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My story and some musings on the process

dividerofzerodividerofzero Registered User Posts: 547 Member
As all the waitlists collapse, including the one I actually care about, I feel like it's time to end this little story. Furthermore, I feel like I was disadvantaged by a lack of information during the applications process and want to help fix the problem by contributing as much data of my own as possible.

Background: I'm a middle-class (100-150K bracket) first-generation immigrant (10 years in the US, 7.5 abroad) South Asian male with an interest in EECS. I attended one of the the top 250 public schools in the nation, which has decent funds and respectable alumni (including one whose net worth is around the size of an Ivy League endowment). I'm graduating valedictorian at said school (class of 650)- and although we tend to have multiple (20+) graduates with perfect GPAs, I was in the "true" top 5 (based on actual grades instead of just GPA points) the only time they revealed semi-exact ranking- in October.

My aim in life goes something like this: I want to become highly skilled in tech, build startups, and ultimately invest myself in improving living conditions + access to opportunity in the Global South. My other passions include biology, politics, and certain types of non-fiction- although I must admit I'm not the biggest of readers. Ultimately though, I enjoy the empowerment of technology and love the field for not only the way it enriches the present but also the promise it holds for the future.

I've taken care throughout high school (in Texas) to develop the most rigorous course schedule I could, with a few blemishes due to lack of knowledge. Statistically, I'm doing fantastic as well. This is what I looked like along those lines going in to the application process:

Courses (weakest to strongest, * indicating a senior-year course; Honors wherever possible): Web Mastering, Band (3 years), Debate* (3 years), World Geography, Spanish* (4 years), Algebra II, English I, English II, AP Statistics, AP English III, AP English IV*, Biology, Chemistry, AP Physics B, AP World History, AP US History, AP US Government*, AP Macroeconomics*, Pre-Calculus, AP Calculus BC, AP Biology, AP Chemistry

Test scores: 2400 (800/800/800/11) SAT, 35 ACT (36/36/34/35/12) on trial one, 36 ACT (36/36/36/36/10) on trial two, 800 World History SAT II, 750 Math 1 SAT II, 800 Math 2 SAT II, 800 US History SAT II, 780 Biology E SAT II, 750 Chemistry SAT II, 720 Physics SAT II

Extracurriculars:

- field-related: math contests (three years of participation at a local one, one trophy to show for it), web application design (2 times participating, 1 time reaching state-contest), 1 year of Science National Honor Society membership, 2 years of Science Olympiad (1 year qualifying for state), 1 year of competitive math club, 1 year of mathematics competition through a state-wide organization, 3 years of AMC (non-advancing), summer engineering camp at a local university

- not field-related: heavy political/social participation at the school level, strong performance (state-level) for news/current events, decent at debate, participated in local current events contests, heavy community service (650 hours, including co-founding a student organization that now contains 200+ members)

- leadership: none in math, leadership in all the "not field-related" organizations

Analysis: My courseload was nearly the strongest it could've been (AP Computer Science isn't offered, unfortunately) BUT there's the conspicuous absence of Physics C (my school has a hilariously inept physics department and that class teaches you nothing here, so I opted to double-science in our two most rigorous courses: Chem and Bio- and I'm the only person this year to do so) and the question of why I would take AP Statistics before AP Calculus BC (forced to by school policy). My test scores were also a bit questionable when it came to the sciences (took them all on the same day out of foolishness- and without studying) and math 1 (forced to take it by parents who didn't understand the system). Extracurriculars is where I take the biggest hit, however: there's a massive absence of phenomenal success (school wasn't very pro-STEM, sadly; the one year we qualified to state SciOly, they bogged us down in paperwork and we couldn't go) and summer research (which I couldn't really participate in since most programs locally are only for "US Citizens and Permanent Residents"- I only became a Permanent Resident in late September). There were definitely some major risks taken and many questions to be asked- especially when it came to the lack of leadership in STEM activities- which I didn't go for because I believed it would just be a move to beef up my resume rather than a move to actually improve the organization (due, again, to the way we structure things). Also a conspicuous absence of National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta, both of which I quit because I saw them as resume-beefers and nothing else; I'd promised myself I would not get involved in that sort of organization.
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Replies to: My story and some musings on the process

  • dividerofzerodividerofzero Registered User Posts: 547 Member

    Onto the application process itself:

    Recommendation letters:

    - teacher rec's: turns out we were supposed to ask in March- as I found out mid-April. I had weak options when it came to science/math- my science teacher was retiring, and for math I had my AP Stats teacher who taught a class I was forced to take- and had a reputation for being a massive procrastinator, as I would find out in February when colleges started asking where the other application was. My top choice for humanities- an APUSH teacher with a PhD and a good connection with me- was also taken early, so I had to opt for a rec from the best English teacher in our department... but I dislike English strongly, haven't read an assigned book since freshman year, and my rec was good, probably great, but definitely not stellar.

    - counselor rec: our principal this year decided to re-organize the counselors. We've had a system in the past where a counselor gets assigned an incoming class rather than a grade level and moves up with them to keep track of the group. This year, it was going to be by grade-level. Worse yet, our old counselor got moved down to the freshmen and we had a new person. Who quit in October and was promptly replaced- again- by someone who didn't know us at all. I was pretty screwed on this front.

    Essays: Okay, so what can I say? I'm a procrastinator. None of my essays were stellar. They were good, maybe even great- I'm supposedly "insightful" and spent a good portion of my time helping friends proofread their essays. I definitely write well- or I wouldn't have survived English for so long without reading a single assigned book. BUT at the end of the day I didn't invest the effort to make my essays the best they could be- because, I figured that it would be best to invest my efforts into my coursework and extracurriculars (which were placing more immediate demands) rather than the college applications (which had later deadlines). I don't know how much this became an issue, but it certainly violated the counselors' #1 rule of turning things in on time.

    Mid-Year Reports: reached colleges in mid-March after USPS decided it didn't like me. So, in sum, three things arrived pretty late- the applications themselves, my math/science teacher recommendation, and the Mid-Year Report.

    Interviews:

    - MIT: I did *badly*. The interviewer was an entrepreneur building a web app startup. I connected to some degree, but slipped up halfway through when I didn't have the details worked out for a plan to save third world medical facilities- although I do have a small one figured out now.

    - Harvard: Not enjoyable either. Generic questions, by a psychologist this time.

    - Stanford: by far the best of my interviews; I'd thought of what I wanted to say + what I wanted to research in college (I was into brain-machine interfaces at the time) and went into some level of detail about what I would do at Stanford. This was also my "dream school" during applications, although of course I knew I had a slim chance of getting in, especially as a hopeful engineer.

    - Princeton: by far the worst. I'd been Facebook-stalked and half of it was just her demanding an explanation of my Soviet Union-inspired cover image (which had no political undertones). Other fun things that came up: why I hadn't done work for money (I prefer volunteer service as I don't really need money + hooray for "US Citizens and Permanent Residents only"), her interest in Princeton's embarrassing research on extra-sensory perception. Did I mention that she set up the interview at a Starbucks that hasn't existed for 3 years? This kind of killed my faith in Ivy prestige.

    - Rice: really so-so; interesting interviewer telling me about the residential college system and how Rice doesn't want people who just see it as one of 14 colleges on their list (i.e. "We're worried about our yield rate and will reject you if you look overqualified."). I was super-transparent during my application and told them I was applying to 13 other places.

    Results:

    REACHES

    MIT Early Action: deferred, then rejected
    Caltech Early Action: deferred, then rejected
    Stanford: rejected
    Harvard: rejected
    Princeton: rejected
    Yale: rejected
    Columbia: rejected
    UPenn: waitlsited

    MATCHES

    UC Berkeley: waitlisted EECS
    Johns Hopkins: waitlisted BME
    Cornell: waitlisted CS
    Carnegie Mellon: accepted ECE (FA covered 90-95% of need)

    SAFETIES

    Rice: accepted (FA covered 90-95% of need)
    University of Texas at Austin: accepted EE with Honors + $48k scholarship


    ATTENDING

    Carnegie Mellon ECE

    Thoughts:

    1. There were definitely things I would do differently if I started over: I would cheat- and cheat hard. They're looking for a certain type of candidate- as much as they try to dispel the myth- and I wouldn't have quit those resume-beefers because they did translate to an advantage my classmates had over me. I would definitely have played the game more strategically when it came to STEM- vapid research opportunities? Done- because they'd get me a shot at some of the best research labs in the country later on. Pointless classes with good names (i.e. Physics C at my school)? Done- because they'd get me a shot at some of the most educational courses on the planet.

    2. I didn't take advantage of a few opportunities- hackathons, summer research- that I didn't know existed.

    3. I'm definitely arrogant (I mean, I conveyed through this post a disdain for someone who went to freaking Princeton) and that came across on my applications. I'm also pessimistic/cynical- or not the emotional profile that colleges want their kids to fit, based on a few posts by admissions folks.

    4. I applied to the wrong schools. Why go to Yale for CE? I could've just focused on the Big Four (Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, and CMU), Caltech, Cornell, Rice, and UT-Austin- or 8 schools instead of 14. Actually, I could've just cut out Rice too- I just saw them as a way to avoid the shame of going to UT (automatic acceptance means I would be with quite a few people from my school who aren't qualified to run a McDonald's) and they did offer me a free application. I could've done a lot more research before applying to these schools- I'm lucky I got into CMU- I didn't put nearly enough work into that application because I had no idea that they were actually ridiculously good with computers.

    Feel free to ask any questions. Hopefully this anecdotal data point might help someone.
  • CHD2013CHD2013 Registered User Posts: 2,510 Senior Member
    edited May 2014
    I would be with quite a few people from my school who aren't qualified to run a McDonald's

    So, you think you are qualified to run a McDonald's? What have you done that would qualify you? You mentioned that your arrogance came across on your app. if that were true, I doubt you would have been accepted to CMU, Rice or UT.

  • dividerofzerodividerofzero Registered User Posts: 547 Member
    edited May 2014
    @EllieMom‌: Posts? As in plural? That's interesting. I didn't realize my arrogance came across in the rest of my comments on this site.

    Yes, I get the advice about EQ. I understand pretty well that I don't fit the HYPMS emotional profile. Ah well, too late.

    To be completely honest, though, I don't regret it- at all. For me, it seems more like a question of fit than of qualification- I'm not the emotional profile they're looking for, and I'm more than fine with that. These colleges won't determine my future- I will.

    @CHD2013‌: It's just a figure of speech I picked up from a joke about Gary Johnson ("He ran New Mexico? Great! He's qualified to run a McDonald's now!"). I don't know to what extent it came across on my app, to be honest- I'm just now realizing that CA4 stores essays as PDFs. But I got into UT through automatic acceptance (although I guess I did have to put in a small bit of work for Engineering Honors and the 12k/yr scholarship) and Rice- well, they gave me a free application. CMU I definitely fit the profile for- I've noticed that most of the people going there seem to have a lot of similarities when it comes to personality. It reminds me of how quite a few schools claim to be creating "symphonies" and say things like "Even if you're the third-best tuba player on the planet, you might not get in because we need more woodwinds and percussion." CMU doesn't seem to care about that much- they want the best tuba players in the world and realize they can accomplish just as much with a the best giant tuba ensemble ever assembled as they can with a whole symphony.
  • dividerofzerodividerofzero Registered User Posts: 547 Member
    Thanks! I couldn't be more excited to go where I'm going next year- for the same reasons that you mentioned above.
  • ccco2018ccco2018 Registered User Posts: 636 Member
    Congratulations.
    I'll say you are the BEST critic of yourselves and this will help you A LOT in life going forward. I will also say that you were confident and not all that "arrogant" as you might have judge. (Let's be honest, Perfect TEST scores warranted that as-well). So, yes,, keep your confidence but work on self expression as some might confuse that with arrogance.
    Its hard to believe your list but.... Luckily 3 came through for you. CMU is ABSOLUTELY a great place for your major.... did I say ABSOLUTELY!!!
    Now you know what you will be competing against (AGAIN) in 3 years if graduate school is in your radar.
    Best of luck to you.
  • theliankingthelianking Registered User Posts: 11 New Member
    Perfect test scores - you're a killer. You're not alone. Many immigrants focus on the schoolwork and don't get too involved in ec's in addition to a lack of knowledge. Congrats though. Indian or Bangladeshi, I presume?
  • dividerofzerodividerofzero Registered User Posts: 547 Member
    Indian. I did know about EC's and actually stayed till 5 on most days but I just didn't get that serious about any single one. I did too many EC's.
  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 9,999 Senior Member
    Cheating hard and doing hackathons would not have helped because of the arrogance and lateness.

    Anyway, you ended up at CMU in ECE, which, frankly, will get you as far as any other school in what you want with the exception of Stanford (which is a slim shot for anyone without a hook).
  • GA2012MOMGA2012MOM Registered User Posts: 5,440 Senior Member
    edited July 2014
    Your results don't match your ego. That being said, you have great options, good luck. Just a point....being a bit humble goes a long way.
    Post edited by MaineLonghorn on
  • GA2012MOMGA2012MOM Registered User Posts: 5,440 Senior Member
    Sheesh, if you admit you aren't a fit fo HYPSM, why then do you say you should have cheated? You ended up at a great school, but you still com off defensive and a d bag. Good luck to you.
  • dividerofzerodividerofzero Registered User Posts: 547 Member
    @PurpleTitan‌ @GA2012MOM‌

    That comment was premised on the idea that I wanted to get in. It was a "what would I have done differently" but I obviously wouldn't be applying to the same schools. The "cheat hard" part was a little bit of spur-of-the-moment frustration since Harvard literally admitted a kid with a much less rigorous schedule, no spectacular ECs, etc., even though he'd been stripped of his valedictorian title for cheating- which made the process more confusing and perhaps a bit irritating for me to get.

    And hackathons wouldn't have just been for college apps- I just found out about them and can't wait till September to join in. If I'd known of them in ninth grade, I would've had quite a bit of fun there.

    But sheesh, GA2012, y'all are way too quick to judge based on limited data. This was a pseudo-rant I'd written with much less understanding than I have now. I agree that my results don't justify that much confidence- hence my labeling it arrogance. Anyhow, on the over-testing:

    Yep, that probably was an issue. This is where "I'm a first generation immigrant who had no idea how this process worked came in"- hence taking Math 1 and all.

    Retaking the ACT did serve a purpose, though, and is easy to justify:

    I lost no time as I would've been at school anyway that morning and didn't spend a minute of prep. Money spent could he justified since there was a certain scholar award that was only open to people with perf. or near-perf. scores (not sure if my earlier score would've met it due to that 34, embarassingly in science) who were US Permanent Residents. I wasn't one the first time I took it, so I was just being careful so I would qualify to compete and wouldn't have to go through a ton of hassle.

    That said, I probably was being a bit competitive, too, since a handful of others had gotten one perf. but no one had gotten two. Definitely not the main motivator, though- I'd been told that both were needed for applying and didn't realize that wasn't true until much later.

    I'm also not going to attribute it strictly to low EQ at this point, as I reread my essays a while back and they didn't come off like this at all. My big issue was not knowing what I was doing. I treated HYPMS and the Ivies as pretty much the exact same school, which was a more salient issue in my essays. That + test scores = applicant obviously doesn't know what he's doing.
  • oldmom4896oldmom4896 Registered User Posts: 3,598 Senior Member
    I see a certain lack of attention to details here. All those missed deadlines! Arrogance? Maybe. Carelessness? Definitely.
  • dividerofzerodividerofzero Registered User Posts: 547 Member
    @oldmom4896‌ two of them were pretty much outside my control, but point taken.
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