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High school grad rejected by 16 colleges hired by Google

By Kristen Sze

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    SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — College admissions decisions disappoint thousands of high-achieving students each year, but one Palo Alto teen’s story is catching the attention of Congress.

Stanley Zhong, 18, is a 2023 graduate of Gunn High School in Palo Alto.

Despite earning 3.97 unweighted and 4.42 weighted GPA, scoring 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT’s and founding his own e-signing startup RabbitSign in sophomore year, he was rejected by 16 out of the 18 colleges he applied to.

Kristen Sze: “I’m just wondering how you felt as each of these letters came in saying ‘no, thank you, Stanley'”?

Stanley Zhong: “Oh, well, some of them were certainly expected. You know, Stanford, MIT, you know, it’s, it is what it is, right?…Some of the state schools I really thought, you know, I had a good chance and turns out a bit of a chance I had, I didn’t get in.”

But shortly after the wave of rejections, he was offered a full-time software engineering role by Google, one of the world’s top tech companies.

Zhong just started his Google job this week. He and his father Nan Zhong appeared on our 3 p.m. weekday newscast, “Getting Answers,” and talked about his improbable journey with ABC7 News Anchor Kristen Sze.

On Sept. 28, Zhong’s story was brought up by a witness testifying at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing. The goal of the hearing was to consider how this summer’s Supreme Court decision banning affirmative action in college admissions is shaping university policies, policies that confound Zhong and his father.

Although Zhong recognizes that elite college admissions is complicated and his pool of Silicon Valley computer science major applicants is highly competitive, he admits to being surprised.

He was denied by: MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, UCSB, UC Davis, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cornell University, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, Georgia Tech, Caltech, University of Washington and University of Wisconsin.

His only acceptances: University of Texas and University of Maryland.

College admissions experts frequently tell applicants that schools with an under 5% acceptance rate like MIT and Stanford are reaches for almost everyone, but Zhong was even denied by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which has a middle 50% GPA of 4.13-4.25 for admitted engineering students.

His father Nan Zhong shared the story on some parent chat groups and blogs, and it’s gone viral amidst the national conversation on elite college admissions. Acknowledging that Stanley may have simply been extraordinarily unlucky, the Zhongs say they’re sharing his story to spark conversation about making college admissions more transparent.

Stanley’s father Nan Zhong is an engineer and introduced coding to Stanley at a young age. Nan works at Google as a software engineering manager.

“Google has a tightly controlled interview process. I had no way to find out who the interviewers would be,” Zhong said.

Zhong added that Stanley’s journey began in late spring when an Amazon recruiter showed interest in him for his work on RabbitSign. That led Stanley to recall that a Google recruiter had contacted him in 2018, but he was too young at age 13 to apply then. So Stanley reached back out to Google, went through interviews, and the rest is history.

As for the 18-year-old Google software engineer, he had decided to enroll at the University of Texas but put that on hold to when he got the Google job offer.

As for whether college is still in the cards, he says maybe. For now, he’s enjoying himself, not on a college campus, but the Google campus.

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