High Stakes: Ticket to Ride


Illustration by Tiffany Kim.

Danielle Kaye


As summer ends, seniors begin to work on their college applications and narrow down their college searches. The Chronicle follows four seniors through their last year of high school.

The All-Around:

Amanda* is passionate about helping others. Throughout her time at Harvard-Westlake, she has advocated for providing underprivileged students with quality education through her involvement with various diversity programs. Inspired by her Criminal Law and Advocacy Class, Amanda interned this summer at a nonprofit organization that provides legal aid to prison inmates.

Amanda is devoted to the Harvard-Westlake community in a number of ways: she is an athlete, a singer and a student ambassador.

With her strong performance both inside and outside the classroom, Amanda has high hopes for college. She is looking for a medium-sized university with easy access to a big city, as she believes that there are better internship and job opportunities in metropolitan areas. Though she is not yet sure where she will apply, she enjoyed both Dartmouth College and Georgetown University when she saw them in the spring. Amanda will most likely only apply regular decision due to the limited financial aid opportunities during early decision.

In college, Amanda hopes to study government and law in order to eventually help others through nonprofit work.

“I feel like studying law and government and knowing how the system works will enable me to better help people on a larger platform,” Amanda said.

The Brain:

After playing the violin in performances in Vienna, Prague, Salzburg and Munich at the beginning of the summer, Sean* interned at a research university in the Los Angeles area and competed in several chess tournaments, most notably the U.S. Open for Chess in Indianapolis.

Since June 2015, Sean has worked on Boundaries of Life, a research project designed to discover new forms of life by taking various samples of materials from all over the Earth and imaging them with a microscope.

Given his strengths and passion in math and science, Sean will be taking AP Physics C: Mechanics, AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism and Advanced Topics in Computer Science. Sean hopes that his future college will have a strong math and science program as well as a music program.

Sean is planning to apply non-restrictive early action to the University of Chicago, California Instutitute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He wants to keep his options open rather than tie himself to a single school.

“I’m mostly excited and kind of anxious to get the result [of the college process],”Sean said. “I haven’t toured the east coast yet, but it is fun to learn about the various programs that the different schools offer and to see the differences and similarities between all the different communities around the country.”

The Artist:

Though she is now a pop music and theater enthusiast, Christina* initially hated singing when her parents forced her to take voice lessons at the age of seven. Two years later, Christina began performing in elementary school talent shows, which led her to discover her passion for performing arts.

As Christina doesn’t really see herself doing anything other than music, she spent this past summer working at a record label company. She has also spent the past three summers singing at a music camp that attracts young, talented musicians who hope to pursue careers in singing. Her fellow singers have motivated her to continue following her dream of a future in music, and have inspired her to apply to the Popular Music Program at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music.

As her top choice, Christina will be applying to this program for regular decision due to the non-existent early decision option at USC. To ensure that she is not bound to any other school before applying to USC, Christina will not be applying to any schools early decision.

“A lot of my friends are a part of the pop program at USC and they really, really love it,” Christina said. “It’s something that I hope to pursue in the future that I think would give me the best opportunities.”

Along with USC, Christina will apply to the Berklee College of Music in Boston with the hopes of pursuing pop music. Christina also plans to apply to musical theater programs at other schools.

In addition to working with a record label company and participating in the singing camp this summer, Christina has started choosing songs and other material for her auditions and has begun taking voice lessons with a professor at USC.

The Athlete:

Since freshman year, Mark* has had his heart set on being a member of an elite college swim team. After feeling disappointed by his CIF performance last spring, Mark has devoted his last two months to practicing at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and to competing at three swim meets.

Typically, Mark participates in more swim meets and tournaments, but this summer he decided to focus on improving his time, which he said is necessary for recruitment to his dream college, Yale.

In December, Mark won first place in the boys 100- meter breaststroke for ages 18 and under at the Junior Olympics. This victory, Mark said, guaranteed him spots at Division III colleges such as Williams, Pomona, Swarthmore and New York University Stern. In order to secure a spot at Yale, Mark needed to compete well in August at the Junior Nationals in Indianapolis. However, Mark was disappointed by his performance.

“It wasn’t the best tournament. I ended up in third place [in the boys’ 50-meter breaststroke] which is good, but my times weren’t the times that I expected,” Mark said.

As a result of his performance, Yale would not guarantee him a spot on the team, but still encouraged him to apply early and said that he would receive a recommendation from the swim coach, which ensures an 80 percent chance of acceptance. Mark is now deciding whether to risk applying restrictive early action to his dream school or to accept the guaranteed spot at a Division III school.

Knowing that he will not swim forever, Mark is looking at schools with strong academics. He feels that it is important to maintain a strong academic standing, regardless of that fact that his main focus is on athletics. With this in mind, Mark has worked with his dean to increase the rigor of his senior year schedule. He plans on taking five Advanced Placement courses. In college, Mark hopes to study applied mathematics and business.