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From Horses to Harvard: My Admissions Journey

It’s kind of funny. Harvard was never my dream school from childhood or a goal that I was striving toward throughout high school. I never actually thought I would get in, or that it would become as big a part of my life as it did. Up until I applied, the biggest impact it had had on my life was being the law school Elle went to in Legally Blonde.


Harvard was never even on my radar. I grew up on a ranch in Harney County, Oregon, a remote rural area with rolling hills, open space and lots and lots of sagebrush. I like to tell people that we have more cows than people per square mile, because it’s true. The county population is about 7000 – just a little more than Harvard’s entire undergrad population! – and many students in the area stick around after high school to look after the ranches that have been in their families for generations.

The view of a large open field from on top of a hill.
Above: The view of our hay fields from my house. It’s pretty open.

My parents always supported me and encouraged me to pursue my ambitions, but when I first started thinking about colleges, I wasn’t even considering east coast schools. I was looking at options closer to home – schools in Oregon and Washington that were far enough away for me to try something new but close enough to home that it wouldn’t be too hard to come back and visit.

That all changed, of course, when admissions season rolled around. For the first time I seriously considered applying because my mom convinced me. (Thanks Mom!) After taking my SAT for the second time, I received a flyer in the mail that said my score was in the ballpark of what they might consider and encouraged me to apply. I hesitated initially because I knew the odds were against me (I spent a lot of time on College Confidential, alright), and figured that if I was just going to be rejected anyway why should I try?

A girl stands petting a horse that is quite a bit taller than her.
Above: At least my horse friends believed in me.

But I gave it my best shot, and when March 31 rolled around, I ended up checking my admissions decision while I was still in school. Being on the west coast meant that when decisions were released in the evening in Cambridge, I was still in school for the day. I remember very clearly sitting in my Yearbook class, anxiously glancing at the clock and wondering if I could check my decision or if I should just wait until school got out. Eventually my impatience got the best of me and I went to one of the computers to check my email, hoping my teacher wouldn’t call me out or make me work on something else.

When I saw the word “Congratulations!” on my screen, I remember giving a small gasp and leaning back in my chair in shock, but no one else in the room was paying attention. For them, nothing had changed, but for me, it felt like my whole world had shifted in an instant. It might sound silly, but in that moment I felt like I could do anything; it felt like all of my hard work and all of my hoping had actually paid off.

Harvard has been an extremely different experience for sure. There’s no sagebrush, no ranches and definitely no horses! But taking a chance and applying was the best decision I’ve ever made, and I honestly can’t imagine being anywhere else.

Three girls in Harvard gear take a selfie in the bleachers of a football stadium.
Above: My friends and I at the Harvard-Yale football game!

About the author

Hello! My name is Madeline, and I’m a rising senior living in Leverett House. I’m studying English with a secondary in Visual and Environmental Studies (specifically film production), and I’m... View full profile

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