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by Nathaniel Dolquist, Yale University Class of 2014

When I was in the fifth grade, I asked my cousin what colleges were the most difficult to get into. “Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford,” she replied, “but nobody actually gets in there.” The goal was set.

I grew up in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, just south of Denver. I had straight As, took every AP class I could fit into my schedule (6:35 am AP Calculus… do not recommend), and stayed at school until 5 pm each day for theater rehearsal. I fell asleep on top of my AP Euro textbook more than once.

When I began the college process my junior year of high school, my mom took me to visit the schools I’d always longed to see. Stanford was beautiful, but I wanted a place with a stronger arts department. Princeton was lovely, but again, not much theater. 

Then we visited Yale. New Haven, CT is perhaps not the most glamorous city, but I loved it immediately. I felt an instant sense of belonging. As the self-proclaimed “Ivy League of music and theater”, I knew this was where I wanted to be. It was October and I hadn’t turned in my application yet. No pressure.

I had an interview with a Yale student at the admissions office. At the end she asked me, “is there anything else you want to know about us?” I readied the question I had spent weeks preparing: “actually, yeah. The Yale supplement essay asks, ‘what can you tell us about yourself that we can’t find anywhere else on your application?’ So what I want to know is… what can you tell me about Yale that I can’t find out from the website?”

She laughed. “Oh! Well… I guess… there are always people running around in costumes. Robes, masks, that kind of thing. You know the secret societies are real, right?”

I took the SAT and the ACT twice each. I didn’t study, didn’t have a tutor. I got a 1520 on the SAT both times and a 34 on the ACT both times (out of 1600 and 36, respectively). I submitted all of the scores to Yale. My Common App essay talked about how I was overweight as a kid and lost 60 pounds through diet and exercise. My 500-word supplement essay began with, “is the music in the strings or in the hands that play them?”

I got into Yale Early Action on December 15th, 2009. It remains the happiest day of my life. I didn’t apply anywhere else.

I received generous financial aid, though I did need to take out student loans to make ends meet. I joined an a cappella group, performed in 16 plays and musicals, and took a year off to sing and travel with the Whiffenpoofs.  One summer, Yale gave me nearly $7000 to study theater in Ireland for three months. When I entered Yale I had been to four countries; by the time I left I had been to 45, all for free. I received my BA in Theater Studies in 2015 and moved straight to New York City.

The process of applying to an Ivy League school is difficult. There are many unknowns, and even the brightest students are denied admission. But I can tell you: it is worth the risk, worth the effort, and worth the reward.