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September 1, 2018

How I Got Into Stanford | Tiffany Ong


How I Got into Stanford

Adapted from Tiffany Ong, Stanford University – Class of 2020


April 5, 2018 | Michael J. Richardson, MD – Senior Admissions Consultant


  • Basics:
    • “I was at the top of my class.”
    • “I took the most rigorous and challenging courses.”
    • “I always put academics first.”
    • “My test scores were in range. But, they only show that I can handle difficult academics and juggle extracurriculars at the same time.”

— Tiffany Ong


  • Key Points:


  • “Excellent standardized test scores and grades are not the primary reasons why I got into Stanford. They are the reasons, however, that Stanford considered when allowing me to reach the secondary, holistic review of the application process.”
  • Above all, you must strive for the top of your class academically – Put Academics First!!!
  • Then, follow your interests and passions, and strive to be the best at them as well.
    • This will allow you to find opportunities to excel:
      • Classes
      • Seminars
      • Competitions
      • Presentations
      • Research
      • Leadership
      • Sports


  • Geoff Colvin wrote the book, “Talent is Overrated.” While in one context, this may be true, hard work and discipline over time can overcome previous handicaps on the road to mastery. It cannot be underscored that the supremely talented individual may underperform simply because they are not motivated. However, the truly talented when they work diligently, unselfishly and skillfully, may indeed reach Mastery in their chosen field.
  • Don’t take on activities primarily because you think it will look good on the resume
    • The lack of sincerity will shine through in your personal statement, letters of recommendation and interview. You can’t fool the admissions committee.
  • Discover your interests and passions! Then continue to pursue what matters to you. You will be happier, live a more meaningful life, and present a more compelling image to the admissions committees.
  • Colleges are looking for good people with interesting stories and who present a positive impact on the people around them. In addition, the admission committees want to see deep into your soul, personality, values, interests and goals.
  • Life has a way of seeing that you end up where you are supposed to be.
  • So, work hard and true, until your destiny is revealed.


  • My Story (Tiffany Ong):


  • Academics:             Excellent
  • Father:             Cardiologist, Amateur Photographer
  • Interests/Passions: “I excelled in piano, but it wasn’t my passion.”


  • Piano
    • “I won competitions, including regional and State contests.”
    • Played since age 6
    • “Though I was talented in piano, I did not love it. I quit after I won a State piano tournament in order to devote more time to my true passions.”
  • Photography
    • “My father was an amateur photographer, and had many antique cameras around the house.”
    • Started taking pictures when I was age 6.
    • Took every photography class offered at my high school.
    • Enrolled in college photography classes over the summer.
    • Competed in a lot of photography competitions, and won many, even winning at the national level.
  • Filmmaking
    • Created health-related videos on topics such as atrial fibrillation for my father’s patients.
    • Produced a documentary of my father’s World War ll and Viet Nam War veteran/patients.
    • Robotics’ team photographer & video cinematographer, went to world championships



  • Global Warming
    • Advocate for Global Warming
    • Created a photographic assignment on protecting the earth from climate change
    • Aspire to be a cinematographer


  • Leadership:
    • Student Editor of a photography magazine
    • Cared about the earth, used the camera to advocate for the environment



  • Bottom Line:


  • Admission officers are looking for ordinary people with amazing, interesting and genuine stories to tell, in particular those with a history of a very positive impact on others.


  • At the end of the day, after you discover and follow your interests and passions, you must “brand” yourself. What is your story? How can you briefly describe your life and what really matters to you? What is your gift to the world? — Tiffany was passionate about the camera; and connected with people through the lens whether it be to honor and provide health care literature to American War Heroes, or to enlighten people about the dangers of Climate Change. Her application shows growth & progression in playing the piano, and shooting digital still and video film.


  • According to Tiffany, in order to get into Stanford, you need to:
    • Excel academically
    • Share your Personality and your talents
    • Show and not Tell what really matters to you
    • Be Interesting, genuine and compelling