These teens got accepted into dozens of colleges and earned millions in scholarships: 'Gratitude kept me motivated'
While reflecting on the last three years — most of which were spent studying, researching and preparing for college —high school senior Daya Brown, 18, tells Yahoo Life, "It's been a journey."
The Atlanta native, also CEO of the teen-led production company Elom & Co., is one of a handful of young scholars making headlines across the country after being accepted into dozens of universities. Specifically, for Brown, the relentless work and determination has gotten her into a whopping 57 universities, with scholarship offerings totaling $1.3 million.
“I’ve always been a high achiever,” says Brown, crediting her entrepreneur parents.
Putting in the work to achieve her college dreams has been part of Brown’s identity since 9th grade. And now that it’s here, she says it’s the “end of an important chapter.” But it's also the beginning of a whole new story.
Brown is the first to admit that none of her accomplishments happened overnight.
“I didn’t have a normal freshman year experience,” she says when acknowledging the life-altering summer of 2020, when businesses and schools went virtual due to COVID lockdowns just before protests against police brutality rocked the nation. At the time, she was part of a program that recruited exemplary Black youth from Atlanta to train at Harvard University, and it went virtual due to the pandemic. When the 2020-21 school year began, the world was in disarray — and still in lockdown.
“My entire sophomore year was spent online,” Brown says. “While other students were sitting at home enjoying the moment, I was at home working and planning and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.” Virtual learning, Brown says, gave her extra time to research colleges she might like to attend after graduation, as well as learn about various courses and programs that would make her college applications stand out.
“After I finished my coursework, I would just go directly to researching schools,” says Brown, who was also working as a part-time nanny. Devoting “at least three hours a day” over the course of four months to the college process, she ended up applying to over 70 schools (which "wasn't a huge burden" financially, due to many colleges waiving application fees because of the pandemic). She was accepted into 57 — including Howard, Hampton, Harvard, Yale, Northwestern and Duke University.
She chose Duke, her "dream school," where she'll enter with a one-year scholarship and plans on majoring in visual and media studies. She is also a finalist for the Gates Scholarship, awarded to 300 outstanding minority high school students across the country; if granted, she’ll have a full ride at Duke for her remaining undergrad years.
“Everything comes to you when you’re ready," she believes, "and everybody’s timeline is different.”
‘Gratitude kept me motivated’
Demetrius Profic’s freshman year was relatively uneventful, he tells Yahoo Life, largely because he “didn’t really know about the college process, when to get started or what that even looked like," since no one in his family had ever continued past high school.
But he learned to navigate the complicated system when he became a sophomore. Like Brown, he spent the entire school year online due to COVID. “For a lot of students, that could have been really discouraging, but it allowed me to really learn how to manage myself,” says Brown, 18, of Baltimore, Md., adding, “I had more time on my hands, so I thought I might as well get more involved in my community.”
Profic became the president of his school’s mock trial team, a member of RHO Kappa Honor Society and UNICEF, and co-president of Teen’s Against Trafficking, to combat human trafficking. Being “stuck at home” during school lockdown inspired him to plan his future with a more hands-on approach, he explains.
“It changed the way I look at school because now it was completely on my own time,” he says of virtual learning. “It was up to me to figure out how I designate time for each task, whether that be assignments or meetings. It helped me hone my time-management skills, and also my self-discipline.”
During his sophomore and junior years, Profic kept up his grades and continued to excel, eventually earning a 3.9 GPA and becoming a QuestBridge College Match Finalist — a nonprofit connecting exceptional, low-income students with leading colleges and opportunities across the country. When all was said and done, he was accepted into 28 universities, which he credits to skills gained from college coaches through Matriculate, a program linking low-income students to undergraduate advisors.
In hindsight, Profic says finding joy in the journey was key to his success. “In times of frustration, it was gratitude that kept me motivated,” he says. “Instead of having the mindset of, 'Oh, I have to do these assignments, and I have to do this for this extracurricular,' it was, 'Wow, I have the opportunity to do that, and not everybody has those resources.' That made me feel better in times of stress.”
It's an attitude shared by many young scholars, including16-year-old Dennis Maliq Barnes from New Orleans, who applied to 200 colleges and was accepted into 170 of them, accumulating $9.7 million in scholarships (a U.S. record, as reported by Yahoo News).
"Just being a Black man … To say that we are mentally and academically surpassing expectations is something that I feel good to be leading right now," he told Yahoo News in April.
Another young high achiever, 18-year-old Courtney Toran from Suffolk, Va., was accepted into 17 schools and received upwards of $700,000 in scholarships.
"This is a very life changing experience," Toran, who plans on studying psychology at Regent University in the fall, told local news outlets,. "Over quarantine there were incidents going on such as George Floyd that really motivated me to understand why people think the way that they think."
Brian Taylor, managing partner of Ivy Coach, a top agency equipping high schoolers with college prep, says it’s become common for college hopefuls to apply to "20 or 30 schools at a time," though he personally cautions clients to be "strategic" in their planning. That includes being mindful of the application-round distinctions, like understanding that applying for early decision leads to a binding agreement upon acceptance.
Brown, for example, was admitted to Duke via early decision and was “forced to withdraw” from the other schools she was accepted into, per protocol, she tells Yahoo Life.
Meanwhile, Jaylin Ellison, 18, of Atlanta, applied to around 70 college via early action, which is non-binding but has a May 1 acceptance deadline. She had some major decision-making to do, as she was accepted into 50 schools — including University of California, Elon and Howard — earning nearly $2 million in scholarship offerings.
“Every time I count the number, I’m just more and more shocked,” she tells Yahoo Life. “It’s such a blessing to be in this position.”
So far, she’s narrowed it down to either Vanderbilt or Howard University, with a major in directing and screenwriting.
“I would say I’m an overachiever,” she says with a giggle. “I definitely get it from my parents, growing up I always strived to be a perfectionist in everything that I do.”
It wasn’t easy, though. “I remember one night I was up late doing an essay and I started crying, doing all the theatrics,” she recalls. “Then my mom was like, ‘Jaylin, you’ve worked so hard these past two years and I promise you, it will all come to play and you’ll realize why we’ve pushed you so hard to do all this work.’ I think back to that night a lot after this semester, and she was so right.”
As for what wisdom she'd offer other young people? "Work towards your passion," she says, "and the work pays off."
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