Pass Go and Collect Diploma

Four graduating seniors looking forward to their college experiences reflect on their journeys navigating the application process.


Illustration by Caitlin Muñoz

Caitlin Muñoz and Sydney Fener

Kiki Iriafen

When reflecting on the early months of her senior year, Stanford University women’s basketball commit Kiki Iriafen ’21 recalled the pressure she and her peers felt as they grappled with Common Application essays, college-specific supplements and early admission deadlines, all while navigating a new school year through Zoom. Iriafen said her own stress was alleviated following her commitment to Stanford in August of 2020.

“After I submitted my application, I knew pretty early [that I was accepted], so I didn’t have to stress about college like everyone else,” Iriafen said. “I think that’s the biggest difference between regular [college admissions] and mine—that there was a stress reliever in me knowing so early.”

Iriafen said she decided to attend Stanford University due to its academic rigor, which she believes will provide a strong educational foundation for a later career outside of basketball.

“In women’s basketball professionally, there’s not a lot of money, so I wanted [my education] to fall back on,” Iriafen said. “I chose Stanford because of its academic excellence, and I know that I’ll be able to succeed in my future with whatever I choose to do, whether that’s with basketball or not with basketball.”

Iriafen said her desire to push herself academically and athletically is reflected in her discipline throughout her senior year, even following her commitment to college. When asked what advice she would give to rising seniors, Iriafen warned against falling into complacency.

“Even if you already know you’re [accepted into a] school, don’t ever slack,” Iriafen said. “You really have to finish strong. My Stanford coaches remind me, ‘This can be taken away at any second.’ I got into [Stanford] not just because of my basketball, but because of the academics, so my academics have to stay intact as well.”

Dottie Shayegan

When Dottie Shayegan ’21 looks back on her college application journey, the road is paved with hard work, accomplishments and plenty of nerves.

Shayegan was accepted to Harvard College via single choice early decision Dec. 17, 2020. Her application focused on her creative and academic writing, which focuses primarily on women’s sexuality and independence throughout history. She wrote a research paper exploring the treatment of women in Ancient Egypt and said an independent study with English teacher Greg Gonzalez was also incredibly fulfilling and constructive. As opposed to her other academic writing, this extensive work was creative and experimental.

“I wrote 40 pages of experimental writing,” said Shayegan. “It was the story of my family through different techniques. I read a lot of Faulkner, Stein and Morrison to get a sense of experimental writing to basically tell my family’s story.”

Shayegan’s writing has been published in several magazines, and she was a finalist for the Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate in 2019. She said she enjoys writing so much that even her Common App essay was enjoyable to write. However, the process was still nerve-wracking; Shayegan nitpicked and over-edited her essays, she said, making the process incredibly stressful.

In the weeks leading up to the decision date, Shayegan said she was very nervous; however, the moment of opening the decision was overwhelming and joyous.

“I was stressed out of my mind,” said Shayegan. “I wanted to open the decision with my entire family. I set it up in my living room, and I remember seeing a status update. I just saw the big ‘congratulations,’ and everyone was jumping up and down and screaming and kissing me and crying.”

Faramarz Nia

Faramarz Nia ’21 said he looks back on his college application process with satisfaction, knowing that he would not have changed any aspect of his journey. Nia, who was accepted to the University of Michigan, said he is both grateful for his senior year and excited for his future as a biology major. He said he is especially grateful for the guidance and support of his sister and friends.

“I thought [the college process] was stressful,” Nia said. “But it always helped knowing that everyone else was in the same boat.”

Nia structured his application around his interest in science and a passion for serving his community. Nia said that he experienced some of the most fulfilling and joyful times in his life through his experience as a volunteer camp counselor.

“Every summer I volunteered as a camp counselor at Rustic Canyon, hanging out with the kids and teaching them sports,” Nia said. “The thing I really enjoyed was being able to work with kids because I think they’re the most pure-hearted and young people. Seeing them be happy made me enjoy my summer.”

Nia said he developed empathy through community service and believes that he utilizes this strength in other aspects of his life. Nia said his communication skills extend into his academic life, where he values good relationships with his teachers and puts time and effort into cultivating them.

“I engaged a lot with [Math Teacher Derric] Chien or [Science Teacher Ryan] Ellingson outside of class,” Nia said. “This really helped me build a stronger relationship with them. It’s almost impossible to form those types of bonds just during class. I enjoyed talking to them not just as teachers, but as individuals.”

Rafael Singer

Like most of his peers, Rafael Singer ’21 had expected to spend the end of his junior year finalizing his college list and planning summer campus tours. Instead, Singer lounged in his bedroom with a laptop, scrolling through YouTube videos in search of the dull virtual tours of universities that had shut down during the pandemic.

“My college process [was] overwhelming,” Singer said. “From finding the right fit [with a] lack of physical campus tours [to] all of the turbulence surrounding standardized testing and virtual interviews, I can say with full certainty my college application process was bizarre.”

While Singer applied early decision to his dream school, his application was rejected, leaving him to await decisions from the nine colleges he had applied to via regular admissions. Although he was later accepted into Boston College, Singer said he is considering deferring his enrollment and taking a gap year as a short break from the traditional course of higher education.

“I feel like I would benefit from the self-discovery, work experience and finances that a gap year could bring,” Singer said. “I want to see what the real world is like and grow from those experiences before I delve back into academics.”

Singer plans to major in either economics or political science. and said he is excited at the prospect of hands-on experience in those fields. However, he said he also feels apprehensive when considering the potential drawbacks of total independence directly out of high school.

“It’s really exciting to [have freedom] to pursue whatever new opportunities cross my path and to experience life in the real world,” Singer said. “[However], the uncertainty can be worrisome, as this path doesn’t feel as stable as the traditional four years in college. I’ll be on my own, for better or for worse.”