It is every parent’s dream for their child to attend a prestigious college or university. So when 17-year-old Kelly Hyles received offers from all eight Ivy League schools, imagine her mother’s surprise.
“I knew I had to at least get academic scholarships, if not need-based scholarships,” Kelly said in a WTVR television interview, adding that college application fees were waved due to her financial standing.
The “A” student received 21 acceptance letters from elite colleges and universities around the country, including MIT, Tufts and Johns Hopkins.
Kelly spent the first decade of her life in a small village called Vryheid’s Lust in Guyana. She currently lives in Queens, New York with her mother, who she said is her role model.
While the star student openly admits that getting accepted into so many schools didn’t require much work, she later said it has required “a lot of sacrifices” and preparation.
“My biggest sacrifice was sleep,” she said to WTVR, adding that she averages about five hours of sleep a night. “Sometimes, I wanted to sleep late or go to the movies or a party with my friends, but I had to prioritize,” Kelly said.
Some would say her commute to school is sacrifice enough. The senior commutes an hour and a half every day to the High School for Math, Science and Engineering in Harlem, one of New York’s nine specialized high schools.
While she is one of less than two dozen Black students in her senior class, which has more than 130 people, she made it a pivotal goal to replace self-doubt with confidence. The Ivy League recipient and two other students started a Black Student Union at her high school in 2014, and for three summers she spent every weekday mentoring students at her former Brooklyn middle school. She also partnered with the DREAM program, which prepares students for the Specialized High School Admissions Test.
Kelly confessed that she wasn’t the best standardized test-taker when she took the SAT in May 2015. She told WTVR that the scores left her feeling discouraged until she retook the test and did much better. She said she pushed herself to apply “street smarts” with “book smarts.”
“I heard stories of people that made amazing grades that didn’t get into the colleges they wanted,” she said.
Kelly applied to 22 schools and was wait-listed only at Stanford University. Though Harvard has been her dream school, she is considering all of her options.