Tenafly High School Alumni in Prestigious Colleges Offer Their Advice

Princeton University (Flickr)

Princeton University (Flickr)

Junhyoung (Edward) Kim, Staff Writer

The college admissions process is a journey that many high schoolers are interested in. Even the idea of attending college may excite us. Over the years, Tenafly High School has been home to many brilliant students. To help students interested in the process and to help those willing to learn from THS alumni, I decided to interview college students to ask about their college experience, high school life, and everything in between! There is a lot of advice and tips in terms of not just college but also productivity, so keep reading to find out more!


Tomer Witelson (Class of 2021) – Columbia University

I’m Tomer Witelson, and I’d like to double major in financial economics and math-stats.

What organizations/clubs were you a part of? 

I was a part of the marching band, the physics club, chemistry club, stats club, debate club, and the track team. I might be forgetting one or two, but I think that’s everything.

What did your day look like in high school?

My days were nothing special; I’d go to school, go to a club during lunch or after school some days of the week, and then go home, have a snack, procrastinate doing work, do homework, then go to sleep between 10 and 12.

In high school, I leaned towards the maths and sciences, but I didn’t dislike the humanities either. For the latter part of high school, I assumed I’d go into something science-related, but I realized I don’t want to be a doctor. I didn’t really want to work in a lab either, nor be an engineer, so here I am. I’m still figuring it out, and I don’t think anyone should expect to know what they want to do in the future by the end of high school.

Why did you choose Columbia? 

It’s a good school. I was never really someone with a “dream school,” so I figured I’d try my best to get into a good school and that the setting would be the least of my worries. 

What did the college admissions process look like for you?

A lot of essay writing. However, once you get a few done, you can reuse a lot of your writing because so many supplemental questions are so similar.

What advice do you have for current seniors applying to colleges?

Get your essays done early, submit everything early, and just know that the college application process is a roll of the dice for everyone. If you get in, it shows that you’re qualified, and if you don’t, then it means nothing (it just means that someone similar to you from some other high school happened to get in instead of you).

What advice do you have for lowerclassmen? (i.e. time management, mental-health, courses, etc.)

It’s super important to learn time management and discipline. I’m still learning how to properly manage my time and make myself just sit down and get work done, so don’t stress too much about becoming the perfect student who does all their work at once. I still procrastinate a ton, and I’m sure many of my classmates would say the same. When it comes to courses, the odds are that you can handle whatever you want to take as long as you don’t let the title psych you out. And most importantly, try to keep track of how you’re feeling, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, then talk to someone (a parent or guidance counselor, or even your friends/upperclassmen).


Cleopatra Lim (Class of 2018) – Columbia University 

I’m Cleopatra Lim, an alum of Tenafly High School from Class of ‘18. I am currently a senior attending Columbia University as a Psychology & Creative Writing major. I’m also on the collegiate swim team as well, continuing my swim career from high school.

Did THS help you have a better sense of what you might want to do in the future?

I really started finding my passions in THS and met some of my closest friends—with whom I still keep in touch to this day—there. While writing had always been a big part of my life, it was at Tenafly High that I enrolled in my first Creative Writing class and started to fall in love with [the] craft. I was also in the Tutoring Club, which proved to be one of my favorite parts of the week. Being able to directly help kids with their education was great, but building relationships with them and acting as a mentor was invaluable to me. I found it so enriching that I dedicated much of my free time to tutoring kids all over the county [in] my senior year and still do it as a college senior. 

Of course, I was also on the high school swim team and was able to represent the Tenafly Tigers at countless competitions. Swimming on a high school team provided a new experience and helped me enjoy a sport that was mentally and physically trying. It wasn’t about the individual, and I quickly learned that my speed didn’t matter as much as our cohesiveness as a team (something that was less emphasized at a competitive level). I grew to really appreciate the sport and built lasting friendships with teammates I had never before spoken to in class. I’ll never forget how much more rewarding it felt to win as a team and how loudly we cheered for one another.

How is college different from high school (for you or in general)?

College is extremely different from high school (for nearly everyone, I’d say) in regards to the scheduling and initiative one is supposed to take on in making their days productive. In a way, being a student-athlete early on in my life really helped me navigate that aspect of college since I was always accustomed to managing my time well. However, the main difference is that I’m given a lot more time to invest in activities I find stimulating: hanging out with friends, exploring the city, taking trips, and doing little projects on the side. In high school, all of my time was spent furthering my success in two fields: academics and athletics. And while that was worthwhile to me back then, I’m so grateful for the expansive freedom I experience here in an urban campus. For meals, I get to choose whether I’ll eat at a popular NYC restaurant or at our dining hall. I can spend time with my friends in dorms, or walk the High Line with them. I do sometimes reminisce on the close-knit community at THS, but I think as a grow into myself as an individual, living my college years out in the midst of a bustling city is a great way to expand my horizons. 

Were there any stereotypes about the current institution you attend (that you believed in) when you were in high school? If so, what were they?

I can’t speak to the rumors circulating College Reddit now, but during my high school years, Columbia had a reputation for being an institution that demanded a lot from its students, in intelligence and diligence. Especially with the Core Curriculum we have here, all students (without exception) are required to take several classes ranging from humanities-based arts and music classes to a Freshman science lecture that teaches astrophysics. Needless to say, every student is going to be challenged in at least one class that they have no prerequisite knowledge in or have difficulty with. I’ve always struggled with high-level science and I’ve never been great at music, so I had my doubts going into Columbia. What I can say, though— having completed the Core myself and hearing about my peers’ experiences with it—is that Columbia doesn’t teach its students anything that isn’t worth learning. As a liberal arts school, we definitely embrace an approach to education that celebrates a well-rounded mind and encourages mixing passions and interests in a way that makes our resumes feel more like a story, rather than a template. As for the rumored rigor, I do believe all colleges provide challenging educations. Not a single THS friend I’ve kept in touch with has gone through their four years breezily. Yet, we’ve all made it this far and I think it’s a testament not to how easy/hard a school is, but how much college pushes you to grow.

What did the college admissions process look like for you?

The college admissions process was fairly different for me than it was for anyone else. As a swimmer, we follow a distinct timeline set by the NCAA that determines when we can start making contact with college coaches and discussing commitment. It probably won’t help for me to get into any of the specifics, but if anyone else is a student-athlete unfamiliar with the recruitment process (especially for Ivies), please feel free to reach out!

Do you have any advice for potential recruited athletes?

If you’re being recruited, congratulations! It means you’ve worked hard and that people are finally recognizing your sacrifices. With athletics in the equation, there’s a lot more to figure out about picking a college: the team, the rankings, the scholarships (or lack of them), and the commitment. Before you start talking to coaches, make sure that this is something you really want to do for the next four years. College might be the best time for you to stop putting in 20+ hours into a sport that doesn’t bring you joy and to start investing that time into the things you love. Or, it might be where you get to pursue a sport that you enjoy with people who are equally as passionate and don’t shy away from pain. Figure that out first, and then make sure you communicate exactly what you want to the coaches you’re talking to. Being an athlete doesn’t mean your grades don’t matter either—rather, the opposite—so keep those up!


Rebecca Parish (Class of 2021) – Cornell University

My name is Rebecca Parish and I graduated from THS this past June (2021). I am a first-year (freshman) at Cornell University in the College of Arts and Sciences, currently undecided.

What organizations/clubs were you a part of? 

Class Office (president), Soccer, Basketball, Marching/Concert Band, Debate, MUN, New York Times Club, Soup Kitchen Club, Science Olympiad.

What did your day look like in high school?

Very busy! I normally would get to school early to try and see my class advisor to discuss any event that we were planning. Then, I would go through my morning classes as normal. I usually had some sort of club meeting during lunch. After lunch, I had my afternoon classes like everyone else. After school, I would go to soccer practice then band practice in the fall, or basketball practice in the winter. Once in a while, I would go to a club meeting before I went to practice. Then, I would go home and shower/eat/do homework and go to sleep so I can do it all again the next day! I love being busy 🙂 and I loved being involved at THS.

Were there any stereotypes about the current institution you attend (that you believed in) when you were in high school? If so, what were they? 

It is definitely cold here—that is true. Otherwise, I didn’t really have expectations about Cornell and I tried to ignore stereotypes so I could make my own judgments when I got here.

Why did you choose Cornell?

Obviously, Cornell has amazing academic opportunities. There is also a lot about Cornell that is super unique, which makes the Cornell tradition so strong. It is also beautiful here—the sunsets over the slope are breathtaking.

What advice do you have for current seniors applying to colleges?

Everything will work out!! I know that is super cheesy, but it is true. You might be hurt in the moment, but that will change and you will find the place that is right for you!

What are some interesting facts about the current institution that you attend?

The chicken nugget was invented at Cornell! There are a lot of weird and cool fun facts like that I am still learning!


Ashley Hyun (Class of 2020) – Princeton University

I’m Ashley Hyun (or Ash) and I’m in the Class of 2024 at Princeton University. I’m majoring in English and pursuing a certificate (basically a minor) in creative writing. 

Did THS help you have a better sense of what you might want to do in the future?

In a sense, it did. I think though that you shouldn’t necessarily have a set idea of what you want to do. It’s great if you do, but I know I didn’t. And now that I’m in college I know that even if I did know what I wanted to do in the future, it would have changed because of everything I’ve experienced here. Classes in high school are very general, and are better to get a sense of what general field you want to pursue rather than a specific occupation. I always knew I wanted to pursue English, and THS just corroborated that.

Were there any stereotypes about the current institution you attend (that you believed in) when you were in high school? If so, what were they?

There were a lot. I thought that everyone who went to Princeton was pretentious, and I also thought that everyone would be smarter than me. I also thought that school life would be boring. Thankfully, I’ve met some of the most genuine and sincere people that I’ve ever met in my life. And while it’s true that everyone here is smart, the friends I’ve met are always encouraging and helpful.

What advice do you have for current seniors applying to colleges?

Write your essays sooner than later. Revision is more important than you think it is. Also, while it’s good to keep in mind the college you’re applying to, obsessing over what the admissions officers will think of you will hinder your writing. Don’t try to overextend yourself to appear unique just for the sake of being unique.

What advice do you have for future college students (about college)?

I don’t know how to emphasize this enough but take advantage of the resources. These schools have invested so much money into resources that can help you. Whether that’s primary sources at libraries, or just going to office hours to talk to professors, utilize the resources available to you. Want to produce your own musical? Collaborate with theatre groups. Don’t have Microsoft Office? Almost guarantee that you can get it for free from your school. 

Also, take care of yourself. Eat when you have the time to, and get that eight hours of sleep. Make time for friends or even just for yourself. 

What are some interesting facts about the current institution that you attend?

The use of the word “campus” to describe a college originated in Princeton. We have some extremely notable alumni, like Michelle Obama, Sonia Sotomayor, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The cover art for Kanye West’s Late Registration is at the Graduate College. 


Kathryn Zheng (Class of 2020) – Stanford University

Hi! I’m a sophomore at Stanford majoring in economics and international relations.

How is college different from high school (for you or in general)?

A lot more chill. To be honest I participate in a lot of activities still (off the top of my head, I’m involved with about six clubs, with the most prominent involvement being as a project manager for the Stanford marketing group) but I have a lot more downtime to socialize. I also definitely have more time to space out my work and take only classes I’m genuinely interested in. I also just go to SF on the weekends with my friends to go thrifting or go to parties (shoutout to phi psi my fave frat LOL) and I definitely didn’t do that in high school just because I didn’t have much time.

Were there any stereotypes about the current institution you attend (that you believed in) when you were in high school?

I think I thought people at Stanford would be a lot more into STEM than they are. Our humanities are amazing and Stanford sometimes gets pigeonholed as a CS school. We do have a fantastic computer science department but we also have amazing professors everywhere else too (like our creative writing dept. is amazing and very few people outside of Stanford know that).

What did the college admissions process look like for you?

It was very “stressful because I’m very anxious and also indecisive. DO NOT DO WHAT I DID. I applied to 26 schools. I think while it worked out in the end it caused me a lot of stress my senior fall. I wrote a LOT of essays.”

How do you manage your time?

I try to block out time to do things especially when I know I’ll have other things I want to do later on. It varies how good I am at doing that, and to be honest, but for the most part, it goes ok? I use a lot of reminders and also plan chrome extensions.

What advice do you have for a potential college freshman?

Take it easy your first quarter/semester!! You want to have time to explore campus, make friends and just have fun and you don’t want to spend all your time bogged down in homework. Also, make UPPERCLASSMEN FRIENDS (shoutout to my senior friend Mia) because they can really show you the ropes.


Personally, as a sophomore, I took a lot of their advice to heart, and I through their life in high school that not everyone is the same. Everyone has different interests and passions which means that comparing yourself to these alumni isn’t always going to be the best solution. For seniors and lowerclassmen, I hope this piece was helpful. Once again, I would like to thank Tomer, Cleopatra, Rebecca, Ashley, and Kathryn! If this piece gets a lot of support, a part two may be coming soon!