Issue 66: How these parents got their kids into Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Columbia, UPenn

Demeka and Anthony’s daughter received 16 college acceptance letters, including ones from Stanford, UPenn, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, and Berkeley. Two years later, their son received nearly as many, including ones from Harvard, MIT, Stanford, UPenn Wharton, and UCLA. I stumbled upon their story scrolling through my newsfeed one day and said to myself, “Wow. These parents are really special.” I knew their success would be inspiring and meaningful to our readers so I spent a couple hours learning about their story. Here’s what Demeka and Anthony taught me about the truth behind getting scholarships, starting early, their kids’ normal childhoods, and what they’d do differently if they could.

Exclusive Insider Interview: Parents of two Stanford students and high school valedictorians

Chyna Mays graduated as valedictorian of her high school class in 2017 with a 4.91 GPA. She got admitted to Brown, Cornell, Columbia, UPenn, Dartmouth, Duke (with scholarship), Berkeley, Emory (with scholarship), Johns Hopkins, Georgia Tech (with scholarship), Johns Hopkins, USC, UMich (with scholarship), Rensselaer, Rice, and Stanford, where she matriculated. Two years later, her younger brother, Anthony Mays II, graduated in 2019 with a 4.93 GPA, boasting acceptances to Harvard, Penn Wharton, MIT, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth, USC, UCLA, Georgia Tech (with scholarship), Rensselaer, UGA (with scholarship) and Stanford, where he also chose to go.

On top of all that, Chyna just finished an internship at NASA and serves as VP of Stanford’s Society of Women Engineers.

Demeka’s an educational consultant who started her career as a classroom teacher. Throughout her career, she’s served as a district director of curriculum instruction, building leader, district instructional leader, superintendent- and- governors’ council member, Dept. of Ed. program specialist and college writing instructor.

Her husband, Anthony, is an engineer and former Army officer. When the kids needed to learn math, science, and business management, they turned to dad who helped develop them into the STEM-focused individuals they are today.

Chyna and Anthony were precocious kids, thanks to mom who took teaching into her own hands.

“And as most parents do with early learners, I taught them how to read, write, how to do math. They were reading at age three, both of them, and writing. We started with simple sentences at age three; they were writing paragraphs by kindergarten,” Demeka said.

Demeka and Anthony wanted their kids to be ahead of the curve.

“We always tried to teach them the concepts and skills prior to the next grade in which they were being promoted. So they were never really being introduced by the teacher to the learning. It was more of an extension of what we were already doing at home. It was very important to me that they were always one or two grade levels ahead. And because I’m a public school educator, I believe in public school education, and so my kids were going to go to public school,” Demeka continued.

While many American parents think that public schools tend to fall short of private schools, Demeka instead tried to dispel that myth.

“I was the Miami-Dade County Teacher of the Year…so it would not be a good look for me to put my kids in private school. So my kids were in public school, and I wanted to show that public school can work when parents partner with educators in their children’s learning.”

…I wanted to show that public school can work when parents partner with educators in their children’s learning.

“How did that look in your day-to-day life?” I asked.

“Basically, I was their humanities coach, supporting them with Social Studies, English Language Arts, and writing. My husband was their math and science coach,” she responded.

Aside from coaching their kids on academic subjects, Demeka and Anthony made sure to sharpen their kids’ study skills — early. While most kindergarteners were learning how to operate the iPad and play in the park, Anthony and Chyna were getting the hang of self-analysis and self-assessment.

Demeka explained, “They’ve been analyzing and using data and conducting self-assessments and reflections and goal setting since kindergarten. We would pull out the report cards, any test results that they would get and teach them how to read that data and to draw conclusions from their data and to reflect on, ‘What are my strengths? What are my areas for improvement?’ These behaviors served them well in the college admissions process.”

I couldn’t help wondering how the kids survived all the work at home: analyzing report cards, getting coached on math and English, and writing paragraphs by the age of 5.

But Demeka clarified how that all looked.

“The interesting thing is people think they didn’t have a normal childhood. Anybody who knows them will tell you that they had a normal childhood. As a matter of fact, my friends would say, ‘They were outside playing and don’t study as much as our kids. When do they have time to…?’

But here is the thing. All that we ever asked, depending on their age, is that there was at least an hour a day of learning, of some structured learning.”

…my friends would say, ‘They were outside playing and don’t study as much as our kids. When do they have time to…?’

Beyond daily structured learning, Demeka and Anthony wove learning into the fabric of their daily family lives. They didn’t put ordinarily mundane moments to waste. What does that mean?

Driving to school?

“We constantly asked questions, we constantly had discussions, even in the car on the way to school. We would play games like reading the signs on buildings as we pass,” Demeka said.

At the grocery store?

“Going to the grocery store, having them to estimate how much the bill would be by the time we get to the register, to read ingredients. There were just so many opportunities to learn in real-world settings. There are so many opportunities for parents, who are not educators and who don’t know how to formally instruct, to teach their children by using routine activities.”

Eating dinner?

“Doing things over dinner, having discussions about their day, about whatever we watched on television, about the news,” she exemplified.

Getting ready for school or work in the morning?

“One of the things I’ll never forget–and this is interesting, because I did forget–in the morning, whenever we were getting ready for school, the news would be on. And so we would all get dressed together. And then they would point out things that they would see on the news and so would I, and we would talk about it. And then I would connect it back to something that they were learning in the classroom,” Demeka remembered.

Watching cartoons?

“As early as three, four, or five, they’re watching cartoons. I’m asking them the key characteristics of plot: the who, what, where, when, and why; who are the characters; asking them about motivation: why do you think that character did this or that?”

Going on family vacations?

“We took them to Italy, France, Spain, and they had their travel journals. We watched a lot of documentaries before even traveling over there. We read articles. They were learning about world literature and world history in the classroom, but they were able to connect the dots when we traveled overseas. And so they learned about the architecture in Rome. They learned about government, they learned about the culture and food and all of that…we took our kids on field trips, and it just enhanced their learning experience.”

Hardly the normal experience that I see kids having when traveling with family: being scolded by parents for not keeping up with the adults on a walking tour or bribed with an iPad to stay quiet during dinner at a fancy restaurant.

Hardly the normal experience that I see kids having when traveling with family… bribed with an iPad to stay quiet during dinner…

The Mays let the kids have screentime so they’d learn to manage their time. They didn’t have a set bedtime.

So how did all this fit into their college journey? Chyna and Anthony very well-supported by their parents who contributed significant personal time and effort into teaching them not only the what but also the how to. They were advanced.

Continue reading highlights of the Mays story below!

…it wasn’t that we wanted them to get into five or six Ivy Leagues… It was that we just wanted them to go to college, and we wanted it to be paid for.

Here’s when I started noticing the divergences between the Mays and other parents I’ve encountered.

But how did the two parents make sure Chyna wasn’t overwhelmed with all of her academic, extracurricular, social, and leadership obligations?

Was Chyna okay and if so, what did her parents do to make sure she didn’t collapse under the weight of all her commitments, as many teenagers do?

Read Part 2 of our interview with the Mays parents next week!

Dear Socrates Q&A

This week, we selected a question from Letta, a college applicant:

“Did applying to colleges make you more stressed than the thought of getting rejection letters?”

Not really. I went to a public high school where kids went to SAT boot camps in the summer and pulled all nighters to set the test curve.

Some of my classmates’ parents hired counselors or private test prep tutors. I, on the other hand, figured it out on my own.

I felt the stressful vibe around me and wanted to make sure this process wasn’t stressful for me. I don’t like stress. Who does?

Looking back, I kept my college app process stress-free by doing these four things:

1. Writing my essays myself without others’ input and not spending too much time on them

While I don’t always recommend this to others, I was a strong-headed high schooler who didn’t want to be influenced by others — probably because I knew I was impressionable and eager to please. I submitted my college essays without letting others (parents, teachers, peers, etc.) give feedback because I didn’t want my authenticity tainted by their questions and suggestions, though likely innocent. Without the mixed opinions of the people around me, I felt freer to express myself without needing to please them, and consequently, less stressed.

Not spending too much time on my essays also helped me put a stop to a never-ending process. Like any form of art, essays can continuously be modified and revised. But like art, there’s rarely a clear line defining when it’s good enough for admissions officers and when it needs more work. At some point, we’ve just got to believe in ourselves, stop working on them, and submit with confidence. I probably spent a total of just one day on my essays. I stopped when I felt happy with what I read.

2. Applying to one school at a time

One deadline at a time, I told myself. I applied to just one school during the Early round: Northwestern. If I didn’t get into Northwestern, I reminded myself that I’d learn by mid-December and I would have still had time to apply RD during winter break. I didn’t start working on RD apps because I saw it as a step-by-step process. I’d only need to apply to other schools if I didn’t get into Northwestern ED, so I waited until hearing back before starting my RD apps. Giving myself this doable goal of applying to just one college by 11/1 helped me feel like my workload was manageable.

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SocratesPost is always on the frontlines scouring the news for relevant updates in the college admissions landscape. We look for anything that can help shape our understanding of the latest trends in admissions and help our readers see the direction in which we’re moving. Headlines we explore this week:

  • The University of California is getting sued for unfair admission practices. What exactly is behind this?
  • Cha-ching! This Ivy League school just got a big chunk of money. Which one is it and what is it for?
  • Bye-bye tests: These three schools recently eliminated the SAT/ACT. Where are they?
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