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My chances of getting into MIT, Caltech, Harvard etc

  1. Sep 17, 2012 #1
    Hello. I'm an international student and I've just completed my A Levels, my SAT Subject Tests and I expect to take the SAT Reasoning Test in Oct/Nov. My freshman year should start in Sept 2013.

    Here are my results:

    A levels (CIE)
    Maths: A*
    Physics: A*
    Chemistry: A*
    Further Maths: Expecting A*

    GCSE: (9A*s and 1 A)

    SAT Subject Tests:
    800 in each of Maths II, Physics, Chemistry.

    Also I've qualified in the National Physics Olympiad and I'm headed for the IPhO 2013. I can solve some of the IPhO past question papers.

    I practise Kyokushin Karate, as an extracurricular.

    I plan on doing a double major (Math and Physics), but at the same time I have high ambitions for taking some postgraduate courses in my junior/senior year. I listen to Walter Lewin's lectures. I've read through and solved a lot of the problems from almost all chapters of Young's "University Physics" and have since moved on to Goldstein's classical mechanics. I've done basic linear algebra myself and multivariable/vector calculus. I have some elemntary experience with real analysis from Spivak.

    So basically what are my chances of getting into the Ivy League? I have keen eyes towards MIT, Caltech and Harvard. However, I have heard that double majors at Caltech require "superhuman" effort. Could anyone help clarify and explain this for me please?

    And also is there anything else i could add to this to appeal to the admissions faculty to make them more interested?

    Thanks! :)
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 17, 2012 #2
    With those grades, scores and the IPhO participation?

    Your chances are greater than 0. That's most probably the best any of us can say.

    Apply to other colleges. Don't bank on just those. Try UChicago. They have some cool essays. Look into some liberal arts colleges as well. The top 50 usually have financial aid available to international students. As do some of the private top universities. That's for need-based aid.

    I don't know much about merit scholarships but they do exist. Some are automatic and some require an application which usually involve an essay(s) and interview(s).

    Good luck! Congratulations on your A-Levels!
  4. Sep 17, 2012 #3
    After my first year I was torn between doing physics and math so I decided to take the next year's course load split between the two. My sophomore year I ended up taking 6 technical classes, 3 math and 3 physics. 1 was with the professor's consent. He gave me this consent because I worked through most of the book prior to that semester and I met with him periodically over the summer so he can check if I was doing ok. I also worked through two other books that were going to be used that next year. So, the "superhuman" part wasn't me being smart, it was being overly prepared. If you do intend on doing a double major, learn everything you can the summer before because it will feel like you're taking less classes. If I didn't prepare as well as I did in the summer I would have easily had to drop a class that year.. maybe two, lol.
  5. Sep 17, 2012 #4


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    @OP: Your grades look good. Can you afford to attend those schools if you are admitted? That should be a consideration, unless you or parents are wealthy.
  6. Sep 17, 2012 #5
    Those schools have gotten to the point where they deny kids as qualified as the ones they accept; they have too many kids with the same amazing credentials. That being said, I'd say you have as close a chance as anyone else. Good luck!
  7. Sep 17, 2012 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    2017 Award

    What are you planning to do differently if a bunch of guys on the internet say your chances are 10%? 90%?
  8. Sep 17, 2012 #7


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    very good question
  9. Sep 17, 2012 #8

    So basically what are my chances of getting into the Ivy League? I have keen eyes towards MIT, Caltech and Harvard. However, I have heard that double majors at Caltech require "superhuman" effort. Could anyone help clarify and explain this for me please?

    And also is there anything else i could add to this to appeal to the admissions faculty to make them more interested?

    That's what I asked.
  10. Sep 17, 2012 #9
    Thanks and yes I'll look at UChicago also. But it's not the financial aid I'm concerned about at the moment; I think I can manage. My main concern is exactly what I could do to increase the chances of getting in. Is there something that they're specifically looking for? Is ther something I could add to essays to make it appeal to them more? And thanks! :)
  11. Sep 17, 2012 #10
    Thanks a lot. That helps. I also want to know if some of the advanced physics courses that graduates take can be used to cover the electives required for the math major, if you're doing a double major? If not, I personally would rather stick to physics and take the graduate physics courses in my junior/senior years.

    Thanks :)
  12. Sep 17, 2012 #11
    Let us know how the IPhO goes :)
    Also, out of curiosity, do you plan to become a physicist or a mathematician?

  13. Sep 17, 2012 #12
    Well I certainly hope it goes well; I'm doing quite well with the past question papers. And I plan to be a Theoretical Physicist, so a it's more a mixture of both really :)
  14. Sep 18, 2012 #13
    Your grades are definitely great, without a doubt. In addition, from what I am reading, it seems to me like you are preparing yourself for your exams in an intelligent fashion. (By the way, I am going through the University Physics textbook myself.)

    However, as most of the users said above, getting into post-secondary institutions like Harvard is very difficult, even with grades such as yours. A lot of people who get accepted into such institutions get admitted through letters of recommendations. In addition to that, the fees will be extremely high, especially (in your case) for an international student.

    With that being said, I suggest that you give it a shot and take the effort to go through the application processes and hope to get accepted; however, have a "back-up" institution applied to.

    Finally, congratulations and good luck on your exam next month. ;)
  15. Sep 18, 2012 #14
    Hm. Read that again:

    As for what you can do, all I can say is you could consider NOT picturing yourself at Harvard, MIT or CalTech. You could get in. Odds are against you though. 9 times out of 10 (approximate)- BOOM - you're rejected.

    Now, if you walk in without thinking that your life will be over if you were to get rejected, you're in a pretty good position. If you do get in, that's gonna be great. If you don't, you'll move on and attend another great school.

    The thing with selective colleges is that no one really knows who's looking for what and what time they're looking for it. No one except the people who work in admissions know what goes on. Anyone who's graduated high school (or about to) can apply. Actually, MIT doesn't even require a high school diploma.

    The available spots at those schools are likely to stay the same. If I recall correctly, Harvard gives out around 1800 offers. They choose from some thirty thousand applicants. If there was indeed "something to know", then it's possible that lots of people would know "that thing" too. Then what happens is that instead of having 1800 qualified applicants, they have more than that. When that happens, it's likely that the criteria for getting in will change a little. Part of what makes the Ivy League the Ivy League (athletic conference aside, haha) is that many apply and few get the chance to walk through the gate.

    If financial aid is really not a concern, then it means you can afford the 200k USD price tag (roughly 50k per year). If you can afford that, then you can also afford Cambridge, Oxford or I don't know, UMichigan - Ann Arbor. With those grades, it'd be hard to get rejected from any awesome US public school! You should apply to colleges that are need-aware, like NYU, Columbia and UC Berkeley/UCLA/other UCs. For international applicants, one's ability to pay *does* hold weight in the admission process. So, if you were to require lots of financial aid, getting in would be harder! The UCs and just about every other public university in the US don't offer financial aid to international applicants - and for good reason, too - and they like international applicants. For diversity and what not. Unlike UK universities, it's probably not for the money because most places charge international students the same tuition rates they charge out-of-state students with.

    If you're interested in Oxbridge, google "Emmanuel College mock interviews".

    Also: don't believe everything you read on the internet. Think about Vanadium said. Again. Why would people on the internet - strangers - have your best interests in mind? Even if they did, are they (I'm including myself here, by the way) necessarily authorities on what they're talking about?
  16. Sep 18, 2012 #15
    Actually, MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Amherst, Yale and Dartmouth are all need-blind to all applicants, including internaitonal students, which mean's the OP's ability to pay does not affect his admissions.

    There are many other schools that do offer significant packages of financial aid to int'l students, though they may not be need-blind. Most of these are small but very good liberal arts colleges, sometimes called the Little Ivies, but even at these schools an IPhO participant is rare because so few students make the IPhO. Still they have excellent programs in the sciences (though often not in engineering) and the professors tend to be more accessible (that's what I hear at least). These small LACs often offer a very different atmosphere to a comprehensive research university such as an Ivy. So you should consider them as well.

    I myself attend an engineering school so I cannot speak for myself, but I went through the application process not very long ago and am one of the younger members here so I know what the deal is :)

    Also, I speak only for US universities, not anywhere else.

    Last edited: Sep 18, 2012
  17. Sep 19, 2012 #16
    So there are more or less zero chances for a Top 3 international student in his/her country (I assume a medalist in the Physics or Maths Olympic Games or something like that), with the highest SAT marks (etc.) to get a full scolarship from MIT, Caltech or Stanford, to study Physics, Maths or Engineering straight out of his/her high school?
  18. Sep 19, 2012 #17
    Chances for getting into any university is never zero unless you don't need their minimum requirements. Chances are quite low though for everyone, particularly at MIT. Some people have slightly higher chances, some slightly lower. In general though everyone has a low chance.

    Really the only exceptions to this are people who are children of high-ranking officers in the US government, monarch (of some country) or financiers who donate huge amounts of money or political power to the school.

    Sometimes child prodigies who were home-schooled will have a high chance, but there are also child prodigies who do not get in to their top choice. The university ultimately has an absolute carte blanche as to whom it will accept.

    And scholarships etc. don't affect your chances of admission according to the university. They office of admissions and office of financial aid are separate. This is true at least for MIT, but not for Caltech/Stanford.

    Last edited: Sep 19, 2012
  19. Sep 19, 2012 #18
    Of course not. Who would have higher stats than someone who is "top 3 international in his/her country"? The point isn't that everyone has a zero chance; such a statement wouldn't make any sense. The point is that there are so many top applicants who apply that a certain amount of luck has to take its course. Many studies have shown that people have been denied from schools like MIT, Caltech etc. with stats essentially equal to those of the students who were admitted. If you're a top 3 international student (don't even know what that means exactly), however, you'd have a stat that would be hard to compete with.
  20. Sep 19, 2012 #19
    I'm sorry for being not so clear in my previous post.

    Let's say that a candidate from the US or an international canidate with similar CVs, test marks and so on have almost the same chances of getting admitted by one of these universities (MIT, Caltech, Stanford).

    My concern, a bit OT, was about financial aid: are there more chances for an American student to get full scholarships than for an international student?
    If so, why?
    I don't know if federal funds come into play in this situation, since the cited universities are private.
  21. Sep 19, 2012 #20
    The following apply for US universities only:

    First of all, when you apply as an American student, you are competing with other American applicants. When you apply as an international student, you are competing with other international students (often with those from your country).

    They do not compare American students with int'l students, the standards are simply too different. The school systems are also very different, as are the backgrounds of the applicants.

    Are there more chances for an American student to get FA? Yes, in the sense that there are more seats for American students (most universities reserve about 90% of the seats for Americans, rest for internationals). American students also get federal loans, which int'l students don't get. The federal loans are available even at private schools.

    Does requiring financial aid as an int'l student affect your chances of admissions? In most schools it hurts your chances. In the top schools (Harvard, Princeton, MIT) it doesn't hurt your chances since your chances are already so low and since the schools are so rich.

    I hope that answers your questions.

    Last edited: Sep 19, 2012
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