This month’s Forthcoming interview is with Ashley Talton who is a staff writer at Yale Logos with me.
Ashley is a sophomore in Branford College at Yale who majors in psychology on the neuroscience track. She’s from Corapeake, North Carolina.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your high school! What was it like? How does residential high school feel different from college?
I went to the North Carolina School of Science and Math for my junior and senior year. It is a public residential school. Some other states have math and science schools, but you have to pay tuition to go there, but as long as you apply and get accepted this one is completely free of charge aside from a security deposit.
The application is pretty similar to applying to college but with shorter essays. You have to take the SAT when you’re a sophomore, and you need to submit letters of recommendation.
It definitely feels different than college in a lot of ways because we’re minors. There’s a lot more restrictions. For example, we weren’t allowed to leave campus by ourselves. You’re always supposed to have another person with you. But it was like a big step up from being at home independence wise for a lot of people, including myself. It’s also like a big stepping stone of your parents just not being as involved with your academics. It’s a lot harder for your parents to get in contact with like your instructors.
What were you up to in high school?
One of the big things that I did my senior year was a program called Mentorship. We get to do research at a local university, so I did research at Duke. My primary mentor was a neonatologist, so he worked in the NICU, and I got to shadow him for a few weeks before doing bench work (basic science research like micro pipetting) in the lab. It was one of my favorite things from high school. But I realized that I didn’t like bench work that much. It’s important, but I just found out that it wasn’t the best fit for my interests.
Why did you apply to Yale? Was it normal for your high school context? Where else did you apply?
My high school was pretty competitive in terms of college admissions. A lot of people applied to top tier schools. I wasn’t really even planning on applying to that many because I came from a really small public school before that. I just wasn’t really setting my sights that high. Initially, I felt like Duke was gonna be my top school, and that would be like the toughest place that I applied to get in. A decent amount of people from my school go to Duke.
My college application choices weren’t super out of the ordinary, but it was kind of out of the ordinary for me, because I hadn’t really expected to do it. I ended up applying to like UNC, Duke, University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, East Carolina, William and Mary, places like that. Besides Johns Hopkins and Yale, I kind of thought that I would stay closer to home. So I was mainly applying to schools in North Carolina and Virginia.
I kind of just decided to add Yale on a whim, actually came after a conversation with my roommate close to the beginning of senior year. She was going to apply to Harvard. So I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna apply to Yale.”
I just added it to my common app and started working on the application not super seriously. I applied to Duke early decision, and I was deferred in mid December. After that, I thought that I should probably actually have more options. So over Christmas break during my senior year, I finished all the rest of my applications. Since I had already done a decent amount of work, I just decided to apply and see where it went.
How did you do research for the “Why X school” essays?
Yeah, so I think I found a lot of the information, just on each school’s website. Also my school used Naviance so that gave me some of the more basic information. I tried to go to some of the information sessions that my school would host. And for some of the schools, I actually went and took a tour between my junior and senior year.
I tried to find things that were unique to each school. For Yale, I tried to emphasize the residential college experience because none of the other schools I was looking at had anything like it. I looked for the programs I was interested in and wrote about prior experience that I thought would set me up well for the programs.
What things did you do in high school that you think actually helped you for college?
I think a lot of my classes have helped me in college so far. We had a trimester system, and I took a trimester of organic chemistry my senior year which I think set me up pretty well to take organic chemistry in college. I actually chose not to take like first year organic chemistry because I wasn’t that confident in my chemistry ability. But my old notes have been pretty helpful. Another class that I really enjoyed was medical sociology. I went into Yale thinking that I was going to be MCDB (Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology) for sure. After I took some bio classes though, I figured out it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do which led me to psychology. I think taking sociology kind of showed me that I could be more interested in social sciences.
What is a day in the life of doing Yale from home?
Most days I would try to be up by 7:30. I spent some time reading my Bible just taking some time in silence first thing in the morning, then I made breakfast. Usually, my first class was around 9 or 10:30 (depends on the day), and I would do class on Zoom. I had a lot of pre recorded lectures to watch for classes. For some classes, it was entirely pre-recorded, and for other classes, we had to watch pre-recorded lectures and go to a live Zoom lecture. After my first class of the day, I usually just watched more lectures. Take time for lunch, and then do another Zoom lecture. Sometimes I had a discussion section during the day.
In the afternoons, I would do any work I had for my job. I work as a student research assistant at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Unit. I’ve been doing data entry remotely this semester. Otherwise, in the afternoon and evening, I would kind of try to work on assignments and review notes if I needed to do that for an upcoming test. Then later in the night, it would usually be more extracurricular, like planning meetings for Christian Union’s Rooted. Then trying to get to bed at a decent time.
What extracurriculars do you do at Yale?
I’m a Rooted Team Lead which means that I plan what used to be weekly large group lecture events with dinner and now is bi-weekly on Zoom lectures, worship, and things like that for Christian Union. I’ve been writing for Logos for the past semester. I’m also involved with Peristalsis. It’s an organization that leads light movement and dance classes for children staying in the inpatient psychiatric unit at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. I actually found out about the organization last March, so I didn’t actually get to do it in person at all. But I’ve been involved via Zoom for the past semester.
Do you have any tips for staying accountable for school stuff, especially given how so many things are pre-recorded/online?
Sticking to a schedule will be to your benefit. I didn’t do it exactly, but most of the classes, even if they’re all pre recorded, have a time slot on your schedule. So as much as it works with your schedule, I recommend spending that time you would’ve spent going to class live watching pre-recorded lectures. With classes where you have to watch pre-recorded lectures and attend live Zoom classes, that’s harder since you don’t really have time in your schedule for a pre-recorded lecture. I ended up doing a lot of that over the weekend. But I don’t know if I would recommend it because it’s nice to take a break.
It also helps to have friends in your classes. If you don’t, you can make friends in the class too and form study groups. That was really important for me for The Human Brain, a neuroscience/psych class, which was just a ton of content. It really helps to be able to review with other people.
How do you make friends on zoom?
It’s harder. Maybe if you think you’ve met the person before, like you’ve had a class with them, you could message them like “Hey! I think I know you.Would you be interested in studying for this class sometime or making a study group?”
I feel like I was pretty lucky this past semester because it was mostly other people reaching out to me. So I did less reaching out, but in my developmental psychology class, our exams were kind of intense. The professor would give us like 35-40 essay questions. We were basically supposed to know answers to all of them. And then five of them would show up on the exam. We were allowed to work with other people in our class to come up with our answers, so someone in my section actually sent an email to our entire section of 10-12 people like “Hey, does anybody want to study together for this exam?” And it worked, about 4 of us got together and worked through the questions.
What advice do you wish someone else would have given you before you started college?
It’s okay to say that you don’t know something, and it’s okay to say that you don’t understand something. And specifically for Yale, especially in a lot of the introductory STEM classes, peer tutoring kind of saved my life. They’re kind of like office hours with a professor or TA but the tutors are former students— sophomores, juniors, and sometimes even seniors— who the professor has selected because they took the class and did well in it. Different peer tutors will have different hours throughout the week so you can choose whichever ones that you can make it to, and they’re usually somewhere on campus. Now they help via Zoom. Usually, we work on problems from the problem set that are especially troubling together, or if it’s closer to an exam, talking more about what could be on the exam and doing exam reviews.
When it comes to college applications, you never know unless you try
Ashley isn’t the first or only person interviewed for this series that didn’t expect to apply to or get into their current school. But she still did it! If you’re considering applying to a dream school, I’d encourage you to go for it! Don’t make their decision for them.
Research your schools and highlight your own experience
As I’ve edited college essays, I’ve noticed that students often run into the same kinds of issues. When schools ask you for an essay about why you’d like to attend there, the answer should never be “cuz it’s Yale.”
It’s a chance for you to show that you understand what they’re about and pitch yourself as a fit for that school. As Ashley said, do research on what makes that school special then highlight what about your own experiences makes you a great candidate.
You can still make friends on Zoom
Taking classes online has both raised and lowered the barrier for making friends. It’s definitely harder to have organic interactions. But if you’re willing to reach out, I think more people are open to talking to/being friends with people they might not have otherwise. Cold message! Cold email! You never know what will happen.
Ashley’s interview is part of a series called Forthcoming, an interview series where people reflect on their educational/extracurricular experiences. If you’d like to be interviewed for Forthcoming, please fill out the form at the bottom of this post. If you have questions or suggestions for future interviews, please get in touch here!