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Harvard University

June 3, 2024


Harvard University: Mary Catherine Hanafee Laplante

Podcast Transcript

Transcript organized for clarity and readability

Mary Catherine Hanafee Laplante, Ashish Bhargava

Ashish Bhargava: Welcome, Mary Catherine. Thank you for joining us. Can you share a bit about your background and what inspires you?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: My name is Mary Catherine, and I am originally from Chicago, Illinois. I'm 21 years old and have just finished my junior year at Harvard. Throughout my life, I've been most inspired by the people around me, aiming to make their lives easier, which has driven much of my work and achievements.

Ashish Bhargava: You're at Harvard, an Ivy League school. When did you decide to aim for the Ivy League, notably Harvard?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: It goes back to when I was ten. My family visited Harvard during a trip to Boston. Standing on campus, my mom said it was the best university in the country. That moment stayed with me, but I didn't think seriously about trying to get into Harvard until high school. In my first year, I told my guidance counselor about my goal. Despite coming from a large public school where Ivy League aspirations were not typical, I was determined.

Ashish Bhargava: How many colleges did you apply to, and how many accepted you?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: I applied early to Harvard and was accepted, which influenced how many other schools I applied to. Besides Harvard, I applied to Yale, Princeton, Brown, Stanford, and Vanderbilt. Interestingly, only Vanderbilt accepted me besides Harvard, and I received the Cornelius Vanderbilt scholarship. It was an eye-opener to the unpredictability of college admissions.

Ashish Bhargava: How did you select the colleges to apply to?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: Harvard was my dream school, so I applied there early. I consider all Ivies to be reach schools, regardless of one's qualifications. After being accepted to Harvard, I focused only on reach schools, discarding my target and safety schools.

Ashish Bhargava: How did you gather information about these colleges during the pandemic?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: Visiting campuses was not an option, so I relied heavily on online resources. I used Reddit and YouTube to get a sense of the student life at these institutions. Real student experiences helped me understand what life might be like at these colleges.

Ashish Bhargava: What was your strategy for early action and decisions?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: Applying early to Harvard was a significant decision. It felt like a long shot, but I didn't want to live with the regret of not trying. Even though it was a risk, I wanted to take that chance without fear.

Ashish Bhargava: How did you choose your recommenders?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: Choosing recommenders was strategic. I selected teachers who could best articulate my strengths and personality. For example, I chose an English teacher known for her expressive writing and a math teacher who could discuss my perseverance in her challenging class.

Ashish Bhargava: Could you share your SAT scores and your class rank?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: I had a 4.0 unweighted GPA and a 4.6 weighted, reflecting my AP coursework. I first scored 1510 on the SAT and improved to 1550 on my second attempt. We didn't have a class rank, but I was definitely among the top five in my class.

Ashish Bhargava: Any advice for students preparing for the SAT?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: Practice is vital to improving SAT scores. I took many practice tests, which helped me understand the exam structure and question types. Also, consider which standardized test suits you best, whether the SAT or ACT and focus your preparation accordingly.

Here's a more structured and succinct version of the transcript:

Ashish Bhargava: How did you pick your essay topic?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: It was challenging to get a 4.0 GPA, and colleges are trying to understand the nuances behind a GPA. They use standardized tests to level the playing field across different schools, which helps them see the fundamental differences in student performance. My approach was to choose a topic that represented who I am beyond just grades.

Ashish Bhargava: What was your approach to writing the essay?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: I began by listing unique aspects of myself. I wrote about my name, Mary Catherine Hanafee LaPlante, and how it didn't fit into standard forms, much like how I see myself not fitting into standard categories. This personal anecdote allowed me to explore my identity in depth, discuss my family background, and relate it to broader themes of diversity and personal growth.

Ashish Bhargava: Did it take three months from start to submission?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: Yes, three months is about right. It's crucial to give yourself enough time to reflect on your writing. For my Common App essay, I started in August and continuously revised it until the deadline. This iterative process helped refine my thoughts and convey a coherent and compelling narrative.

Ashish Bhargava: How significant are awards and recognitions in the admissions process?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: They are pretty significant as they signal to admissions officers that you're among the best in certain areas. However, it's not just about the accolades. Admissions committees look for well-rounded individuals who are passionate about their interests and can bring joy and diversity to their community. It's about showing that you are engaged and genuine in your pursuits.

Ashish Bhargava: Did you have interviews for college admissions?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: I was invited to interview for Harvard and other schools. I prepared by outlining topics I wanted to discuss but also aimed to be conversational and genuine. The goal is to show that you're personable and someone they'd like as part of their community.

Ashish Bhargava: What are the key traits and experiences Harvard looks for in applicants?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: Harvard values diversity of thought and experiences. They look for curious, engaging students with a sense of self. It’s less about fitting a particular mold and more about showing how you can contribute uniquely to the campus community.

Ashish Bhargava: What have you enjoyed most about your time at Harvard?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: The networking opportunities and the sheer diversity of people I've met have been invaluable. Each person brings something unique to the table, which enriches the learning and social environment. It’s been an incredible experience that has broadened my perspective in countless ways.

Ashish Bhargava: How do you manage your commitments and maintain balance?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: It’s challenging, especially with Harvard's demands. Prioritizing my health and maintaining a supportive circle of friends has been crucial. I avoid overcommitting to ensure that I can give my best to each activity I participate in.

Ashish Bhargava: Any final thoughts on the college application process?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: It’s a complex and often stressful process, but remember, it’s also about finding the right fit for you. Focus on what makes you happy and how you can contribute rather than trying to fit a specific profile.

Ashish Bhargava: What do you think about what we're doing here at GoodGoblin?

MC Hanafee LaPlante: I think it’s beneficial. During my application process, I would have appreciated hearing from those who had already navigated it. Once you're in college, the application phase is rarely discussed—it's like moving past a significant chapter without looking back. GoodGoblin provides an essential platform for sharing experiences and advice, offering valuable perspectives to current applicants. It’s a fantastic resource that helps demystify the process and support students through their journeys.

Ashish Bhargava: Thank you, Mary Catherine, for sharing your journey and insights. Your experience is precious to those navigating the complex college admission process.