Nicholas Lopez has been an accelerated learner all his life. He skipped the second grade and exhausted the mathematics courses available at his high school. He was able to take higher-level math courses as a dual enrollment student at Polk State College – an opportunity he highlighted in his admission essay to Harvard University.
The 17-year-old will continue his higher education in the fall at Harvard, which accepted only 3.43 percent of applicants to the Class of 2025 — 1,968 students out of 57,435 who applied.
“The Polk State classes are what I believe really stood out about my application,” Lopez said. “Polk State has been incredible, and I enjoyed my classes and my professors very much.”
Through dual enrollment at Polk State, academically talented students from all Polk County public secondary schools, most area private high schools, and students in home education programs have access to college courses and accelerated learning opportunities.
Polk State serves approximately 3,000 students annually through dual enrollment and its three collegiate high schools, which also provide students with the support to complete college credits and high school diploma requirements simultaneously.
Lopez extended special thanks to Professor of Mathematics Richard Leedy, Professor of Physics and Physical Science Bulmuo Maakuu, and Coordinator of Student Services Mary Westgate.
“They have all been really great to me,” he added. “Their support and my experience at Polk State have really prepared me for college.”
He completed both Calculus III and Differential Equations at Polk State.
“The Polk State classes are what I believe really stood out about my application. Polk State has been incredible, and I enjoyed my classes and my professors very much.”
“Not only did Nicholas have the best grades in his class, but his enthusiasm for Differential Equations was also obvious,” said Professor Leedy, who explained that Mathematics classes prior to this one teaches students techniques in Algebra and Calculus for solving various types of problems.
Differential Equations shows them how to apply those problem-solving skills to situations they may encounter when they graduate. This gives Lopez a strong foundation as he pursues studies in Applied Mathematics at Harvard.
“I wish that I had had the opportunity to take college-level courses while I was still in high school,” Leedy added about the benefits of dual enrollment.
Lopez has always dreamed of attending Harvard.
“I thought all it would ever be is a dream,” he said. “I applied early, got deferred, and had almost given up hope.”
In April, he received his acceptance letter.
“It was the greatest feeling in the world,” Lopez said. “I emailed both of my Polk State professors that night and thanked them because they have both been so supportive.”
Lopez looks forward to exploring the variety of career avenues available to him through his passion for math, from economics and finance to engineering and medicine.
“What I like about math is that there is always a concrete, logical answer,” he explained. “Through Applied Mathematics, I will have the opportunity to study all the areas where math is used.”
While he accomplished a 4.870 grade-point average, a perfect score on the American College Test (ACT), and a National Merit Scholarship, Lopez stressed that it was his determination to go above and beyond in mathematics that helped to give him a competitive edge when seeking admission at the Ivy League university.
He was also driven to participate in extracurricular and volunteer activities. As a member of the Mu Alpha Theta math honor society, Lopez tutored other students twice a week in math ranging from Pre-Algebra to Calculus III. He also served as class president for four years, participated in the Key Club, and played tennis, all while balancing a rigorous course load.
In his senior year, he completed nine classes a semester – five at Winter Haven High School, two at Polk State, one through Florida Virtual School, and one through Southeastern University.
“My advice to others is to always keep hope, try your best, and find something that you are truly passionate about. If you put the time and effort in, your hard work will pay off.”
“My advice to others is to always keep hope, try your best, and find something that you are truly passionate about,” he said. “If you put the time and effort in, your hard work will pay off.”
Lopez aspires to achieve a doctorate degree in Mathematics and use his passion to help others.
“There are countless ways that mathematics can be used to benefit the world,” he wrote in his Harvard essay. “I truly believe my passion for math will contribute to creating a brighter, better future for everyone.”