Johnson Lin: Through the Gauntlet

Senior Johnson Lin was accepted to Princeton University on a full-ride scholarship. He would not have been able to afford a high-tier college education without the help of Questbridge. Photo by Connor Malinger ('22)
HBA senior Johnson Lin describes the college decision period as an anxious one, especially the last hours leading up to the final verdict. “[I remember thinking] if I get in, I get in, and if I didn’t then that’s okay,” he said, all the while refreshing his email inbox over and over instead of paying attention to the ongoing AP Calculus lesson. Fortunately for Lin, the months, hours, and minutes of nail-biting anxiety paid off, because on that fateful day in Calculus, he received acceptance (and a full ride scholarship) to Princeton University, inciting a well-deserved tearful celebration with friends and family.

His ecstatic reaction was fitting. Princeton, an Ivy League school, currently has an acceptance rate of less than 6%. Also, unlike most HBA students, Lin comes from a lower income family and is a first generation student with parents that do not speak English. This of course made school and the college search process much more challenging as he largely navigated through them on his own. Lin recalls having to fill out school forms on his own, even as an elementary student, because his parents were not English speakers. Thankfully, he had the help of his older sister Jessie, who graduated from HBA in 2018.

To compound the difficulties he faced, Lin’s father lost his job last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and seeing as his father is the sole breadwinner of his family, the situation was considerably disruptive. Lin knew that the only way he could afford college was through scholarships or financial aid. He skeptically applied to the Questbridge program at the exhortation of his friends, thinking it would be a waste of time. His skepticism remained through the entire process and it was only relieved once he received his acceptance letter.

Even though Lin was surprised by his acceptance to Princeton, those who have been around Lin at HBA are not. In seventh grade, at the annual end-of-year academic awards ceremony, he took all of the academic course awards, prompting chuckling from teachers as his name was called again and again. Lin repeated this feat the following year in eighth grade, only missing the Math award. He kept up this trajectory as he went into high school, achieving high marks in all of his classes, especially STEM courses. 

The challenges that Lin faced as a student also became his motivation to succeed. Lin’s drive to learn and his curiosity have also served him well. AP Environmental teacher Claire Mitchell said,  “Johnson is, and always will be, a lifelong learner; someone who is excited about just how much there is to discover and know in this world.”

Mitchell also points out that Lin’s strength is in his drive to work hard. Lin, who is taking six AP classes this year, admitted jokingly, “I’m doing so because I love putting myself in pain.” One of Lin’s closest friends, classmate Lydia Lan, shares that this means sometimes forsaking sleep and his free time after school and on the weekends in favor of “studying ahead for classes, participating in math and science competitions, and doing community service; hardly any of that time is spent on personal leisure,” she recalled. Despite his lack of free time, his classmate Marisa Tonaki says that Johnson still finds the time to be a very kind and caring friend who remains humble and encouraging to those around him. 

When asked what he would do differently if given the opportunity, Lin said that he would want to worry less about what other people thought about him at the beginning of high school. Instead of his own desire for growth and development, his motivation lay in the expectations of others. He believes that although advice from others is valuable, his motivation should stem from himself, allowing him to truly enjoy his high school experience and be less stressed out.

Looking forward, Lin wants to pursue a career in medicine, researching or working in a hospital. He hopes he can use his gifts to help others. His future definitely will have its difficulties especially considering that acceptance rates for medical schools average about 7%; but fortunately for Lin, this is not new territory.

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