• Nora Sun

Tags: Princeton

Institution: Princeton

Study: Major in computer science, statistics, and machine learning

High School Experience

I went to an affluent, large public university in the northeast that was highly competitive. Students’ parents generally had some sort of affiliation with Harvard, Yale, and other elite schools, so there was a fairly toxic culture. Overall my experience was pretty stressful and people always competed in grades, internships, etc. however, faculty were very supportive and as I went through high school they implemented a lot of changes to create a more welcoming environment.


I was always interested in STEM, but I wasn’t too sure about what aspect of STEM I wanted to pursue. I was initially really interested in aerospace engineering, but through my engineering classes, I realized hardware and physical applications wasn’t really my thing. My “resume boosting classes” such as AP chem, AP physics, and BC calc proved to be the most interesting because they pushed me to think theoretically and critically. These were the classes that I really enjoyed. Through internships and other experiences in both industry and academia, I began to really enjoy data science and machine learning. It was the perfect blend of complex theory with real world applications. I’m terms of AP exams, I took a total of 8: physic c mechanics, lit, euro, bc calc, chinese, APUSH, chem, and stats. I got all 5s except for chem where I got a 4.


4.0 unweighted, weighted 4.98

Course choices

Standardized Testing

SAT: 1600

SAT Math 2: 800

SAT Chemistry: 770


I was interested in a lot of different things in high school. I was on my schools debate team and we won a few awards at the state and national level. I started my schools martial arts club shortly after a sexual violence incident, and promoted mental health and awareness for sexual violence. My biggest time commitment however was my Taekwondo team and orchestra both of which were outside of school. In these activities I held leadership roles as the choreographer for Taekwondo demonstrations and 1st chair violin in my orchestra. During the summers I also did extensive research and internships at both Biogen biotech and Broad institute of Harvard and MIT.


I had my APUSH teacher and Stats teacher write me recs. I had a strong relationship with all my teachers, but I chose these two teachers because I was also really interested in their classes, and though it would make me look more well-rounded from an admissions officer perspective, as I would’ve had strong recommendations from both STEM and humanities. I also had an additional recommendation from the head of the lab that I interned and did research in. I thought this recommendation would be important since I worked closely in a research setting and had publications with this professor, so it would show a different perspective of who I am beyond the classroom. For my teachers who wrote my recommendations, I also developed relationships outside the classroom as well and had them attend my scientific poster presentations, concerts, etc. They were more like friends than teachers.


The application process is inherently very arbitrary, so it’s important to deliver the most amount of “personal” info in a short amount of space. For me this was via a central narrative. I structured my essay around my experiences with poverty, and ultimately how it’s reframed my understanding of everything around me. I wrote about how STEM would allow me to give others opportunities and equitable education that I’ve both enjoyed and been deprived of, and how music was an outlet for me to express my emotions during a time where everything was falling apart.


Personally, I think it was my essays and interviews that really pushed me over the edge. I would also say my extensive research experience and high school publications also made me unique.


Structure your common app essay and longer supplemental around a central theme or interest. College, unlike 10-15 years ago, no longer want you to talk about a diverse set of interests or areas you excel at, but rather want students who have potential and ambition to excel in one area. For me, my theme was centered around giving back and overcoming challenges. This allowed me to blend in my own personal situation while also talking about why I’m interested in what I’m interested in. The essay component, in my opinion, should not be a resume of all our achievements, but explain the motive, the experiences, and lessons you’ve gained from your achievements. I would also say that students should not stress about standardized test scores. Even though my scores were high, I strongly regret spending hours upon hours improving my score by literally 10 points. The scores are merely a benchmark, once you’ve reached that school’s benchmark (usually a 1500 for elite schools or their 50th percentile score) you are all set and just need to craft a compelling application to take to all the way to the finish line. Also start early and think about what you want to achieve after college. You don’t need to have a game plan of your entire life during your freshman year, but a strong interest in a field (even something as general as stem) and being proactive can be super helpful. Look for internships or summer activities. Even if you land a pretty minor one, internships and experiences build on top of one another, so once you intern at a small company you have a better chance at your dream internships. Make a LinkedIn and network at a young age. I reached out to professors in freshman year who I still keep in contact with today. When adults see young, proactive people they take notice and will want to help you. This is important, as I would’ve never been able to get into competitive internships without these people that I reached out to. They also can give you more insight on specific schools for your interest beyond Quora and rankings. Really really helpful. Pay attention to mental health! At the end of the day, if you’re staying up until 4 am to do an application, it’s not worth it. Always prioritize your happiness and make sure what you’re doing is what you want.


My father had a gambling addiction and for about 3 years I lived in many homeless shelters. I’m also a low-income student.


I got into 4 other Ivy League schools and other elite schools that gave me a lot of need based aid. For me the real factor was the academics and location. I ultimately chose Princeton because it has a very strong computer science program, I love the research conducted by the professors, close to home, and has an amazing campus with an awesome campus setting.

#Princeton #Low_income

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