Try Harder! (2021) - full transcript

At Lowell High School, the top public high school in San Francisco, the seniors are stressed out. As they prepare for the emotionally draining college application process, students are keenly aware of the intense competition for the few open spots in their dream colleges. At Lowell - where cool kids are nerds, nearly everyone has an amazing talent, and most of the student body is Asian American - the things that usually make a person stand out can feel commonplace. With humor and heart, director Debbie Lum captures the reality of the American college application process and the intersection of class, race, and educational opportunity as young adults navigate a quintessential rite of passage.

When you first come
in from middle school

you'll want to cry.

I will give you a test
every other Wednesday.

It's really stressful.

You aren't as smart
as you think you are.

Okay, that's like a B minus,
you can do a lot better.

Go to class.

I am going to class!

It's tangible in some of
those classes, you know,

you can feel how worried
people are about college.

It's a nationally
ranked school.

My mom pretty much forced
me to go to Lowell.

Lowell is tiger mom central.

That's motivation.

My friend, he said,

"Oh, you go to an Asian
excellency school."

The kids who come here
know they are competing

in a world that is very
high achieving.

I would love UC Berkeley.

Harvard, Stanford.


- Stanford.
- Stanford.

Stanford's my dream school.

Lowell is the ultimate
self-confidence crusher.

It's the best.

All right, so, this is Lowell.

It's very unlike all the other
high schools in like the area

in that, it's not in
that great of condition.

I've had friends from like
Menlo-Atherton come up here,

and they say that Lowell
kind of looks like a prison,

and I go over to their school

and I know exactly what
they're talking about.

Yeah, so,
should we go check it out now?

Yeah, so this is like
the flagpole.

This is like the front entrance,

this is where everyone goes in,

and yeah...

this is all our awards
and stuff.

This is what alumni get to
brag about.

So, we have the library.

After school, this place
gets packed, like packed,

like you can't find a seat.

This is the computer lab,
it's always really crowded...

but it's a great place to
gain access to computers.

Yo, Ian.


So this hallway is
usually packed

and that intersection is one
of the worst.

I think a lot of kids at Lowell,

they're actually pretty amazing.

My mom wants me to go
to Stanford

but that's like, whoa,
kind of far out there.

Obviously Stanford
would be great,

but even if I had a 4.0 GPA and
I got a nearly perfect score

on the SAT, I would have a one
in five chance of getting in.

Bye, Sophia.




Stanford is probably my top
choice, yeah.

What is funny and not funny
will depend on who are and...

Like a lot of freshmen
have a lot of Stanford gear

and I was one of them.

But by sophomore year...

you don't see any Stanford
gear on them anymore.

Maybe it's like Cal and UCLA.

By junior year you see
people with like...

Occidental, or like...
what's another

west coast private college

that's not that hard
to get into?

I got to dance.

- What's up?
- Hi.

My dream school would be
probably UCLA.

UCs, baby!

This is the AP physics C class

and only like the most
devoted to like learning

and like the best at math
and the best at physics

and the best at like learning
in general take this class.

I would say that most
kids that end up in an Ivy

would have taken this
class in high school.

I guess you're just
looking at like,

the cream of the crop
right here.

So yeah.

We're gonna start
hopefully in a few seconds.

Oh, I'm not taking it,

because I didn't take
an AP physics before

and I think that's like sort
of like the prerequisite,

and because like, I'm
just too scared to take

like a really hard math
related class.

Ladies and gentlemen,
let's get focused,

you're gonna need every second.

You can use calculators,
and your brains

and your hands and nothing else.

Please begin.

I've been teaching at Lowell
since 1990.

In the 90s,
if you went to Lowell,

and had a good solid B
average in honors courses

you got into Berkeley, you just
walked in, everyone got in.

Now you don't.

They're objectively under
more pressure

in terms of college acceptance.

The physics students
essentially are all seniors,

so this is their last grade
for college application.

One wrong answer could
potentially mean the difference

between an A and a B or B
and a C, right?

Which would be a difference
in your overall grade,

which would be a difference
in your GPA,

which would be a difference

in the college and
everything else.

We want to see whether or
not potentially exosomes,

the release of exosomes
could maintain homeostasis

in a cell.

So, in this overlay where
we inhibit lysosomes

and we got rid of exosomes,

there was a worsening of

So yours is mostly
just as a compensation

to loss of lysosomes?

Yeah, loss of lysosomes.

Great. Good work.

I'm really impressed.

I'm impressed that anyone
let alone a high school

summer student could do this
much work in one summer.

We also did a western
blot of the same protein C63

which is extra enriched.

And then we found that
there was an increase

of C63 in.

And knowing that there's
increase of both...

So what do you think you're
gonna do in the future?

Probably become a surgeon.

- Become a surgeon?
- Yeah.

What kind of surgeon?

Like a brain surgeon.

Turn your shoulders a
little that way.

Turn your head, a little tilt,
big smile.


For Lowell students, I
feel like there's definitely

a pressure from your classmates.





Thank you very much.

And also a pressure at
home too.

It's like a war on two fronts.

You want to go to the college,

I want to get out of
the college,

I have to be better than you
to get into that college.

So, I'll work my tail off
to be better than you.

Sometimes at Lowell, it's
hard to have a strong sense

of self-esteem because you're
always comparing yourself

to other people like, oh,

this person has a higher
grade point average than me,

they got a better ACT
score than me

so, how am I gonna measure up?

You jump in the water, swim
an hour that way then swim,

that's two hours.

Going to Lowell,
I have been introduced

to so many like actual
like geniuses.

I mean, I feel like every
class has a superstar.

Jonathan Chu, for example.

Jonathan Chu.

Jonathan Chu,
he's our class president.

He is really, really smart.

Really smart

He's just a superhuman.

Well J-Chu is god.

He's just really smart,
really social

like probably like
the Renaissance man

at Lowell per se.

Jonathan is among the top
five violinists we've ever had

and that's really saying

He's the perfect Lowell
student, he takes like,

I guess every AP and like
aces everything.

A 4.7 GPA.

He once got a zero on
his bio test on purpose

because that he can still
do that and get an A

to lower the curve.

Johnathan got 100,
I'm not surprised,

I'll have to make it harder
next time.

I think there was little doubt

that he was destined for

I guess I came into
Lowell thinking

that I would go to Lowell,

breeze through it,
go to Stanford

like do really well at
Stanford, go to med school

and then become a doctor like
typical Asian path right?

But when I would get like
barely passing

there would always be
someone that gets like 120%

and that's when I sort
of realized, oh geez.

I'm really not even close
to the best of the best.

I see you're at 1, 2,
3, 4, 5, 6

7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15,

16, 17, 18, almost 20 schools.

So for now I'd say getting
it down to about 12...

- 12, all right...
- If you can.

So do like colleges like
expect like a longer resume,

shorter resume?

No, it's more about what
you're doing

and what your experience
has been.

- Yeah.
- Yeah.

It's not like a competition
on length.

Like in terms of what colleges
look for, tough classes,

high standardized test scores,

awards and extracurriculars,
you name it.

There's pretty much some guy

that's doing it better
than I am.

Personal statements,
the resume,

your letters of recommendation,
GPA and test scores.

The odds are against
me, and I know that.

I know that I have to like
up the ante,

like for like the supplementals

like are colleges looking
for anything in particular.

I would have to get like a
really high score compared

to the school's average in
order to get

a lot of merit aide right?

Like do universities
give you any extra points

for early decision?

It definitely is gonna
be a more select group.

Is it worth it to take the
PSAT again?


Yeah, trying to be
national merit scholar?

Oh, I've never heard of
someone taking it again.

Yeah, senior year.

Well, if I could, I would
probably just to take the SAT

every single week.


Oh yeah,
and about being an Eagle scout,


Are they're like a lot of
scholarships for Eagle scouts?

Well, I think that's something
you'd have to look into.


All right, what else?

I think that's it for today.

Okay, guys and gals.

Today, we face the truth.

I will put the bowling ball,

I will touch your nose
and I will let it go.

And if you don't flinch,

it means you know that this is
the maximum potential energy,

1000 joules.

It cannot go to 1,001.



Okay, Alvan.

Oh, my gosh.

Okay, here we go.


Lowell student, he didn't
flinch, but what did he do?


When I was in middle school

I thought that everybody
who came to Lowell

would be like a genius
in some sort of way.

And like,
this was the cream of the crop.

But now that I'm here,
it's just not really that.

Come on up Shea, all right,
here we go.

Oh my gosh.


Amazingly close.

Sophia, come on up.

All right.

Walk your nose into it, stand...

I don't really know why
it's not as difficult for me

to be here than it is for
other people to be here.

Oh, I saw her hair flinch,
but I didn't see her flinch.

Did anybody see her flinch?


How did you do that?

Maybe it's just that
I'm the kind of person

who can handle a lot of
things at once.

I'm the captain of the
tennis team.

I'm also co-president of
Lowell Build On.

Vice president of
Girls Who Code.

I'm the editor of the
school newspaper too.

I think I'm the kind of
person who enjoys being busy.

That's for you guys, right?

My parents are from
mainland China.

College is just a huge goal for
a lot of immigrant families.

Everything you do should
be to help you

get to the best college you
can get to.

What are your plans today?

I need to do homework,
probably on my free block.

Got it.

But I have to do journalism
on my free block too.

Here's the deal.

So much going on...

What I need you to do?

I know, and that's why I
want you to write it all down.

And then also copy me on
your calendar,

so I can help you remember,

you have to put the
alerts on your calendar.

As I...

I was in chemistry class as
a sophomore

and I had gotten a bad grade
in class and I said out loud,

oh man, my mom is gonna be
really upset.

The girl across the table

she asked me, "Wait, Rachel,
what ethnicity are you?"

And I said, I'm black and white.

And she said, "Well, what
ethnicity is your mom?"

And I was like,
she's African-American.

And she said, "That's so
weird because I didn't expect"

for black people to actually
care about their grades."

All right,
other than a B in physics,

you have all the As, and I...


No, I'm okay.

I'm cool with that.

It's AP Physics in there anyhow.

I'm okay with it.

Oh, we have the best
relationship ever.

We're really good friends.

She's a single mother and I
live with her.

We're just the two of us.

Now, I'm a true believer

in the Lord only helping
those that help themselves.

So if you don't put in
his spit on your ball.


It's gonna be bad.


I got to get to work.


Go have a great day.

You too.

All right.

I think one of my scores
came back on the PSAT

and I scored in like the top
1% of the nation or something.

And I was like, what?

That's not me.

I don't think I'm that smart.

But my mom's like,"I knew
it, I knew it all along."

And now that's like the
league of people

that can get into Harvard
and Stanford.

So you should try.

All right, so,

the theme of our
presentation this afternoon

is where should you apply?

There is a lot of herd

There's a lot, you know,

people just applying to the
same schools, and okay, yes.

You know, we all know what
the Ivy League schools are,

and there is a certain
attraction to applying to them

but I'm not even referring
to them.

Let's talk about the defaults.

Namely, the UC System.

We all have a perceptual
pecking order of the UCs.

But the thing to remember
is you are not too good

for Santa Cruz or Riverside
or even Merced, okay?

UC is UC.

I've become a voice to tell
kids look away from Stanford.

You're not getting in.

Let's try this.

You know, you look at you
know, the Ivy League schools

and even if you are a student
who should be accepted

at a school like this, you
may not get in any way.

And that in many cases has to do

with a little thing called

Um, anyway, so...

God damn!


Are you sure?

I'm so screwed dude.

Look at my test... oh, my God.

Are you sure?

I haven't had a chance
to go over it with you.

I did root instead
of squares, and then I...

So stupid...

I'll have to go through that...

Stupid, okay all right.

Shea, Shea.

You got a 92.

Teach me your ways, please.

Take the textbook,

do all the problems in the
textbook and check your work.

And then stay up till
three in the morning,

trying to finish my other

Oh yeah.

If we looked at the
blue particles as being

in pure rotation, could
be different masses,

or it doesn't matter.

Each is a different distance
R from the axis of rotation,

and we added up all of...

I was really depressed in
middle school...

I'm not a suburb kid, I'm
not meant to be in a house

with a white picket fence
with a bunch of, you know,

rich, spoiled trust fund
white kids.

There's just something
about the personality

of a person who doesn't
care and will still succeed.

It just,
it rubs me the wrong way.

So, I mean, going to a school

with a bunch of like
Asian kids is just like

going to a school with a
bunch of people who care.

It's like a school of other
Asian me's.

The career path that I
want to pursue,

I think that climate
change is like

just entire social dynamic
that is the world right now

is going to change in
my lifetime.

So I want to be in a position
where I feel like I'm helping.

So I'm trying to pursue
alternative energies,

and I also need to go like
one of the top 20 colleges

'cause otherwise I'm not gonna

be doing anything significant.

I'm going to the Stanford
college presentation.

I'm actually applying early
for Stanford.

What I've heard about Lowell
students getting into Stanford

is that there's a smaller

Like what's special
about Stanford's

like pre-med pathway?

Okay, so,
we don't have a pre-med major?

Oh yeah, I've heard that
Stanford doesn't like Lowell.

They don't accept a lot
of people from Lowell.

I guess it's because
they just think

that we're like
stereotypically Asian.

Apparently we're like
robots here.

'Cause they think we're
AP machines.

AP machines.

AP guzzling, grade grubbers.

Maybe he doesn't have like
personalities that we want.

But you did not even
have to major

in the biological sciences
or chemistry

or anything like that, you could
major in English and still...

I was at the presentations,
according to my memory

the Stanford admission
officer addressed the faculty

and implied that Stanford
viewed of Lowell students

as just a bunch of machines
that accumulated massive amounts

of course material and was
able to spit it back on exams

and they wanted a
different kind of student.

Last year someone
asked why is it

that such an oddly small

of Lowell kids get into

And then someone else
raises their hand

and said,
"Is it 'cause we're all Asian?"

To which the Stanford guy
said, "Raise your hand"

if you would like everyone at
your school to be the same."

There was silence.

No one raises their hands.

And, I don't know if,
you know, how that plays

into racial profiling in
terms of smart Asian kids

that do really, really well

and then are put down for it.

Good morning,
Lowell high school.

It's a beautiful day up here

in the fourth floor
swimming pool.

And we got some great
announcements for you today

but first please rise for
the pledge of allegiance.

So like right now the
senior class

is stressing over a
college apps.

Right now is the time to get
all the recs,

like write all the essays
and like finalize your list.

There's so many qualified
applicants nowadays.

That's why you got
to diversify,

and apply like 20 schools
just to like throw

your ballot around on,
see who picks it up.

Every kid needs to be able
to understand

and explain the same
things about themselves

when they hit the college

Who are you?

What interests you?

What have you thought
about doing?

It's not all about GPA's and
SAT scores.

There's no formula for
success anymore.

And what matters is that
each child visualizes

and actualizes their own life.

How was it taking the
step further?

By bringing it out of
the open.

We need to learn about cultural
sensitivity, its obvious...

Journalism originally,

my mom actually signed
me up for the class.

I found I actually do like
writing stories

and reporting and talking
to people.

The ability to just come up
with ideas,

for stories and then
present them

and actually get them
published is really cool to me.

No, all right, this is too much.

The editors and I wanted to
do something

that would show the struggle
between choosing what side

of my racial identity that
I actually identify with.

This lighter skinned hand
is supposed to represent

my Caucasian side, and
this darker skin hand

is supposed to represent
my African-American side.

My mom, she goes by the rule

that if you're even one
16th African-American

you are a 100%, and then like,

that's what I should put on
my transcript.

It goes totally against
that story

I wrote about how I am
African-American and Caucasian.

So I do feel uncomfortable
putting it down

but if it's something that
can help me

then I feel like I should
take that and use it

to my advantage,
which is horrible

now that I say it out loud.

Well, good afternoon Lowell.

Good afternoon!

Oh, hey, that's great.

So my name is Quinton McArthur.

I'm a admissions officer at MIT,

the Massachusetts Institute of

So it's always a good
idea to be nice to me

and laugh at my jokes,
that's right.

Somebody's getting in
from Lowell.

MIT is not one of my
top choices.

Yeah, I don't think it
really fits me.

But we saw your mom
there and dad.

Did you know they're
going to go?

They don't tell me
these things.

Like they go, they only
tell me after they go.

We do have multiple
choices, that's all right too.

My parents are
first-generation immigrants.

And my mom's kind of
like the steering wheel.

For me I can say, Oh,
grades don't matter, right?

Don't like define you as
a person.

But my mom studied really
hard in Taiwan.

So, she thinks that grades
are actually pretty important.

And she has to like push me.

She's actually told me,

it's like I have like a
little box around me, right?

As I grow older, the
box will expand, right?

Until finally there's like
no more box anymore, right?

And I'll be able to do my
own things,

I'll be able to be responsible.

But for now,
I'm still in a little box

and she has to like,
look over me.

Mom, wait.

Okay, now I'm getting all
stressed out.

ACT Tests,
SAT before March, 2016.

Can you check them off
and I'll work

on the activities at edits now?

How many of we taken?

I put in that score,
I finished SAT.

This is for the normal SAT.

Are you sure we have enough
time to finish by tonight?

When she says, "What if you
could get into Stanford?"

She's saying I'm not
expecting you to, but what if.

But I still can't help,

but feel like I want to
meet her expectations.

'Cause you know, I just
wanna make her proud.

Isn't it okay?

Well, how we have it is
okay, right?

I wanna do something for
her to make her happy

but the pressure is kind
of insurmountable at times.

It makes me feel not the best.

Next semester like...

It was really intense.

My mom wanted me to
finish on Saturday night

because she knew that I had
to do homework on Sunday.

By like 12 o'clock.

I was already like, you
know what, screw it.

I wanna go to sleep.

But no, like we kept working
until like three o'clock.

It was crazy, yeah.

I do feel a little bit of
relief knowing

that I successfully like
finished it.

But you know,
I still prefer a UC.

I feel like there's a much
higher chance

of the UC accepting me for
like my grades

and that kind of stuff.

He has very high goals
but I think for him,

it's very realistic goals.

One of those schools would
be Stanford.

The top tier UCs:
UC Berkeley, UCLA.

I told him to apply to Brown.

I think it would be a
really great school for him.

The kids at Brown are unique.

All right everyone.

So we're going to go
ahead and get started.

How can women be pregnant
and not show any symptoms?

What age does your penis
stop growing?

Do women ejaculate every
time they climax like men do?

Like 25%.

You're very close.

Okay, it's about 10.

Wait, wait.

That's like a 10% difference.

That's like a difference
between A and B.

That's what I was gonna say.

How do I know if I'm
ready for sex?

What do you think?

You need to feel ready?

Yeah, you yourself like feel
confident that you want it...

You feel confident?

- Yes.
- Okay.

After your parents say, okay.

So I hear that there
is a dance this Friday,

are you gonna go to it?

Wait, there's a dance?

♪ Stop with the chase, baby
boy you catching case ♪

♪ Dropping everyday
like am in a real race ♪

♪ Cops better wait, got
that game on my lane ♪

It's kind of interesting to
see everyone

that I'm so used to gonna
school with, like in costume.

And having fun.

I don't know. It's nice.

That's a nasty woman
right there.

I love Asians, Asians love me.

Its been fantastic,
they're fantastic.

♪ Hands up, and suddenly
we all got our hands up ♪

♪ No control of my body

♪ Ain't I seen you before?

♪ I think I remember those
eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes ♪

♪ Eyes, eyes, eyes

♪ 'Cause baby tonight,

♪ DJ got us fallin' in
love again ♪

I wanted to get like
people to start dancing,

'cause usually like there's like

an activation energy, right?

For all your chemical reaction.

Like I was basically like
an enzyme, like the catalyze

like the reactions to
speed it up.

And then, you know.

♪ Ooh, jumpman, jumpman,
jumpman, ♪

♪ They gave me my own
collection, ooh. ♪

I am Brian Emmanuel.

He's like a Chinese rapper.

He's got like shorts, right?

Usually his shorts are supposed
to like go like up to here.

But mine are just a
little bit down

'cause my mom didn't want
me to like trip

and like, I don't...
My mom just wants me

to protect my knees from
the cold or something.

So that's why it's over
my knees.

♪ It's going down for real

If my family didn't
really push me that much,

I would be a different person.

Without pressure then
we're just like,

"Oh, we'll just sit at home"

and like play video games
or watch TV

"or like hang out with
friends, right?"

I do like pressure, but I
don't like too much pressure.

He's just doing all of it.

So I'm like the opposite of
a tiger mom.

I actually wanted my son to
go to a neighborhood school.

Just so that he would have
a more balanced in his life.

I remember having to work very
hard when I was at Lowell.

I didn't want him to
have to work that hard,

but I mean I feel like I was
a bad parent

after Ian told me that he
didn't have enough APs

to be considered for, you
know, certain colleges.

I felt really bad.

We were panicking a little bit,
I guess.

And a friend had recommended
a college advising counselor

and we engaged her, I
guess in late October.

So we were actually really late
starting with that process.

I think the biggest
role that she's played

is that she helped me
turn around

and see doors that were open.

Part of the reason
why we didn't want him

to take so many AP classes was
'cause we wanted him to learn

a little bit more about
what he wanted to do.

So, he started writing his
satirical blog.

I mean, that's kind of
a crazy thing, right?

I mean, I guess maybe I
don't have a sense of humor.

I was like really?

But, you know, whatever makes
him happy and inspires him.

And so, I would say to parents
to really have your kids

do things that help
them to think creatively

that they're not just
a statistic.

They're not a test score.

The satire piece is
like supposed to mimic

So I wanna talk about three
things today

then you take a little break

and then jumped back
into your lab.

And the third thing I have
to tell you,

you may or may not have
heard is very sad for me

because I need to let you know,

that I have liver cancer and
that five tumors have appeared

and I just found out about it,

and I'm going to need
to have that dealt with.

And I am active on the
liver transplant list.

The only way to get rid of
liver cancer

is to get rid of the liver.

I am very,
very sad and disappointed

to leave you guys midstream.

I really want to let you
know that I feel

I'm the luckiest person
in the world

having taught at Lowell.

I got, I think the most
wonderful students.

I got what I think was really
got love and appreciation

on a regular, if not daily
basis, I actually feel loved.

And I really wanna thank
you for that.

Okay guys,

it looked like you were having
a good time

doing the lab yesterday.

Sorry to bum you out,

but see if you can get
back into that today.

Okay, let's go.

Knowing Mr. Shapiro
at such a personal level

it's like you know,
I don't know,

I'll have difficulties doing
like doing all my other stuff.

Like probably these few months,
you know.

Homework, test, grades,

like they don't really
matter anymore

if like you don't have like
a firm emotional connection.

I just got evicted from
my house.

My dad did some shit, which the
landlord did not appreciate.

So we got kicked out.

Drugs, just drugs you know,
nothing good.

It was...
My mom lives in Sausalito

and it wouldn't be legal
for me to go to this school

if I didn't live in
San Francisco.

So, I need to be here to
attend here.

But it's totally worth it.

Like this school compared
to like anything else

is totally worth dealing
with him.

Today, it's the first day
of finals, the dreaded finals.

All right,
does anybody not have

a test sketch out in front of
them Hannah?

As always read questions

Tell a story 'cause
it's about storytelling.

Today is the deadline
for UC apps and CSU apps.

So lots of apprehension,

The essays are probably one
of the most important things

next to grades and transcripts.

It's like how well you're
able to articulate yourself,

how well you're able to package
yourself for the university.

So I have roughly seven
supplemental essays,

the common app essay,
the UC essay.

I'm probably gonna have
to in the end

like write about 20 essays.

It's just really hard
to talk about yourself.

I don't know whether or
not I should

like be humble or like say
good things

or say one good thing and
a bad thing.

If you ask a lot of Asians,

a lot of them have a really
like a more humble outlook.

Like they don't wanna show
too much about themselves.

That's just how a lot of
Chinese people

or other Asian people,
are like brought up.

You have to sell
yourself 100%.

So even if you're not
convinced that you're the best,

you have to convince other
people you're the best.

My mom, she really thinks
that I have a big chance

of getting into Stanford.

She's like,

"Well, we're gonna get our
acceptance on December 15th."

When I'm like, no,
we're going to get mail

from Stanford on December 15.

All right, pencil down.

I don't have a 4.0 GPA,
I have a 3.9 cumulative.

And, I didn't get a 1600 on
the SAT, I only got a 1500,

and that's significantly lower

than the average of what
gets accepted

in the high level schools
like that.

The kids who are going to
higher level colleges are...

They're the big players
of the world, you know?

If I don't go to one
of those big colleges,

I will not be able to do what
I wanna do.

And at least looking at
my resume,

I don't have what it takes.

Okay, quick check on myself
to make sure

I have 35 copies before
I start passing it out.

Don't worry.

Jonathan you got into Harvard?

Jonathan Chu I'm not surprised.

The God.

He got into Harvard.

Oh, he did?

Yeah, early action.
It's pretty sick.

Are you guys surprised
that he got in?


You guys are talking too much

for being in the possession
of it exam, okay?

It's a hard college to get
into, so I wasn't really upset.

It's not like I was like
hoping and wishing and thinking

that I was for certain
going to get in.

My mom's seemed, she tried
to pretend like she was okay

but I could tell she was
kind of disappointed.

I'm, okay.

I didn't really expect much
that kind of just like told me,

I guess that I'd be going to
the East coast for college,

which was my like original plan.

What was your mom's reaction

when she found out that you
got rejected?

Oh, she's the one who told me,

like I didn't even look at
my email.

She was the one who told me.

Wait, she checked it for you?


We didn't exchange gifts..

Because they buy the
things all the time so.

So you don't get a
present from your mom?

Yeah, I haven't really
been doing

anything besides like apps.

I think that my number
of colleges

that I've applied to is
like enough.

And then my mom's like,

"Okay once you finish this,
then you're done, right?

You don't have to do
anything else."

Then right after I finished it,

she wants me to do like
five more.

And it's like that's the same
for every single it's like,

I don't even,
I'm just so done with this.

Even though he's a teenager

he listened to parents'
advice pretty well.

And sometimes a few times
maybe he was kind of disagree

but he still will try to
accommodate parents advice.

She looks through stuff
and she gives me ideas.

My dad is like the physical
help, he'll like drive.

Yeah, and sometimes we
try to translate

the question to my husband,

even though he didn't get
a high school diploma,

but he's smart.

Yeah, he says,
"Just don't say that."

You should put that on
your college application.

No, no.

You know that?

'Cause that would actually
help your chances.

No, 'cause I don't want,
you know, people to like think

lowly of my dad or anything.

So, yeah.

Okay, because of that.


Think low.

All right, welcome back.

I am Mr. Cooley,
if you haven't seen me,

Mr. Shapiro has given me
control over your fates.

I have finished my college

and I have sent everything in.

I am finishing my 20th school.

My Saturday is almost gone.

I have applied to 11,
that's including Stanford.

I have the two UCs so that's
Berkeley and LA and then Yale,

Princeton, Harvard, Brown,
Duke, Colombia, Penn

and Washington University,
was that 11?

Yeah, I think that's 11.

My worst fear would have a
student apply

to 10 very prestigious schools
and not get into any of them

and not have a backup plan.

How's anybody break?

Anything interesting?

Physics moments?

There must've been some
physics moments.

Stanford was a huge
disappointment, I got that.

But, now we know that's not the
direction we're going on in,

and we're gonna go on a
totally entirely

different direction.

Because if you went to Stanford,

you right down the
street from me.

Yeah, exactly.

You'll be in my face
every weekend.

Well then.

I'm not, you know I love you.

I mean, even Berkeley is
not gonna work for me.

That's a Bart ride away.

Why do you want me to
be far away?

I feel like you're kicking
me out.

Because I think you...
Here's the deal,

I think that you grow up
more when you're away,

I would like for you
to take your own space,

and make your own way.

Now the waiting begins.

Now we don't get to
wait, we have to wait.

Give me a hug.

It's really good to see you, oh.

Are you doing okay?

I'm doing okay, you know,

just there's a lot of you
know emotional difficulties,

waiting... it's you know, it's
the last nine days I think.

I was backed up on two livers.

So I would need one pretty soon.


That's the scary and
it really could happen.

So, be positive,
send positive prayers

and vibes my way,
you'll do that?


So, any fun happening
at school?

It's nerve wracking.

Did you apply to all these?

Oh my God.

Boston, Brown, Columbia,
Cornell, Emory, Fordham,

Harvard, Johns Hopkins,
Northeastern, Stanford Tulane.

My parents really
like Berkeley

but the location is so
close to home.

It's like, my parents
can like, come visit me

like every,
like two days or something.

Like I don't... you know.
They're gonna like tell me

to go home on the weekends

or something like,
I don't want that.

I told her, like, I
wanna go a bit further.

I feel like, I really like LA.

So, I would put that like first.

I'm a show them that you know,

I don't need East Coast,
first ranked schools.

Is that Sophia Wu?

I hate answering the like

why do you wanna go to
the school?


I don't know.

Especially when you like
haven't like gone to the school?

Did you get like a question
like that, just outright?

So, for all my other



I also got that from my
MIT interview,

they're like, "oh yeah,
why do you want to go?"

I'm like...

Yeah, those are the
worst questions.

Oh my God, the Lowell crew
is here, eight o'clock.

Plot twist, they
interview us all together.

My mom, she keeps Boston
weather on her phone

to check in and see the
weather in Boston.

And she's like, "Oh,
it's snowing."

If you were in Harvard, you'd
have to wear a big coat."

She tries to give me
little practice interviews,

but I think it makes me
more nervous

because once I say like
an answer

that I think would be okay
she'd be like,

"Oh no, no, don't say
that that's wrong, no."

And then I'm like, "Oh."


I wanted to apply for
all the Ivy's.

That's kind of a awesome
thing to have as much

to me like a union ticket.

Once you graduate from
an Ivy league school

you basically can work where
you want to.

So, I would like to have for her

to have that level of security.

It's very important that
she's not relying upon

anybody's salary but her own.

We didn't apply for anything
that was a bad idea.

I mean, I think if you
play it too safe

then you don't take any chances,
you don't want rejection.

I think dealing with rejection
is a part of growing up.

I see my dad once
every three or four days.

He's unemployed and he doesn't
take any responsibility

for the most part in his life.

It's my grandma on my dad's
side that gives me money

for food and has taken up the
responsibility of raising me.

I go shopping for myself,
I clean the house,

I do all of that.

Then he's out from 9:00
PM to 6:00 AM every night.

Yeah, that's what he does.

There is something about
eating your own food

that makes it better though.

Just there's something to it.

Like you can burn everything

and you can still savor it
a bit more if you made it.

We initially thought that
the interview

would last about an hour or
so, but it went way over time.

So it went from 10 to
almost about 12.

He said that you know I'm
a pretty good fit for Brown

and you know he'll try to
put in a good word for me,

in his evaluation and stuff.

I just had to tell my mom that
there is different aspects

of the culture that she's not
necessarily familiar with.

Yeah it was really cringy.

And while my mom was talking
with the interviewer.

I was just like, Oh my God,

like this is gonna end so badly.

All right, here we go.

Shh, this is the scenario
you're gonna try

to reframe for yourself.

Pretend you got a
rejection letter

to all the colleges you
wanna go to.

Oh, you gotta go there?

I know this is like

as in you haven't gotten
rejected yet,

but how would you normally
interpret the situation?

What does it signal to you?

Oh, the rejection letter
equals what?

Everybody hates you.

What about potentials of
your future?

You have none.

You have none.

Yeah, signs of failure,
signs of no future.

What are you gonna do?

There's no hope for you,
et cetera, right?

And the prospects of
having no future.

Who needs a Bible here?

One, two...

God, we pray for just all of us.

We pray for the seniors
during this college

app season, Lord. The
letters are coming in.

We asked that no matter
what we will know that this

is all according to your plan.

Do you know like the
username and password

for the UC Davis application?


Oh, hey,
guess who got accepted?


Hey, hey, hey. We, we...
I got in... wee!

Okay. I'll be out soon,
okay, bye.

It's too early to get excited.

But it's an acceptance.

I know, but I've been in
touch with Dartmouth today.

It was actually with in touch
with the financial aid lady.

She said she just needed
some more information.

Wait, what?


Wait, wait, wait, wait,
wait, wait.

What'd you just say?

Well, I'm just saying it may
have let the cat off the bag...

Can you like say word
for word what she said?

She said, "It's no
big deal, no big deal."

We just,
we're down to our final list.

We're just trying to get
all this stuff together

for these kids.

And then I think she kinda
let the cat out of the bag

with a comment of that nature.

So I'm feeling really hopeful.

I'm gonna see whether or
not I got in Johns Hopkins.

Here goes nothing.

God dammit,
give me some wifi bro.

Holy sm...

Ey, I didn't get in.


It's lit.

My weekend was quite...


I logged in and then
found out,

yeah I got rejected.

Which is...

- I got rejected.
- Where is that?


All right.

Another one.

I didn't get in.

Oh, really?

No, I didn't get in.

Well, if I didn't get
into Davis,

then obviously Berkeley

and LA are probably
gonna reject me too now

because those ones are supposed

to be more difficult than Davis

to get into.

Oh, shit.

It's out.

I could log in.

Aight, this is gonna determine
my future.

I swear to God dude, if I...
come on, man,

come on, come on, dude.





What was their excuse?

It's always the same.

It's like you were one
out of what?

102,000 applicants.

And that they were all
overachieving, high...

high achieving but we
couldn't accept them all.

So it's like,
that's always their excuse.

They don't... There's an
option to be wait-listed.

Yeah, I'm gonna tell my mom now.

I'm gonna call her.

Sorry, man.

Mint chocolate chip, right?

I have pretty high expectations
for the type of people

who will be at the college
that I go to.

A lot of professors at
the schools

that are applying to they're
really, I don't know,

I guess you would call them

Like interesting people
who have stories to tell.

Thank you, have a good day.

You too.

All right.

Obviously after you applied
to college,

you'll be in a community
where all of these people

have gone through the same
application process as you,

and they've kind of been
weeded out.

It hasn't been often that
I've been in a situation

where there's less Asian people

than there are like other

And I'm just really
looking forward to that.

I'm kind of tired of
Chinese people.

Okay, I got wait-listed.

From where?


Okay, I got waitlisted.

Yeah, from Columbia.

Okay, I think I'm gonna
check Brown right now.

Oh my gosh, another wait list.

I'm checking Penn right now.

Oh, okay, I got rejected.

Yeah, that's okay.

Okay, so I got rejected
from Yale.

Okay, so I got rejected
from Princeton, okay.

Okay, that's it.

Yeah, I'm relieved now.

Here you go.

I think I was expecting
to get into at least one.

I did really, really want to
go over to the East coast,

but I guess that's okay.

We'll do another time.

let's kick this rally off.

How you guys doing today?

What was that?

How you guys doing today?

So many kids got into

and I'm like, why didn't
I get into Berkeley?

You get used to feeling

It's just slowly but surely.

I was just personally
hoping for more.

It's kind of a hard time
right now.

What the hell?

Like this is not how high
school was supposed to end.

Three and a half years
of killing myself here

and I got in Santa Cruz.

I just feel like I tried so
hard and I'm going to a school

that I didn't even have to try
that hard to like get into.

Are you guys ready?

Alright you guys need to
be more hyped than this.

Are you guys ready?

I just think that I'm
not good enough you know.

That's what I think.

That's the one issue with
the college application process

'cause you can't figure
out what went wrong

and what went right?

I mean you're just so
powerless in the situation.

You know that there are
so many people out there

who are like similar to you
and like, how did they accept?

Like oh they just flip a coin

and they like throw darts
at a board.

This whole process creates
people who are very cynical

about the colleges they
ended up going to.


I can't go if it's full
price because I can't it,

my family cannot afford it.

But I hope if I do get in,

some aid that makes it

Oh, my gosh.

Hey mom, so, I got into Oxford.

Full tuition for four years.

Wow, I guess that's pretty

Full tuition.

All right, yeah.

All right, bye.

I guess I still don't even
know why I got into Emory.

There's definitely a part of
me that says

that I probably shouldn't have.

But I guess that's just
like the culture of Lowell

seeping into my brain.

The reason is that there really

is no reason,
and that college admissions

is like the only sure thing

is that there's no sure things.

Well, besides Jonathan Chu
gained Harvard and Stanford,

like, I'm pretty sure everyone
saw that since freshman year

like, come on now.

I know one kid thought
that I only got into UCLA

because I was black.

He said that, like,
just flat out.

"You probably just got
it 'cause you're black."

She gets a lot of pushback
at school.

People convincing her that
she got in because she's black

and with a 33 ACT score
and a 4.1 GPA,

it put her right in the medium

for every Ivy League school
that she applied for.

Ladies and gentlemen,
boys and girls,

please welcome our 4.0 students!

♪ Lift every voice and sing

♪ Ring with the harmonies
of Liberty ♪

I never imagined I
would have gotten here.

Four out of the eight Ivys
waitlisted me.

Two of them I got into,

I got into Brown University
and Cornell University.

My name is Rachel and I
go to Lowell High school.

Throughout my time at Lowell,

I've really internalized that

that I get a lot of
things because I'm black.

And I think for a while,
I tried to like,

not own up to my blackness,
you know?

I think I've worked hard and I
think I have the right grades

and I've done the right
things to get to where I am.

But I don't like the
fact that Asian students

who deserve to get in
too just as much as I do,

they're not getting in
just because of their race.

I think colleges want somebody

who really knows what they
want to do.

And a lot of people at
Lowell don't really know

what their passion is yet.

Including me.

I don't think this far ahead.

I tried to portray myself
as less Asian

because Asians are seen as
like machines.

But like I work hard

and I strive to be a nerd.

How's that the definition of
being Asian?

I never took, I didn't
take dance like before

but I feel like I should
have 'cause I feel like

I'm missing out on a
lot of stuff.


It's pretty cool.

What time the prom start?

It starts at eight.

Wow, that's pretty late.

Yeah, and it goes
until midnight,

You gonna do a limo?

My mom got like a room at
the hotel where the prom is at.


Yeah, afterwards I can
just go up to my room

and go to sleep.

Any friends gonna
stay with you?

In the room?

Yeah, aren't you gonna
party with your friends?

So yeah.

So my mommy gonna stay?


Okay, just say me and mommy.



Yes, what's up.

Okay, how's it going?

Well, yesterday morning,

my mom woke me up and
she was like,

"Well, you need to
choose your college today.

We're not leaving the
house until you do it."

I wanted to go to Brown.

Just a lot of people strong in
literature came out of Brown

and I like creative writing

but she kept pushing
for Cornell.

And I thought to please her,

I would go to Cornell
and she'd be happier.

I'm not happy because
I wasn't successful, hmm.

Hmm, you got one more.


I want to... It's like
balancing between what I want

and what I think my mom
will be most happy with.

And I feel like that's
the problem

for a lot of people at Lowell.

Alvan, awesome.

Oh, gosh thank you.


Right next to my heart.

Oh, right next to my new liver.

And then right next to my heart.

Thank you.

That's awesome.

I got off the Berkeley
wait list.

So, so you got into Berkeley?


Oh, that could cause a
little bit of contemplation

shall we say?

You right.

It's so nice to see you
and thank you.

Short question from me,
as the mother, of course,

like a San Diego offering
like a neuroscience,

which is his major that
he really like to do

in the future, but San
Diego only have like a 55%

four year graduation rate.

The question is not
which school is better

which school is better
for Alvin.

The best place for him

is where he feels the most

And since I know there's
many research opportunities

at San Diego, he'll be
better off then going to...

Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley,
any place.

Thank you, thank you.

So we are leaving,

'cause I think we spend you
too much time

and you have to take rest.

Okay, that's great, I
got energized by Alvan

that's what he does and
thank you very much.

Thank you so much.

Thank you, good luck,
good luck.

Good luck Mr. Shapiro.

God bless you, thank you.

I'm 18.

This is my college experience,

shouldn't I be making the
decision right?

But my mom just doesn't
think so.

And she wants to keep me
in like a little,

in like a little box or

Bye Mr. Shapiro.

Goodbye Alvan.

Good bye.

Bye Mr. Shapiro.

A lot of people have told me,

high school is like gonna
be like the best time

of your life.

My best times in this
school were getting

like decent test scores,
getting decent GPA's,

finishing assignments on time.

Honestly, like there hasn't
been anything that has been like

whoa, I'm gonna remember
that when am like 80,

and have Alzheimer's or

A lot of kids here, they
feel like their self worth

is really measured in which
university they go to.

And once they can't get
in, they get all sad.

They can't define themselves
in the way that they want to.

And it's crushing to see.

Ah, shoot.

I have a year and a half
more before I go into college.

The more I've looked around,
you know,

I think I don't need to
be in a top 20 school

to make a difference.

I think I can make whatever
school I'm at my own.

And I think that's what's

And you know, I think
that might come off as me

like settling for less or

or like changing my perspective
to avoid like the hurt

but I really do think that my

on that has changed in the
sense that I really do think

that I could make a school my
own and make it meaningful.

Oh my goodness, come on Ian.

Rachael Schmidt.

Sophia Wu.

Alvan Cai.

Like, you have to be
successful in high school,

you have to be successful
in college,

you have to get a good job
that pays a lot of money.

Like I feel like it leaves

like a really important
thing out.

And I think that's happiness.

Ian Wang.

Woo! Ian!

I packed my suitcase a
few days ago.

I'm like super happy.

It honestly can't get
any better, you know.

And I guess like another
really weird fact

is that I was able to do it

and not really have a tiger
mom and stuff.

I guess I'm very fortunate

in that my mom really
cares about me

and she lets me do what I
want to do.

I'm really excited for him

because this is like
such a nice opportunity

that he can leave school
and just live out his dream

and not be weighed down by
anything, Chinese style.

That's all.

No debt.

Undergrads, down the hill.

A couple of days before
we got here,

I was still a bit unsure.

I don't know if this is
gonna make my mom happy.

I don't know if this is like
the one that she really wanted.

Welcome to Brown, 2021!

But I'm excited about Brown
because it's what I chose,

and being happy about it
makes me feel

like I'd made the right choice.

Thank you.

It's beautiful.

I love this bear.

We used to have this
thing where,

because of the divorce I would
cry a lot in K through eight

and so she would tell me,

"You need to stop that you
need to hide your emotions

a bit more or at least not
like show them outwardly."

See, my eyes are watering.

So what's next for you?

Uh, I live life.

I don't know how to answer that.

How does it feel?

It feels great,
but how does it feel?

It feels awful.

So, I'm serious.

It's just, I'm happy that
she has the opportunity

but I'm sad that, she's gone.

You gotta text me when
you land, okay?

Text you every step of
the way, okay.

Oh my gosh, you're crying.

I am not.

Yes you are, it's
okay, it's okay to cry.

I'm gonna miss you.

I'm gonna miss you too mama.

Be strong because that is
what we do.

That's what we do.

It's what we do, girl,
okay, all righty.

Bye mama,
have a safe flight, okay?

Checking in?


- Two o'clock.
- Who's the student?



And what's your name?


Last is C-A-I.

You are in building eight.

Thank you, thank you.

What's your name?


Last name C-A-I.

Alvan, okay, I see you.

So you're in eight D 26B.


I think this is my building.


What's up bruh?

I live in SF.

So it's like hella close, yeah.

Half an hour away.

San Francisco.

I do value, you know what
my parents have done for me.

I'm actually really grateful,

but you know I have to be
an adult now.

I don't know,
it's kind of like humbling.

Which closet?

I took that one.

And I think there's...

Yeah all right. We good,
we good.



Bye bye, I love you.

Bye bye.

Bye bye, we'll see each other.

Nice meeting with you.

And then we'll bring you
to San Francisco to have

good dinner or lunch. Bye bye.

Bye, thank you Casper.

Nice to talk with you.

I told him that we can meet
each other as often as he wants.

With the exception of the
occasional anxiety attack.

Today's been okay.

Oh my God!

What the fuck!

No way, no, no, no, no, no.

Are you, Oh my God, no,
no, no, no, no, no way!

No way!

Oh my God!

I got in!


Who do I even call?

Who do I call first?

Who do I call?

♪ When I was young, it seemed
that life was so wonderful ♪

♪ A miracle, oh it was
beautiful, magical ♪

♪ And all the birds in
the trees, ♪

♪ Well they'd be singing
so happily ♪

♪ Oh joyfully,
playfully watching me ♪

♪ But then they send me away to
teach me how to be sensible ♪

♪ Logical, oh responsible,
practical ♪

♪ And they showed me a world
where I could be so dependable ♪

♪ Oh clinical, oh intellectual,
cynical ♪

♪ There are times when
all the world's asleep ♪

♪ The questions run too deep

♪ For such a simple man

♪ Won't you please, please
tell me what we've learned ♪

♪ I know it sounds absurd

♪ Please tell me who I am

♪ I said, watch what you say

♪ Or they'll be calling you
a radical ♪

♪ Liberal, oh fanatical,
criminal ♪

♪ Won't you sign up your name,

♪ We'd like to feel you're
acceptable ♪

♪ Respectable, oh
presentable, a vegetable ♪

♪ Mmm, take it take it yeah

♪ But at night, when
all the world's asleep ♪

♪ The questions run so deep

♪ For such a simple man

♪ Won't you please tell
me what we've learned ♪

♪ I know it sounds absurd

♪ Please tell me who I am,
who I am, ♪

♪ Who I am, who I am