This First-Generation Immigrant Was Accepted To Every Ivy League School With A Powerful Essay About Learning English

“I was in the Creative Writing conservatory, and yet words failed me when I needed them most.”

High school student Cassandra Hsiao describes the English spoken with her family growing up as "not English." But whether grammatically correct or not, Hsiao has developed a passion and talent for writing and storytelling that helped her craft an essay on her college applications that led to her acceptance at all eight Ivy League schools. 

The 17-year-old is a first-generation immigrant with parents from Malaysia and Taiwan and the language she and her family spoke at home was the language of misspoken intonation and grammar that come from creating a new home in a new country.

When Hsiao arrived in the U.S. at five years old, she had to reconcile her family's English with the English she was taught in school. She told ABC News that she worked with a speech therapist at school to correct the idiosyncrasies of her family's English such as "snake is snack and there's no difference between cast and cash."

"Classmates laughed because I pronounce accept as except, success as sussess," Hsiao wrote in her essay. "I was in the Creative Writing conservatory, and yet words failed me when I needed them most."


Her love for storytelling began when she was in the second grade, she told the Orange County Register. She wrote for the Scholastic New Kids Press Corp as an entertainment reporter and has covered celebrities and events, including an interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda in which she rapped her questions, for teen-focused websites. 

As Hsiao's knowledge of the English language continued to move toward mastery, she worked with her parents to improve theirs.

"My mother asked me to teach her proper English so old white ladies at Target wouldn't laugh at her pronunciation," Hsiao wrote in her essay. "As my mother's vocabulary began to grow, I mended my own English."

Hsiao is the first student at her school to be accepted at all eight Ivy League schools, the Orange County Register reports. While she had a 4.67 GPA and excellent standardized test scores, Hsiao believes that the schools she applied to "recognized my passion for writing," something that has helped her appreciate even more the unique language she speaks at home with her family.    

"In our house, there is beauty in the way we speak to each other," she wrote. "We have built a house out of words. There are friendly snakes in the cupboard and snacks in the tank. It is a crooked house. It is a little messy. But this is where we have made our home." 

Cover image via EpochCatcher / Shutterstock


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