EPISD Student Spotlight: Ricky Rios, Coronado High
(CORONADO HIGH SCHOOL -- Jan. 4, 2020) — Like most seniors these days, Coronado senior Ricky Rios is really busy. The musician stays focused on IB classes while challenging AP exams in courses he doesn’t take, volunteers regularly in the community with a local food bank and even created a virtual concert to entertain nursing home residents during the pandemic. The future doctor hopeful recently got accepted to Stanford University and plans a to pursue a degree in human biology or biomedical engineering. Community Engagement sat down with Ricky for advice on getting into a top college and how he’s navigating his senior year amid the pandemic.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: How did it feel to get your acceptance letter to Stanford?
RICKY RIOS: Opening my acceptance letter was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. It felt like forever waiting for the results to come out, but once the confetti started streaming down my screen, I couldn’t help but burst into tears of joy. Being surrounded by my family made the experience a hundred times better and a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.
CE: Tell us about why you decided to enroll in the IB program and how it has set up for success in college and beyond?
RR: Going into high school, I was very unsure about what career I wanted to pursue, which made me hesitant about joining a magnet program that specialized in a specific field. The IB program stood out the most since it emphasizes being multidisciplinary. With only a semester left, I can definitely say that the IB program was a lot of work, but it taught me an array of invaluable life skills such as how to think critically and approach a situation from multiple perspectives. The program has also helped me develop time management skills and has taught me how to write a well-developed academic essay.
CE: What advice would you give students interested in applying for a top university such as Stanford?
RR: I think the most important advice I’d give to students applying to a top school is to be as authentic as you can in your college application. I think there is a common misconception that you need a 1600 on the SAT and a 5.0 GPA to even be considered, but grades and test scores are only a small part of it. I think it's important to show colleges you are passionate about something and willing to get involved not just by telling them, but also by demonstrating it through extracurriculars and supplemental essays.
CE: Do you have any advice for students challenging AP tests? How many have you taken and how many tests have you challenged without taking the class?
RR: Unsure about where I was going to end up for college, I wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to get credits no matter where I ended up. Researching different colleges, it became clear there was a handful that didn't accept IB credits, so I decided to challenge AP tests. Last year, I ended up taking three tests without the classes, and this year I plan to take an additional four tests. Luckily, some of my IB courses overlap with some of the AP material, but challenging the exams required a decent amount of studying. My biggest piece of advice to those looking to challenge AP exams is to start early and break the material down. Once it gets closer to the exams, focus on taking practice tests to really learning the structure of the exams.
CE: What extracurricular activities do you participate in?
RR: I am a violinist in both the varsity symphony orchestra, chamber string orchestra and Music Ensemble Club and a percussionist in marching band.
CE: Tell us how you are making the most of band and orchestra amid the pandemic?
RR: Throughout the pandemic, I have turned to music as an outlet whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed. Both orchestra and band have also provided me with a place, albeit on Zoom, where I can stay connected with my friends. Luckily, the Coronado marching band had a small marching season where we were able to go and play in person. While it wasn’t a full-blown season, it was nice to see my friends, even if it was six feet apart.
CE: Tell us about the virtual concert of the Tennessee Waltz you set up for residents of a nursing home?
RR: Three of my peers and I realized that the COVID-19 pandemic had really taken a toll on nursing homes since the nature of the disease forced many elders in our community to isolate themselves. We realized that we could connect with them by preparing a virtual concert and went a step further by creating an original arrangement of a song they suggested. I hope to be able to one day perform our arrangement of the Tennessee Waltz in person once everything calms down.
CE: What are you doing to make the most of your senior year despite the pandemic?
RR: Aside from music, I have used the time to explore other hobbies, especially baking. I love making everything from chocolate cookies to crème brûlée to French macaroons.
CE: What are your honors and achievements in high school?
RR: I am secretary of National Honor Society, a National AP Scholar, National Hispanic Recognition Program, Texas Music Scholar. I also received an award from Optimist International which recognized an essay I wrote as the best in the region.
CE: Tell us about what you do as a volunteer with St. Vincent De Paul food bank and why it's important to you?
RR: I’ve been with St. Vincent De Paul since about 10th grade and work behind the scenes helping organize meeting minutes and sending thank you letters to donors. Recently, with the rise of COVID-19, I have helped organize weekly mega food distributions where we feed upwards of 600 families a week. I keep track of all the online records and, during the summer, ensured volunteers were following CDC guidelines. It is very important to me to be able to provide for those who have ended up in an unfortunate financial situation often due to factors out of their control.
CE: What is the first thing you plan to do when the pandemic is over?
RR: The first thing I plan to do once the pandemic is over is hang out with my friends and extended family. It seems like forever since I’ve been able to see them. I’m also super excited to explore Palo Alto and the area surrounding Stanford. I have my eyes set on going to the beach as often as I can.
CE: Anything you’d like to add?
RR: I’d like to thank my family for always being there and providing their constant support. I also want to say that the college application process can be a very stressful experience so it’s important to take a step back once in a while and relax. I recommend taking time to yourself and doing stuff you enjoy. A person’s mental health is extremely important and should be the number one priority.