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Nigerian-born Girl, 15, Heads to Harvard after Being Accepted to 13 Colleges

06 May 2011

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Odein Ajumogobia , Foreign Affairs Minister

Saheela Ibraheem wasn’t sure any college would want to admit a 15-year-old. So the Piscataway teen hedged her bets and filled out applications to 14 schools from New Jersey to California.

"It’s the age thing. I wanted to make sure I had options," said Saheela, a senior at the Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison, in a report by The Star-Ledger.

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.

"I’ll be one of the youngest. But I won’t be the youngest," the soon-to-be 16-year-old said.

Saheela is among the millions of high school seniors who had to finalise their college decisions by Monday, the deadline for incoming freshman to send deposits to the school of their choice. 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 favourite 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 and 50-meter races for the swim team. She also sings alto in the school choir, plays trombone in the school band and serves as president of the school’s investment club, which teaches students about the stock market by investing in virtual stocks.

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.

On March 30, she got her sole rejection letter — from Yale. Saheela isn’t sure why the Ivy League school didn’t want her.

"My parents were thinking it was the age thing," she said.

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.

Saheela said she wants to major in either neurobiology or neuroscience and plans to become a research scientist who studies how the brain works. As for her own brain, Saheela insists she is nothing special.

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.

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  • Congrats to Sister Saheela, and her father Safara who has shown that parents can enable their children excel in academics by helping them with their studies at home. I am inspired by the Saheela story to dedicate myself to increasingly help my kids with their studies from this moment. I urge Nigerian parents- who mostly try to proselytize their children- to decide today to begin to help them with homework, healthy living studies, hygiene and environmental care, social and community responsibility studies etc. There's always some wisdom or knowledge that parents can impart on their kids to help them achieve desirable intellectual outcomes in the future.

    From: Chimdindu Osuagwu

    Posted: 3 years ago

    Flag as inappropriate

  • Beautiful! Neuroscience is a good one for her. I love the course too.

    From: Seriki Adinoyi

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • God bless you our child, best of luck.

    From: Ajao

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • damn proud of her.

    From: Laurence

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Whizkid, ride on. The sky can never be your limits because there are footprints in the moon

    From: Chukwudi Obeta

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • So, I guess some smart Alec on your editorial team thought it would be good to curry favour with a politician by appending the image of the foreign affairs minister to this good-news story. Please explain what the Nigerian state has done to enhance this young, impressive, lady's life! Any you have the gall to sue over suggestions of your imbalanced political reporting???

    From: BJ Ike

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Good job girl. You have made your parents and (I assume) nation proud.
    @thisdayonline.com - How is this the business of the Foreign Affairs Minister? Why do you have his picture as caption?

    From: Me

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • kudos to you for making our nation proud, more grease to you elbow. cheers

    From: tim

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • WOW. This is the handwork of God and hard-work. God is great.

    From: Beauty Stanley.

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • This is worthy of replication in Nigerian homes.

    From: Collins

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • I am proud of you Sister, keep working hard heaven is your starting point. well done!

    From: TEE9JA

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • What a brilliant child. Nigeria has a lot like this and can offer the world much more. You can see we are not all bad as detractors paint us. We thank God for this little girl.

    From: Agumba

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Absolutely amazing. The very best of luck in all her endeavors.

    From: mallam morufu

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Absolutely amazing. Best of luck in all her endeavors.

    From: mallam morufu

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Nice. God bless her.

    From: Akin

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Good work my dear, your parents and the American society (who both created the right environment for your development) should take the credit and not our corrupt, stupid and worthless rulers. God bless America

    From: Ikechukwu

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • good girl keep it up, alot of work ahead.

    From: bochez

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • A very exceptional example to us all

    From: Garrie

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Thank God she had the opportunity to showcase her intelligence. I hope our Boko Haram neighbors are reading this.

    From: NAIJA GO GOOD

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Saheela is a blessing to Nigeria and the world. Positivity! Proud of u. Keep Walking!

    From: Binakari

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • God's
    liberal provision for man know no bounds.Harnessing same makes the difference kudos to this brain and beauty ascending altitude.

    From: agube bassey

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Another good news for Naija. Good people, Great nation. God bless you my dear.

    From: Ikechukwu

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Wishing her the very best in life.

    From: ayo moses

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • God bless you girl. Thanks for making our nation proud. There are lots of children out there just like Saheela, all they need is assistance, motivation and inspiration from their parents and they will excel. I hope to assist my son in his studies and home assignment especially so that he will make me proud like Saheela.

    From: Abbey

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Wishing you the best my child. God be with you! You see many parents in Nigeria would love to study at night with their kids too but almighty NEPA (or PHCN) would not let that happen. God help us!

    From: Sam Ozi

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • I am impressed by the overwhelming brilliance. Keep on keeping on baby. The sky is your starting point. I am very proud of you

    From: BRIAN GURUMLAT

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • i am proud of you

    From: yahaya bn imran

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Very good! Great news! This girl will go places....kudos to her parents! They've done a marvelous job, and here are the results of their hard work!
    If i may ask, what does the Foreign Minister have to do with this girl, whose parents SOLELY (and most certainly unaided by the Federal Government of Nigeria), have to do with this story?

    From: Goodness

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Alhamdulillahi Saheela, you are really making Nigerians proud. I wish you Allah's guidance in your choice subject and all your endearvour.

    From: Kasim Abdulkarim

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • Great child of Africa and Nigeria to be precise. Isn't it time for our government to start thinking of creating enabling environment, not only for sound and productive education; but also for talent repatriation? We have brains like our beloved Saheela who have graduated from various challenging programs and scattered all over the world. These brains can make Nigeria what God destined us to be. Thanks again to Saheela and her family for being good ambassadors of Africa.

    From: Andrew

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • INSPIRING... this child can only be great and nothing less!
    we will definitely hear the rest of the greatness in a short while!

    From: Lela Omo-ikirodah

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • amazing. kudos to the parents

    From: Nicholas

    Posted: 3 years ago

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