Ray Zhou graduated valedictorian of his 2012 class at Amador Valley High School and is currently a sophomore at Stanford University. In the season of college applications and acceptances, Ray gives some advice for high school students.
1. What do you think makes you different from other students?
I don’t actually think anything makes myself innately different from other students. I definitely don’t feel inherently smarter or more creative. I struggled with assignments, tests, and other challenges just like everyone else. Something that I did take pride in, though, was my initiative to work on things I became passionate about. I was never afraid to ask for help. I sought guidance from great mentors before me, many of whom eventually became among my closest friends.
2. What do you think is the most important thing for college applications?
I think grades and test scores are an important foundation for any college applicant. In today’s competitive landscape, those numbers are important just for getting your foot in the door. But alone they’re not enough anymore because there are too many qualified and talented applicants. The most important thing outside of these academic numbers isn’t how many club leadership positions you can hold, or how many medals you can win, but how your work contributes to a unique high school story you can tell. When you apply to college, your essays are basically an unique story affected by your experiences in high school. A long list of bullet items is not enough to impress college admission officers at a top tier university.
3. What makes someone who gets into an ivy different from others?
Honestly, almost nothing at all. The school that you attend will not dictate what kind of person you become. That’s something for you to decide. The process of finding yourself is always going to be building upon itself. Internally, most Ivy League schools are diverse, not monochromatic – that’s why you hear all of this emphasis on diversity and uniqueness when you apply in the first place.
4. Do you have any advice for current high schoolers in general?
Don’t waste your high school career re-living someone else’s experience, or re-walking someone else’s footsteps. Don’t seek out clubs or activities just because your friends do them, or just because they are generally considered well-established at your own school. Discover what you want to pursue, and pursue it. In fact, if you’re really interested in coding and you can’t find that opportunity at your school, you know what you should do? Start your own coding club. There are a lot of opportunities out there and all it takes is your own initiative to find them. So don’t hold yourself back.
High school is a great time to find your own path in life. As Ray said, you decide who you become. All the choices and mistakes made in our life are helping us to become a better person. Although college attendance is important in this society, the university you attend does not set you on a path of failure or success. You are free to change paths at anytime, anywhere.