Harvard University was just a phone call away – and Rachael Estell couldn’t answer it.
The Mountain View High senior was in class two weeks ago when the number from the Harvard Admissions Office popped up on her smartphone. She so badly wanted to know if her top choice – academically and athletically – was calling with good news.
Estell’s teacher didn’t share her anxiety.
“We had a sub, and I asked if I could go to the bathroom, so I could use my phone,” Estell said, “but she told me to wait 15 minutes for lunch.”
When those agonizing 15 minutes passed, Estell – who runs the 100-yard dash in under 12 seconds – made a quick exit to listen to her voicemail.
“Then I called back and they said: ‘Congratulations; we’ve reviewed your application and we support it,’” the Los Altos resident said.
“It didn’t sink in right at the moment,” she said. “It took a few days.”
The “likely to be admitted” letter Estell received from Harvard three days later made it real. Mailed to all student-athletes receiving early-acceptance support from the admissions office, the letter essentially promises that Harvard will send a formal admission offer in December, as long as the applicant sustains the academic and personal record reflected in the completed application.
“I was hoping it would happen,” Estell said of gaining Harvard’s approval. “I had a good feeling about it when the (track) coach told me to fill out the application, but I didn’t know for sure. It’s super exciting.”
Recruited by scores of schools – Estell estimated that track and field coaches from more than 50 colleges contacted her – she made official visits to Harvard, Princeton and Stanford universities last month.
“They’re all great academically,” said Estell, an A student. “It came down to location, more than anything.”
The East Coast – especially the Boston area – appealed to her. Estell’s father Oscar graduated from MIT, where he was a champion fencer.
On her weekend visit, Estell said she was not only impressed with Harvard’s campus and facilities, but also the way the track athletes interacted with each other.
“The team is super close,” said Estell, who stayed in the dorms with a freshman on the squad.
Other factors that influenced her decision: Estell said Princeton is undergoing a coaching change and Stanford primarily wanted her as a jumper – not a sprinter. Although she’s been most successful in the long jump, placing sixth at the state meet last year, Estell qualified for state in the 100 and 200 dashes as well.
She liked that Harvard sees her as a sprinter and jumper, and that she would be working with associate head coach Kebba Tolbert.
“He called me every week,” Estell said of Tolbert, who coaches sprints, hurdles and horizontal jumps. “They’ve had a really strong sprint program since he’s been there; two of their sprinters went to the (2016) Olympic trials.”
Tolbert told the Town Crier he isn’t allowed to comment on Harvard’s recruitment of Estell until after she’s formally admitted. He did, however, weigh in on what makes the Crimson’s NCAA Division I track program so desirable.
“We’ve got a hardworking group of young women,” he said. “I’m excited by what we’ve accomplished: We’ve won seven of the last eight Ivy League championships and our team has one of the top 15 GPAs in the country.”
Harvard – like the other Ivy League schools – does not offer athletic scholarships, but Estell said the university provides “very generous” financial aid.