Even at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a top-ranked magnet school, senior Pooja Chandrashekar stands out among her brainiac peers.
She’s got a 4.57 grade-point average, scored a 2390 (out of 2400) on the SAT, and aced all 13 of her Advanced Placement exams. She also founded a national nonprofit organization that encourages middle-school girls to participate in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.
She’s also developed a mobile app that analyzes speech patterns and predicts with 96 percent accuracy if a person has Parkinson’s disease.
Oh, and she’s 17.
College admissions offices took notice. She can now add another bullet to her résumé: Pooja earned admission to all eight Ivy League schools. She was also accepted at Stanford, MIT, Duke, the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan and Georgia Tech, going 14 for 14.
Earning an acceptance letter from one Ivy League school is a rare achievement for most high school students. It is extremely rare for a student to gain admission to all eight, although a few each year manage to do so. This year, Long Island student Harold Ekeh announced that he, too, had been accepted to all the Ivies.
Pooja’s guidance counselor, Kerry Hamblin, said that the senior is dedicated to pushing herself in the classroom, which helped her to stand out. “She’s taking the hardest courses, the most challenging that we offer, and has exceeded anyone’s expectations in all of them,” Hamblin said.
Hamblin added that it is “very atypical to get into all eight Ivies,” although some of the elite magnet school’s students try each year.
“It’s not typically what we advise,” because each school has its own personality, strengths and weaknesses, Hamblin said. “They share a football league in common, and that’s about it.”
Born in Potomac Falls, Pooja is the only child of two engineers who immigrated to the United States from Bangalore, India.
Pooja spent her summers attending programs in robotics. She tinkered in Web design and game programming. In middle school, she built a windmill to explore the prospects of renewable energy.
She attended the private Nysmith School in Herndon before enrolling at TJ, where she has taken classes in computing, artificial intelligence and DNA science. She hopes to pursue a career in medicine and bio-engineering.
“She really stands out as a TJ kid who has taken the mission of the school as far as it can go,” said Principal Evan Glazer. “She’s a STEM superwoman who humbly approached her interests in curious ways.”
Pooja said that she decided to apply to all eight Ivies hoping to get into just one of them, “because college admissions is really unpredictable.”
“They are all fantastic schools, so I couldn’t discount any of them,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I could get into a really good school and have more choices.”
She’s narrowed her list to Harvard, Stanford and Brown, where she got into a program that guarantees her admission to the university’s medical school.
Pooja provided The Washington Post with digital copies of her acceptance letters to all 14 schools. Contacted individually, the schools gave varied responses to requests to verify her admission status: Some schools declined to comment; others would confirm her acceptance off-the-record only. Most schools have privacy policies that bar releasing admissions information related to specific applicants.
Pooja said that what sets her apart is her passion for promoting STEM among young girls. Her nonprofit ProjectCSGirls hosts nationwide computer science competitions, “dedicated to closing the tech gender gap,” according to its Web site.
She wrote one of her college application essays about being a woman interested in a career in computer science, a field long dominated by men. She said she’s often one of just a handful of girls in her high school technology classes.
“I want to encourage diversity in the field,” she said.
As a summer intern at the Mitre Corp., she impressed older colleagues by working on a diagnostic tool for determining early signs of mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI), said James S. Ellenbogen, chief scientist of emerging technologies at Mitre.
“Pooja helped improve a model that could mimic the human response to a simple test for mTBI,” said Michael Fine, lead engineer in the Mitre neurotechnology group. “Her work may eventually allow us to optimize the diagnostic test, which should further improve the accuracy of the results when it is administered to patients.”
Even with her lofty accomplishments, Pooja is like most other teens. She enjoys watching the television show “Shark Tank,” listening to Bollywood music and exploring the District’s restaurant scene.
She’s also a fan of the Food Network, and she said she’s amazed by the chefs who show off their skills in the kitchen. It’s one subject she admits she hasn’t mastered.
“I can’t cook for my life,” she said. “But it’s fun to imagine I can.”