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Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Making the cut

Lahainaluna High School Class of 2019 graduate Jay Baptista will be heading off to Yale this fall.

Jay Baptista was sitting in his senior psychology class at Lahainaluna High School when the email notification popped up on his laptop.

Reflexively glancing at the screen, his stomach did a somersault when he saw the sender’s name: Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions. His heart pounding, Baptista scooped up his laptop and quietly slipped out of the classroom. He took a deep breath and clicked on the message.

Looking back on it now, Baptista says he can only imagine the reactions of his classmates when they heard the noise coming from outside. “There was a lot of screaming and crying,” he laughed.

Last fall, Baptista applied to Yale through the school’s early action program (early action applicants receive an admission decision by mid-December). He was well aware of the odds: Like most of its highly selective Ivy League counterparts, Yale routinely admits fewer than 10 percent of applicants. Even so, he figured it couldn’t hurt to try. Heeding the adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” he applied to several colleges, but held out hope he would be Yale-bound the following year.

Founded in 1701 in New Haven, Conn., Yale University is one of the nation’s eight Ivy League schools and has been consistently ranked among the top universities in the world. According to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Yale College (the undergraduate college of Yale University) admitted 2,178 students to the class of 2023 from a record-high pool of 36,843 applicants — an admission rate of 5.91 percent. Of the 2,178, 794 were admitted through the early action program. Baptista was one of them. (And on top of that, Yale also offered him a generous financial aid package.)

Today, he says it’s all still sinking in. “It feels astoundingly surreal to be part of such a tiny number of selected applicants,” he said. “It was very shocking to find out that I made the cut.”

The fall semester begins in late August, but Baptista decided to give himself a running start. In mid-June, he packed his things and headed to New Haven for the First-Year Scholars at Yale program, a five-week-long summer session for a cohort of incoming first-year students. He is currently taking two classes: introduction to calculus and a writing seminar that focuses on the logistics of climate change. Apart from getting his feet wet academically, Baptista is also learning the lay of the land. He was born and raised in Lahaina, and prior to June, the farthest east he’d traveled was to Texas for a high school robotics competition; he’s still adjusting to the time zone difference, East Coast lingo and the food. (He quickly discovered sticky rice is not a culinary staple in Connecticut.)

And his first impression of Yale’s tree-lined, Hogwarts-esque campus? He says it looked exactly like the pictures he’d seen online and in brochures, “But it felt different to actually experience the atmosphere of such a place. . . . When I was on the bus and stepped foot on campus for the first time, everything seemed so otherworldly.”

Baptista will be back on Maui for a short break before returning to campus as a newly minted college freshman with his sights set on a degree in a STEM-related field of study. In addition to his classes, he says he looks forward to seeing New England’s autumn foliage and his first bona fide snowfall.

Baptista has a few pearls of wisdom for high school seniors who want to stand out from the crowd when applying to college. In addition to grades, SAT scores, extracurricular activities and the all-important essay, he advises students to “step out of your comfort zone . . . and think and do things outside the box.” And if applying to your dream school seems like it might be a long shot, try anyway, he said. “Because you never know what can happen.”

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.