Ivy League Essays

Getting accepted into one prestigious Ivy League university is already quite an achievement.

But for Cassandra Hsiao, a Malaysian-born student now living in the United States, she has been accepted not by two or even three universities, but by all eight Ivy League schools this year.

"It's totally surreal. It's still sinking in. I had a moment to myself yesterday where I was just sobbing. I celebrated with my parents.

"This is quite the honour, to have these fantastic institutions accept me. It's really something," she said in an interview published on the US website The Tab.

The Ivy League is a group of eight private institutions of higher education in the United States comprising Brown University, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth College, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale.

They are among the most prestigious and highly-ranked universities worldwide, and are often associated with academic excellence and high selectivity of admissions.

She has also been accepted by Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University and several others.

Cassandra, 17, was born to a Taiwanese father and Malaysian mother in Johor Baru. She emigrated to the United States when she was five years old and now lives in southern California. She was also her school magazine's editor-in-chief.

She attends the Orange County School of the Arts.

"I enjoy the food and the vibrancy of the culture of Malaysia. I go back every two years," she said in an e-mail interview with The Star on Friday (April 7).

Two literary pieces on her Malaysian experiences, Pasar Malam and Ode to the Night Market, have been published in the online arts journal Rambutan Literary.

Her applications essay played a big role in her acceptance into the universities, where she wrote about learning English while growing up in a house of immigrants.

"I wanted to explore the differences between the way we talk inside and outside the house.

"Many readers, and not only immigrants, were able to connect because our language and speech patterns are different when we talk with people we love and are comfortable around," she said.

Cassandra is already a star reporter, having interviewed celebrities such as Chris Evans, Morgan Freeman and Octavia Spencer.

She plans to go into the storytelling arts.

"In the next couple of weeks, I will be visiting certain schools and exploring their programmes, learning from professors and talking with students to find a place that will be a comfortable, lovely and supportive home for the next four years," she said.

This is the essay that got her into all eight colleges:

"In our house, English is not English. Not in the phonetic sense, like short a is for apple, but rather in the pronunciation - in our house, snake is snack. Words do not roll off our tongues correctly - yet I, who was pulled out of class to meet with language specialists, and my mother from Malaysia, who pronounces film as flim, understand each other perfectly.

"In our house, there is no difference between cast and cash, which was why at a church retreat, people made fun of me for "cashing out demons." I did not realise the glaring difference between the two Englishes until my teacher corrected my pronunciations of hammock, ladle, and siphon. Classmates laughed because I pronounce accept as except, success as sussess. I was in the Creative Writing conservatory, and yet words failed me when I needed them most.

"Suddenly, understanding flower is flour wasn't enough. I rejected the English that had never seemed broken before, a language that had raised me and taught me everything I knew. Everybody else's parents spoke with accents smarting of PhDs and university teaching positions. So why couldn't mine?

"My mother spread her sunbaked hands and said, "This is where I came from," spinning a tale with the English she had taught herself.

"When my mother moved from her village to a town in Malaysia, she had to learn a brand new language in middle school: English. In a time when humiliation was encouraged, my mother was defenceless against the cruel words spewing from the teacher, who criticised her paper in front of the class. When she began to cry, the class president stood up and said, 'That's enough'.

"Be like that class president," my mother said with tears in her eyes. The class president took her under her wing and patiently mended my mother's strands of language. "She stood up for the weak and used her words to fight back."

"We were both crying now. My mother asked me to teach her proper English so old white ladies at Target wouldn't laugh at her pronunciation. It has not been easy. There is a measure of guilt when I sew her letters together. Long vowels, double consonants - I am still learning myself. Sometimes I let the brokenness slide to spare her pride but perhaps I have hurt her more to spare mine.

"As my mother's vocabulary began to grow, I mended my own English. Through performing poetry in front of 3000 at my school's Season Finale event, interviewing people from all walks of life, and writing stories for the stage, I stand against ignorance and become a voice for the homeless, the refugees, the ignored. With my words I fight against jeers pelted at an old Asian street performer on a New York subway. My mother's eyes are reflected in underprivileged ESL children who have so many stories to tell but do not know how. I fill them with words as they take needle and thread to make a tapestry.

"In our house, there is beauty in the way we speak to each other. In our house, language is not broken but rather bursting with emotion. We have built a house out of words. There are friendly snakes in the cupboard and snacks in the tank. It is a crooked house. It is a little messy. But this is where we have made our home."

Admissions

Read the essay this high school senior wrote to get accepted to all eight Ivy League schools

By Harley Geffner04/17/17 6:19pm

Cassandra Hsiao, a first-generation immigrant from Malaysia, was recently admitted to attend all eight Ivy League schools.

"I opened them one after another, and they all were saying, 'Congratulations! Congratulations!' And I know that is something special," she told NBC Los Angeles.

In addition to a 4.67 GPA and active involvement in her California community, Hsiao's Common App essay about her struggle with the English language helped grab the schools' attention.

"In our house, there is beauty in the way we speak to each other," Hsiao wrote in the essay. "Language is not broken but rather, bursting with emotion. It is a little messy. But this is where we have made our home."

The 17 year old moved to California with her family when she was just five. 

"Identity and the desire to belong are two of the most relatable struggles that people face. I wanted to share a slice of our home life, my relationship with my mother and both of our stories," she told BBC News.

In addition to her Ivy League acceptances, she has also received offers from Stanford University, New York University, Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University and University of Southern California, among others, according to NBC.

Hsiao has yet to make her decision, but told BBC News she will be touring the schools in the coming weeks.

A student-journalist in high school, Hsiao told ABC7 that she is considering a Storytelling Arts major.

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