Fewer than one-sixth of 1% of applicants are chosen to be a Coca-Cola Scholar, and La Cañada High School student Jessica Kim is proud to call herself one.
From 91,000 applications across the country, only 150 high school seniors are selected.
“As a member of the 35th class of Coca-Cola Scholars, Jessica not only exemplifies superior leadership, service and academics – Jessica is a change agent, positively affecting others in the community,” the scholarship program said.
Originally from Singapore, Kim will be awarded a $20,000 college scholarship and be able to collaborate with other Coca-Cola Scholars.
Kim talked about the rigorous four-month process of applying for the award given by the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation.
“There are three separate rounds,” said Kim.
In the first, Kim had to turn in her grades, the names of extracurricular activities she has been involved in and the years she participated. Some of the things she listed included her experience in LCHS’ literary magazine as president, involvement in clubs such as Science
Olympiad (of which she was vice president), and her involvement in poetry as the Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate in 2021-22.
“So those were some of my school activities I kind of framed my Coca-Cola app [around]. But also [things that revolve] around my identity as a writer and a poet,” said Kim.
From there, “They narrowed down the 91,000 [applicants] to, like, 1,500,” said Kim. “Then after that was, in my opinion, the most rigorous round.”
For that round, Kim had to write short essays about her extracurriculars and describe her overall community and a challenge she had to overcome.
“It was way more intensive than, like, college applications,” said Kim. “Then the final round, they narrowed it down from like 1,500 to 250 through that application.”
In the last round, Kim had a sit-down interview with the Coca-Cola Scholars board and previous recipients.
“I think the interview was a very humanizing process for both me as an applicant to the scholarship foundation, but also vice versa. I got to meet previous Coke scholars who were very successful now in their various fields. I also got to meet the people who read my application, and they asked me questions, which showed the kind of care they read my application with,” she said.
“I think it was overall a really exciting process. When I found out that I was
one of the 1,500 for the first round, that was very, I guess, mind blowing in a
way, because statistically it’s a very small percentage. So I was really thrilled,” Kim said.
She mentally prepared herself to not get the scholarship, but as she opened an email announcing her win as she sat in class, “the day just felt a lot lighter and a lot brighter. And I think it’s [the same as] with any kind of really big achievement or really big decision that goes well, but I was really happy beyond words. And I think, at the same time, I was feeling very grateful for the people who had supported me,” Kim said.
She said her support group included many great mentors from her extracurriculars and among her teachers and family, as well as her LCHS counselor.
The counselor, Melissa Kukta, told the Outlook Valley Sun about her involvement with the application.
“It was a lot of cheerleading and reminding of deadlines,” Kukta said, adding that the burden is on the students to do the work.
“And then it’s just kind of offering, again, that moral support in how to go through an interview, because she had to go through a virtual interview for that part” of the process, Kukta said.
Kuta said she had no worries for Kim as she was going through the application process and was happy to congratulate her when she found out about the news.
“Oh, my gosh, I was just so proud of her. I mean, I’m proud of all of my students in one way or another, but when she enrolled in her freshman year, I feel like we just hit it off from then. I don’t know, it was kind of like a proud mama moment, even though I’m not her mom,” said Kukta.
She hopes this kind of achievement by a peer encourages other LCHS students to apply for such scholarships.
Principal James Cartnal was effusive about Kim and her achievement.
“Recognizing how rare this honor is, I was so delighted that Jessica was recognized for the excellence of her scholarship at LCHS and the other work she has done away from campus, particularly in being a youth poet laureate. She is an exceptional student and so well deserving,” Cartnal told the Outlook Valley Sun.
Kevin Kim had been hopeful about his daughter’s chances for the scholarship but knew that the competition was high.
“She is a positive thinker. She is fully committed herself in her studies,” he said of Jessica. She tries to find her passion and deeply loves [what she’s] doing.” He added that she shares her passions through the community.
The family celebrated by buying 35 six-packs of Coca-Cola.
“After the interview with Coca-Cola committees, she thought she wouldn’t be chosen because it was done more shortly than expected,” Kevin Kim said. “But it was unbelievable and surprising [when] we heard she became a scholar. This might be a reward of her effort for what she has done for all her communities.”
Jessica Kim offered some advice to students who would want to apply in the future.
Seeking the scholarship, she said, is “not just about concrete things to put on your resume. It’s really about your story, and it’s about your passion. And I think one thing that kind of has guided my high school journey is doing the things I love, like finding joy in the things I love,” said Jessica Kim.
Now she is “excited to join this family, and I’ll be meeting all of this year’s Coca-Cola Scholars at the [company’s] headquarters in Atlanta in April. So that’s also something to look forward to,” she said.
Jessica Kim is now deciding between Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Yale University and plans to major in computer science.
First published in the April 6 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.