Debate champion and start-up founder sets the bar

college acceptance azhar hussain
  • Name: Azhar Hussain
  • Schools accepted to: Dartmouth, Vanderbilt, University of Texas
  • Hometown: Southlake, Texas

How I did it: "I got really involved in a couple of things early and stuck with them. One of the biggest is debate. I'm ranked number one in the country in high school Congressional Debate. I started freshman year because my mom told me I'm really good at arguing with her. It requires knowing a lot about everything, because you don't know the topics ahead of time. So most of my days are spent reading what's going on in the world so I know every subject area that could possibly ever be talked about.

This actually helped me in my interviews with Ivy schools. In one of my interviews, we had a good hour-and-a-half-long discussion about Obamacare, foreign policy, savings plans. By reading so much, I felt I could engage in a breadth of knowledge.

The second thing was that I applied to a program in my high school that's basically like pre-pre-med when I was in 8th grade. You still have normal classes with everyone else, but you have one or two classes, like medical terminology or AP biology, that are tied to the program. It's a more rigorous course load.

I've always loved computers. I built my first one in 7th grade. I worked at Staples fixing them. Through my school program, I got to intern with doctors, and I realized how badly their technology needs were being met. So I founded a company, which is basically I.T. for medical practices. It started with a lot of cold-calling and walking into doctors' offices, getting past the stigma of being 18 and asking doctors to trust me."

Test scores and grades: "I got a 35 on my ACT and a 2270 on my SAT. Good scores aren't the end-all be-all, but it helps admissions officers keep their eyes on your application a second or two longer.

I may not have paid as much attention to my school work as I could have. Our school is about 700 kids. I applied with a rank of 29. Nothing spectacular."

What pushed me: "My parents are first generation Indian immigrants. They had always pushed me to go into medicine.

My uncle really started a fire in me, though. I'd always been kind of a smart kid. When I was about 7, two of my uncles were talking, and one said, 'he's super smart, he may be the first one in our family to go to Harvard.' The other uncle said, 'he's smart, but not Harvard smart.' That's always stuck with me. I have a bar to beat. I have a standard to reach.

It's a lot of self-motivation. No one can make you study, no matter how much parents badger you. It's a lot of forethought when it comes to getting into an Ivy and kids who think about this early are at an advantage. I was able to do that."

Did you get accepted to the school of your choice? Share a photo -- and tell us how you did it -- with the hashtag #CNNIGotIn on Instagram.

First published April 17, 2015: 5:52 PM ET

Partner Offers

Mortgage & Savings

Most Popular