After dedicating entire afternoons, after school, to rowing independently for more than a month, senior Sofia Jonas tested her skills on an indoor rowing erg machine in June and found that she could row two kilometers in 7 minutes and 27 seconds.
That's when Harvard University moved into focus from a glimmer in her eye to a real possibility. Coaches of Harvard's Radcliffe heavyweight crew recommended a maximum time of 7:30 for admission, Jonas said, and the three seconds she shaved off that is significant.
"Once you get in that faster range, a lot of people tend to plateau, and every second you can get off is extreme," Jonas said. "The moment after I got that I was like, OK, I might be on the level where I can actually apply to some of these schools I’ve been touring."
Still, Jonas had skipped Harvard on her tour of east coast schools in the spring, thinking it would be too hard to get into. But after Harvard coaches told Jonas more about the program by email and phone, and after she submitted updated test scores, she started to get excited about it.
Jonas then flew out to Harvard on an official visit paid for by the school in September, and her heart was set.
"When I was coming home on the plane, that’s when I decided I was done; I didn’t want to visit any other schools," Jonas said. "At Harvard people were just so down to earth and humble, more than you’d expect."
The next day, she got an important phone call from Assistant Coach Cory Bosworth, and it was soon official.
"The coach called me the next day, and she started out by saying, 'What did you think?'" Jonas said. "And I was like, 'I absolutely loved it,' and she was like, 'That’s great because we actually loved having you.'"
It will be a high level of competition, Jonas said, with most members of the team having won national and world competitions.
"It's really interesting because when I saw the recruitment list, I was like, I haven't done that," Jonas said. "It will be fantastic to be able to row on that level."
Jonas said rowing is much less popular in the Midwest, and it's less common to participate in such high level tournaments. She said in her four years with the Milwaukee Rowing Club, her greatest accomplishment individually was when she went to an identification camp and was invited to be on the Junior National Rowing Development Team (two selection tiers below the actual national team).
Jonas didn't go, though, because she decided to do a piano recital instead. Throughout high school, Jonas has managed a demanding rowing schedule with many other activities, like piano, chamber choir and mock trial. She hopes to do the same in college.
Jonas said according to NCAA rules, she can't spend more than 20 hours per week training for rowing. And Jonas said she appreciates Harvard for its focus on academics over athletics.
"I wanted to find somewhere where I would be challenged academically, and have academics be above athletics, but still be able to row at a high level," Jonas said.
Jonas hopes to pursue many interests at Harvard through classes and organizations, including law, government, international policy, social activism and choir.
"I’ve read all the materials, and everything they send is like, 'Oh my god, I want to do that,'" Jonas said. "If I think about it too much it’s kind of like intoxicatingly exciting. I'm so excited for all the things I don’t even know about yet, and the connections I’ll make."