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He was rejected by 14 colleges. Now he works at Google.

A high school graduate with a stellar grade point average, near perfect test scores, and a tech startup he founded when he was a sophomore, was rejected by dozens of colleges, including state schools. Then he landed a job at Google.

When Stanley Zhong, who graduated from Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California, in 2023, was rejected by 14 of the 18 colleges and universities to which he applied, he and his advisers were dumbfounded.

Zhong was a standout student: He had an unweighted 3.96 grade point average and scored 1590 on his SATs. He had also been a finalist in multiple global computer coding contests and founded a free electronic signature startup called RabbitSign.

Zhong was rejected by his first-choice school, Stanford, which wasn't all too surprising, he said. But he did not expect the rejection letters he received from some of the state schools he had applied to, including University of California, Davis; University of California, Santa Barbara; and California Polytechnic State University.

"No one can say they expect to get into Stanford, Berkeley or MIT, but I applied to a few state schools where I thought I had a better chance," Zhong told CBS MoneyWatch.

Stanley Zhong, 18, is pushing for more transparency in college admissions.  / Credit: Nan Zhong
Stanley Zhong, 18, is pushing for more transparency in college admissions. / Credit: Nan Zhong

No reasons given, just "you're rejected"

With no elucidation provided from colleges and universities on their decision-making, all he could do was speculate as to why he had received so many rejections.

"I didn't get any feedback from any admissions offices. You don't get reasons, you just get 'you're rejected,'" Zhong said. "For some of them it was expected. For a lot of them I felt frustrated in the sense of, 'What do you want from me?' I feel like as students, we deserve to know what we should be doing in order to get into these colleges."

Zhong and his family reached out to the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE), a nonprofit organization that advocates for Asian-American children's education rights, "to try to push for transparency in college admissions decisions," he said.

AACE founding president Yukong Mike Zhao raised Zhong's case at a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on race-based college admissions decisions last month.

"He is a talent in programming — everybody says computer science is the future for the 21st century," Zhao said.

"It's appalling for the colleges to ignore this kind of talent," he added.

Google application

A total of four schools offered admission to Zhong, including the University of Texas at Austin.

Not one to wallow in disappointment, Zhong decided to matriculate at UT Austin. He also applied to a software engineer opening at Google "as a moonshot," he said.

"I decided to go for a full-time job as well to see what happened. I figured worst case, I would get interview experience and see what the process was like and maybe I would get lucky," Zhong said.

He did.

Earlier this month, 18-year-old Zhong started working as a software development engineer at Google, a role that doesn't require a college degree.

Google has many job roles for which "equivalent practical experience" counts in lieu of a college degree, and others that don't have any degree requirements. Zhong did not disclose how much the job pays.

Plans to attend college?

College is still on the table for Zhong, but not until 2024 at the earliest.

"I am very lucky to have this opportunity and right now, I will stick with it for at least a year. From there I will think about, 'Am I am making good contributions and doing good work?' If that's the case, I will stay until I don't feel like I am or that I am really missing out on a lot by not going to college," Zhong said.

He said he's a self-taught programmer, but still sees value in higher education.

"In computer science, from a purely educational standpoint, a lot of what colleges teach, can also be found online if you're willing to learn it. Most of my computer science knowledge is from looking things up, reading articles, things like that," Zhong said. "But there is also a social and networking aspect to college."

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