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What are my chances of getting into Caltech/MIT

  1. Jan 21, 2013 #1
    I was just wondering what my chances were of getting into one of these highly selective schools. I currently live in the UK and have got 6A's and 5A*'s at GCSE and in A-levels 2A* and an A. I do lots of extracurricular activities mainly in sport and community service and I have participated in the maths and physics Olympiads. BTW I want to be an aerospace engineer
    However my main question for you guys is that I have been doing lots of research on how to get selected for on of these schools and I have heard that many applicants have done research with someone and have been published in a journal or something along those lines. I was wondering how would I get in touch with someone who would give me the opportunity to work with them on some research and possibly get published?
    Thanks for any replies,
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 21, 2013 #2
    Are you have a Gold in Physics or Maths Olympiads because Depth of Knowledge >> Range of ECs and Olympiad Golds shows your ability.If you are Google Science Fair or others finalist. Better to ask on College Confidential Community. than PF.
  4. Jan 21, 2013 #3


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    I do not know the UK assessment system very well, but your seem like you have a good application. However, even people with stellar applications and perfect SAT scores are rejected from these schools frequently. They can only accept so many students and there is often a lot of luck involved in getting accepted, even for the best of the best.

    By all means apply to MIT and Caltech. You seem like a good student, and there is no reason not too. However, apply to some good backup schools as well, and remember that a degree from MIT is not essential to a successful career in science or engineering.

    As for research, you should contact the local universities. Many universities have programs for secondary school students that can be a great experience. I would focus on gaining experience in a science environment to make sure you actually like doing science. Don't worry about getting published just yet.

    Good luck!
  5. Jan 21, 2013 #4
    This matters more than a lot of things for international students coming in as undergrads. Most incoming international undergrads are in the top handful (<5) of their country. It is a much harder ballgame for international students
  6. Jan 21, 2013 #5


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    This might be useful comparing UK grades with the US system. (There is probably a more "official" version of these stats somewhere, but I'm assuming nobody is going to make all this data up just for fun)

    Depending on the subject, an A grade might mean "in the top 25%", not "in the top 5%". The A* grades were introduced recently because of complaints from UK universities that the grading didn't give them enough information.

  7. Jan 26, 2013 #6
    Yes. Because practicing olympiad questions for hours and hours a week means you're the best at physics.

    @Thread - Why do you want to go to CalTech/MIT? Do you actually want to do a PhD/research or do you want to do the same undergraduate courses that every university does but for 50 grand a year?
  8. Jan 26, 2013 #7
    The admissions process is about how well you answer questions. The SAT/Olympiads/SATII/AP/IB -> all made up of questions.

    It is how the admissions office decides especially for international students. If they want a student who is into some offbeat extracurricular they fill that role with someone domestically.
    They also admit you into the school as a whole so the question isnt showing you are the best at physics as much as showing you are the best at science.
  9. Jan 26, 2013 #8


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    So you guys have grade inflation, too? :rolleyes:
  10. Jan 26, 2013 #9
    It doesn't matter. What matters is that it works. You have a gold medal at the IMO, then your odds of getting accepted at a selective school is much higher than next guy's.

    There's also no formula to get into MIT. Or any highly selective school. What's generally advised is doing well at school (i.e, GPA and SAT at or above 75th percentile of school), and then doing things one likes, and attempting to do them at the highest possible level. You like to write? Then write. Send your poetry to competitions. Win them. Get published. Rinse, repeat. You're a great debater? Win every debate at school. Be the best debater your school has had. Debate on national TV. Community service? Get your picture with the governor at some fancy event where you're being honored for your great service on the local papers.

    Then show, through an essay, what it is about you that makes you special. Why should MIT or Columbia want to have YOU walking around their campus? How could your being there contribute to the academic and social environment of the school?

    That's kinda how you have people like the Gyllenhaals going to Columbia, Emma Watson at Brown, Brooke Shields at Princeton, and Natalie Portman at Harvard. Sure, they're probably smart people, but the fact that they're famous people helps. And hey, they satisfy the criteria of "doing something you like/are good at, and doing it at the highest possible level."

    You could do all of the above and not get in. And that would be just fine. Why? You still accomplished a great deal. And the best part? You did something you had a hella fun doing.

    If I could do it again, I'd have put more effort into my writing, debating, and done just enough to be "above the 75th percentile", in terms of grades. God, high school was boring.

    By the way, MIT's acceptance rate for international students is roughly 3%. So, OP, here's what your "chance" of getting in is.

    MIT offers excellent financial aid for everyone, including international students. One's ability to pay does not factor in the admissions decision either. They're "need blind." Money shouldn't be a reason to not apply. Apply to a dozen schools, look at the finances, and then figure out where to go.

    I have, however, seen a thread on SomethingAwful Forums where someone who worked in the admissions office of a so-called "need blind" top 25 (somewhere in that range) liberal arts college, where he said that if they're on the fence on whether to admit an applicant, they'll look at their address and see if they're from a rich neighborhood. Technically, it's still not considering the family's income, but oh wait, it is.

    It's not so much grade inflation, as much as it is easier to score an A in 2013, than it was in 1999. Back then, the exams were linear. One studied for the O-Levels/GCSEs for two years, and then took all the exams in one go. Same for the A-Levels.

    Now, A-Level science subjects are split into six "modules", and humanities/social sciences into 4. One can take any number of modules, provided the time table allows it, at any exam session (2 per year, I believe), spread over two years. If one didn't do well in one module, one can resit just that module. There is an AS-Level component, and the A2 component. AS+A2 = full A-Level. Generally, half of the A-Level = AS-Level.

    There are also various bodies that administer the A-Level. The CIE, which is an international exam board, still uses the linear system. I had 13 exams across three subjects (4 for math, 4 for French, and 5 for physics) to take in one session.

    That said, the CIE does offer the possibility to take the exam in a slightly less rigid way. It's still harder than the UK way, though. Essentially, one can take the whole of the AS part, and after that, the whole of the A2 part. It's flexible, but not as flexible as taking/resitting any module one wants. If one wants to resit a paper, one has to resit the whole AS or A2. The exams have to be within 13 months of each other.

    Bottom line: No grade inflation as far as I'm aware. It's just easier to get As than it used to be. The A-Levels are fairly standardized.

    Personally, I'm a huge fan of the US model. I love the flexibility, the "liberal arts" approach that seems present in high schools. The big focus on extra curricular activities. (FIRST robotics, varsity sports, etc) Cross registering for courses at the local U/community college.

    It works incredibly well in a smaller environment. I'm guessing that's why the people at the elite schools (i.e, Andover, Stuyvesant, etc) do so well. Their student body, I would imagine, is of a similar academic level, which makes for more optimized (maybe I used the wrong word here) learning/instruction.

    I don't know too much about this QuestBridge thing, but it looks pretty interesting.
  11. Jan 28, 2013 #10


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    I love this line:

    "Bottom line: No grade inflation as far as I'm aware. It's just easier to get As than it used to be. "

    This is a joke, right?
  12. Jan 28, 2013 #11
    If nobody has said it yet, undergrad doesn't really matter; the educational quality is roughly constant among institutions across the US. If you're interests lie in academia, getting into the top 20 for grad school seems pretty essential, but it's a long shot whether you get your PhD at Arizona State or Harvard.
  13. Jan 29, 2013 #12
    What do you call grade inflation? If you see it as "being easier to get As", then sure, that's a joke.

    If any given piece of work would have been worth, say, a C grade 5 years ago, and now that same piece of work is worth a B grade, then that's a case of grade inflation. At least, that is how I see it. Or one piece of work is worth a C at most schools, but that same piece of work could earn one a B+ at another.

    From what I gather, this is what constitutes a good portion of grade inflation in the US. As the syllabi and marking are not standardized across all high schools, the same letter grade at one school could be worth more, or less, at another. Of course, I could be wrong...

    With the A-Levels, this is not an issue, because the marking and syllabus is standard. At least, it is within each specific board.

    I.e, AQA A-Level Physics exams are marked according to the same marking scheme, regardless of the school the papers come from. But now, CIE A-Level Physics exams could have different marking criteria, even though similar content is covered. For all intents and purposes, all A-Levels within the same discipline are considered equal as far as university admissions go, irrespective of board. (i.e, AQA A-Level English Lit = CIE A-Level English Lit)

    So why is it easier to get better grades now? Many exam boards allow one to retake individual modules. In the past, one had to retake all the exams in the same exam session. It's certainly not the only reason, but it's a big one. In my books, that's not "grade inflation."
  14. Jan 29, 2013 #13
    I think there's a lot of internal variation though. Community Colleges are typically derided as being easy, but one of the hardest mathematics courses I ever took was calc 2 at a CC. I got a C in the course, which was the second highest grade in the class since only 3 people passed, out of 30 (it was a bit extreme, honestly, although it was more the course structure and lack of strong curving than the actual test questions). But there was another professor whose students I tutored who had a much, much more gentle course.
  15. Jan 29, 2013 #14
    I had a similar course at CC. My mechanics courses was pretty difficult and had a similar pass rate, but at the same time, it is worth noting (at least for my school) that far, far more people would have passed at a university and despite an individual course being difficult community college is much easier on average.

    But that is to be expected. It's the same way that SDSU is easier than UCSD, for example.
  16. Jan 29, 2013 #15
    I think the pass rate would have been higher, but not much higher at even a top tier institution. The professor's claim was that he taught it at the honors level for his alma matter, U of Michigan; even at a well ranked institution like that, the retention rates for engineering/physical science are still relatively low. It would be interesting to see retention rates at places like MIT or UCSD.
  17. Jan 30, 2013 #16
    Not all people fare well at MIT and Caltech. Many people burn out in their first year and change major. Some transfer to an easier school. A few commit suicide. This is true for many engineering schools. So be warned.

    Last edited: Jan 30, 2013
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