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Why a high school student turned down a US$40,000 scholarship

Harvard College
“I am so very grateful for this, but I also know that I am not the one who needs this the most. Source: Verda Tetteh

Twenty seven metres — that was the distance Ghana-born Verda Tetteh walked to go back to stage. She had just received a US$40,000 merit scholarship to Harvard College. The scholarship would pay half of the costs, a lifeline that would lead to the kinds of knowledge, access and network that only the Ivy League could offer. 

So when Tetteh trekked back to the stage to reject this, it was no mere stroll. It was a headline-making call to her generosity that would spark debates on the cost of higher education in the US today.

Harvard College

When asked about her decision to study in the US, Tetteh says, “The US has such advanced technology in education and medicine that I think it does make a difference in pursuing studies here than in Ghana.” Source: Verda Tetteh

“I am so very grateful for this, but I also know that I am not the one who needs this the most. I would be so very grateful if the administration would consider giving the General Excellence Scholarship to someone who is going to community college,” she says. 

Harvard had already agreed to pay her tuition, room and board. It took the child of an immigrant — Tetteh’s family migrated to the US 10 years ago from Ghana — no time to realise the scholarship would go a long way for those who needed it more than her. 

We caught up with Tetteh to learn more about her background, why she chose Harvard and her future plans:

What made you apply for the General Excellence Prize scholarship? What was the application process like?

I applied for this scholarship because it’s a prestigious one presented to top students at my high school. I was invited and encouraged to do so by my guidance counsellor. The application process began with an invite to apply since I met the requirements and then I submitted the complete application form. 

What made you choose to study at Harvard College?

Harvard College was my top choice because of its wealth of resources and opportunities. The college is close to the Boston area which allows for amazing internships and research but also close enough to home that I could make the transition with the support of my family. 

I hope to have a career in the medical field as a medical researcher or a practitioner. So, I plan on studying biochemistry at Harvard College with a pre-med track.

Do you think it would have made a difference if you pursued an education back in Ghana? 

Both my home country Ghana and the US have their respective strengths. What really matters is the fact that an individual makes the most out of every opportunity they have.

Harvard College

“I think it’s very important for those who are economically disadvantaged and those who are immigrant students to have opportunities in the US educational system,” Tetteh says. Source: Verda Tetteh


However, the US has such advanced technology in education and medicine that I think it does make a difference in pursuing studies here than in Ghana. 

How important do you think it is for economically disadvantaged and immigrant students to receive better opportunities in education in the US? What else do you think can be done to bridge this gap?

I think it’s very important for those who are economically disadvantaged and those who are immigrant students to have opportunities in the US educational system. America’s identity was largely founded on the idea that anyone through hard work could make a better life for themselves. 

This American philosophy, in addition to embracing diversity, is what I believe makes the US such a unique and successful country. Ensuring equity in education for all students is imperative. 

Because the students that might be “left behind” in an inequitable educational system are the very ones who could create the cure to cancer or find solutions to the climate crisis.

What are you most looking forward to when you begin your studies at Harvard College?

I am looking forward to learning new things and being part of experiences the uni has to offer. But I must say, I am most excited for research opportunities at Harvard College.

Harvard College

Her advice to international students looking to study in the US is to start college and scholarship applications early. Source: Verda Tetteh

What are your academic goals?

Some include maintaining good grades, engaging in research and studying abroad.

What do you plan to do after graduating?

I hope to attend medical school after graduating. After medical school, I’d really like to partake in Doctors Without Borders or any other organisation where I can utilise the skills I learned to help people in need. 

What advice do you have for international students looking to study in the US and apply for scholarships?

My advice to international students looking to study in the US is to start college and scholarship applications early so you have enough time to put forth your best work. Additionally, I would recommend international students to work diligently, take advantage of the opportunities around you and certainly don’t forget why you wanted to come to the US to begin with.