Zambian girl admitted to Harvard



How I got into Harvard

by Sela Kasepa

On the night of 11 March, 2016 I woke up to a phone call and my dream became a reality. I couldn’t believe my ears; Harvard was calling, had April fool’s day come early this year? The response was, Sela. Just in case you think you were dreaming or your parents think it was a prank, you were not and it is not. Looking forward to welcoming you to Harvard next fall. Congratulations!
By the way the name is Sela Kasepa, a Zambian girl from ChaChaCha, Kitwe and this is how I got into Harvard. It all began in August 2015 when I received one of the most important calls of my life. Little did I know that what seemed like a mundane call from the Zambian Institute for Sustainable Development would change my life?

This NGO had awarded me a scholarship which enabled me complete my high school education at Fatima Secondary School with a 10 in 10, 10 distinctions in 10 subjects. The ZISD Executive Director, Mr. Peter Lungu was inviting me to participate in their SAT program. The SAT is a college entrance exam used for admission into universities in the United States. Until then I was just another high school graduate with excellent grades but no funding for university; life had played a joke on me but I was not laughing. I had done my fair share of trekking from door to door, I was worn out and so were my shoes but with this call I could see light at the end of the tunnel.
I was elated and jumped at the opportunity to return to the classroom after my two year university search had come to a stall. The thought of attending school in America excited me, not for the glamor of the place, but for the boundless possibilities it would avail to me to pursue my dream career Aerospace Engineering. This excitement was short-lived. ZISD’s SAT program is about one of the most rigorous courses I have taken; actually that is an understatement it was baptism by fire. This regimented training consisted of daily tests in English and Maths in a short time span.


NEVER EVER GIVE UP,was a phrase that was emphasized by Coach Jimmy Valvano in 30 for 30: Survive and Advance, a movie that the ZISD team showed us. These nuclear words have stayed with me. In spite of insurmountable adversity and against improbable odds, never should you give up on your dream, passion or goal; it might take years to attain your dreams, but if you don’t give up, you can reach out, touch, and ultimately embrace your dreams. In the end, all this hard work paid off, I aced the SAT and obtained a perfect score in the subject test.

I did not intend on applying to Harvard, because I never thought I could get admitted; lucky for me, I had people who believed in me more than I did. In the words of Isaac Newton,?If I have been able to see further it is by standing on the shoulder of giants.?When most people were going to New Year’s Eve parties, I was grappling with the decision on whether to apply to Harvard.

At that moment, I received a call from Mr. Lungu following up on my Harvard application which prompted me to draft an application–mostly to get him out of my hair. My first application cycle to U.S universities was disappointing, I got waitlisted by Stanford and Gettysburg College and was admitted into Merrimack College and Michigan State University but without a scholarship to enable me attend.

However, this application cycle I was admitted into Stanford, M.I.T., Michigan State University, University of California Berkeley and Harvard with all offering scholarships. It is without saying that I chose to attend Harvard. Many a time, we are the cause of our own ruin. We belittle ourselves, and hinder our own advancement, thus setting ourselves on a path of self-destruction. My father saved me from this path through his belief in my innate capabilities, his high expectations of me, and his willingness to sacrifice his time to help me with my challenges. I owe much of my achievement to ZISD, for it gave me the best test prep, helped me with all my fees, and provided me with a family that truly cared. These factors greatly influenced my mentality, I applied to the big schools I feared, I was challenged to take on new opportunities, and I ultimately managed to attain my dream. Let your dreams change your reality, don’t let reality change your dreams. The road to success is riddled with many potholes, but we should endure them, pick ourselves up when we fall, and we will surely march on to victory. If you really want something, ?the universe conspires to make it happen.?Who would have thought that a girl from ChaChaCha would beat the odds and get into Harvard?


    • Another Zambian young man just graduated from Harvard. He was from Maamba. Harvard is not heaven, more Zambian students should try for it if they can hold themselves in high self esteem!. There are plenty of other African students at Ivy league Universities in America who don’t even make the paper in their home countries when they are admitted because it’s normal for them. Wake up and catch up Zambia.!

    • Very proud of you and wishing you all the best! I have every confidence in your ability to excel at Harvard and by the way I ended up at the School of Business by what many could call a mistake because my first enrollment was in the School of Engineering.

      And guess what my major was? Aerospace Engineering!!! Now you can be the first Zambian to go into space and beyond if you play your cards right! You are perfect for the purposes for which you were created and never forget where you came from.

      I came from Kitwe as well not even the sky is the limit. Thank you for making the smart people of the Zambian Enterprise proud!

      Good luck …


    • we give off the very best of our minds to be educated by other people. its like having a new handsome baby boy and you give it to your neighbours to nurture it.
      How can we ever get out of this situation as african people as long as such things continue to happen. Am proudand appreciate our little sister very much, but my concern falls on us as the adults. 50 years after independence and we still sending our best minds to be educated outside. no wonder after their education they always fail to perform in the zambian environment. so tell, for whose benefit is then the education our little brilliant sister going to get?

    • @Nubian Princess
      The point may no have come out very strongly, but the girl had to overcome some very serious odds to get to this stage. It may have been easy for many of other peers. It was not with her. But she fought through and we are very proud of her,

    • @ nabian that your script is more on the envious side. Just congratulate the girl & encourage many others..

  1. Whaooo you really had a 10 in 10 just with the maturity in which you have come out. congratulations dear. I wish others like bena Kalima could write like you, maybe we could start reading their boring posts. You have an unblemished record though i would have loved you to go to MIT. At Harvard, there is a young gentleman (Grieve Chelwa) who is doing his Post Doctoral studies there. He was also picked whilest pursuing his PHD in Economics at Cape Town University. These are the Zambians we need to cherish and admire not bena Jay Jay ama armchair critics due to frustrations in life. Once again congrats and please pursue your dream

    • Instead of encouraging this bright girl, all you can think of is negative. My dear you need positive energy at times, otherwise you will age fast.

    • Dude, its part of encouraging. That can happen, strike the iron will its hot. Every 5 sensed parent would tell her that, anyway maybe you still a kabuudo, i forgive for not having THE wisdom coz it comes with age waziba.

  2. Congrats little girl and all the best in your studies..we are proud of you!! Equaly had an opening at harvard but after writing my SAT tests never received my results..

  3. Congratulations young girl. You are a genius! With good leadership in the country we could create an education system that brings out the hidden genius in the majority of our young people and we would be a great nation, even better than Singapore!

  4. It is not possible to get 10 distinctions and all Universities in Zambia don’t accept you. Are you been economical with the truth on this one, or you did not apply to any Zambian University for two years.

    • Its not automatic to get a bursary at UNZA on the basis of good grades. Preference is now given to dunderheads with connections to the powers that be. Have you forgotten that brilliant girl who committed suicide because she was denied a bursary? Things are bad in Zambia

    • Aerospace Engineering is the reason she did not bother with UNZA and CBU…..congrats young Lady and the very best wishes.

    • Universities will only pick you when you apply. But even then scholarship is another story. Leave the little kid alone. Haven’t you heard of a Kalingalinga who had to commit suicide because your Bursaries Committee could not sponsor her to UNZA even when she had 6 points. Just congratulate the young woman and stop asking for the obviouse.

  5. I don’t get it, though goodluck.We call this baiting.Trying to divert people’s attention from ?.What is the current set points for UNZA admission for her to struggle to get into UNZA or CBU GRZ scolarships.Two years looking for a place with 10 points in 10.mmmmm.Anyway congrats,SATs for international students scholarship.I need details so that my son can have a go.He is currently enrolled at UNZA.

    • Gary you obviously have no idea what it takes to get into Harvard or even how difficult it is for an ordinary but brilliant Zambian to find a scholarship to support their studies within and outside the country. So keep the insults of this brilliant young girl to yourself and family. We wish your son the very best in his career and hopefully you will support him when he takes 2 years or more at something!

    • Aerospace Engineering is the reason she did not bother with UNZA and CBU…..congrats young Lady and the very best wishes.

    • @Bonkash sorry if have insulted.Something is just not adding up with the story because have been googling ever since I saw this story,I can not come up with anything to do with SAT tests for international students.Perhaps if you can help with the links.Once again I am very sorry if my words implied that,I am not the kind that can hurt a child’s feelings.

    • iwee it is not about getting to your UNZA it is about scholarship when you come from a poor family. It is also about prestige – some of our young people struggle to find a university which will not close easily, because of politicians and hooliganism

  6. Congratulations Sela on being admitted to Harvard. That phone call from Harvard is like an out of body experience! Harvard is indeed a fantastic place which offers boundless opportunities within and outside its borders. I wouldn’t fault you on choosing Harvard in place of MIT or any other Uni for that matter, MIT is good but a fraction of the Harvard real deal. I will connect with Mr. Lungu so that we can introduce you to the community of Zambians at Harvard and the Zambia Harvard Alumni so that you can help more Zambians to get to Cambridge, MA. We hope one day we will have double digit figures of Zambians admitted and enrolled at Harvard as the current numbers are woefully disappointing for a country as great as ours. Thank you for sharing your story. God richly bless the works of your…

  7. My first reaction is that you write far much better English than I did at the time I was entering University of Zambia. My advise to you is that don’t get too deceived by your good secondary school grades. They dont count much at university. Its all about hard work there. At the time I went to UNZA, the highest student country-wide scored distinctions in all her subjects and she also came from a catholic mission school. But she flanked maths in her first year while those with 18 points passed. Just work hard girl. Be ready to be judged negatively on face value just because you come from this country where everything has gone wrong. In some cases you will be expected to work twice as hard to get half as far but when you remain focused as you have already, you will sail through. I wish…

  8. Aerospace Engineering is the reason she did not bother with UNZA and CBU…..congrats young Lady and the very best wishes.


  10. Wow! Congratulations there young lady! I know what it takes to write and pass those SAT exams from the experience of another brilliant little girl that is very close to me, my daughter! (I am just an old UNZA guy…)

  11. Sela, Sela,
    I pray that the Almighty God give u grace and sustain your brilliant as you enter into that world called Ametica. We all desired to go to such not or 2 in the whole world however, failed short of such grace. Thank God we are going now through you little, what a colossal amount of joy you have brought your family and entire Zambian family.

    I request you to carry the Zambian flag higher like eagle, just like Usain bolt carries the Jamaican flag.

    Continue being the generator of hope to the hopeless.

    God bless

  12. congrats young girl…when you come here to the USA i encourage you to stay focused and studied hard. T

  13. This is very good young lady. Keep the fire burning inside you for more successes in your life!!!!!!!

  14. Ati:Zambian girl admitted to Harvard.Kwasila uyu ayenda ku America.Tabakabwele aba,chapwa,nabaya to the dream land.The US doesnt educate and release big brains.They will make sure this young girl is awarded with good education,good job,good taxes,good load shedding,good meals,good inflation,good governance.What makes u think that,this girl will attained her masters degree in the US & then come back in Zambia to work under Kambwili?

  15. You are a great young girl. Go on and achieve your dream. Indeed, you are an inspirations to many young people in out country.
    Please do let us know how you progress…. All the best.

  16. All I can say is congratulations. Continue to work hard and I can see a Ph. D in your hands in future. You will contribute to society in life. We are available to give advice if needed. Young Zambians compete and emulate this young lady. Get scholarships and move on.

  17. Congratulations young girl. You are the Luos and Nawakwi’s of the next generation.Keep working hard beauty!

  18. Good girl! I am from Kitwe and close to Boston! Hope to see you one day when I pass through Boston! God bless you Sela!

  19. Education is life. Don’t forget the giant you are standing on to see further than others. I believe that giant is Christ. Congrats.

  20. Congratulations Sela! I am glad you did not fall into the life threatening trap of marching in violent processions for HH. Your father was protective enough to confine you to your room studying, like HH’s son, on that fateful Friday when we lost the young Mapenzi.
    All parents be warned, lock.up your daughters when HH is in town campaigning, save your daughters from the fate that befell Mapenzi that friday.

  21. Wow congrats girl I knw u from chachacha kitwe.the house with photocopying shop. I remember troubling u with alot of papers.. Go girl!!

  22. Make us proud young girl… Infact deliberate efforts like Mr Lungu’s to the underpreverladged should be encouraged..

  23. Congratulations!! I’ll gotten a wake up call by just reading your article. Go Girl!! Make Zambia proud!!

  24. Am greatly inspired by you Sela, may God bless you with greater wisdom. Remember to put God first and you will go to more greater places and levels. Forget not your family, frends, n country. Stay focused u cn ride on the wings of the air some day.

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