Edmonton

From Edmonton to Harvard: Local grad has advice on how she got in

Old Scona Academic student Cindy Liu is now part of a small group of people who can say they’re in the slim six percent of applicants who are accepted into the ivy league school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

'It’s definitely been a dream, but not one I expected in any form'

Old Scona Academic grade 12 student Cindy Liu will be attending Harvard University in fall 2020. (Cindy Liu)

It's not easy getting into university, let alone being accepted into Harvard.

Old Scona Academic student Cindy Liu is now part of a small group of people who can say they're in the slim six per cent of applicants who are accepted into the Ivy League school in Cambridge, Mass.

"It's definitely been a dream, but not one I expected in any form," Liu told CBC's Radio Active Friday.

The Grade 12 student wasn't taking any chances, so she applied in the early round of admissions last year. Liu found out in December that she was accepted.

"I decided to apply in the early rounds and shoot my shot. I thought 'there's not much to lose,' " she says.

Liu's approach to her studies at Harvard is thoughtful. Undergraduates at the school don't have to choose a major or concentration until their second year. Liu says that gives her time to figure out how her education can help others.

"The first year we have a lot of flexibility to explore the different programs ... that are available to us," says Liu. "I'm thinking I might [focus] on something related to finance and health policy, or potentially at the intersection of those two fields."

"I decided to apply to Harvard early … because I knew they had a very strong liberal arts focus."

Authenticity is key

As part of her application, Liu had to outline how she was contributing to society and the broader community.

Last summer she interned at a medical genetics lab at the University of Alberta as part of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program.

Her application also outlined her work on a project led by the New York Academy of Sciences, where she helped develop a home design that resisted damage during a wildfire.

Liu says her authentic, genuine passion for these projects came through in her application, which may have tipped the scale in her favour.

The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone who wants to apply, is to do activities you're passionate about, not activities that you think might help you get into a school.- Cindy Liu- Cindy Liu

"I really emphasized the point that I was genuinely passionate about the things I was doing," said Liu. "The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone who wants to apply, is to do activities you're passionate about, not activities that you think might help you get into a school."

"At the end of the day, these schools know what you're passionate about through the way you talk about them and through the way you're expressing it through the essays."

Liu doesn't yet know if she'll actually be walking the halls of Harvard in the fall. As part of the COVID-19 pandemic response, school administrators have yet to decide if classes will be on campus or online.

Either way, Liu says she's excited no matter what.

"I'm grateful that Harvard has a strong financial aid program, and very generous people who help students get this education," she said, adding that scholarships will also help pay for her tuition.

Liu will find out in the coming weeks whether she can book her flight to Massachusetts when more details clear up surrounding flights in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanara McLean is an award-winning producer and journalist based at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television.

With files from Madeleine Cummings

now