• Nora Sun

Tags: Yale, first generation

Institution: Yale University

Study: Major in biomedical engineering and history

High School Experience

I came into high school as a “STEM person”, with a weak grasp on the importance of the humanities. Sure, I thought history was important, but I never imagined continuing my studies in the liberal arts past the requirements. Ironically, my experiences doing theatre and in humanities classes influenced my time in high school as much as my experiences conducting research and in STEM classes did. This was mostly thanks to a lot of wonderful mentors and teachers I met and still talk to today. Especially since I didn’t really have confidence in myself, their encouragement really led me to success in both STEM and humanities. My school’s administration could’ve definitely encouraged more people to study the humanities, though, with the introduction of electives in history and English. My school is a primarily STEM-focused magnet school, with a ton of opportunities in those disciplines, but I truly believe that every STEM person needs to have a good grasp on the humanities as well. Personally, at this point, I fully believe that I could not have an intellectually satisfying future without pursuing both STEM and humanities.

Course choices

I was initially interested in biology, so I took AP Biology in sophomore year. In junior year, I took AP American Studies (composed of AP US History and AP English Language) and AP Physics I, which were two courses that impacted my academic interests deeply. As such, in senior year, I am taking Advanced Genetics, Advanced Modern Physics, and AP Comparative Government to pursue my interests in biology, physics, and the humanities.


In sophomore year, I took AP European History and AP Biology. In junior year, I took AP Calculus BC, AP Physics I, AP US History, and AP English Language. In senior year, I took AP English Literature and AP Comparative Government. I’m not taking the tests for AP Literature and AP Comparative Government because my college doesn’t accept those credits, but I took the test for every other AP I took and got all 5s except for a 3 in AP European History.


My average GPA through junior year, on an unweighted 100 point scale, was 95.49. What was notable, though, was the upward trend; my GPA in freshman year alone was about 93, while my GPA in junior year alone was 98.

Standardized Testing

SAT: 1550

ACT: 35

SAT Physics: 800

SAT Math II: 790


I was mostly interested in theatre (which was the bulk of my extracurricular involvement), volunteering, and research. I’ve been involved in theatre for all 4 years, and I’ve been on the directorial board for the past three. This year, I serve as Senior Director and I direct productions and lead cast and crew. I’ve been tutoring on a volunteer basis for the past three years. In sophomore year, I volunteered at a domestic abuse shelter for a non-profit called No One Gets Left Behind. In junior and senior year, I volunteered at a local tutoring center, CCB School of Flushing. Now I am employed as an instructor at a Mathnasium branch. Lastly, I’ve been doing cancer research for a little over one year. The summer before my senior year, I had a paid internship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where I conducted research on melanoma and drug resistance. I was supposed to return this summer, but I don’t think that will happen. I’ve also been interested in student leadership in my school, and I’m a member of my school’s Senior Council as a senior. I’m also a Big Sib at my school and I help freshmen get acclimated to high school.


My relationship with the teachers who wrote my recommendations was very strong. My AP English Language and AP Physics I teachers wrote my recs. I constantly spent time with them outside of class and they really got to know me as a student. It also helped that I was genuinely passionate about the subjects they were teaching, which was obvious through my participation and effort in the classes. I also genuinely respected them and liked them as people, and I didn’t just ask them for a recommendation because I knew they’d say yes. I asked them for a recommendation because they were extremely important mentors to me, and I knew that whatever they’d have to write would be really poignant and illuminating.


For my CommonApp essay, my theme was that I was a storyteller and that storytelling was how I grew. I described my growth through the lens of my stationery collection, and how each pencil I added to the collection represented a new stage of growth in my journey as a storyteller. For my supplements, my big narrative was my goal to bridge the gap between STEM and the humanities. I applied to a lot of more liberal arts schools and schools that emphasized the importance of both disciplines.


This is a question I still struggle with, since nothing on my application screams “I started my own non-profit!!” or “I am the CEO of a successful business!!” But I think I worked really hard on my essays, and it was really obvious what I was passionate about. I also think I had really special relationships with the teachers who wrote my recommendations, and I can’t imagine my recommendations hurting my application.


Even though it’s hard, especially for those beginning their junior or senior years, try not to think of or do everything for college. Do extracurriculars because you genuinely enjoy them, not because they’ll help your application. I applied as an engineering major, and my biggest extracurricular was theatre. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s a passion of yours. Apply this energy to your relationships with teachers too! Don’t go into junior year with your recmmendation letters in mind. Actually take the time to get to know your teachers without an ulterior motive! They can be really intelligent, kind human beings with a ton of interesting stories. Genuinely getting to know your teachers helps build the most authentic relationships, and by extension, the most authentic rec letters. And if there’s one thing to take from all of this, it’s to do EVERYTHING EARLY. Every senior says this because it’s true. Get your testing done early, ask for recommendations early, and start your essays early. Your first semester senior self will thank you.


First generation


I loved how they emphasized the importance of the humanities in conjunction with STEM. Not only are they basically known for history, but lately they have been investing millions into STEM - especially engineering. Even though they aren’t that well known for engineering, the small faculty to student ratio (1:2) and the amount of money they are investing make Yale a really special place to study engineering and cultivate relationships with engineering faculty.

#UCLA #First_generation

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