At 15, Nigerian born New Jersey student among youngest admitted to Harvard

Young, Gifted & Black Series

By Taki S. Raton

Saheela Ibraheem

She plays the trombone, sang in her high school choir and served as president of her high school’s investment club which teaches students about the stock market by investing in virtual stocks. She is also involved in soccer, swimming and softball. But in addition to all of her interest and extracurricular activities, her first and number one priority is her family.

She is young, gifted, and Black. The then 15 year-old Saheela Ibraheem would become among the youngest students admitted to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I’ll be one of the youngest. But I will not be the youngest,” admits Saheela in a May 2011 Kelly Heyboer Star-Ledger article.

According to a report in Black Celebrity Kids, Harvard was one of the 14 schools to which young Saheela applied. She was accepted into 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.

Writes Heyboer, Saheela was torn between going to MIT and Harvard. But a visit to both campuses in April of 2011 made the choice easy. “She went to Harvard and she fell in love with the school,” said Shakirat Ibraheem, her mother.

The previous month on March 30, she received her sole rejection letter from Yale. Saheela was not sure why the Ivy League school didn’t admit her. “My parents were thinking that it might be the age thing.”

While at Harvard, Saheela plans to major in either neurobiology or neuroscience and has visions of becoming a research scientist who studies how the brain works. As for her own brain, Saheela insists that “I am nothing special,” as noted in The Star.

A native of Nigerian born American immigrants now living in Piscataway, New Jersey, she credits her parents with teaching her to love learning and to work hard. Sarafa, her father and an analyst and vice-president at a New York financial firm, would often study with her at night and home school her in subjects not taught at school. Father Ibraheem received his degree from the prestigious Nigerian University of Ibadan in Ibadan, Nigeria.

“I try my best in everything I do,” says Saheela. “Anyone who is motivated can work wonders,” she adds.

A 2011 graduate of Wardlaw- Hatridge School in Edison, New Jersey, Saheela was among the growing number of high school seniors “going to college before they are old enough to drive,” claims Heyboer. The Ledger account further reveals that Saheela ranks with the millions of high school seniors nationwide where that year’s college selection process was among the most competitive in history as most top colleges received a record number of applications.

For Saheela, her masterful path to college began at the age of five. SuperNigerian. Com reports that she was unwilling to accept help with her homework and decided that she most enjoyed learning mathematics and science. The Ibrahim’s realized that their daughter had a particular passion and competence for learning and excelling in school.

Saheela skipped the sixth and ninth grades. In high school, her parents transferred her from public school to the more challenging private academic environment of the 420-student Wardlaw School which, Notes Super- Nigerian, was “proud to have her.” Her teachers described her as an “Old Soul” and “mature for her age.”

Under the tutelage of private schooling, Saheela received a perfect 800 score on the mathematics section of the SAT, a 790 in writing, and a 750 in reading – a total SAT tabulation of 2,340. Her GPA score according to Heyboer was between a 96 and 97 on the 100 point scale.

In April of 2011, the Wardlaw- Hartridge School senior was selected as the winner of a National Achievement Scholarship and awarded $2,500. The April 14, 2011 NJTODAY.NET reports that the National Merit Scholarship Corporation announced the names of some 800 outstanding Black American high school seniors who have won Achievement Scholarship awards through the National Achievement Scholarship Program.

The National Achievement Scholarship Program is a privately financed academic competition established in 1964 specifically to honor scholastically talented Black American youth and to provide scholarships to a substantial number of the most outstanding participants in each annual competition. Achievement Scholar awardees are the finalist candidates judged to have the strongest records of accomplishments and greatest potential for academic success in college.

As of 2012, Saheela has settled in to her campus life at Harvard. Writes Cynthia W. Shih in the December 12, 2011 Harvard Crimson, Saheela is a member of the Harvard Shotokan Karate Club and a Math 55 student, described in many published accounts as “probably the most difficult undergraduate math class in the country.”

Shih shares that Harvard does not consider age as a factor when admitting students to the incoming freshman class.

“We have no age limits. We’re really looking at individuals on the basis of individual achievement and personal characteristics,” said Marilyn E. McGrath, Harvard College director of admissions.

“Certainly, maturity and self-direction and the capacity to thrive and benefit at Harvard is always a factor, but none of those qualities are associated in any way that we know with chronological age.”

Adds dean of admissions and financial aid William R. Fitzsimmons, “the real issue is readiness to use Harvard well in all the normal ways, whatever someone’s age might be.”

Saheela in several feature articles continuously echoes above notations as again underscored in SuperNigerian that it was the support and guidance of her family that laid the foundation for her academic success.

She is now well on her way to fulfilling her dreams of one day becoming a research scientist. Her advice for her fellow students as highlighted in a 2012 Tech Blog account: “Young people should try to listen to their parents most of the time. They know what they are doing,” she said.