High school senior who fled El Salvador as a child accepted to six Ivies

‘I was speechless’

AMER (2)

Last week, Cesar Arevalo opened his email to find he had been accepted to six Ivy League schools, four UCs, MIT, and Stanford.

The California-based high schooler left El Salvador aged five for the outskirts of LA, and was motivated to do well by his father, who worked in a 99 cent store warehouse, and his mother, who pulled nightshifts in a shirt factory.

Determined to study to escape his circumstances, Cesar explained he was “speechless” when he was first accepted.

He also shared his application essay with us, printed in full below, which detailed “the struggles you have to go through as an immigrant family”.


How did you react when you heard?

I received early letters for three schools, so it was kinda surprising but not really. I was home alone. I was about to take a nap, and thought ‘Oh wait, it’s time.’ It went pretty well. They email you telling you the response is out, and you check.

It was a phone call for Yale – I was in the middle of a physics lab, and got a phone call from a number that said “New Haven.” They asked “Do you have a minute to chat? It’s important.”

I was speechless. I thought, “Wow, this is actually happening.” I walked back in and told my teacher “I think I got accepted into Yale,” the teacher said “cool.”

Which colleges are you thinking of confirming?

Right now it’s a three way race between Stanford, Yale, Harvard. Stanford seems the more convenient option, it’s close to home, it’s great weather, and the engineering program is top notch. Yale is a different community experience. It’s a lot closer, the people there are fascinating. I felt like I belonged there: it was the first school I visited. And Harvard, because it’s grand.

Your family must be really proud.

They are really proud. It’s interesting cause they had a similar response. They said: “we saw that coming.” I was like, “you did?”

Cesar’s application essay

As an emigrant from the small and violence-ridden Central American nation of El Salvador, I’ve been raised with the expectation of succeeding in a land of opportunity. While growing up in the outskirts of Downtown LA in the neighborhood of Boyle Heights, I learned that the only way to escape my condition was to receive an education. The examples set forth by my family laid the foundation for my love of learning and motivated me to pursue a higher education; through my pursuit of a better life I discovered a kindling passion for math and science that has driven me to seek a career as an engineer.

My parents sacrificed their time and energy to provide educational opportunities for me. When I arrived in the United States at the age of five, my father worked at a 99 cent store warehouse and my mother worked the graveyard shift at a shirt factory. Eventually, in search of a career, they began taking classes at a community college. It is my parents and their struggles that showed me the value of an education. My brother and sister have similarly followed this path of learning by excelling in school and gaining acceptance into a top ­tier university. My parents’ focus on education motivated us to do well in school because they knew it was the only way that we could create our own path toward a better life. Thus, I set out on my path to a better life.

Confronting challenges head­-on has been my signature attitude since I entered the American school system. Despite not being a native English speaker, I won third place in a school­wide spelling bee in kindergarten and realized that my status as an immigrant did not mean I was any less capable of competing with those around me. I craved for a chance to challenge myself. This desire burned inside of me throughout my elementary school years ­ I competed in another spelling bee and made it to the local district level, I led a group of my peers in a district wide math competition where we took home three medals, and gained acceptance to a two­ week residential summer science camp at the University of Southern California.

Throughout my middle school years, I found that I was not challenged enough in school; upon realizing this, I sought a way to fulfill that desire that had been so dominant just a few years prior. Soon I found myself taking a 20­ minute bus ride to attend a local community college course on Intermediate Algebra. The thought of having to wait for a bus didn’t bother me because I enjoyed going to class everyday, I enjoyed the idea of being on my own, and, most importantly, I enjoyed taking the initiative to seek out challenges.

My tendency to challenge myself academically grew during high school as I tackled higher level science classes. After completing two years of chemistry, I realized it was time to tackle and master physics. I petitioned for the creation of an AP Physics course because I felt that an introductory physics course would not be enough to prepare me for college ­level physics. Thus far, the AP Physics class has been one of my greatest challenges and, despite the stress that it brings into my life, I am enjoying every minute of it. Because of my love for math and science, pursuing a career in a STEM field has long since been at the forefront of my attention. My family has always encouraged me to explore engineering and gladly helped pay for my trip to Stanford for a summer engineering camp despite having to go into debt to do so. I am grateful for the efforts my family has made because they have helped me reach a position where I am able to pursue a higher education.

Cesar created a news site for his high school, The Vanguard, which you can find here.