Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When the odds are against you...

I'll let you in on a little secret...

Getting into any top school is hard. Yes. There's absolutely no denying that. And yes, it's true that a good many of us have amazing SATs and ACTs and APs and IBs and GPAs and PSATs and SAT IIs  and ABCs and 123s. And then there are the extracurriculars, and the volunteer hours, and the amazing internships, and the leadership roles in this that and the other thing. There's the running comment of "How did I get in here? Everybody has either started an orphanage in Africa or is working on research that will cure cancer or redefine modern-day physics!" And while some of this is in jest, there's also some major truth to it.
When the odds are against you, do not, I repeat DO NOT decide to not apply or not even try because you think you are not good enough to get in. GO FOR IT. I know first hand how much many people struggle to succeed, and let me tell you what I've learned: Stanford is an amazing school. They want diverse and unique individuals, not just people who have gotten all the right test scores and have done all the right activities. They care about the personal strengths and character in their classes, and it's not all about the "perfect" application. That secret, when you realize the truth of it, is such a glorious thing. Because for a person coming from the non-traditional background of a high school student, it can literally be something from your wildest possible dreams.

The living proof

Many people are not given the same opportunities others are. Guess what though? Just because you may have had to face some difficult times does not mean you do not have the world ahead of you. Yes, I know you've had to work harder to be successful. There's a statistic somewhere out there that says children from poorer backgrounds have it 44% harder to succeed in everything, since they do not have the privileges their peers who live comfortable have. I'm not talking the rich here- I mean the average middle class.
The beauty of Stanford is that they can recognize motivated people, and people who have developed resilience and determination. You may not have a 2100+ SAT or 4.0 GPA or be the president of anything or have a zillion volunteer hours because you may not be able to keep all that going. But the admissions counselors will recognize your skills and accomplishments, because in a way your accomplishments are not as easily measurable as some of your peers' are.

My story

Yes, I do know this on a personal level, and am not just making stuff up. I know how hard it is to stick to school when your life is falling down around you (or seems to be). I am living proof of how Stanford truly values character and people, and not truly just numbers. While numbers are important as well, I know for a fact that if that was what was important to Stanford, I would not be writing this right now.
I went to public schools my whole life. The one I graduated from was actually mostly comprised of  middle to upper income households, and as I lived with my godparents my senior year, I have to say my senior year was very stable financially. But that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't made some of my own decisions.
I grew up on a farm originally, in a single-wide trailer. I had a mom and step dad and three half brothers: two, three, and ten years younger than me. I went to a small county school of about 100 people per grade from Kindergarten to freshman year. Life had some major ups and downs, as things with my parents were never great. It was like a sinusoidal wave; there were crests when things were great, and there were troughs when I was separated from the family and kept locked out. Even now, I am still coming to terms with all that happened.
After my freshman year, my family became homeless. My parents cut off all ties with everyone outside of our nuclear familiar unit. For six months, we were homeless. During this time, I was home-schooled through a program at an alternative high school. It was the kind where the majority of the students are just barely struggling to graduate, and are in and out of juvie and have substance abuse issues. My parents, to my frustration, wouldn't let me return to public school during that year for a variety of reasons.
April 2010 found my family moving into a new house. We knew no one, and being a new student was difficult. My new school had some minor gang issues. I was finally able to take my first AP class, although I could only take two since I had a lot of other graduation requirements to take, being a transfer student.
Halfway through my junior year, things started to hit a trough again with my parents. It grew to a point that it had never reached before. I will spare the details, but will say that it was never physical abuse.
Long story short, I decided to file a Child in Needs of Services case, which is very similar to a CPS case in Washington state. My mother fought the case. The Commissioner who presided over my case couldn't believe it. He suggested emancipation, and my mother agreed. That was July 22, 2011. Not quite a year ago yet.
At their request, I have not talked to anyone in my family since.
Since then, life has been much improved. I literally can't say how much it has. I went to yet another school, but being a new student was worth it this time. Prior to my senior year, I'd never been in a club or had volunteered; I'd never been allowed to. My world all of a sudden opened up before me, and it was so exquisitely breath-taking.
There have been major emotional struggles, but I've been able to grow a lot through this.

In conclusion

Now, let me tell you why I told you that long story. It was not for sympathy, no sir. I am the last person who expects sympathy, so don't bother. My attitude is BRING IT ON, which brings me to my point.Just because you think you can't get in, apply anyway. That's the beauty of this stupendous school: it's not all about the numbers. It's one of the top schools in the country, and it values applicants for who they are as people. They take the time to get to know many of the aspects of your life. They want to admit you, and not your statistics.
That's why it's so important to go for it, even when many people around you -even your own parents- think you can't.
Don't let anything get in the way of your goals. You have the power over your own life, and you may be surprised at what happens when you shoot for the wildest of dreams. This time last year, I was literally fighting for my freedom, where my best option if I failed was a community college. Now I'm going to Stanford.
When the odds are against you, don't let them stop you. Let nothing stop you.


  1. Anna,
    Thank you so much for your post.
    It allowed me to believe in my dream a little more.

    1. Your welcome!!!
      That was why I wanted to post about my story, because it truly is amazing what happened to me, and I know of several others who are in very similar situations. That means you can as well!
      I wish you luck in all you strive to be and become!

  2. Dear Anna,

    I am currently a Senior in high school, applying to Stanford for the 2013 Fall Semester. I was looking for some guidance as I go through the application process and I came across your post, "When the odds are against you..." it truly is an inspiration for me. It literally brought me tears because pursuing an education at Stanford has always been my dream. But it has come to the point that I don't even express my dreams because I am being brought down by my peers even family. I'm told that if I apply that my chances of getting in are slim to none! But all that matters is that I believe in myself and you have assured me that anything is possible!
    Thank you.