I keep reading of USAMO as a hook for Caltech. How much so? It seems to me, just qualifying isnt enough. 500 kids did that last year! How about being invited to MOP (twice)? Or getting honorable mention?
Is this a hook for a sufficiently stong application?
USAMO invitation can serve as an important confirmation of math talent in an otherwise strong application. MOP is certainly more of a "wow", but 500 kids in the whole country isn't a lot either... so I would say USAMO is a pretty strong hook to get an application noticed, assuming it has no obvious weaknesses.
Blue MOP was my son's hook, and he was accepted by Caltech EA, Cornell, and CMU, but rejected by MIT, Stanford and Duke. I'm not convinced he would have gotten in Caltech without MOP. All depends on what you consider a "sufficiently strong application" or "obvious weaknesses". Judge for yourself: EA Decisions thread
The USAMO has expanded quite a bit. The Art Of Problem Solving Foundation funded an expansion from 250-500.
MOP is divided into three groups. Red MOP are the top 25-30 9th graders.
Black MOP are the winners (and often some of the Honorably Mention) they are eligible to make it to the IMO. Blue MOP are the high scorers (not seniors), who are not winners.
They are seperated into different classes. This year, Black MOP was only 7 kids- the 6 going to the IMO plus the alternate.
500 make it total, but probably less than 150 people PER graduating class
so making USAMO is pretty good especially if you made it multiple times
i have people from my school that made it since 8th grade ( couple red moppers and 1 black that got kicked down to blue, but still really smart!)
i only got to AIME since 8th grade...and too stupid to make USAMO T_T
I think there are probably 300 since some qualified once in maybe 9th or 10th etc. per graduating class. I'm surprised that Prological's son got rejected from MIT and especially Duke. I think a major reason might be his low SAT writing score.
A friend of mine was the Clay Olympiad scholar for two years (USAMO winner both years, but never made the team) but was rejected by MIT and Princeton. He went to Harvard so it was ok, but you can't really predict these things...
Yeah, happyentropy is right. I would say, relatedly, that Caltech's admissions office is much more predictable than, say, MIT's or Princeton's. If you win the USAMO, or even do well there several years in a row, you are close to guaranteed (barring serious problems) to be admitted at Caltech. I don't view that as a bad thing at all. Sure, people worry more about the schools with more fickle outcomes, but there are very few good reasons for admitting the average student who is at Princeton or MIT while rejecting someone who was a USAMO winner. I think in striving for "interesting" or "balanced" admissions, some of these schools just forget about common sense.