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Our Stanford interviewee suggests looking for inspiration early--it isn't as easy as you'd think.

We had the opportunity of interviewing Hannah Oo '24, a student at Stanford University, about: Getting into Stanford


Hannah was born and raised in Michigan. She scored a 1600 on her SAT and became a National Merit Scholar. Hannah has also earned 5s on numerous AP exams including Literature, Calculus BC, Chemistry, and World History. Outside of high school, Hannah was a competitive figure skater and enjoys staying active, exploring the outdoors, and meeting new people.


Key points Hannah made during her interview:

  1. "When working hard in high school, especially when it felt like other people were ‘having more fun’ per say, I would remind myself of my goal of going to a college like Stanford."

  2. "I think the way that I was able to prevent myself from being too overwhelmed and burning out was by focusing on the commitments that I loved."

  3. "I knew I had to start looking out for inspiration early, because I was not sure where or when I would find it."




Q: How do you feel getting into Stanford? Does it feel more like your hard work paid off or is this something you wouldn’t have imagined?

A: I would say that it is a combination of both. When working hard in high school, especially when it felt like other people were ‘having more fun’ per say, I would remind myself of my goal of going to a college like Stanford. Still, when I actually got in, the whole experience felt surreal. Even on campus now, I feel lucky to be able to call an institution like this my home.



Q: Would you consider Stanford your best fit college?

A: Yes! But I do not think that you need to go to your best fit college to be successful. Your college experience is what you make of it!




Q: When considering different colleges, what stood out most to you about Stanford?

A: Growing up in the Midwest, what struck me most about college in California, specifically in Palo Alto, was the innovation and open-mindedness here. Everyone wants to make something of themselves, and while this can definitely be a fault, I knew that for the next four years at least, this was where I wanted to be and to grow.




Q: Did you ever feel overwhelmed in high school with all your commitments? How did you overcome these challenges?

A: Definitely. I think the way that I was able to prevent myself from being too overwhelmed and burning out was by focusing on the commitments that I loved. I remember one time I was in a phone interview for a position on a random city council board position. I literally told the person I was talking to that I was sorry for wasting her time, but I would be withdrawing my application because I realized that I would just be stretched too thin (I phrased it better but still am definitely not recommending doing this in your interviews). Quality over quantity definitely rings true here, but still be prepared to make some sacrifices.




Q: Did you ever feel unsure of yourself or that you wouldn’t be accepted into your dream school?

A: I never felt unsure that I wouldn’t be accepted into Stanford, but I never felt sure either. All I knew was that I had done everything that I could have done both on my application and with my high school 'career’. The final decision was now out of my hands, and there was nothing I could do about it.



Q: Which standardized tests did you take? How did you determine which would fit you best?

A: I took the SAT the winter of my sophomore year, the fall of my junior year, and the spring of my junior year. I took the ACT the fall of my junior year as well. I had a reasonably strong SAT score (not my target score though) when I took the ACT and actually scored quite well on the ACT. I still ended up focusing on the SAT for that last junior year test because I preferred the critical thinking focus and, frankly, was not as strong in math as I felt like I should have been for the ACT. I 100% made the right decision and am very happy I decided to focus on one exam for my last stretch of testing.



Q: Did you prioritize testing for college applications? Do you think that they will continue to be applicable in the coming years due to the changes Covid-19 has made?

A: I did not prioritize testing, but I definitely made space for it in my ‘plan.’ As long as testing is optional, rather than completely omitting it, I think students will have to continue considering testing as a significant part of their application process. Unfortunately, especially in terms of equity and accessibility, optional means mandatory for most types of applicants in this niche.




Q: How did you learn to practice and prepare smarter not harder?

A: For me, focusing on active learning/practice was vital. I got to the point where I could just tell when my mind was turned off, and I was just doing this practice test to go through the motions. At this point, it was time to ask myself, “Do you need a break?” Or, it was time to motivate myself and dig deep to keep paying attention, for 10, 15, or 30 more minutes. I also found that I was valuing my time outside of studying a lot more.




Q: What resources would you recommend using to prepare for the SAT/ACT?

A: College board has plenty of free practice tests on their website. Additionally, I recommend a book for extra practice. And, if you just need extra questions but hesitate to pay the hefty fee that books come with, oftentimes teachers have books that you can borrow. I recommend private tutoring more so for score refinement rather than for when you are simply getting familiarized with the test.



Q: Can you break down the process you took when writing your essays and how much time each step took?

A: I started brainstorming my essays by the June before my Senior year, and began writing by early August. My essays were completed by the middle of September. For me, personally, the brainstorming portion was always the hardest part. As soon as I got an idea, or got my mindset in ‘the Zone,’ I knew that I could write a solid rough draft that instant. I think it all comes down to knowing yourself. Because I was a bit of an inspiration-driven writer, I knew I had to start looking out for inspiration early, because I was not sure where or when I would find it.





While you’re here, connect with and learn more about Hannah Oo on her LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannah-oo/.


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