College head boy Neil is headed for Harvard

Neil Reilly.
Neil Reilly.
  • Second town student to attend Boston school
  • Full scholarship will cover four-year course
  • Teenager to study a range of subjects
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Portadown College head boy Neil Reilly has gained a place in Harvard, the second student in the school’s history to make it to the prestigious American university.

Neil (18) follows in the footsteps of Andrew Steele, who was head boy in 2010-11 and is entering his final year at the Boston seat of learning. It is one of eight private ‘Ivy League’ east-coast colleges and universities.

It’s a dream come true

Neil Reilly

Neil had also been successful in bids for Oxford and St Andrew’s universities, but Harvard was his number one choice. He leaves in mid-August on a full scholarship that will cover his fees, housing and tuition in the four-year course.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Neil. He will be studying history, English literature, economics and politics, hopefully followed by a Masters. He aims to apply for American citizenship.

His eventual ambition is to work for the United Nations in a human development and negotiation role in the Middle East – called ‘micro finance’, which includes lifting people out of poverty and setting them up in their own small business.

A-levels are not in the equation for the top US universities, even though it is predicted by educationalists that Neil will land four A*s. Universities like Harvard – which comb the globe for the brightest and the best – organise their own stern tests, known as SATs (Standard Aptitude Tests).

The three papers – organised in Dublin for all-Ireland hopefuls – were maths, English literature, and world history from 5000BC to the present, the last of which he had to study from scratch – “they included Native Americans, the French Revolution, Joan of Arc and the Ottoman Empire, all on top of A-levels, but I managed!”

He added, “In the interviews, the issues of mediation came up, and the fact that I come Northern Ireland was very useful.” But from all the NI students who applied – it is done online - just one more from the province made it, Niamh Mulholland from Londonderry.

They follow in the footsteps of distinguished Harvard alumni – like Barack and Michelle Obama, John F Kennedy, Bill Gates, Natalie Portman, Matt Damon, Franklin and Theodore D Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger…

Said Neil, “Harvard is consistently judged as the number one university in the world, and I’m so excited about it.”

College headmaster Simon Harper said, “It’s a real feather in the school’s cap that we have two such fine young men at Harvard – and especially for our economics department led by Allan Grant. It’s a vote of confidence for the Dickson Plan for Education.”