“I applied to the top 10 schools in the States and wrote about 60 entrance essays”

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Celine Ho, 18

School: Jarvis Collegiate
Neighbourhood: Garden District
What’s next: Molecular biology or computer science at Princeton

In Grade 11, I was on several sports teams. I was captain of my basketball team, and we won the south conference championships. I play singles in badminton and also won the provincial competition. I was really looking forward to continuing with sports in Grade 12, and I was also hoping to join the prom committee and yearbook. So when Covid happened, it was a shock on so many levels. Online learning was chaotic and challenging. In class, you can ask the person next to you, “How did you get this answer?” With Google Meet, you don’t want to always interrupt the teacher with the little questions.

Back in 2019, I took part in a two-week volunteer program in Peru where I helped doctors run mobile health clinics in rural communities, and it was an amazing experience. Since then, I’ve been thinking about pursuing something related to health care in university. Initially, I was just going to apply to universities in Canada, but then I heard that the SATs were cancelled and Ivy League schools in the States would no longer require them for admission. I learned about how the American college system is more holistic—they consider letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities, instead of relying solely on grades. So I decided to go for it. I applied to the top 10 schools in the States, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford. I had to write three to seven essays for each application. I wrote about 60 essays in September and October.

Throughout the year, I felt empty without sports—I was missing that social interaction. So I looked up different things I could be doing online. I joined the Toronto Youth Cabinet. We made recommendations for how to integrate mental health care into the Ontario curriculum—for example, creating a forum for young adults to submit their issues anonymously and get help. I also started doing health advocacy work with the UN. I attended the UN Asian Youth Food Systems Summit, where students from around the world talked about food insecurities in our countries and how to tackle them.

If it weren’t for Covid, I would’ve been doing extracurricular sports. And I used to work part time as a swim instructor and lifeguard. I don’t think I would have had the time to sit for hours on my computer to write essays every day for two months. The pandemic really freed up my time. April 6 was Ivy Day, when all eight Ivy League schools release their decisions at the same time. I was sitting at my tiny desk with my two older brothers and parents standing behind me. Then I saw that I’d been accepted to Princeton. I was jumping and screaming and crying. My dad was crying too, and I’ve never really seen him cry before. Everyone was in shock. I was accepted into Western Ivey, Queen’s commerce, Caltech, Princeton and UPenn.

Princeton was my first choice because they have a great curriculum that would allow me to combine STEM and the humanities. I plan on studying molecular biology or computer science. My goal is to develop computational neuroprosthetics. I was able to get enough scholarships to cover most of my tuition and expenses. I feel very fortunate.


—As told to Andrea Yu