Saheela Ibraheem, 15-year-Old Nigerian Secures Admission In Harvard

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Many parents dream of their children going to Harvard one day. But a Muslim girl has actualised the goal of getting into the prestigious university at the age of 15!

Saheela Ibraheem, of Edison, was also accepted to MIT and 13 other schools, including Princeton and Columbia before settling for Harvard after falling in love with the campus. She skipped two grades and said the key to success is figuring out what you love to learn as early as possible, something she did at age 5. “If you are passionate about what you do, and I am passionate about most of these things, especially with Math.”

She is well on her way to fulfilling her dreams of one day becoming a Neuroscientist. This fall, the 15 year-old high school senior will be heading to Harvard University. Harvard was one of the 14 schools that Saheela applied to. She was accepted into 13 of those schools: Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Williams College, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Washington University in St. Louis. After much debate, she settled on Harvard because “she fell in love” with the campus. She hopes to study neurobiology or neuroscience while at the prestigious university.

She serves as president of the school’s investment club, which teaches students about the stock market by investing in virtual stocks. Saheela wasn’t sure any college would want to admit a 15-year-old. So, she hedged her bets and filled out applications to 14 schools from New Jersey to California. In the end, 13 colleges accepted her, including six of the eight Ivy League schools.

After weeks of debate, Saheela settled on Harvard. She will be among the youngest members of the school’s freshman class. Nationwide, this year’s college selection process was among the most competitive in history as most top colleges received a record number of applications.

Saheela joins a growing number of New Jersey students going to college before they are old enough to drive. Last year, Kyle Loh of Mendham graduated from Rutgers at 16. In previous years, a 14-year-old from Cranbury and two of his 15-year-old cousins also graduated from Rutgers. For Saheela, her unusual path to college began when she was a sixth-grader at the Conackamack Middle School in Piscataway. Eager to learn more about her favorite subject, Math, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants asked to move to a higher-level class. The school let her skip sixth grade entirely.

By high school, Saheela said, she was no longer feeling challenged by her public school classes. So, she moved to the Wardlaw- Hartridge School, a 420-student private school, where she skipped her freshman year and enrolled as a 10th-grader. Her three younger brothers, twins now in the ninth grade and a younger brother in second grade, all eventually joined her at the school. School officials were impressed Saheela, one of their top students, didn’t spend all her time studying. “She’s learned and she’s very smart. But she keeps pushing herself,” said William Jenkins, the Wardlaw-Hartridge School’s director of development.

Saheela also excels outside the classroom. She is a three-sport athlete, playing outfield for the school’s softball team, defender on the soccer team, and swimming relays. Saheela began applying to colleges last fall. Her applications included her grade point average (between a 96 and 97 on a 100-point scale) and her 2,340 SAT score (a perfect 800 on the math section, a 790 in writing and a 750 in reading). She was delighted when she got her first acceptance in December from California Institute of Technology. “I was so excited. I got into college!,” Saheela said.

More acceptances followed from Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Williams College, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Washington University in St. Louis. Saheela was torn between going to MIT and Harvard. A visit to both campuses last month made the choice easy. “She went to Harvard and she fell in love with the place,” said Shakirat Ibraheem, her mother.

She said she wants to major in either neurobiology or neuroscience and plans to become a research scientist who studies how the brain works. She credits her parents with teaching her to love learning and work hard. Her father, Sarafa, an analyst and vice-president at a New York financial firm, would often study with her at night and home school her in subjects not taught at school. “I try my best in everything I do,” Saheela said. “Anyone who’s motivated can work wonders.”

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