Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Purdue, Stanford Admissions - How to stand out?

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I am currently a sophomore in high school and will have taken 7 science and 7 math courses (including AP Physics, AP Chem, AP Bio, AP Calc AB, AP Calc BC, AP Programming in Java, AP Statistics) by the time I graduate. I am on the cross country team, indoor and outdoor track teams, orchestra, mock trial team, and the Teen Leadership Corps (helps 8th graders transition to hs one night). My PSAT score as a sophomore was 1390 (710 math, 680 english).

I anticipate also being in Science Club (conflicted with cross country) and NHS next year. I also know of a Programming Competition that I could do next fall if I learn to program over the summer, and I will apply to the PGSS summer program at CMU next summer. If I pass an audition, I will be accepted into an orchestra outside of school. I may be able to join the math club in 12th grade, and there are various math competitions that I could do. Assuming that I get a's in every class, my GPA will be above 4.6.

What should I do to improve my chances of acceptance and financial aid at these top schools for engineering or computer science?
 
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  • #2
berkeman
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I have read all of your posts so far at the PF.

What is the most surprising, amazing thing that you've found in your science studies so far?

What is the most important thing that you've learned so far in your sports activities? Either team or individual sports.

Thanks. :smile:
 
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The most important thing I've learned in cross country and track was that hard work makes a big difference when I saw my mile time drop 50 seconds after only a few months.

For science, its more complicated.

So far, I have not had a whole lot of exposure to chemistry in school, and I have studied biology more than anything else. In middle school, I was in an awesome enrichment class, and we studied astrophysics for a whole unit. I thought everything I learned was very cool, and it was one of the most fun classes I've had.

So far in physics this year, we have studied electricity and kinematics, and I thought the electricity unit was very fun. Kinematics itself was not as enjoyable, but I loved to see the precalculus that I was learning applied to physics, which gave meaning to math for me.

In biology, I was fascinated by and enjoyed the chemical processes that occurs in living things. I also think it is amazing that all of our "code" is in DNA. This year, I went to a genetics conference on current developments in biology, including organ regrowth and lab grown meat, although this is not something that I really want to pursue as a career.

Alternative energy has always fascinated me, including solar and nuclear.
To be honest, in my life, I eventually want to pursue different careers to be able to solve problems in many different fields and help people. I am greatly interested in robotics and the potential of them learning for themselves. It incorporates electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science. I could apply it to many things, such as robotic surgery, mining on Mars/Mars' moons/asteroids/other planets, manufacturing, and construction on Mars.

So basically, robotics is something that I want to use in other fields. I love astronomy and astrophysics, and I have strong feelings about how we need to protect the environment. I am very interested in the prospect of Mars colonization, and robotics and machine learning could very much help this.

Also, I am joining science club and other math and programming competitions next year to improve my chances of acceptance into the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences at CMU as an attempt to not only look good for college but to gain exposure of the sciences to help narrow my interests.

I'm sorry that this is very broad.
 
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  • #4
berkeman
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TBH, when I read your other thread and then this thread start, I was concerned that you were trolling us. But in reading your reply to my questions, I now believe that you are sincere, and are a gifted young student. Thanks for the very well-stated reply. :smile:
What should I do to improve my chances of acceptance and financial aid at these top schools for engineering or computer science?
My advice would be to continue doing all of the good things you are doing, and definitely pursue the competitions and science fair projects. I believe that placing high in competitions should help to make your applications to undergrad stand out, and creative, useful and advanced science fair projects can show a lot of what you are capable of.

Also, as is stated here often, where you go for undergrad is generally less important than where you go for graduate school.

Others here are better qualified to offer advice to you, so I'll page @Dr. Courtney @ZapperZ @gleem @Vanadium 50
 
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Thank you.
Also, as is stated here often, where you go for undergrad is generally less important than where you go for graduate school.
Would it be better for me to apply to Penn State or Purdue, which are great schools but are more affordable and leave Carnegie Mellon for graduate school? Or would there still be more significant opportunities that I would be missing from CMU in undergrad because they are the top robotics and computer science school in the nation?
 
  • #6
Dr. Courtney
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I honestly can't in good conscience recommend students pull out all the stops trying to attend one of the top schools as undergrads. No matter how good you are, it's a dicey deal. For most students, I recommend aiming for a full merit-based scholarship at one of the better public schools in their home state. This is both attainable for most very good students, AND there is much greater overlap with how your time in high school should be spent preparing to succeed in college, which is different from preparing for top 10 admissions and financial aid.

I'm not a fan of AP classes, as in my experience they don't prepare students for college nearly as well as dual enrollment courses, which are real college courses high school students take through local colleges. Some AP courses do OK with the content (some don't), but it's still a high school learning mentality and environment that fails to prepare students for the level of independent learning and effort required in college.

I am a fan of participating in ISEF-affiliated science fairs. They have ample engineering and computer science categories also. Completing good, competitive projects for these fairs provides growth both in independent planning and execution of complex project as well as bringing a higher level of knowledge and mastery in the underlying disciplines. Most other science clubs, classes, coursework, and competitions don't come anywhere close. And while winning a regional or a state level science fair won't get you into Stanford or MIT, the growth you'll experience in the process will help you succeed where ever you end up.

Worry less about admission and more about how to succeed where you end up.
 
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  • #7
CrysPhys
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To OP: You're falling into a trap that many students fall into. Your focus is on checking off boxes that you think will impress an admissions committee. But guess what? You have a zillion other students checking off the same boxes. Having a list of checkoff boxes that purport you have certain qualities is not enough. You need real evidence, compelling narratives, that actually demonstrate that you have those certain qualities.

Here is an excerpt (apropos to you) from a response I posted in another thread:

....

* .... Very roughly, applicants are evaluated on both quantitative criteria and qualitative criteria.

* The quantitative criteria are the usual suspects, such as GPA, class rank, and entrance exam scores. It is true that an elite university can set the bar so high on the quantitative criteria that there is little to distinguish among applicants on that basis (with the exception of special categories).

* But that still leaves a large host of qualitative criteria; and here there is far more variation. Sure, if the parents shell out $$$ for an applications advisor to check off the boxes, the applications outwardly will look the same: sports (check), music (check), volunteer work (check), ....

* What no applications advisor can do (short of fraud), however, is generate real evidence, personal stories, of dedication, excellence, self-motivation, leadership, resilience, sacrifice, sincerity, genuine (not merely professed) passion ... all those qualitative intangibles that do distinguish certain applicants from the pack. There is a substantial difference (both in terms of personal essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews) between Applicant A, who’s played on the school hockey team for the past two years, and Applicant B, who’s been taking figure skating lessons at 6 am for the past twelve years. There is a substantial difference between Applicant C, who’s volunteered for Habitat for Humanity for 4 hrs every weekend for the past two years, and Applicant D, who took a 6-month leave to go down with her parents to New Orleans to help victims rebuild after Katrina. And there is a substantial difference between Applicant E, who writes eloquently of his passion for physics, and Applicant F, who’s represented his school at the State Science Fair for the last 4 years.
....
 
  • #8
jasonRF
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What should I do to improve my chances of acceptance and financial aid at these top schools for engineering or computer science?
Well, I suspect you will be in good shape to get into Purdue. But when it comes to getting into MIT or Stanford or <insert elite school name here> then it is hard to predict what will improve your chances. MIT accepts about 5% of applicants, and according to their admissions blog they think around half of the applicants could succeed at MIT if they attended. So how do they get from 50% down to 5%? I don't claim to know, but more APs or activities or awards doesn't necessarily do the trick.

I strongly believe that it is important for you to live a healthy lifestyle while in high school - get adequate sleep and exercise, spend time with friends and family, etc. Yes, you should challenge yourself in high school, and you are clearly doing that. But you should do extra an extra activity because you want to do it, not because you hope it might improve your chances to get into a school that you think you want to attend (and may not be sure you can afford...). Likewise, if taking 14 APs means you cannot live a healthy lifestyle, then I would suggest you reduce your courseload. I believe you need to live your life and find a college that will fit you, instead of trying to mold your life into the shape you think some college wants it to be. Hopefully that is already what you are doing.

Financial aid is another story. I don't know about CMU, but MIT and Stanford only offer need-based financial aid. If you are accepted then your financial aid package from those schools is determined by the financial situation of your family, and nothing else. Many of the most competitive universities have similar policies. When you hear about people who have a "full ride from Harvard" it simply means that they were good enough to get accepted to Harvard and that their family doesn't have a lot of money. On the other hand, a strong student like yourself would be offered significant merit-based financial aid at other institutions such as your state university or other schools where your academic profile is way above average, as Dr. Courtney has indicated.

I wish you the best,

Jason
 
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  • #9
gleem
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I agree with all the previous comments. You only have so many hours and some of those must be used for you; Be reasonable. Do the thing that you like and that you can excel in . Don’t try to be someone you are not. You will eventually be exposed. Stay involved in music and sports they will be valuable to later in life. As good as you PSAT scores are there are tens of thousand of students what are as good or better than you. You have a lot of competition. Do not put all your eggs in one basket.

You need to prioritize your interests and focus your objectives and begin developing a career plan. Where ultimately do you want to be? Presumable you are considering graduate school. Determine what you need to do to be successful at each part of the plan so when you enter university you will be prepared and have chosen an appropriate school .

I am not sure that you really know what robotics is all about. Not that I know much about it but It is the epitome of an interdisciplinary field meaning it draws from a wide range of disciplines in order to achieve its goals. It is not likely that you will be able to master any more than a few of these areas if that. You will be a part of a team. This means collaboration a skill you must have to succeed.

Step back a look at the field in more depth. You will need a good foundation in math and physics to start. Sure engineering mechanical, electrical or computer science is critical but how meaningful are they to you? Do you know how each contributes to a robotic project? If not they find out. What about biomechanics? Find out and monitor the issues in robotic development that are currently slowing progress; these are the opportunities for research.


Start using the internet intelligently. NASA has a list of universities with robotic programs for example at https://robotics.nasa.gov/students/univ.htm. There are sites that rank robotics programs like https://www.gradschoolhub.com/best/robotics-engineering-schools/ which are basically based on their graduate and research programs and there are surprises. Follow the robotic and AI news online. You can accumulate a lot of information by the time you have to make a choice of the aspect of robotics that you wish to pursue.
 
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I agree that I don't get a lot of sleep, but I am able to have a decent life through sports and other extra curricular activities. The competitions and clubs that I want to join are not only for my career but also for my personal enjoyment. The one thing that is mostly for college admission that I do is AP History and English classes, which are not very useful for my interests in college and take up a lot of time.

I agree that I need to explore areas of research and more specific subfields of engineering. Right now for me, it is hard to narrow my interests because I have not exposed myself to enough engineering so I appreciate the robotics links. I am very anxious about college as I only have about 1.5 years to figure out what I want to do the rest of my life. Also, it is not so much that I am unwilling to collaborate on projects as that I am interested in every aspect of them.

I am considering ME, EE, and CS because they are broad areas of study that can make it easier to find what I am especially interested in, and they make it easier to get a job because it gives me more options.

Is there any one thing that would make a student who applied to college stand out in CMU/(other competitive school) admissions?
 
  • #11
CrysPhys
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Is there any one thing that would make a student who applied to college stand out in CMU/(other competitive school) admissions?
The fact that you're still asking this question means you've overlooked or ignored key pieces of advice given to you above in several posts. You're still looking for a magic checkoff box, that once checked, will magically open the door to an elite university. You're asking the wrong question.
 
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Okay, I understand that there is not actually anything that makes a single individual stand out among everyone else, and I will just do my best in high school, pursue my interests, and hope for the best when I apply for college.
 
  • #13
CrysPhys
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Okay, I understand that there is not actually anything that makes a single individual stand out among everyone else, and I will just do my best in high school, pursue my interests, and hope for the best when I apply for college.
That's not what I think should have been your key takeaway. Here's a social analogy.

Bob's decided he wants Alice to be his girlfriend. Bob and Alice have a number of friends in common. Bob asks them, "What can I do to impress Alice so she'll be my girlfriend?" Several of them tell Bob what Alice likes and dislikes. Then Bob has the following exchange with Faythe.

Faythe: "Bob, you're asking us, 'What kind of person should I become such that Alice would want me to be her boyfriend?' That's the wrong question."

Bob: "OK, Faythe, what then is the right question?"

Faythe: "Bob, the question you should be asking is, 'Given the person that I am, who would be the right girlfriend for me?' "

Bob: "Oh. ... Huh?"

ETA (cont'd)

Bob: "But, but ... I've already decided I want Alice to be my girlfriend. I just need you to tell me how to impress her."

Faythe: "Clueless, Bob, totally clueless. Have you considered becoming a monk?"

Bob: "Huh?"
 
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  • #14
StatGuy2000
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To the OP:

You have told us what are the things you are interested in, and the activities you are involved with. My questions for you are the following:

Why specifically do you want to attend CMU, MIT, Purdue, or Stanford? Why not other colleges or universities (public or private)?

You did say that CMU is the top robotics school in the country -- is that the only reason you want to attend CMU?
 
  • #15
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Well, Carnegie Mellon is close to where I live. It is an outstanding robotics school, but it also has a top music school and robotics team. All of the students there are highly competitive, and I would not nearly be one of the smartest students there.

It would provide many challenges that I may not receive elsewhere. For example, one of the required engineering classes at Penn State is an intro class that seems like something I did in 5th grade. Also, although it is still a very good engineering school, I visited the Penn State campus and the engineering building was one of the older buildings in the corner, unlike all of the others.

It is not that I am not interested in other schools, I just prefer Carnegie Mellon more. Purdue is a very good school, and the tuition is much lower than CMU and MIT. MIT is simply the top school in almost if not all engineering disciplines, and students have much higher starting salaries than average. Stanford is also very good, has a very nice campus, and is near Silicon Valley, which provides opportunity for great summer internships.
 
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  • #16
Joshy
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Good students do well no matter where they go. Laws of physics have no dependency on school name or rank.

A thought... instead of thinking about what makes you stand out as an applicant to these schools... what is it that makes these schools stand out to you?
 
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  • #17
gleem
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Purdue was 9th in electrical engineering and 8th in mechanical engineering. I figure that I would't go to Purdue for a graduate robotics degree, but it would be a good option for undergrad. As for Penn State, I have been to the campus and it is very nice, I think they are top 30 or 35 in the nation for engineering, and I live in PA so I would pay in-state tuition.
 

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