By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
Crystal Llanos thought she might be hallucinating.
So the McNary senior brought her laptop and showed the letter to her sister, the one congratulating her for being admitted to Stanford University, which at 4.3 percent had its lowest admission rate in the school’s history.
Lower than Harvard (4.59), Princeton (5.5) and Yale (6.9).
Linda confirmed the letter. It was real.
“I honestly never thought I was going to get in from the start,” Llanos said. “I didn’t think that was a possibility for me.”
Llanos’ dream school was the University of Southern California. She only applied to Stanford because two of her close friends did. But Llanos still worked hard on the application, spending an hour to two every night for three weeks, writing and then re-writing her answers.
“I still don’t know exactly why or what inside told me to make this the best you possibly can, even with the mentality that I wasn’t going, that I wasn’t getting in,” Llanos said. “I’d like to think that it was just out of respect for the institution. I knew that they received many applications and I kind of didn’t want to waste their time with not my best work. So I worked really, really hard on that. And I felt good about what I’d written. It was exactly what I wanted to say and I was answering it in the most honest way possible.”
In early December, Llanos met with her friends for dinner to celebrate how hard they had worked on their Stanford applications. When her friends read they had not been accepted, Llanos didn’t think she had a chance. She waited hours to open her email from Stanford.
After building up the courage, Llanos discovered she was deferred and Stanford was still considering her application.
“It was a huge surprise,” Llanos said. “It felt like they had said yes because I was expecting a no. I was expecting a complete rejection right then and there. I was just in shock and I was so excited. And I remember just telling a few people about this because I didn’t want to get anybody’s hopes up. I didn’t want to get my own hopes up.”
Llanos had to wait until April 1 for Stanford’s final decision.
Meanwhile, she was working on her application to USC, which wasn’t going as well as she had hoped.
“I remember turning the application in and just crying,” Llanos said. “One, because of what I said I was very passionate about, but two, because it wasn’t my best work. USC was always my No. 1 school. I’m going to do anything possible to get into USC. That’s my school. That’s where I’m going. I’m going to work so hard on this application and I didn’t. I kept putting it off. For some reason my heart just wasn’t into working on this application and I have no idea why.”
The end of March, during McNary’s spring break, Llanos got a big acceptance package in the mail from USC. A week later came the letter from Stanford.
“I’ve always tried to present myself as this confident person but there’s always a lot of doubts that go through my mind and I compare myself to other people,” Llanos said. “Getting accepted into Stanford made me realize there’s a lot of myself that I don’t realize. There’s a lot of aspects and qualities that I oversee and I’m always focusing on the negative. It inspired me to look at my life in a different perspective and be a little bit more positive and use more kind words to myself specifically.”
To make a decision, Llanos had to see the two schools for herself. In one weekend, April 26-28, she spent two days at Stanford and then one at USC.
Stanford emailed a travel grant to pay for her flight to San Francisco. Willamette Academy, which Llanos has participated in for the last five years, helped pay for the flight to Los Angeles.
“When we were approaching it, I was so giddy,” Llanos said of Stanford. “I was jumping up and down. It was like seeing a celebrity because everybody talks about it and I’d only seen videos. It was crazy. It was real.”
The other students surprised her.
“The people were so friendly,” Llanos said. “They were so humble. They were nerdy but also so normal and for some reason I thought they were going to be crazy geniuses that only talked about math and science and school. I was nervous but once I met them, these people are super smart but they’re normal like me.”
But what won Llanos over was that Stanford, with its ethnic-themed community center and dorms, felt like home.
“The scary thing about going to any college, especially one that’s very selective, is where am I going to find the people like me? Underrepresented minorities, people that are low-income, people that didn’t think they were going to have this chance, people that weren’t supported by their families or families who have no idea what college is like,” Llanos said. “Where am I going to have these people that I can relate to? Stanford understands that very, very well.
“That was one of the things that I didn’t come in thinking about or looking for, but it found me and that made a huge impact on me. I didn’t realize how much I needed this until Stanford presented it to me and I loved that about Stanford and that they realize that that’s so important that that’s the first thing they showed us when we got there.”
While the campus was “gorgeous,” Llanos didn’t get the same feeling at USC.
“The people I was meeting and the vibes on campus, they weren’t me,” she said. “It was actually very sad for me and disappointing just because I had this vision in my mind that USC was the school for me. Even flying down there I thought I’m probably going to like USC more.”
Llanos plans to major in biomedical engineering but is keeping her options open.
After college, she wants to open a non-profit healthcare organization to provide medical technology to minorities and people of low income.
“I want to go down to Mexico because that’s where my roots are,” Llanos said.