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High School Junior Chances

  1. Jan 31, 2005 #1
    Hi, I'm new to these forums, so bear with me if I do not provide enough information.

    First, My Grades (taking hardest classes available at my small high school)
    U.S. History: A
    Chemistry 2: A
    AP English 11: A
    Honors Physics: A
    Pre-Calculus: A
    Spanish IV: A
    Which is a 4.0 (My overall grade is a 3.9xxx, Summa Cum Laude) (Top 5% of class)
    -Note, in May I'm going to take the Chemistry, Spanish, History, and English AP tests (my school doesn't offer AP courses in Chem, Spanish, or History)
    -Also, not that it matters, but Q1,Q2,Final for Physics and Chem I got A+'s, but the final is always listed as A.
    -Next year I am planning on taking Bio 2, AP Lit 12, Calculus (I dont know if it is AP or not), Spanish 5, and AP Physics.
    My ACT Score
    English: 30
    Reading: 34
    Math: 34
    Science: 36
    Composite: 34
    -This was on my first "practice" try, so I didn't prep at all. I don't know if I want to take it again now, though.

    I have yet to take the SAT.

    I am involved in Student Council, SADD, and Spanish Club. Also, volunteer work. No sports.

    I am interested in Biotech/Pharmocology/Physics.
    I live near Ann Arbor, Michigan, so University of Michigan is definitely in my college picks, it also offers a good Nanotech (etc.) school experience.

    But, I am hoping, in the long shot, to go to Caltech or MIT. My only problem is that I fear I do not have anything that will make me stand out from so many other candidates. So, my three questions are:
    1. At this point, how well do I fare compared to others you have seen go to the colleges I am looking at.
    2. What could I do to stand out from other candidates (ie. research (how to get involved though?))?
    3. Any other colleges you could recommend?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 31, 2005 #2
    I don't know really anything about the ACT - but without any scores in the SAT, SAT II's, and AP exams - it's impossible to say anything about your chances. Applicants to MIT and Caltech with straight-A's are a dime-a-dozen.

    For research at the high school level - the best bet is probably your local university or college.

    Your essays are very important too. Extremely so. Leadership in extracurriculars is important too.

    I would also not really worry about the specifics of your undergraduate research experience too much. It's great to do research as an undergrad, but most of the time, undergrads don't get much out of it. Example - we have a first-year graduate student in my group. He worked in the field as an undergrad. He's still pretty much clueless. I was pretty clueless as a first year graduate student as well even though I had done undergraduate research.

    I would focus more on going to a good school with a good reputation where you have a good shot at getting into a good grad school (if that's what you're interested in). As an undergraduate, worry more about learning fundamentals. However - it still is important to do some research as an undergrad in order to get good recs.

    So just pick up US News and World Report and look at some of the highly ranked schools there. Cornell, Berkeley, Amherst, etc.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2005
  4. Jan 31, 2005 #3
    The big thing is a demonstrated interest, passion, and ability for the subject that you plan on pursuing. Research is good, but difficult especially in physics for high school students. You'd probably do better to show a willingness to learn the material (i.e. take college courses if possible) and devote some time to the subject than doing actual research.

    Also, lots of extracurriculars can actually hurt you. Lots of extracurriculars suggests that you might have the tendency to spread yourself too thin, which is extremely dangerous to do here at Caltech. In contrast, a strong commitment in one or two extracurriculars over a long period of time is favorable, since it shows dedication.

    Being from a small school will not hurt you. You can turn it into an opportunity, if you put in the effort. I know plenty of people here that come from Podunk, Middle-of-Nowhere. What you'll need to do is go out of your way to demonstrate interest. What are you doing with your summers? Chilling at home playing video games? Not gonna help you. Going through a summer program at some university? Good choice. Building a car for the DARPA Grand Chalelnge ( http://www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge/ )? Awesome. There are lots of choices, just be a little creative, look around a bit, asking around a bit, but whatever you do, don't do nothing.

    Personally, I took hardest academic (Sorry, I just don't consider Spanish as important) courseload available to me at my high school. I got B's in half my science classes, including Physics (I'm gonna be a phyics major), Chemistry, and Biology, but only because I really didn't care about grades. I started off a year behind the other "smart kids" in math. By the end of my junior year, I was ranked about 30 in a class of about 660. By the end of my senior year, I was narrowly within the 10% mark. My SATs were within the middle two quarters, but not particularly impressive. SAT IIs were thoroughly unimpressive, but solid. I did no research during my high school career. I did very little community service, about 10 hours total. I wasn't a member of any clubs, except the token NHS.

    So how the heck did I get into Caltech? I really don't know, but there was a bit more to my application than just the above, which, as somebody mentioned, is below the norm for applicants.

    I played tennis in high school competitively for four years. I was the captain of my time senior year, when we went to state. Now I play on the Caltech team (it's not uncommon for frosh to get on the intercollegiate teams). I was a volunteer assistant coach for two years and gave up one of my summers to teach kids to play tennis. I wouldn't give up a sophomore-junior or junior-senior summer to do this if I were you, but it's as good a way to spend a froshmore summer as any.

    Although I didn't always get great grades, but I was a year ahead in high school. By my senior year, there were no science classes and only one math class left for me to take. There was only one math class since we have a strong math program that goes beyond AP Calc BC and offers a year of vector calculus and ordinary differential equations. This means that I was consistently doubling up on science classes, and I worked independently to skip a year of math, which had never happened before at our young school (less than a decade old). I took the AP Physics C exam, even though our school doesn't offer AP Physics. I got a 5 (the exam isn't difficult with the right mindset, but that's a different issue).

    I took a survey course in modern physics and then attended a summer program at Rose-Hulman my junior-senior summer and then took two junior-level classes at ASU, quantum mechanics and classical mechanics, during my first semester of senior year. I got an A and a B, respectively (there's your interest and ability). Second semester, my absolutely amazing high school bureaucracy prevented me from taking the next courses in the quantum and classical series, so instead I took a course on PDEs, which I got a D in. I rightfully should've failed, since I didn't even take the final (had to play state for tennis), but I still picked up a lot of technique for mathematical proofs. Stuff like that comes in handy (especially since you're stuck doing proofs for Ma1 whether you like it or not, whether you think you'll need it or not). It probably wouldn't have been so good to stick a D on my application, but I was already accepted at this point, so I really didn't care. Also keep in mind that these classes were worth nothing as far as the high school was concerned, so my high school record was pretty well screwed beyond what it already was.

    You might wonder if it takes some kind of super-genius to take college classes like that. It doesn't. People will tell you and you will think that you're not prepared for the class. This is true. But the purpose of taking classes like that is not to take it, learn the stuff so well that you're the authority on it, and test out of it so you don't have to take it again. I took the classes expecting to retake classical mechanics and quantum mechanics. Guess what, I am! I tested out of all of one term of physics because Ph1a isn't all that difficult. Could I have tested out of more if I really wanted to? Probably. Would it have really helped me learn the material? Probably not. You go into the class knowing that you're behind, and all you try to do is catch up. If you do manage to catch up, good for you! If you don't, then you're still ahead of your peers, aren't you? You pick up a lot of stuff very quickly that way. I also fully expected to fail, and was pleasantly surprised when I didn't. PDEs was a little different, since it was actually a course for grad students preparing for qualies (probably why the prof didn't outright fail me) and was all about proofs, which I'd never worked with before and you really can't start doing the full-blown proofs without a good bit of experience. Unless maybe you're a super-genius or something. A final note about taking college courses before college, don't let the little prerequisite line fool you. You don't need them because you're taking the class for a different reason.

    I did reasonably well in national mathematics competitions, which my school pushed pretty hard. I participated in USAMTS, and again did reasonably well. Nothing stellar, but hey, I tried.

    There's lots of "hidden" community service that you can actually mark down. Helping your buddies do their homework is an awful lot like tutoring... Except you can't ask for money!

    I got two awesome letters of recommendation from the two biggest teachers in my school. I wrote a pretty good essay. I visited the school two times and talked with the head of admissions both time and got to know him well enough that he knew who I was.

    There are also other ways to get into here. The other person from my high school that got in was the ultimate paper candidate. Huge community service, amazing transcript, valedictorian (one of four), won bunches of scholarships, clubs galore, etc. Then one person right down the hall from me is not particularly prepared in math, physics, and chemistry, but he started his own software business. Another person across the hall comes from somewhere in Nebraska, was the president of his class, and played baseball. We also have somebody that won the International Chemistry Olympiad. Plenty of ways to get your name out.

    The point is to do something to stand out.

    Anyway, this has gone on too long, and I've been distracted by other things enough that I'll probably start repeating myself if I keep writing. So yeah.


    Edit: Oh yeah. If you really want a good rec, e-mail a prof and see if you can't get a good dialog going. Maybe see if you can't get some research for the summer. Profs here are very open. Maybe if you're lucky, you'll even hit on a prof that's on the admissions committee.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2005
  5. Jan 31, 2005 #4
    Justin - if you don't mind my asking - was Caltech the only place you applied?

    I definitely agree with everything you've said.
  6. Jan 31, 2005 #5
    No. After I was accepted at Caltech, I sent an application to Stanford just for kicks, since I knew I wanted to go to Caltech. I still had to write the Stanford essays, though. My essays were great for amusing me, not so great for amusing the admissions people. :wink:

    The Arizona state university system is also mandated to accept any Arizona high school student in the top 25% of their class, so there was also that "application." Then again, I was supposed to sign my name on the pre-filled out form they gave me before they could actually accept me, and I never did get around to doing that...

    I was also accepted at Rose-Hulman shortly into Senior year. Again, pretty much anybody they wanted that went to the summer program they hosted that just had to sign their name to get the letter.

    Other than that, I applied nowhere else. Early Action is a wonderful thing. Oh, did I mention, apply Early Action to Caltech? It's non-binding! And even if it were binding, you should anyway. Because who wants to live in Boston when you can have sunny Pasadena?

  7. Feb 1, 2005 #6
    Do they really care about this?

    I'm 15 years and 6 months old, and I'm about to enter Grade 11 (school starts in February in Brunei). Is this considered young?
  8. Feb 1, 2005 #7
    Yeah - I grew up on the east coast and did my undergrad at Harvard. Never want to live in that part of the world again if I can help it.

    One possible drawback to applying EA is that the applicant pool may be more competitive. Yes - you do get thrown back into the applicant pool if you're deferred, but your chances are better if you apply regular.
  9. Feb 1, 2005 #8
    I disagree. Universities are also more interested in students that are more likely to matriculate. Applying early suggests that you're more interested in the school, and therefore are more likely to matriculate.

    I was about that old. I wasn't young for my grade, but I was ahead in terms of classes I'd taken. If it weren't for silly fine arts and English requirements, I could potentially have graduated a year early.

    Grades or age?

  10. Feb 1, 2005 #9
    I was talking about age. :smile:

    I have been held back from advancing because of the practical requirements for science.
  11. Feb 1, 2005 #10
    Age isn't that important. It's only a factor if the admissions committee is concerned that you may not be mature enough to adjust to living independently and the coursework at the same time. There are students here that entered when they were 16, though.

    If they are concerned about your maturity, they'll most likely reject you this year and strongly encourage you to apply next year.

  12. Feb 1, 2005 #11
    With your GPA and ACT scores in addition to being in state, you are almost definitely in at UMich.

    HYPSCM admissions are really a random guess for anyone. Pretty much all of their applicant base has near perfect GPAs and SATs, plenty of APs, and diverse ECs. I honestly don't see, from what you've posted, anything that would cause you to stand out in a large applicant pool of similar stats. If you have an opportunity for research, DO IT. If you really want to stand out, this is one way.

    Another issue would be money: how much are you able to get and/or willing to take out in loans. In-state UMich will be considerably less than a private Ivy or HYP.

    I would suggest looking into some of the "lower" Ivys if you want name/prestige. U of Chicago would be a resonable shot for physics. JHU for biomed.

    If you would like to know any college rankings, let me know and I would be happy to post them. Or if you would like any specific information about a certain school, such as admission stats, average cost and need met, etc., I can post that as well.
  13. Feb 1, 2005 #12
    To the great credit of Caltech and just about any other top university, the school meet full financial aid needs. No students does not come because of money. In fact, I know somebody who's making money by coming here, because his need-based aid is all but $3000/year, and he gets more than that in scholarship money.

    If you have serious concerns with not being able to afford attending a school, contact one of the financial aid officers at the school. They'll probably work something out for you.

    The justification I've been told for this is that the money the school makes from tuition is quite small, and schools really do not need to charge tuition to stay in business. They only need to charge tuition to satisfy criteria for federal research grants.

  14. Feb 1, 2005 #13
    True, almost all first and zeroth tier uni's have 100% need met. However, that does mean loans, and sometimes, a person might, for whatever reason, not want to take out a semi-substantial amount in school loans when they might be able to get a free ride at a state uni.

    Further, there are those rare instances where a person might come from a very well-off home with parents that don't want to help pay for their child to go to Harvard. Depending on the families income, a school may offer very little free money.
  15. Feb 1, 2005 #14
    Speak with a financial aid officer. For instance, if the parents refuse to help pay for college, the student may be considered independent and the parents' income will not be factored into the ability to pay.

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