Hanoi schoolboy admitted to two Ivy League universities

By Binh Minh   April 5, 2024 | 03:00 pm PT
A Hanoi 12th grader has been accepted to 11 U.S. universities, including two Ivy League schools Yale and Cornell.

Tran Anh Minh, a student of at Concordia International School Hanoi, received acceptance letters from 11 out of 17 U.S. universities he applied to this admissions season.

Among them, several are in the top 10 U.S. universities such as Yale, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, and Duke. Yale and Cornell are among the eight Ivy League schools.

Yale is Minh's dream school. He had applied early but was deferred, so he thought his chances were slim.

"It was a total surprise. My family was overjoyed," Minh said.

Tran Anh Minh poses for a photo with his mother after a basketball match at his school in February, 2024. Photo courtesy of Minh

Tran Anh Minh poses for a photo with his mother after a basketball match at his school in Hanoi in February 2024. Photo courtesy of Tran Anh Minh

Yale charges tuition fees of over US$64,000 per year. The school announced on its website that it would admit 2,100 freshmen this year, from more than 57,400 applicants, marking its lowest acceptance rate ever.

Minh has visited Yale twice, which fueled his determination to become a student there.

His first visit was during his eighth grade, when he participated in the World Scholar's Cup debate competition and won a spot in the finals at Yale, earning a silver medal.

He was impressed by the school's relaxed atmosphere, spacious surroundings, and unique architecture.

He returned to Yale for the second time in 11th grade to attend a two-week summer camp. The trip allowed Minh to experience life as a Yale student: attending lectures, engaging in research, and participating in discussions. He was exposed to new information and diverse perspectives from international peers.

Under the guidance of graduate students, Minh's group studied about educational inequality.

Students in the U.S. are encouraged to enlist after graduating from high schools. Upon discharge, they receive funding for university education.

Minh's research found that recruits typically come from challenging backgrounds, are people of color or Latino, or live in crime-prone areas. Only a few exceptional students receive funding for further education.

Returning from the summer camp, Minh began preparing his application to Yale.

Having planned to study abroad before, he has been involved in extracurricular activities since high school. Inspired by his parents, Minh initiated a project teaching English to students at Na Hang Ethnic Boarding School in the northern province of Tuyen Quang, 140 km northwest of Hanoi, and conducted one to two sessions weekly.

The project has continued to this day, expanding to the Central Highlands' Lam Dong Province and the southern Tra Vinh Province.

Besides English, Minh's group teaches astronomy, marketing, and social media use to about 100 students.

He also organized charity golf tournaments, music nights, and auctions to raise funds to support children at the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion in Hanoi.

In his Yale application, Minh emphasized his interest in education and showcased his unique perspective.

In his main 650-word essay, which required applicants to write about past experiences, Minh shared that he was born into a privileged family and lived a sheltered life. Teaching minority ethnic children made him aware of the disparities in educational access.

"I want to address educational inequality issues," Minh said.

He has also conducted several small-scale research projects, including one that explored how Khmer people preserve their culture through education.

In the Mekong Delta's Tra Vinh Province, many people study Khmer, with programs offered in universities and on radio and TV. During the summer, temples often provide free Khmer language classes. Minh visited those places to interview and learn about their effective methods.

Additionally, Minh helped translate and process data for an educational research institute.

Besides the main essay, Yale requires three supplemental essays ranging from 35 to 400 words.

Minh distinctly remembers one of them, in which he had to answer the question: "If you could write a book or teach a class, what would it be about?" In 35 words, he wrote about teaching rap music. He likes rap because the lyrics often reflect societal realities.

"I had to choose short sentences to be as concise as possible," Minh said.

In an interview with a Yale alumnus, Minh started with relatable stories, such as his grandmother's birthday or a volleyball tournament he participated in, to create a pleasant atmosphere. He also prepared some questions for the interviewer about food and changes at the school.

Academically, Minh consistently maintained high grades, with a GPA of 3.95/4. He also scored 1540/1600 on the SAT and 145/160 on the Duolingo English test.

Minh took 10 Advanced Placement courses, even though his school typically offers only 8. These included World History, Music Theory, Government, and Human Geography, all of which he scored 4/5 or higher, recognizing that this could enhance his competitive edge for admissions.

Scott Sanders, an AP teacher, noted that students at his school undergo challenging courses to prepare for college applications. As a result, many lose the motivation to explore the world according to their interests.

However, Minh was different.

"Minh is exceptional. His curiosity impresses me," Sanders said. "Minh is always eager to discuss various topics, open to feedback, and willing to learn new ideas."

Tran Anh Minh (L) teaches children about astronomy during a trip to Tra Vinh Province in southern Vietnam in July 2023. Photo courtesy of Minh

Tran Anh Minh (L) teaches astronomy to children during a trip to Tra Vinh Province in southern Vietnam in July 2023. Photo courtesy of Tran Anh Minh

Le Thu Hien, a Math and Big Data teacher, described Minh as the most passionate and dedicated student she has ever met.

Over two years of teaching Minh in four AP courses (Calculus BC, Big Data, Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra), she noticed his unique problem-solving approach.

For Minh, the key to successfully applying to U.S. universities is knowing what one wants and consistently demonstrating that through activities. Candidates' extracurricular activities should have a unique flair, prepared from as early as ninth grade.

Minh plans to major in Sociology, History, Mathematics, and Philosophy at Yale.

"I aim to pursue a PhD in education and hope to address inequalities in the field," Minh said.

go to top