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Kelly Hyles, a senior at New York City’s highly selective High School for Math, Science, and Engineering, wasn’t sure what to expect on Ivy League admissions day a few weeks ago.

So she gave herself a pep talk before she opened her admissions letters.

“At the end of the day, you put in a lot of work and you’ve tried your very best, and how ever it turns out today, it turns out,” she recalled thinking to herself in an interview with Business Insider. 

It turns out that she accomplished the incredible feat of being accepted into all eight Ivy League schools. In fact, she got into all 21 schools to which she applied, which included Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University.

Hyles says she started the application process in mid-September, and it took a full three months to complete all of her applications. 

“I had to stay up incredibly late hours,” she told Business Insider.

Hyles, who is the valedictorian of her high school class, says the Common Application was immensely helpful for her, as it allowed her to utilize the same form to apply to multiple colleges. Two of her colleges, however, did not accept the Common App — MIT and Macaulay Honors College. She filled those out separately and used a different essay from the one below. 

She graciously shared her admissions essay with Business Insider, which we’ve reprinted verbatim below.

The prompt was to describe a problem that she’d like to fix.

“No matter how good you are, no matter how big your brain or sophisticated your words, once your pigmented skin changes from caramel to chocolate, your good will never be good enough.” This was an ignorant, although well-intentioned, statement addressed to my impressionable eighth grade classmates – misguided advice that discouraged half of the already small group of students from taking the Specialized High School Admissions Test. My concerned teacher’s opinion cost my classmates – and almost cost me – the educational opportunity of a lifetime.

In the fall semester of eighth grade, I watched my best friend succumb to self-doubt. As we researched the racial composition of the specialized high schools, she cried out, “This is sad. Out of the 6,400 African Americans who took the test, a measly 320 received an offer of admissions. Let’s be real, we don’t belong in those schools.” I wanted to disagree with her, but I was convinced my opinion could not compete with those numbers. Although I was confident enough in my abilities to ignore the statistics, I lacked the courage to persuade my best friend to do the same.

In the following spring semester, I was accepted into the High School for Math, Science, and Engineering – one of the nine specialized high schools in New York. Despite the fact that I am the only female Black student in many of my classes, I have rarely felt out of place. With the help of encouraging teachers and a rigorous curriculum, my school has helped me grow intellectually and emotionally. I am appreciative of the endless opportunities that it offers, but I cannot help but wish more African American students were afforded these same possibilities.

The rapidly decreasing number of African Americans in the specialized high schools troubles me. I am convinced that the decrease is not due to intellectual aptitude, but to lack of preparation and confidence. In my final fall semester of middle school, my school did not have the funding to prepare us for the Specialized High School Admissions Test. Instead of the months, or even years, of preparation that more privileged students undergo, my classmates and I received a three-week crash course.   

From the beginning, many African American students are at a disadvantage in the public school system. Although schools are legally desegregated, many public schools are separated along socioeconomic lines. In schools in the heart of the Bronx or Brooklyn, such as my middle school, where majority of the students are minorities from the neighborhood, there is no racial diversity. These schools are plagued with inadequate funding, inexperienced teachers, and outdated technological equipment. Lack of access to quality education makes it nearly impossible for us to avoid becoming a statistic.

To combat the race disparity in my school, I have partnered with the DREAM program, which prepares students for the Specialized High School Admissions Test. With the understanding that preparation is connected to high test scores, the DREAM program hires teachers and older students to motivate the future test-takers. As Head Student Coordinator, I mentor rising seventh and eighth graders. Although I provide them with effective test-taking strategies, my main goal remains to replace self-doubt with self-confidence.

Students need affirmation that regardless of their race, their efforts will amount to something. I was too inexperienced to refute my teacher’s statement or persuade my best friend to take the test, but I can now prevent a repeat of those incidents. I remind each of my mentees that no matter the color of our skin, whether it is a smooth, butterscotch hue or a rich, ebony complexion, our good will always be good enough. We belong in prestigious institutions.  

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