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Amherst College and Princeton: What's it like?

  1. Aug 4, 2011 #1

    I am interested in applying to Amherst and Princeton, especially because of the substantial amount of aid they offer to internationals. While I do have an idea of what my application will look like in the coming months, I wanted to get some "inside information", if possible. How is the admissions system like? Is it very, very random or is there a somewhat more rigid approach as to what kind of candidates they're looking at? I ask because if it turns out that they look for people who are *not* like me at all, I won't waste ~(2x60) bucks to pay for their application fee.

    How are things like there? Did you work/teach/study there? What did you major in? How was the department like? Did you get a good chance to get some research under your belt?

    I am specifically interested in physics, mathematics (applied stuff) and economics.

    Thank you for reading and for information provided.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 4, 2011 #2
    I don't have any specific inside information about Princeton and Amherst, however I will just address the first question of how admissions general work.

    Amherst and Princeton are both extremely selective schools, which effectively means that there is nothing one can do to guarantee admissions. I got into Amherst, but I saw people who were arguably more "qualified" than I get rejected. If you look at admissions statistics, this is shown (Princeton is less than 10%) and at that level there is a huge element of chance. Usually having good test scores and grades is just a way to get your foot in the door, and things like extra-circulars, awards, essays, etc. are then looked at so they can sculpt their "perfect class."

    Oh, and just to say a few things about math and physics at both. Princeton is very very well known in mathematics and physics, particularly at the graduate level. They have many many famous professors, huge course offerings, and tons of very talented/motivated students. Amherst is somewhat different in that the physics department, and math department particularly, are pretty small. There aren't that many math majors at Amherst, and the course offerings are fairly limited (I got an email from the math department about how some of the more advanced students take courses at UMass Amherst, a state college nearby) and it is my general perception that most math majors at Amherst are double majors that aren't overly interested in academic mathematics (a very large generalization, I know). However, at either of these schools you could definitely get an excellent education that would be more than satisfactory to go into whatever you want after graduation.

    What you might want to look at more is social aspects as these two schools are very very different. Princeton is a large research university, while Amherst is a small liberal arts college.

    Also, you should take a look at other schools too! Just to plug my personal favorite, Yale offers international students very nice financial aid :), although so does Harvard :(... :P
  4. Aug 5, 2011 #3
    Yeah, Yale, Harvard and Dartmouth as well do and it's only after posting the thread that I realised I should've asked about them all. I initially made the thread about asking for Amherst alone, then I added Princeton and then I posted and then it was too late to change anything. :P

    Do you go to Yale? Why it is your personal favourite? Are you an international student?

    The thing with Harvard though, is that every piece of new information I find it about it gets me progressively disgusted about them. I don't know how far this holds true but apparently Harvard (for undergrad) have applications put into different piles. One for internationals, one for regular applicants and one very much smaller pile with people who's parents went there/people who *know people*/powerful/wealthy people. I wouldn't like to live in that kind of place at all. Then again, I would be living with the students (in the crazy event that I apply and get in...) and being taught by the teachers, not whoever is on the admissions committee or whoever it is who thought of that process. I hope.

    As for Amherst, what was your profile like? Where else did you get in?

    I think I can score 2000+ on the SAT but my profile is a little unusual in that I don't have a gazillion activities and besides improvising speeches (debates, public speaking), music and writing (lots of it), I don't have anything to add to my name. What I'll be doing is sort of selling myself. In my books, I don't need to build a well in Africa to give a bunch of people an insight to what kind of person I am. If the admissions committee thinks I should, then maybe I shouldn't be applying to their school...
  5. Aug 5, 2011 #4
    i go to Yale, I really like it overall, and I find the Math and Physics communities are small and friendly, with plenty of awesome people, cool professors, and generally good course offerings. There are also plenty of research opportunities (just email a few people and one will probably accept you on board :P), and lots of funding to do research over the summer and during the school year. Also, they are really flexible as to what you can count towards your major, often letting you bend requirements if you find the need and not caring about prerequisites. Also if your interested in economics, we've got awesome lectures in that too!

    I think that description of Harvard's admittance procedures is a little dramatized :P

    My particular statistics aren't overly useful, as comparing yourself to me really isn't of any real use. Everyone is different, and usually admissions knows this. The commonalities amongst admitted students is pretty much: good grades (particularly junior year), good test scores, and passion about something. Don't worry about specifically doing community service or something like that, just do things you enjoy and are rewarding to you!
  6. Aug 5, 2011 #5
    Yeah, you're most probably right about that. (last paragraph) Out of the ~25k students who applied, only ~2k got offers and about ~1k accepted, for the 2010-11 freshman class. :O
    Interestingly, I know of one person who got into Yale from my country and he might very well be the only one. I know three went to MIT (one back in the 90s I think, two are undergrads now). And another two went to Princeton (the second having just graduated). While we do come from a fairly small island, it's not small enough that everyone knows everyone. I know lots of people and 1-2 of them have *heard* of these guys! At any rate, I'll apply and we'll see what happens. Nerve racking process though! Wish me luck!
    Good to know research opportunities are easy to come by.

    Did you have an interview for any of the universities you applied to? What about Yale? More importantly, how is the food? (serious question!)

    Hmm, it is probably dramatised and maybe the article I wrote was written by someone who does not like Harvard very much but I still find this pretty unfair, if not alarming. Know anything about them?

    About Amherst, I checked and it seems that there's usually less than 10 students per class doing Maths/Physics. I can imagine how their course offerings can be limited.
  7. Aug 5, 2011 #6
    The trouble is that every other big name university in the United States does the same exactly the thing. Also it makes sense. Part of the point of going to a big name university is for middle class people to have their kids meet up with kids in the upper class.

    Also, the way that big name universities make a lot of their money is through alumni donations and setting things up so that alumni kids get into a priority queue is a way that they balance a number of different priorities.

    If you really want to understand the history of the process, get Jerome Karabel's "The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton" The big name schools all started as exclusive finishing schools for the New England upper classes.

    If you go to Harvard and/or another big name school, you will gradually learn to believe that what they are doing is right.

    Nothing hurts in applying, and if the admission committee reads your application and thinks that you just won't fit in at that school, they'll reject you, in which case you are both better off. :-) :-) :-) :-)
  8. Aug 5, 2011 #7
    It makes sense if you think of Harvard's goal as keeping power.....

    If Harvard admitted 100% of students via legacies, then what will happen is that you'll end up with smart people outside the system and people will not care about Harvard. If it admitted 100% of the students via non-legacies, then Harvard alumni would not be able to hold on to their power.

    So what they do is to have this balance in which being alumni gives you preference, but other people have a shot at getting in. Also there is no reason to pick on Harvard. Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Amherst will also give priority to alumni.

    If this seriously bothers you, then you should consider applying to a school that isn't a big name elite school. All of the big name private schools are "elitist". They are elitist in different ways, but they are elitist. The big public universities are much less elitist.
  9. Aug 5, 2011 #8
    Ok. I'll see if I can get my hands on this.

    Are you implying that there is a very subtle brainwashing that takes place? Or that it's very likely that once one knows how the system works, they will see how it can be advantageous or a good thing?
  10. Aug 5, 2011 #9
    Have you heard of S.H.I.E.L.D? You make Harvard and the Ivy League schools sound like that...

    Didn't know that. I didn't go digging for dirt on Harvard. I was looking for information about these specific schools (6 in total) and came across something. And I didn't like it very much.

    As you say, different forms of elitism. Honestly, while I don't like elitism in general, even I am elitist, depending on where you're looking at things. Even then, that's one thing against Harvard. And not applying because of this one thing alone is *potentially* losing out on other things which I wouldn't want to *not have*. (like finding a good social crowd) Too high an opportunity cost.
  11. Aug 5, 2011 #10
    It's not very subtle. But basically if you are with a group of people for a long period of time, then you start picking up their beliefs and values. And there there is an element of natural selection. If you go to Harvard and utterly detest everything about the place, the odds of you graduating aren't that high, even in the unlikely chance that they let you in.

    One thing that Harvard teaches you is that just by going to Harvard, you are better than everyone else. Once that gets repeated often enough, you start believing it at a deep and emotional level. Also they already have a head start. If you don't really think that Harvard is better then why did you apply and if they accepted you why did you accept them over random no-name university?

    BTW, MIT tends to teach the opposite, i.e. you *aren't* better than anyone else just because you went to MIT. This is why things like Open Courseware and the Khan Academy came out of MIT alum, and not Harvard.

    It's definitely advantageous and personally a good thing to you to have friends that are rich and powerful. Once something becomes obviously beneficial to you personally, your view of the world changes to try to justify that.
  12. Aug 5, 2011 #11
    If this happens, then the odds are that one won't be miserable...

    How is MIT elitist? Is it in their way of going "all out" with the work and going big? (if that makes sense)

    I can think of a number of reasons as to why I'd want to apply there, most of them, however, not directly related to to Harvard being Harvard.

    if that happens to me, i rpobably won't think of it as a bad thing, as time passes. however, at this point in time, i would hate to be that kind of person.

    Conversely, once something doesn't work out for you, you tend to associate other forms of failure with the original one. Or, you find out why it didn't work out for you and you do something can work...
  13. Aug 5, 2011 #12
    One thing that I got the sense of at MIT was that I was being trained for and expected to do "big things." I mean, if you go to a community college to learn to repair air conditioners, no one expects you to revolutionize the world, but if you go to MIT you are surrounded by Nobel prizes winners and entrepreneurs, and there is this message that you are capable of things like this, and if you just lead an "ordinary life" then in some ways your education has been wasted.

    And yes there is a deep conflict between the elitism of MIT and rather anti-elitist idea that education should be made available to everyone. One reason why MIT "works" is that there are some very powerful and conflicting ideas that collide with each other.

    Not obviously related. One thing that you'll find is that people that are in positions of power get to define what is "good."
  14. Aug 5, 2011 #13
    I think that's true for all the Ivys?

    Well Khan went to Harvard grad for his MBA if that counts. I've been using both sources and I actually get that feeling too, which is good because I didn't pay 40k+ to learn somehting valuable lol
  15. Aug 5, 2011 #14
    I have similar sentiments about this except that I would feel I'd be throwing my life away if I didn't do anything substantial (by *MY* standards) with it. Also, I don't think one has to go to MIT for that. My uncle and brother didn't go to MIT. The former got a diploma (2-year degree) in medical science and my brother a degree in English (from an Indian college) and both are very successful. My brother was employed for less than a year. He's had his own business since he graduated. Both started pretty much from scratch. My uncle's dad was a truck driver. Whenever I can, I talk to these guys. I don't get to meet them often, my brother even less but when I do, it's awesome. So yeah, you don't need MIT for that. I do realise that not everybody knows the same kind of people I do, though...

    If I don't get into college, I am seriously considering getting a part time diploma in biotechnology (or something) and starting up my own food crop business. That way, I set my own limits and I keep on going forward as long as I'm alive...*cool face* The odds aren't in my favour but this just a "thought" that I will get back to in May next year. I definitely want to do that and do a degree in applied math/physics though, doesn't matter what comes first.

    I don't get the last sentence of the first paragraph. :)

    I've had first-hand experience with things like that. Power is a relative thing and the people I had this experience with, were relative *much more* powerful than I was/am.

    I was reading one of the last issues of Ultimate Comics. It's called Fallout. (spoiler alert)
    In it, we find that after the death of Tony Stark's brother, a friend of the late man approaches Tony. They get to talking and fly to Zurich. It turns out, that these guys, have formed an underground club, called the Kratos Club, which includes a select few members, all of which made a fortune on their own. That is, they are, I quote, first generation successes and not relying on "old wealth". Curiously, what they want to achieve is, a committee which will take the decisions that will affect how the world works. Money isn't a concern (it's banal to them) because, well, all of them are too rich to even be tempted by anything more. Apparently, their aim is to make the world a better place. Interestingly, this sounds a lot like what you were describing in another thread about MIT and world domination...Another funny thing is that apparently Tony Stark went to MIT and did Physics and Engineering there. (in the story anyway)

    Yeah, I was gonna point out Khan and his MBA as well. He did EECS, right?

    Well, if anything, as far as Khan Academy is concerned, you're being taught by someone who went to MIT. Don't get me wrong, I like his videos and I think he's funny but I doubt I'd pay him for private classes if I had to. I've had better teachers. Then again, it might be that his "lectures" are the way they are because they are fairly spontaneous in nature. In any case, clever individual.

    Also, any argument against going to one of the big colleges (the likes of CalTech, Stanford and the Ivy Leagues, among others) that is concerned with money leaves me baffled. There are six colleges that are willing to offer up to 100% financial aid for those who cannot afford an education there. If you're American, there's dozens more, including the other Ivy League colleges.

    On another note, how does the guy make a living?
  16. Aug 5, 2011 #15
    I think much of what twofish-quant is a tad bit dramatic as well :P I don't think there is really that much of a fundamental difference between the Ivy League schools and "lower-ranked" private schools, meaning 20-60ish schools (BC, NYU, etc). I think on average the Yale/Harvard student will be more motivated, which does transition to a slightly different culture, but I very much disagree with tfq's accusation of indoctrination type of attitude, or the message that "people at Harvard/Yale are better than everyone else." There are of course commencement type speeches that say something to the extent of "you've been given a wonderful opportunity, use it for benefit of mankind" but I think that sort of general message is everywhere at pretty much all universities.

    I think as far as "elitism," I would say there isn't elitism in the sense that people don't say anything to the extent of "person X goes to a public school, they must not be as good at Y." I think another important aspect is in the sciences I think most undergraduates (here at least) know that publics universities often have extremely excellent facilities and give an equivalent academic education, and also that plenty of famous/successful scientists went to public schools. Perhaps that non-elitist attitude is more unique to Yale since Yale isn't quite as famous as Harvard/Princeton/Stanford/MIT/Caltech for math/science.
    Actually Harvard and Yale were started as places to go to become ministers and preachers :P
    I think you are confusing the difference between the school and the people. I think that when one is applying you have a sense that "okay, Harvard is the 'best' college, I want to go there" but that doesn't necessarily translate to a feeling that Harvard students are the best people. I think there is a high degree of cognitive dissonance in that people can still feel that a university is the best without thinking that the main constituents of that university, the students, are the best. Also just the vacuousness of the word "best" can cause some confusion.

    I would say the vast majority of Yale students wouldn't judge someone poorly just because they went to a "worse" (in there mind) university. I think particularly with modern college admissions to competitive schools being so probabilistic, people understand that college admissions aren't really a measure of personal "worth".
    I did have an interview (a lot of universities have them), but a) interviews aren't really important, my general impression is that it is more a thing for alumni to feel connected with undergraduates and to get to answer questions about their alma matter than something that plays a real role in admissions, and b) I don't think interviews are required/offered for international students generally.

    I generally like the food! They have nice salad bars and sandwich tables. Sometimes I feel that the dinning staff (/whoever decides on the food) put too much time trying to serve new/international dishes that don't necessarily turn out that awesome, instead of perhaps offering a wide variety of "traditional dishes" (pasta, pizza, burgers and fries, etc), but you can usually get pasta and pizza at Commons (the large dinning hall), as opposed to the residential college dinning halls (smaller).
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2011
  17. Aug 5, 2011 #16

    Vanadium 50

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    MIT says they do not. What evidence do you have otherwise?
  18. Aug 7, 2011 #17


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    As far as I can tell, they do, but they try to claim that it's not as bad as other Ivies' practices.



    Apparently they give an "extra review" to the ancestrally fortunate, "very rarely changing the outcome of the process." This is like a pro baseball player pleading that he took less steroids than Mark McGwire, "very rarely changing the outcome of the game."

    I went to Berkeley undergrad, Yale for grad school. (My parents went to Berkeley, but I believe that UC does not give legacy preferences.) Speaking purely subjectively, I would agree with pretty much everything twofish has said, except that if anything, I think s/he understates the negatives. Legacy preferences are completely unethical -- as unethical as segregation at Ole Miss. At a school like MIT that receives substantial government largess, they ought to be illegal. Undergraduate education at the Ivies is mostly a playground for extremely privileged kids. There's an atmosphere of entitlement and economic privilege so thick that you could cut it with a knife.

    This is the only thing I think is factually incorrect about what twofish has posted. CalTech, Berkeley, and UCLA are certainly "big names," and they do not practice legacy preferences.

    [edit] The MIT admissions application guide http://web.mit.edu/timblack/Public/admissions/application_guide/mit_admissions_application_guide.pdf claims that:
    I would tend to believe the information in the second chronicle.com link; it's the most detailed, and both of the other sources can be read as people trying to put their own spin on those details.
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  19. Aug 7, 2011 #18

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    The first article is by Richard Kahlenberg, who is hyping his book Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions. He has provided no evidence in that article, and indeed, MIT's claims are contrary to what he writes (and several commenters point it out). The second article is critical of the first, and it also makes a claim counter to what MIT itself says.

    When Marilee Jones was Dean of Admissions, she did use to reread rejected legacy applications - but this was to prepare herself to discuss the situation with the parents if it came to that. What a legacy "buys" you is not a leg up in admissions, but only a more detailed explanation if your child doesn't get in.

    Before you accuse MIT of doing something "that should be illegal", can you provide some evidence that they have actually done it?
  20. Aug 7, 2011 #19


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    Both of the two sources that I initially located said that they actually do it. I posted links to the sources in the same post in which I criticized MIT for unethical practices and said they should be illegal. When I became aware of a third source to the contrary, I posted about that as well. You may be unhappy with my choice of sources of evidence or my interpretation of them, but it doesn't make sense to complain that I didn't provide evidence -- I did.

    Your personal experience is interesting and relevant. However, it is not conclusive, since it only documents practices at a certain time in the past. The UC system has a policy under which all identifying information is removed from the application before the process of making an admissions decision begins. If MIT would adopt a similar policy, and put it in writing, that would be decisive evidence that they really don't have legacy admissions.
  21. Aug 7, 2011 #20


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    I found the email addresses of Chad Coffman, who wrote the chapter of the book making the claim about MIT, and Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions at MIT. I sent them the following email:

    Dear Mr. Coffman and Mr. Schmill,

    This article http://chronicle.com/article/10-Myths-About-Legacy/124561/
    by Richard D. Kahlenberg in the Chronicle of Higher Education claims that
    MIT practices legacy preferences. Apparently the claim is found in Mr.
    Coffman's chapter of the book Affirmative Action for the Rich. This
    has led to some vigorous debate in our web forum:
    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=519111 . We have various
    sources of evidence claiming that MIT does practice legacy
    preferences; that it gives "one extra review for rejected
    applications, very rarely changing the outcome of the process;" or
    that it uses legacy information only in order to prepare for
    difficult conversations with parents after their legacies have been

    Could you help us to clear up the controversy? Going into this
    debate, I hadn't realized there were so many shades of gray involved.
    Does MIT remove identifying information from applications until after
    making an admissions decision, as I believe UC does? Are policies
    like "one extra review" or only using legacy information after a
    decision part of a written MIT policy, or are they a matter of
    informal custom? What happens when an applicant's essay mentions
    that his/her parents went to MIT? Mr. Coffman, do you see significant
    differences between MIT's policies and the best practices of state

    Thanks in advance for any clarification that either of you can provide.


    Ben Crowell
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