How I Got to College: Norman Li

Christopher J. Gearon

This spring, U.S. News visited Somerville High School near Boston to ask members of the Class of 2012 to talk about their journeys to college and pass on any helpful advice.

Somerville is home to a mix of blue-collar families, young professionals, college students, and recent immigrants. The school's 1,324 students speak more than 50 languages; about one third are white, just over another third are Hispanic, and African-Americans and Asians account for most of the rest. The graduation rate is 81 percent; 77 percent of grads go on to college. In the last school year, 129 students took 160 AP exams. Hear from grads on how they got in.

Norman Li had all of his applications completed by late October. He had a hand from QuestBridge, a program that connects 33 top universities to highly capable students who wouldn't otherwise have the resources.

As a QuestBridge finalist, Li could apply to eight schools for free and, if accepted, get a free ride. While he didn't get into his QuestBridge picks--including Brown University, Columbia University, Stanford University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology--he made the cut at Boston University, Clark University in Worcester, Boston College, and University of Massachusetts--Amherst.

BC beat out U. Mass., even though he'll pay almost twice as much out of pocket. He'll cover his $9,000 share of the $54,000 tab with the help of his parents, loans, by applying for scholarships, and by working. A musician (he plays violin, clarinet, and saxophone), he'd like to eventually earn some money performing.

GPA: 3.9 unweighted

SAT scores: 640 math, 590 critical reading, 640 writing

Extracurriculars: Band and orchestra, varsity tennis team (captain), Green Club, and National Honor Society

Essay topic: Growing up as the child of parents who emigrated from China

Do-over: Would apply to more likely targets. He thinks now that he limited his choices to too many reaches.

Advice: Meet the admissions folks in person to convey your enthusiasm for your interests in a way you can't in an application. "I may have brought along an instrument or two."

More Somerville High School student profiles:

-- Wriju Adhikary

-- Tania Ahmed

-- Zoe Blickenderfer

-- Michael Kemp

-- Zachary Sciuto

-- Johnson Thomas

-- Julia Zoukhri

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