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Is this story Caltech worthy?

  1. Mar 3, 2009 #1
    This is not the admission essay verbatim but would this story get someone into Caltech?

    This person left formal high school at 15 (still got diploma) to independently study before applying to Caltech at 17. He participated in a few science fairs, taught himself trigonometry and calculus up to the multi-variable level. He also taught himself differential equations and linear algebra, studied several physics texts including the Feynman lectures, nuclear and particle physics books, and Nuclear Energy. This man also read a few chemistry books and has mathematical talent. He does experiments in his garage. Can be described as a hard worker and talented by his teachers and peers.

    I can answer any additional questions concerning the student's motivations and anything regarding his personal life.

    Also, how high can you be placed in classes according to a placement exam? For instance, would someone be able to test high enough to take graduate classes when he enters school and complete a phd while others of his age get bachelors. Any insight on what other maths I should teach myself, books I should read or where I am lacking.

    I say "this person" because I haven't decided if I want to leave school for independent study yet. My major would be physics by the way. As far as experiments go I've made lasers, bombs, and makeshift guns, a mortar, toy cars and frequency transmitters(remotes)
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2009 #2
    I was in the same position as you are in now a few years ago. Trust me, it won't work. I've seen so many cases of extremely overqualified homeschooled students get rejected. Last year, I knew someone who was IMO and took classes on LA, ODE, MVC, Real Analysis, and Abstract Algebra at CC (receiving As on all) who didn't get in. Yet there were people (even math majors) who got in with only having taken Calculus 1. Caltech admissions is a complete crapshoot sometimes, but they definitely seem biased against homeschooled students and independent learners. (Personally, I don't think Caltech's all it's hyped up to be, but you can PM me if you want my opinions on that. There are plenty of other "hardcore" schools too, such as MIT, Harvey Mudd, Chicago, Cornell, if that's what you're looking for.)

    In most schools, the highest you can place is analysis. I believe this is the case at Caltech as well. I heard from a student that only about 10 people per year test into this class at Caltech, though, since their calculus class is "baby analysis". With the courses you described, you probably wouldn't be able to test past calculus. You would have to have had previous exposure to analysis. Also, graduate admissions is an entirely different process from undergraduate admissions, and it is NEVER possible to get admitted to an undergraduate program and get a PhD instead. The best one would be able to do is a Masters, which is pointless if you're going to get your PhD anyway.

    Teach yourself real and complex analysis, differential geometry, topology, and functional analysis if you have time. These are the most applicable fields of pure mathematics to physics.

    Ultimately, here's my advice to you. Do not worry about the institution that you want to study at. There are plenty of institutions at which an extremely passionate student such as yourself can study and be happy, and the chances that you'll get into at least one of them with your credentials are rather high. So do what you need to do to be successful at physics, don't do something just to get yourself into a particular institution.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2009
  4. Mar 3, 2009 #3


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    To address the original question about the validity of premise on your essay, I would say that it doesn't hold a lot of weight. You argue that you've read some physics texts and done some experiments in your garage. These points are very subjective, the examples are general, and ultimately they don't lend any support to the premise because they cannot be connected with any tangible, objective evidence.

    What you can do to help is to be more quantitative and specific. What experiments did you do and why did you chose to do those? Which science fairs were attendend? How were you evaluated? Did you win any recognition? How did you grow as a result of this experience?

    I would also add, that in general you can't skip undergraduate work and go straight into a Ph.D. program.

    Even if you could, why would you want to? I think that in doing that you would miss out on a lot of important experiences, including the opportunity for a broad education in fields other than what you wish to specialize in.
  5. Mar 3, 2009 #4
    Your probably not even going to need to do any grad work, you'll probably get an honorary Ph.d. Good luck DR. Wagner
  6. Mar 4, 2009 #5

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    Exactly what I was going to say.
  7. Mar 4, 2009 #6
    I remember reading an obituary in the New York Times a few years ago. It was about a man who dropped out of high school to go to college, and then dropped out of college to go to graduate school. He hit a rough patch in grad school, and was completely despondent... if he didn't finish his Ph.D., he would have no formal qualifications whatsoever!

    He ultimately graduated and had a great career. (He was written up in the NYT when he died, after all!) But I always took this as a cautionary tale... sure, true genius *might* surface in the end... but why make it so difficult on yourself? Do things the usual way, and *then* revolutionize the world!
  8. Mar 4, 2009 #7
    Nothing you've said is going to impress anyone. It doesn't sound like you've taken a single AP level course or taken any AP exams. By the time I was your age, I had already scored a 5 on the AP physics, chemistry, calculus, and statistics exams. Those are the types of credentials you need to be competitive for scholarships, not "independent study" and CO2 bombs in the garage.

    I'm also disturbed that you seem to think college level calculus and physics are a walk in the park. One of the hardest classes I ever took was a freshman calculus course. You haven't taken any real classes, which means you didn't have to worry about homework and exams. It also means that you studied whatever you want, which is not going to be the case in college. Universities have very specific requirements that have to be met before you can get a degree. You can't just "test out" of everything.
  9. Mar 4, 2009 #8

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    To elaborate a bit.

    Nobody will be impressed that you built bombs. Beavis and Butthead can do that. Leave that out.

    Did you really build a laser? Describe that. How did you do the optical pumping? How did you establish you had a population inversion? Did you use side light? What measurements did you make and what instruments did you use? How did you establish the light coming out was coherent? An essay that explains this will carry far more weight than a list of projects.
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