The Filipino American student from Jacksonville, Florida who was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools will be part of Yale University’s class of 2024.
Craig McFarland, 18, has committed to the prestigious university in New Haven, Connecticut, he revealed in a recent interview with the Asian Journal.
In total, 17 colleges and universities across the country, including Stanford University, offered him a slot in their freshman class.
“I actually planned on committing to Stanford and chose [it] a few minutes before the deadline, but I felt so much regret and sadness personally and just knew that Yale was right for me,” McFarland told the Asian Journal.
Yale was his first college acceptance back in December as he applied under the early action program. It was one of those days where everything seemed to go awry, he recalled.
“I had many problems that day and I actually only opened the letter because I was like, ‘Let me make this day even worse.’ The next day would feel amazing just by comparison,” McFarland narrated. “When I found out I was accepted, I was freaking out. I was screaming with my mom and hugged her.”
He waited until March to hear from other schools, which included admission letters one after another from the seven additional Ivy Leagues — Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University — as well as high-ranked institutions like Stanford and Duke University.
“I had the same reaction when I found out I was accepted to all the Ivys,” he said, noting that friends and family were not surprised by the news and told him that he shouldn’t doubt himself. “It’s nice that people had that confidence…but I believe that there is absolutely no one who should be confident enough to know that they’re going to be accepted into a school.”
McFarland, who is half Filipino and half Black, entered the exclusive club of being admitted to all the Ivy League schools, which have between a 4 to 8% acceptance rate.
As the May 1st deadline to decide approached, McFarland narrowed down his choices to Florida State University, Harvard, Stanford and Yale, which are among the schools that extended full-ride scholarships. Other institutions said he could qualify for a scholarship on top of the private ones he’s received.
The pandemic prevented him from visiting schools in person so he resorted to virtual tours, watching YouTube videos, and connecting with current students and alumni for insight.
“I often ask them the worst questions, like ‘What do you hate?’ or ‘What would you change?’ because no one necessarily wants to talk about the bad unless prompted but that bad stuff was what was going to determine how much I truly love an institution,” he said.
Then, the final round came between the latter two universities.
His mother Donabel Santiago said the only advice she gave McFarland was to “pick whatever feels right” and where he would thrive as a student and individual.
“I told him that he’d be happy [with] whichever he chose as they’re both amazing…but one most likely [felt] more right than the other, and that one so happened to be Yale,” Santiago, who is originally from Nueva Ecija, Philippines, told the Asian Journal. “When he told me he chose Yale, I just could tell he was not only relieved, but happy as well.”
As evidenced by his academic record, McFarland has excelled and enjoyed every subject he’s taken and can’t be boxed into either a humanities or math and science student. For now, he is leaning towards studying biochemistry and linguistics in college.
“I’ve genuinely been interested in everything,” he said. “I want a college experience that provides the freedom to explore myself because I’ve been able to do great things in math and science but also in foreign languages and law competitions.”
During his four years at Stanton College Preparatory School — which has been rated among the top public high schools in the country and from where he will be graduating valedictorian — McFarland hit the benchmarks that made him appear extraordinary on paper.
He maintained a 4.98 grade point average, received near perfect standardized test scores, studied 48 courses when only 24 are required at school, took 20 Advanced Placement and eight International Baccalaureate exams, and mastered several languages, including French, Spanish, Arabic, Italian and Tagalog.
Outside of the classroom, he boasts a long list of extracurricular activities from debate club to varsity track and field, and has won numerous accolades, such as a top award in the local Ethics Bowl and first place in column writing for The Florida Times-Union’s high school journalism competition.
Early on, McFarland created a regimented routine so he could manage his academic workload and activities.
“I would do my homework right away and pay attention intently in class because the more I paid attention, the less I would have to study after,” he said. “It was out of necessity that I needed to manage my time because I would have track practice, a club, a competition, or a tutoring session, and then try to make time for family and friends.”
He has been able to take advantage of the opportunities at his high school, but the downside was being in an environment where students are “competitive, cutthroat and only care about test scores and class rank.”
What the Fil-Am student tried to illustrate in the college applications was that he is more than straight As and high marks and that he has a personality and life apart from school.
Burying in schoolwork hasn’t deprived him of the experiences that come with the teenage years. He recounts that on the morning he took the SAT, he went through a break-up right before and was crying on the way to the testing center, for instance. He was named homecoming prince, and loves driving around listening to music, getting frozen yogurt with friends, watching “Game of Thrones,” scrolling through Instagram for memes, and watching TikTok videos. (Though he promises he’s not glued to his phone like most Gen Zers.)
“I wanted to emphasize that yes, I’m a student, but above all, I am a person,” he said. “I’m more proud of the fact that I was able to accomplish all of that despite everything in a single-parent household and never having a lot of academic resources.”
McFarland has risen above his circumstances when the system is typically stacked against someone with his background. He credits his mother for instilling the importance of education and hard work.
Santiago, who obtained a nursing degree in her home country, raised McFarland and his two siblings, an older brother and younger sister, by herself while she went back to school for sonography.
“Craig knows the struggles we’ve had to go through with me as a single mom, and I hope my experiences have helped drive him to be great,” she said, adding that education “is our wealth that nobody can take away from us.”
The family moved around 12 times in the Jacksonville area and lived in a small house with extended relatives for several years. Santiago was able to find a job as a registered cardiac sonographer, though she commutes about two hours each day.
“It was pretty much being left to our own devices so we often had to find out how to cook for ourselves and just mature on our own for the times in our lives when my mom was out working or at school,” McFarland said. “That independence, while a bit sad at times, was undoubtedly useful, even today.”
Santiago never worried about whether her son finished his homework or studied for exams because of his self-discipline. Whenever she did ask, he would say he did it days before.
“He honestly pushes himself harder than anyone has pushed him, and I say that as his mother,” she said. Since McFarland was young, he has been curious and compassionate, and always wears a smile on his face.
“I always see him looking out for his friends and even people he barely knows,” she said. “I’ve heard him spend hours on the phone helping friends with their homework or spending whatever small amount of money he has saved up on gifts for friends.”
McFarland admits that he was “incredibly shy” as a child, but started coming out of his shell around middle school and explored activities to fill his time, especially those that tested his knowledge on subjects or challenged him to defend a position on a social issue.
“Any competition that involved a requirement of being well-spoken and reaching an audience, I ended up really loving,” he said.
Being raised in a single-parent household meant that there was only one source of income for the family. Since his mom is not familiar with the U.S. college process, he researched financial aid opportunities and was able to get the application fees waived. Whatever extracurricular activities McFarland wanted to participate in, he had to raise the money himself by taking on a private tutoring job.
“A lot of people don’t understand the privilege of being able to access things, such as a private tutor or a review book, or even just having a parent there with you to advocate for your success at a counselor meeting,” he said. “I didn’t want to ask my mom to pay for the SAT or all these dues for activities.”
He also acknowledges teachers who mentored and took an interest in helping him succeed and those who served as “father figures” since he did not have one growing up.
Moving to Connecticut this fall will be the third time McFarland has ever left his home state. He’ll be swapping the sunny, humid weather for a Northeast winter, though he has no clue what’s in store for him climate-wise and culturally.
“I’m extremely sentimental and emotional and part of the reason why I cried when I got accepted to the colleges was because it marked this rite of passage,” he said. “Eventually I’m going to have to leave my mom — that dichotomy of success academically but also having to say goodbye to the only person who’s been a constant in my life beyond my brother and sister.”
The other two times McFarland has ventured out of Florida were trips to the Philippines, first at the age of 4 and then at 16.
Santiago said she raised her children immersed in their Filipino heritage, whether it was through watching teleseryes, eating the food, observing holiday traditions or teaching them to address and respect elders with mano po.
“I’ve told [them] that we Filipinos are strong and smart people. Craig especially has been interested in his Filipino culture. He is a member of his school’s Filipino performance group and dances tinikling for his school’s multicultural club,” she said.
McFarland’s biracial identity has presented extra challenges, as he never quite fit in or felt completely welcomed by either side. (Since his college acceptances garnered nationwide press attention, he also received comments about “not being black” or “not being a real Filipino,” he said.)
He recalled that he and his younger sister were targets of racial slurs and were discriminated against because of the color of their skin during their 2018 trip to the Philippines.
“It’s not necessarily that I hold that against the Philippines as I know it’s a product of colonialism, but it pushes me to want to make social change,” he said. “I hope that my accomplishments provide a testament that certain type of people aren’t dumb or lesser than any other.”
While his final high school semester moved online and events like prom were scrapped, McFarland was particularly sad about initial reports saying graduation would be canceled.
He will still be able to deliver his valedictorian speech since the school’s ceremony was postponed to July. As the achiever he is, he’s already prepared his remarks and hopes to impart the message that test scores and getting into top schools aren’t the only metrics to measure one’s impact.
Before he heads off to college, he intends to enjoy one last summer in his hometown with his best friends and family and do “normal teen stuff.”
“My main goal in college is to be happy and to genuinely live,” McFarland said. “It’s important to be successful but my definition of success isn’t to become a CEO or make a high paying job. It’s being content with what I’ve done and that contentment comes from being able to help others, especially those who are in situations similar to mine.”