The Filipino American student who made headlines for being accepted to all eight Ivy League schools is now bound for Harvard University.
Craig McFarland, a Filipino and Black teenager from Jacksonville, Florida, had previously committed to Yale University’s class of 2024, but he’ll be donning crimson gear instead.
The switch to the prestigious institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts stems from a “multitude of reasons,” McFarland said. One of the major factors includes rethinking how the ongoing coronavirus pandemic would alter his first semester of college and campus activities.
“When I committed to Yale first, I had no idea of the coronavirus impact in my mind whatsoever…especially how it would affect my college experience,” McFarland told the Asian Journal.
The 18-year-old announced in May that he would attend Yale, but admitted to having second thoughts as he was also considering Stanford University and Harvard University at the time.
Before narrowing down to those three places, he had 17 schools courting him and entered an exclusive club of being admitted to all eight Ivy League schools, which have between a 4 to 8% acceptance rate. Since he was unable to visit the schools in person, he relied on virtual tours, watching YouTube videos, and connecting with current students and alumni for insight.
“I’ve made a lot of close friends along the way. When I first committed to Yale, six of those Yale friends switched to either Stanford or Harvard,” McFarland said. “If I was already having those thoughts, and other students are having these thoughts too, maybe it’s not just me.”
Last month, he took a trip and visited nearby southern states as a mini-vacation, which made him realize he “could not survive in a small city.” (This was his first time traveling to other states outside of Florida, though he has visited the Philippines twice before, where his mother Donabel Santiago is originally from.)
“I’d be living in a small city like New Haven for four years and be isolated. I knew I couldn’t do it. Though Yale and Harvard would have online classes and not as many on-campus activities, there are many more things to do in Boston and Cambridge,” McFarland said.
COVID-19 has forced a majority of colleges and universities across the country to either move completely online or have a hybrid of virtual and in-person classes. Despite delivering classes online, Harvard on July 6 announced that it would bring up to 40% of undergraduates on campus, including all first-year students, for the fall semester, which begins on September 2.
McFarland also has close family friends living in the Boston area as a support system in case Harvard would require students to continue studies off campus again.
In a May interview with the Asian Journal, Santiago — a registered cardiac sonographer who raised McFarland and his two siblings as a single mother while going back to school — said that she did not influence her son’s decision process but simply told him to “pick whatever feels right.”
“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.”
In addition to the scholarship that covers tuition and housing, Harvard is also offering McFarland an extra $15,000 for other living expenses.
“That financial aspect for me was amazing. Harvard is doing a lot for the community and for students like me who aren’t the most privileged,” he said.
McFarland recently received a $3,500 scholarship through the Gamma Beta Boulé Awards Program, which honors top African American students in the Duval County area.
During his time at Stanton College Preparatory School, McFarland maintained a 4.98 grade point average, had near-perfect standardized test scores, mastered five languages, excelled in various subjects, and participated in debate club and the varsity track and field team.
McFarland is set to formally graduate from high school after its ceremony was postponed to Monday, June 20. He will be able to deliver his valedictorian speech, which he had prepared months ago.
As for his future plans, he continues to be interested in studying medicine or linguistics. Given the current political climate, he is also seeking to insert a social justice component to his students.
“Harvard has been doing the work to ameliorate a lot of the issues that they’ve had with systemic racism and it seemed to be the most diverse institution out of all the Ivy Leagues,” McFarland said. “I want to be in a community with a carved out space, where I, as a Black and Filipino person, can feel like I have a home. In Boston, I feel as though there are more opportunities for social justice and activism and can have sort of an actual effect on the world.”