, or did you make your own opportunities? If so, how did you accomplish that?

A: I would say that my high school didn’t provide too many opportunities and that a lot of things I was part of were from me chasing down or looking for opportunities. For example, we didn’t really have guidance in the way of honors summer camps or activities to do (besides maybe band/orchestra camp), so I had to look those up on my own. One key break for me was after our regional science fair, when my teacher signed me up to be judged for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and I ended up qualifying. Without that, I don’t know if my interest in science and research would have continued.




Q: How did you spend your summers, if you could give a percentage of how much you had down time, and how much you worked?

A: 85% work (includes studying as well as research and/or structured academic programs), 10% play (includes non-academic programs, e.g. tennis)




Q: How was your college essay structured?

A: Wrote about money, opportunity, and the different ways an immigrant family/immigrant Chinese parents think of these things. Structured as anecdote → exposition → conclusion(s)





Q: How did you get inspiration to write your college essay in such a way that you made sure it stood out (reading other essays, all the books collectively read over the years, external surroundings)?

I was always a big reader, and that probably manifested in my writing as well. My inspiration was simply to make it a good essay that explained more about me or my upbringing than my lists of extracurriculars or awards could. That being said, I don’t think my essay stood out - it was simply good enough.



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