School Advisor Articles

Harvard-Bound: Elisa See's Extraordinary Journey from Marlborough College Malaysia to the Ivy League

Published by SchoolAdvisor | Dec 21, 2023

Elisa See  might just be 17, but her story already brims with the ambition and drive that makes you want to sit down and take notes.

Immersed in college life at  Marlborough College Malaysia since Year 3, she has woven a tapestry of achievements from symphony orchestras to Model United Nations conferences while nurturing a dream that would eventually see her accepted into the hallowed halls of Harvard University.

Elisa represented Marlborough College Malaysia in the first team as a goal shooter at FOBISIA Netball 2022.

Studying at Marlborough College Malaysia

Elisa's connection with Marlborough began at the age of 7 in 2013. Over the years, she found herself deeply immersed in various aspects of college life. From playing the violin in the orchestra to representing her college in sports competitions, Elisa embraced every opportunity. As a boarder, she experienced the warmth of Christmas dinners and formed close-knit friendships within the college community.

“A major perk has been the ability to immerse myself in so many aspects of college life,” Elisa shares as she reflects on her experience.

Elisa’s journey from Marlborough to Harvard was not a solitary one. Ms Moody, the university guidance counsellor, played a pivotal role in guiding Elisa through the intricate college application process. Lunch and Learn sessions became invaluable moments where Elisa and her peers received insights into university applications.

Elisa recalls Ms Moody's guidance to be more than just professional, it was personal. “She had pored through all my common application essay and Harvard supplemental drafts, giving me much needed tough love when telling me when an essay I loved veered off-topic or wouldn’t work.”

Beyond the UG team, Elisa found unwavering support from teachers who have known her since Year 9, each contributing to refining her application essays. “I am grateful for the close relationships I have developed with my teachers, as they have been extremely supportive during my entire application journey.”

Elisa’s journey was further shaped by teachers like Mr Travers, who helped her streamline her thoughts during the Extended Essay for the International Baccalaureate (IB). “I became accustomed to the significant amount of writing required for my application while completing my Extended Essay on Russian Cyberpower interference in the 2016 US Presidential Elections for the IB. I am immensely grateful for the times he re-read my paragraphs and helped me create an EE that I was proud to submit.”

She founded International MUN, a free online Model United Nations conference, during her summer holidays after Year 11 when she missed participating in MUN due to COVID-19.

Co-Curricular Adventures and Leadership

It was, however, Elisa’s own initiative that truly sets her apart. When the pandemic stopped in-person Model United Nations (MUN) conferences, Elisa decided to create her own. International MUN, born out of a summer's boredom, blossomed into a global phenomenon, reaching 3000 youths from Asia, Europe, America, Africa and the Middle East.

This wasn’t just about replicating MUN; it was about empowering others, with Elisa mentoring interns and even helping schools in Malaysia start their own MUN chapters. Elisa believes this initiative was one of the significant things that helped her gain admission to Harvard.

But Elisa’s passion wasn’t confined to academic forums. The Raising and Giving Society gave her the platform to lead charity initiatives like organising science workshops and music lessons for underprivileged children. She shares, “I worked closely with Sekolah Kampung Sungai Melayu, organised a stationery donation drive for them and ran a science day for them to conduct experiments in Marlborough’s science labs. We also taught piano and djembes every Sunday at the school from October to February. The project culminated in a concert at Marlborough, raising RM2000, which we used to purchase instruments for the children.”

These experiences, beyond their social impact, honed crucial leadership and communication skills, proving invaluable in her future endeavours.

Elisa participated in many activities, including competing in piano competitions, winning the 2023 College Piano Competition

Choosing the IB at Marlborough College Malaysia

Despite her extracurricular activities, her academic pursuits never faltered. Choosing the challenging route of the IB Diploma Programme, Elisa embraced the intellectual rigour, delving into the depths of subjects such as Chemistry, Math, History, Global Politics, English Language and literature, and Malay – a testament to her desire for a well-rounded education. “I am glad studying at Harvard will allow me to continue my exploration into sometimes disparate subjects to sate my intellectual curiosity without the constraints of a UK university education.”

While the workload was demanding, the boarding house became a haven of support, with housemistress Mrs Jarrett and tutor Mrs Hughes ensuring Elisa had the space to focus and thrive.

At Marlborough, Elisa led her own charity programmes as part of the Raising and Giving Society, where 6th-form students were guided by teachers in planning, initiating, and leading sustainable outreach projects.

Harvard Beckons - A Dream Realised

Elisa's dream of studying at Harvard was not just a fleeting aspiration; it was a well-crafted plan. Applying Restrictive Early Action (REA), she set herself apart with her essays that reflected her unique voice and perspective.

“I wrote one about Harry Styles and how ‘delulu is the solulu is my life mantra, courtesy of TikTok’, with my main Common App essay being about how I hate Mondays and how the cancellation of my favourite Netflix show, Spinning Out, led me down my path of social activism.”

It was this quirky approach that stood out in a sea of conventional applications, resulting in a resounding acceptance letter to Harvard University.

Elisa’s story isn’t just about getting into Harvard; it’s about the journey that led her there. It’s about embracing opportunities, nurturing passions, and using knowledge to empower others. It’s a story that whispers encouragement to every young Malaysian, reminding them that dreams, no matter how quirky or ambitious, can take flight with a bit of grit and a lot of heart.

As she embarks on her Bachelor of Arts Harvard, hoping to concentrate in government, Elisa shares, “I hope other young Malaysians will apply to join me at Harvard.” To that end, she plans to use her platform on TikTok and beyond to guide future applicants through the application process, demystifying financial aid and offering essay-writing tips.

Elisa’s success proves that the distance between a boarding school in Malaysia and the hallowed halls of Ivy League academia can be bridged with passion, perseverance and determination.