Ojas Sharma, a senior at Stockdale High School, scored a perfect 36 on his ACT. How did he do it? The first step was finding a place to actually take the standardized test used for college admission.
The first three times he tried to take the test in Bakersfield, it was canceled because of COVID-19. Finally, he booked a test and a hotel in San Diego for July when he thought the chance of the test actually happening was better.
The night before he heard rumors it wouldn't work out this time either, which made it hard for him to fall asleep until 4 a.m. He worried the five hours of driving had all been for nothing. But the fourth time was the charm.
"When I received it, it felt like an error or something," he said. "I couldn’t even fathom it. I was super, super, crazy happy."
It had been frustrating for him to cram for the test, feel like he had it down and have to go through the cycle all over again. But practice had made perfect for Sharma. His main strategy was using old ACT tests and a silent timer to keep himself on track.
Sharma is excited about the score, but he isn't sure what exactly it will mean for colleges. Most of the colleges that he's applying to are test-optional, which means they won't require a score.
Because of the pandemic-induced cancellations that Sharma had to deal with, many colleges — including Ivy League schools — made standardized tests optional the last two years.
Colleges will be weighing other factors besides Sharma's top-tier score, and fortunately for Sharma, there's a lot to consider. His ultimate goal is to be an orthopedic surgeon. He loves the idea of doing work that could change someone's life dramatically, such as addressing years of back pain or helping someone restore the use of their hands.
"It feels the most real because you’re working with bones and structure," he said.
Sharma has been taking internships and other roles that would position him to attend Duke University, a top pre-med school.
A few years ago he became a research assistant at Bakersfield Heart Hospital. That led to him authoring a paper called "Porcine Heparin Shortages Urge Bovine Heparin Comeback" that was published in a peer-reviewed journal. It was a review of the medical literature around one of the most-used medicines in the world, and whether it was time to look into using cows rather than pigs as a source.
Through an internship at Centric Health, he helped organize for a more urgent need right in his backyard: a vaccine clinic. He made phone calls to doctors and others for a vaccine clinic that ultimately vaccinated 5,600 patients, which he said earned recognition from Mayor Karen Goh and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.