The author, not pictured, got into Yale.

I reviewed my Yale admissions file to see what the Ivy League school thought about my application. Most of my scores weren’t that impressive, but they really liked my genuine attitude and excitement.Reviewing my application reminded me how far I have come as a student. 

“Brian spoke so fast it was electrifying.”

This was the first quote from my Yale interviewer. She wrote those words in my admissions file, a document I finally got my hands on three years after being accepted into Yale University.

I remember that interview like it was yesterday. It was a Zoom call — my application cycle happened at the crux of pandemic remote learning — and I was wearing my father’s old, oversize dress shirt. The interviewer was lovely. Some of my answers to her questions probably didn’t make sense, and she was right. I definitely forgot to breathe in between my sentences.

But viewing my admissions file years later gave me a peek into what my interviewer was actually thinking that day, and I learned what really got me into Yale.

I reviewed my application as a junior with the registrar

Every student in the US can review their college admissions file under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. I emailed my university registrar, and within 45 days, a member of their support staff reached back out to schedule a virtual meeting. Picture-taking and recording were not allowed, so I jotted notes by hand.

There was very little verbal interaction between me and the staff member. She screen-shared my admissions file and let me read in silence. Something told me she understood the emotional weight of this moment for students, and I appreciated that. It is intimidating for any teenager to package their identity into a 650-word common application essay and a questionnaire — but it is arguably even more so to witness retrospectively how everything was judged.

I got a behind-the-scenes look into Yale admissions when they read my application

Each aspect of my application was rated out of nine points. My readers gave me a six for my extracurriculars and for my first teacher recommendation. They gave me a seven for my second teacher recommendation and my counselor’s recommendation. I received an “outstanding” for my interview and a 2++ for my overall rating. The overall rating is given on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 being the highest, and pluses were a good sign.

In all, my ratings weren’t exactly bad, but they weren’t extraordinary either. The numbers on the pages stared back at me — cold, formulaic, and transactional. It felt strange to be reduced to a system of numbers, knowing that something as qualitative as extracurricular activities could still be broken down and scored.

Beyond the ratings, however, what truly stood out were the comments left by the admissions officers. Many of the comments were on my character, my essays, and the possible contributions I would make as a student.

“I teared up reading Essay 1,” one reader wrote of my common application essay. Another said of the same essay: “His Chinese New Years are untraditional in that they remind him of his family’s financial struggles.”

I got emotional. All the memories of writing that essay came flooding back. I remembered how difficult it was to start it. I knew there was no easy way for someone to understand me without first knowing my background. I wanted to prove that I deserved a seat at the table where legacy students and the wealthy continue to outnumber their first-generation, low-income peers like myself.

I kept reading and found more comments from admissions officers that moved me: “He treats his mom well;” “He seems to have a truly good heart;” “One of the most intelligent, sincere, jovial students ever met;” “I have no doubt that Brian would push his peers at Yale to stand up for what’s right;” and “I come away with compelling impressions that the student would contribute significantly to the undergrad community.”

I searched for a negative comment. There were none.

I didn’t deserve this, I muttered under my breath. Here I was, a junior in college, no longer a 4.0 student, my post-grad plans murky, balancing two part-time jobs and hoping to make it out of midterms alive. It felt good knowing that someone had rooted for me to be here.

The process reminded me how far I have come

Coming from an underserved household where no one had gone to college, I had always looked at the Ivy League application process skeptically.

Without the resources to enroll in SAT test prep and the financial safety net to pursue unpaid leadership positions and resume-boosting activities at school, I had doubted the “holistic” admissions process many colleges boast. My critiques about Yale remain numerous.

But at least in their comments, the admissions committee gave me grace in that they reviewed my application in light of my circumstances. I might never know exactly what happened in that reading room. Still, a couple of lessons ring true, based on my own viewing experience and my conversations with others who had done the same: Good character and potential are the key; I didn’t need to be perfect.

And finally, I — not anyone else — needed to give me the fighting chance of applying in the first place.

“GPA is outstanding, especially in context,” an admissions officer said. “This is a home run.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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