When Ethan Kim found out in December that he was deferred by Harvard College’s early admissions program, the 17-year-old high school senior couldn’t just sit back and wait to find out if he’d be accepted in the regular pool of applicants in March.
So, he made a rap video to plead his case. And he called it, “Harvard, Please Let Me In.”
The nearly four-minute song, which he whipped together in a month with the help of his brother and close friends, was the North Carolina native’s way of giving himself a bit of an edge over other student hopefuls vying for a spot at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
What’s more, getting creative instead of dwelling on the disappointing news was a basic reflex for Kim, who has long dabbled in music-making and theatrics, while conveying his sense of humor.
“I’ve always been a very different person. Very extroverted — love being in front of people on stage," said Kim. “I was very aware that the acceptance rate after deferral is very low. So I said, ‘Am I just going to sit there, or can I try to do something crazy?'"
He opted for the latter.
For top-tier schools like Harvard, Kim said, "you have to have what’s called a spike. Something that makes you stand out — not just good grades and extra-curriculars. Something that’s unique to that person.”
In December, when some of his older friends returned home from college for the winter break, he told them about the deferral. In a joking way, he pitched the idea to them about making a rap video to get into Harvard.
“Everyone was laughing,” he said. “And then all of the sudden my closest friend was like, ‘Dude, Ethan. I know it’s kind of a joke but you should seriously do that. You know how much you would stand out?’”
“And I was like, ‘You know what? Maybe that’s it,’” Kim said.
From there, Kim spent the next several weeks stitching the project together. He made the beat with his brother, wrote the lyrics in his free time, and went to a friend’s house to record, mix, and master it. Later, he brought the completed song to his friend Carson Philbin, who came up with ideas for the footage and directed and shot the music video.
“Then we put it out there, hoping for the best,” Kim said.
The video begins with Kim sitting down at his computer to check his admissions status, as a heavy bass builds in the background. After getting the bad news, the amateur wordsmith launches into several verses about who he is, and why Harvard should consider a middle-class kid from Charlotte’s Ardrey Kell High School as a candidate.
“Always been different always taking weird ways; Honestly my testing skills ain’t my forte,” he raps. “I can prove myself just give me more days; Ready for the weather already got a North Face.”
The video leans on jokey dance moves and fast-paced rap lines to get the point across and make Kim stand out, an approach that has been well-received by viewers since it was first posted to YouTube last week. In just a few days, more than 31,000 people have watched Kim’s homemade video. On Instagram, it has more than 17,000 views.
The lyrics, which Kim wrote while doing errands and puttering around the house, were also posted to Genius.com, a community-driven website for annotating music. And it even landed on several Reddit threads, including the subcategory for videos.
Comments on the video calling on Harvard to consider Kim’s application are more plentiful than the groups of tourists who rub the buckled shoe of the John Harvard statue.
“I hope they let you in,” one person said in a post beneath the YouTube video. “If not, it looks like you’re going to figure out another creative way to succeed.”
“I just sent this to the Dean at Harvard,” another claimed.
The music video led others to encourage Kim to shake off his college dreams, and focus on a career in music instead.
“Dude,” one commented wrote, “give up on school and become a rapper.”
Kim said he’s been humbled by the responses to his song online. (Though some have jokingly chided Kim, who is Korean-American, for wearing sneakers in his house in the opening scene of the video.)
“I want to remain grounded, but I’m definitely excited with the responses I’m getting,” he said. “All of that has been so rewarding, especially from the Asian community. Just people saying ‘hey, you’re totally defying the narrative and breaking all the stereotypes.’”
While the video takes a jocular tone to set himself apart from other potential students, Kim made sure to add a dash of seriousness to the whole process. Along with the video, he plans to upload a note to his online application that explains to admissions officials why he chose this approach.
Together, Kim hopes the submissions will increase his chances.
“But ultimately, whatever happens is meant to be," Kim said.
Watch the full video below: