My chances of getting into MIT, Caltech, Harvard etc

  • #1
SMHPhysics
8
0
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! :)
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
Mépris
847
11
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!
 
  • #3
SophusLies
222
0
However, I have heard that double majors at Caltech require "superhuman" effort. Could anyone help clarify and explain this for me please?

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.
 
  • #4
turbo
Gold Member
3,228
55
@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.
 
  • #5
camjohn
80
0
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! :)

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!
 
  • #6
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
29,610
15,077
What are you planning to do differently if a bunch of guys on the internet say your chances are 10%? 90%?
 
  • #7
Intrastellar
Gold Member
123
42
What are you planning to do differently if a bunch of guys on the internet say your chances are 10%? 90%?

very good question
 
  • #8
SMHPhysics
8
0
What are you planning to do differently if a bunch of guys on the internet say your chances are 10%? 90%?


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.
 
  • #9
SMHPhysics
8
0
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!

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! :)
 
  • #10
SMHPhysics
8
0
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.

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 :)
 
  • #11
Bipolarity
775
2
Let us know how the IPhO goes :)
Also, out of curiosity, do you plan to become a physicist or a mathematician?

BiP
 
  • #12
SMHPhysics
8
0
Let us know how the IPhO goes :)
Also, out of curiosity, do you plan to become a physicist or a mathematician?

BiP

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 :)
 
  • #13
CallMeShady
45
1
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. ;)
 
  • #14
Mépris
847
11
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! :)

Hm. Read that again:

What are you planning to do differently if a bunch of guys on the internet say your chances are 10%? 90%?

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 going to 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?
 
  • #15
Bipolarity
775
2
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.

BiP
 
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  • #16
Ballistic
16
0
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?
 
  • #17
Bipolarity
775
2
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?

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 into 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.

BiP
 
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  • #18
camjohn
80
0
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?

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.
 
  • #19
Ballistic
16
0
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.
 
  • #20
Bipolarity
775
2
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.

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.

BiP
 
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  • #21
Ballistic
16
0
Thanks for the reply.

So basically as we all know the chances of getting admitted are very very low (since as an international student you're aiming to the 10% of the seats) and the chances of financial aids for int'l students are close to zero.

That's why almost everybody that is doing a graduate program in one of these colleges went there for his M.Sc. thesis and then stayed there for his PhD.
 
  • #22
Bipolarity
775
2
Thanks for the reply.

So basically as we all know the chances of getting admitted are very very low (since as an international student you're aiming to the 10% of the seats) and the chances of financial aids for int'l students are close to zero.

That's why almost everybody that is doing a graduate program in one of these colleges went there for his M.Sc. thesis and then stayed there for his PhD.

No that is not at all what I said. It's difficult but not impossible. I am an international student myself and I don't pay tuition for my undergrad (I received a scholarship).

Also, there is much more financial aid for graduate students in science and engineering, whether or not you are int'l. Many graduate students in the US universities are int'l. Quite contrary to what you said.

BiP
 
  • #23
twofish-quant
6,821
18
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).

They don't

http://mitadmissions.org/apply/process/stats

MIT also quite explicitly prefers US citizens/Permanent residents

http://mitadmissions.org/apply/international/howto

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?

For MIT it works the other way. The promise need-blind funding, so they restrict the number of international students.

I don't know if federal funds come into play in this situation, since the cited universities are private.

Yes they do. US citizens/permanent residents can get Federal grants and loans, and MIT subtracts those grants/loans from the amount that the university has to contribute. Also MIT and other private universities get large amounts of Federal funding from other areas.
 
  • #24
twofish-quant
6,821
18
Chances for getting into any university is never zero unless you don't need their minimum requirements.

But often the minimum requirements are not explicitly stated. In the case of MIT, it publishes statistical distributions, so if your test scores are below a certain threshold, you might as well save yourself the effort of applying since you are not getting in.

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.

Even then the schools have standards. What happens in some schools (though apparently not MIT) is that people that make large contributions get their kids in a special queue.
 
  • #25
twofish-quant
6,821
18
Also. I'd very strongly advise you to broaden your search criterion. The thing that the US is very good at are "middle tier" schools. The top schools are excellent. The middle schools are pretty good, and even the bottom schools (as long as you avoid outright scams) are decent.

One reason that the US attracts a lot of foreign students is that "middle tier" US schools are better (and often much better) than the schools that they can get to at home. If you are in China, and you can get into Beijing University, then go to Beijing University, but most people can't, and a degree from University of Texas at Austin beats the schools that you can get into. If you compare the top school in the US with the top school in most countries, it's an even comparison, but if you compare the 100th ranked school in the US with a comparable school in most countries, the US wins.

Also "need blind" admissions works against foreign students. One reason that US schools want foreign students is often that foreign students have lots of money which they can use to pay for local students.
 
  • #26
Mépris
847
11
Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Dartmouth and Amherst aside, every school which claims to be able to meet the full demonstrated need of *admitted* international students are *need-aware*. So yes, it usually works against international applicants.

Ballistic, MIT (and many other top colleges in the States) does not offer scholarships based on merit. One is accepted based on merit. Any money one gets is based on one's financial need. As MIT says "anyone can afford to attend here."

From what I hear, things didn't work that way back in the day (i.e, more than 20 years ago). A PF member was actually accepted there but couldn't afford to attend. It is possible that back then, MIT's financial aid policy was still the same but in 1975, one couldn't just make an internet search for "MIT financial aid" or "MIT application forms."
 
  • #27
SophusLies
222
0
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 :)

I don't remember what counted for what in terms of electives, I just told my advisers what classes I wanted to take and they sorted it out. I do remember physics being a little more strict, especially with labs.

I will say this concerning math and physics: Taking a bunch of upper level math courses will not make you any better at physics. The high level math classes are very theoretical and proof-based and finding any application of the material is extremely difficult. Unless you can find an actual mathematical physicist teaching those math classes, it will just feel like one big waste of time in terms of physics applications. I didn't take this point of view in those classes though, I like math for math and I didn't need applications (at least not all the time..). But some of my friends we're pretty angry over those math classes because they were expecting to get better at physics from developing a more abstract mind-set, which is usually not the case.

As for the double majoring, if you decide to do it then you must be prepared to self-study ahead or you'll probably burn out quickly. I usually had 1-2 classes completely finished (in terms of reading and doing problems out of the book) over the summer before taking the classes. I took 6 technical classes, 4 math and 2 physics, going into my first sophomore term and I had to get a professor to sign off one of them, Discrete math for pre-req reasons. Over the next 3 years I had a pretty heavy load and it definitely wore me down by the end but I still don't think that I did as much work as the engineering majors, especially electrical engineering. Those kids were always buried with work, my goodness.
 
  • #28
TMFKAN64
1,126
22
So there are more or less zero chances for a Top 3 international student in his/her country ...

When in doubt, take a look at the statistics from MIT: http://web.mit.edu/registrar/stats/geo/index.html. Given the talk of A-levels, I'd guess you are from the UK. There are currently *5* UK students at MIT, and since an undergraduate degree is 4 years, this means they admit one or two students from the UK each year, on average.

So if you are in the Top 3, I think your answer depends *where* in the Top 3 you are. :smile:
 
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  • #29
Ballistic
16
0
Interesting stats.

I didn't imagine that there were so few ungrads from the biggest European contries.

Of course education is still very good over here and from what I can judge from the MIT OCW, courses at my university are tougher than at MIT.

I'm not staying that we, as students, are better prepared, neither that my univesity is as organized, imporant, with the same advanced labs as MIT, but just an opinion from what I can judge from OCW's material.
 
  • #30
Bipolarity
775
2
Yes I would agree, I found MIT's OCW standard to be fairly relaxed and slow-paced. The material was very trivial it seemed.

In my university, students of physical chemistry are exposed to partial derivatives on their first day of college.

It is possible that the standards of the OCW lectures were "dumbed-down" a bit to make the course more convenient for the online viewers who may possible prefer slow-paced lectures, and having the option of "skipping ahead" at will.

BiP
 
  • #31
Bipolarity
775
2
When in doubt, take a look at the statistics from MIT: http://web.mit.edu/registrar/stats/geo/index.html. Given the talk of A-levels, I'd guess you are from the UK. There are currently *5* UK students at MIT, and since an undergraduate degree is 4 years, this means they admit one or two students from the UK each year, on average.

So if you are in the Top 3, I think your answer depends *where* in the Top 3 you are. :smile:

The A levels is not just taken in the UK. It's taken in many British commonwealth countries for your information including Hong Kong, Singapore, some regions of India etc...

BiP
 
  • #32
twofish-quant
6,821
18
Of course education is still very good over here and from what I can judge from the MIT OCW, courses at my university are tougher than at MIT.

It's part of the US educational system. A lot of the job of US universities is to make up for the fact US high schools are considerably easier than those in a lot of other countries. This includes places like MIT.

You could create a policy that "you must know calculus before entering MIT" but that quite frankly would be quite unfair if you happen to go to a high school that doesn't teach calculus (and a lot of US high schools don't).

Also, one thing about MIT is that "weeding out" is not an option. You must pass 18.01 and 18.02 to graduate. A lot of other schools make calculus incredibly difficult in order to get rid of students. MIT can't.

One of the core values of MIT is the idea that education should be democratized and available to everyone. That's way OCW exists.
 
  • #33
twofish-quant
6,821
18
It is possible that the standards of the OCW lectures were "dumbed-down" a bit to make the course more convenient for the online viewers who may possible prefer slow-paced lectures, and having the option of "skipping ahead" at will.

Having taken 18.01, OCW is a reasonable representation of what basic calculus is like. Now MIT has several different types of calculus classes, so if you think 18.01 is too easy, there are some much harder versions that you can take.

One other things is that MIT puts it's best and most talented teachers in the introductory classes. I took a class in Set Theory, and I thought it was ridiculously easy. The teacher (Sy Friedman) made things look so trivially easy that I wondered what the point of the class was. That was until the day he was absent and had a substitute teacher gave the lecture, and I realized what a teaching genius Professor Friedman was.

Anyone can make math difficult. It takes a talented teacher to make it seem easy.
 
  • #34
twofish-quant
6,821
18
Also calculus is calculus is calculus. You don't attend MIT for the courses or lectures. MIT does have some very well taught calculus courses but you can get them in other schools. On the flip side, I've encountered some people that were incompetent at teaching. Just because you have a Nobel prize doesn't mean that you can teach, and it also doesn't make you a nice guy.

You attend it for things like the UROP program. The one thing that I got at MIT that was worth the tuition was an e-mail account. This sounds crazy. But this was in 1987.

The reason you go to MIT is so you see stuff five to ten years before the rest of the world sees it. Ten years from now, every school will have something like OCW and do online education, but MIT wants to be first.

The big problem with MIT is that it doesn't scale. You have a school that has a few thousand students, and that mains that most people can't get in. The reason I post as much as I do is so that if you can't get into MIT you can know enough of the culture so that you can build your own MIT or build something better than MIT.
 
  • #35
Rika
227
51
But you can network power elite there which is worth all those money.
 

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