Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati is a public high school for grades 7-12. Ranked one of America's Best High Schools by U.S. News, it is open to any student in Cincinnati who tests reasonably well. Walnut Hills is culturally and ethnically diverse, and some 95 percent of its graduating seniors go on to four-year colleges. We asked eight seniors to talk about applying for college.
One of four class valedictorians, Ann was among 150 to 175 students Harvard plucked off its wait list in May—so late that we took her picture in a T-shirt from Michigan, where she'd expected to go. Her reaction: "I didn't expect that they would use the wait list, and if they did, I didn't think they would choose me." Ann's first inclination was to do something different for college—her older siblings went to Stanford and Harvard as well. An artist and dancer, she worked hard and took her share of AP courses but also found time to breathe life into Walnut Hills' moribund community service program and have fun. "I'm glad I lived reasonably in high school," says Ann, who got into NYU and three big state schools but was rejected by Yale and Columbia.
GPA: 4.0 unweighted
SAT/ACT scores: 760 math, 720 critical reading, 800 writing/31 composite
Extracurrics: Community action team, pottery, ballet, piano
Biggest surprise: Thought senior-year workload would be lighter in recognition of college apps. It wasn't.
Working the wait list: Ann got two heavyweights, including her principal, to send in recs. She wrote to Harvard saying she was certain she'd go if she got off the list. And she sent updates on awards and scholarships she won after she first applied.
Stress reliever: Talking to sister and dad late at night
Advice to 11th graders: Relax. "I didn't take the sat more than once, nor did I spend my high school career preparing for college in the gross, hype-y kind of way."
Editor's note: The version of this story printed in the 2009 edition of the America's Best Colleges guidebook misspelled Ann's last name. The correct spelling is Cheng.