She also belonged to an organization called the Stanford Speakers Bureau, which brings high-profile speakers like Jennifer Lopez and Ban Ki Moon to campus.
“She was very friendly — and very dedicated,” Alexa Ramachandran, 18, a freshman member, said of Ms. Zhao. “She would go around to the dorms, asking if there was anything more she could do for the club.”
In the video Ms. Zhao made about getting into Stanford, which is over 90 minutes long, Ms. Zhao said that she rode horses in her spare time, and that she planned to take sociology classes at Stanford and return to China after graduating.
Ms. Zhao repeatedly exhorted her viewers to work hard and believe in themselves, using her own journey as a lesson. She said that she had been a mediocre student in elementary school and that her first ACT score had been unimpressive.
“A lot of people told me, ‘You still want to get into Stanford, but, look, the entry rate for it is just 4 percent — just forget it,’” she said. After a year of strenuous study, she said, she took the test again and got a score of 33 out of 36.
“Based on my experience of study, I want to tell you that really anyone can do it,” she went on. “I’m not the kind who was born with a very high I.Q. or who can score 33 or 36 in an exam just like that. But I climbed up step by step through my hard work.”
She decided to aim for American universities, she said, because they evaluated students not just based on test scores, but also on their extracurricular activities and personal statements.
“It demands not only that you’re a good student, but also that you have personality,” she said. “You need to have a special skill.”