Off to an Ivy: How a young restaurant worker did it

Jing Ren, a high school senior from Malden, Massachusetts, started working as a middle-schooler in her immigrant Jing Ren, how to handle rejection, essay tipsparents’ Chinese restaurant. Today, she’s first in her graduating class and headed to UPenn as a math major. She got in with no tests and a 3.96 unweighted GPA/4.9 weighted.

In this week’s interview:

  • The unique story in Jing’s college application
  • Did Jing’s parents with a middle school education force her to attend an Ivy?
  • How Jing’s dad helped her see the silver lining in the inevitable: rejection

What stood out about Jing’s app

My college application revolved mostly around my immigrant experience and how I grew up in a Chinese restaurant. So I think what stood out about me is that even though I’m from a low-income family, an immigrant family, where, as a child, I worked every day, I still value every opportunity to change my socioeconomic status through hardworking resilience. Even though I’m from a limited background with limited access to different resources, I still became successful through hard work and always tried really hard to achieve my goals.

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Growing up in a Chinese restaurant with immigrant parents

Like many other immigrant children, our parents came to this land without knowledge. They don’t really speak or understand English, so most of the time, family responsibilities such as paying bills, translating letters from city hall, or translating for our parents when we go to talk to government officials or just sales people falls on the children, since our parents can’t really speak for themselves.

Besides family responsibilities, my parents also owned a restaurant. Because it was a small business restaurant, it was really hard to hire other people to work for us. So since middle school, I’ve been around the restaurant to help out. Slowly I developed into working in the front, and that also was a very valuable experience for me: to interact with different customers on daily basis.

Lessons from working in the family restaurant

Being a cashier is not just about taking orders and taking care of the transactions; it’s also about how you’re able to become flexible and adapt to different circumstances. There are always those unexpected moments of customers and those issues that I have to resolve because my parents don’t really speak the language. So working the front of the restaurant, taking on that responsibility for my parents because of the language barrier also helped me develop leadership.

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Did her parents force her to attend an Ivy League?

The highest level of education they’ve gotten was middle school, so they don’t really understand the college application, which is very, very complicated. So the most they could do, and all they could do, was just to support me. Whenever I talked to them about my decisions, they always respected me, and they didn’t put pressure on me like, “Oh, you have to go to that college,” or “You have to stay around here.” They’ve never done anything like that. They just always respected my decision and also gave me advice. But then that’s what I appreciate most about them: they always respect my decision.

Overcoming rejection with help from dad

I’ve heard from my friends whose parents always pressured them, being like, “You have to go to this Ivy League,” or “You have to do that and that.” But my parents are very supportive of me. I actually applied to Penn. The first time I applied was actually through the QuestBridge National College Match. The first time it was on my list, but unfortunately I didn’t get matched with UPenn. So that was my first rejection.

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As I talked to my dad about it, he was very supportive and very logical. I was surprised, but definitely very grateful for his little conversation with me. He had never gone to college himself, but he was telling me, “There are so

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