MCCC Alumni Jessica Bookholdt '20 and Ivania Asencio '20 Make History as the College’s First Princeton University Transfers

Story by Brandon Johnson

Princeton, N.J. – Just two years after Princeton University reopened its doors to transfer students, Jessica Bookholdt and Ivania Asencio are making history at Mercer County Community College (MCCC), becoming the first two students to transfer to the prestigious Ivy League school.

Princeton began accepting transfers in 2018, 28 years after the school entered a moratorium of accepting continuing students. Following board approval in 2016, Princeton reopened its campus to a small cohort of transfers, with a focus on students with diverse backgrounds, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, who have served in the military, or who have started at community colleges.

“This year, we’re thrilled to again see students represented from across the country, as well as several from very nearby in our home state of New Jersey,” said Alex Bustin, director of transfer and military/veteran admission at Princeton. “It’s a privilege to work with Princeton’s growing population of transfer students and veterans — first through their application process, and then in person once they arrive to campus. They make an indelible impression on our campus community, and I feel fortunate to know them.”

Just 13 applicants out of nearly 1,500 have been accepted in each of the last three academic years.

For Bookholdt and Asencio, acceptance into Princeton is a dream come true. In Bookholdt’s case, attending Princeton seemed like a far-off possibility, given her tumultuous background in higher education.

“For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of going to Princeton. But my life didn't follow a traditional path,” Bookholdt explained.

Originally from Hamilton, Bookholdt started at MCCC as a theater major right out of high school in 2012. After two semesters, she withdrew from the college, unable to pay for school.

“I found myself going on a five-year hiatus after just two semesters at Mercer,” Bookholdt said. “When I finally went back to school, I entered as a health professions major with an educational path that stopped at an associate degree.”

Her second stint at Mercer was made possible by the Community College Opportunity Grant, a New Jersey-based program that provides free tuition to qualifying students. The program allowed Bookholdt to finish her degree in Radiology, a program she chose after her father passed away.

During this time Bookholdt took a Physics course, taught by adjunct professor Kenneth Klouda, which she called a life-changing experience.

“That class truly changed my life and subsequently changed my major,” Bookholdt said. “Once I changed my major, my world opened up to the potential of choosing a school to transfer to. My world opened up to the possibility of Princeton University.”

In Asencio’s case, the idea of attending Princeton came onto her radar early in her MCCC tenure, but she never considered it a likely possibility.

Hailing from Trenton, Asencio called MCCC her only option for college. She saw the financial burden traditional, four-year schools placed on students, and made a commitment to avoid that situation at all costs.

Still, she quickly realized that she wanted to continue her education beyond MCCC and set a plan for transferring as early as her first semester.

“From my first semester at MCCC, I knew that the transfer process for me would involve applying to extremely competitive schools, including but not limited to Princeton,” Asencio said. “To be completely transparent, I hadn’t fully considered Princeton an actual option for myself as it was the toughest school that I applied to.”

“So, in order to set my sights within reason, I considered it a reach school, but by far the one I desired acceptance from the most.”

As part of Princeton’s newest class of transfers, Bookholdt and Asencio are excited at the prospect of joining one of the world’s most-renowned academic institutions.

“What I am most looking forward to at Princeton is something that I've already experienced in these past few days. It is such a one-on-one personal experience between the faculty and student body,” Bookholdt said. She received numerous calls from members of the Princeton community following her acceptance, including well-wishers and staff working to make her transition to the university as smooth as possible.

“Princeton has a remarkable reputation for funding student research and investing in resources to aid in crafting a senior thesis,” Asencio added, who will be studying as a Psychology major. “I am most excited to be able to take part and full advantage of these resources to gain the most from the education they have to offer, while retaining my independence and freedom to choose my desired research topic.”

Still, Bookholdt and Asencio are quick to call Mercer a critical building block in their academic success.

“My hard work is a very pertinent piece of my success, but so is my connection to Professor Klouda, Professor Anderson, Professor Macciarella, Professor Rose, and success coach Nichol Killian among so many others,” Bookholdt said.

For students looking to follow in their footsteps, Bookholdt stresses that students should advocate for themselves.

“It is so important that you are taking every step you can to make the most of what you have been offered,” Bookholdt said. Among other tips, she advised students to make use of office hours, success coaches and building strong bonds with their professors.

Asencio added, “Just as it is important to be cognizant of one’s grades and GPA, it is just as important to establish one’s individuality through connections with one another and with professors and advisors alike.” “

“Grades are one aspect of your application. The greater portion of it is presenting yourself as an individual who is not only capable of accomplishing great things but explaining how your specific and unique circumstances make you more driven for the task.”

Are you ready to help us keep our students on track to finish classes and graduate? Then share and support our MCCC Student Emergency Fund. Donating at, or by texting MercerMatters to 41444, will help keep students enrolled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every dollar matters!


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Ivania Asencio '20 is graduating from MCCC's Liberal Arts Program. 

jess bookholdt

Jessica Bookholdt '20 earned her Physics degree as part of the Community College Opportunity Grant.