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Appreciate advice on improving my application profile

I just got deferred by my early round school so I would really appreciate some advice on how to improve my application.
ACT composite 35
SAT subject tests: Bio E 790, Chem 800, Math II 800
School does not use GPA but I rank 1/1100+. I'm in the A levels system and all A's on my transcript. (Highest is A.)
Toefl ibt 120/120

International Biology Olympiad Gold Medal (ranked top few; prefer not to reveal)
Singapore Chemsitry Olympiad Silver + Singapore Math Olympiad Gold
Children's Literature Contest winner, work published, put in libraries and will be used as textbook
Top Student for Grades 9, 10, 11, 12 (1 out of ~200 in Grades 9 & 10; ~15 out of 1156 in Grades 11 & 12)
Top in English Language (1 out of ~200 in Grade 9); Top in Combined Humanities (1 out of ~200 in Grade 10)

1. Concertmaster in my school's Chinese Orchestra: gave concerts, participated in national art competition, coached section mates.
2. Piano Enthusiast: picked up the piano in Grade 9; Self-studied music theory, took piano lessons for three years, completed Coursera courses Music as Biology and Introduction to Classical Music.
3. Research project team leader: conducted experiments to collect EEG data, designed algorithm to classify data, represented school at Singapore Science & Engineering Fair.
4. Community service: Organize activities like dancing and baking for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) patients; set up booth at school to introduce concept of AD-inclusive society.
5. Social Justice: conduct workshops on using Foldscopes (origami microscopes) for under-privileged children in Singapore, Malaysia, China; video-teach biology lessons.
6. Initiator and organizer for a project busting myths: researched pseudoscientific myths, gave talks on critical thinking to 8 schools, opened WeChat public account (5100+ views, 600+ subscribers) for busting myths.
7. Participant in the brain camp held at National University of Singapore: Wrote about neuroblastoma, researched Autism Spectrum Disorder, took part in activities illustrating concepts such as sensory illusions.
8. Drama Club in grades 9 & 10.
9. Internship at Singapore Institute of Biology.
10. Track and field club: middle-distance running; top 20 among 350 in school-wide 2.4km race.

Wrote about how I picked up the piano only at the age of 16, how I kept it a secret to avoid being laughed at, how I discovered the world of music, how much it means to me now, and how I learnt to venture into something new not with the goal of achievements but solely for the love of it.

Additional Information:
A bit of my background: female from some underdeveloped, remote region in Asia.
A list of books I've read in the past year and the Coursera courses I've completed.

Welcome any constructive feedback :)
24 replies
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Replies to: Appreciate advice on improving my application profile

  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 30251 replies59 threads Senior Member
    You are looking good. But the most selective schools have more students like you than they do seats. You have no hook , and there isn’t anything you can do about that now. You are with all the excellent high scoring students who have done research, community service, played music, etc etc. The kids who get in have something the schools want outside of the etcs and those things you are either born into getting or have gotten by now.

    You’ve done very well to be in the pool of those who are eminently qualified for highly selective school acceptance. Since no one knows what each school has on it’s wish list, there is no way to strike that chord. Winning certain national awards—not just any, but those recognized by those schools would be a game changer. As it stands, you have a very small chance, less than 1/4 of the accepted stat of acceptance. But I think you are in the running for that. Getting out of that group takes something g remarkable
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  • PansyGarden111PansyGarden111 11 replies1 threads New Member
    Thank you for your reply. But as I said, I would appreciate some constructive feedback, while what you have done seems to be just commenting on my chances and saying that there's nothing I can do about it.
    In case you don't know, the International Biology Olympiad is one of the most prestigious Olympiads in the world, and even if you put all the Olympiad gold medalists together there are no more than 5 females in the world. I doubt if any 'national' award could compare with that.
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  • tgl2023tgl2023 266 replies6 threads Junior Member
    Perhaps you can tell us your intended major? Were you deferred from the University of Chicago? Did you apply as a Singapore national or are you going to school in Singapore as a foreign national?
    With your strong stats, I think that it is likely that good news will await you in the RD round.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 30251 replies59 threads Senior Member
    There are certain national awards that are tickets into the most selective schools in the county. It’s not my determination what awards rate this weight, but I didn’t see these Olympiad’s listed. A top student and highly ranked female chess player once answered as you did— she was one of the top 5 females in world. Apparently the most selective colleges didn’t hold that in as high esteem as she did. She did not get accepted to any of them.

    You have the academics, most certainly, but I see no hooks in your “resume” is what I’m telling you., and I don’t know how you can improve your chances because you have done all you can. It comes down to pure numbers at this point.

    I suggest applying to a range of schools in selectivity. I have no doubt that there will be an American school that will accept you. It’s just that for the most selective schools, there are not enough seats for all of the talented applicants, many very much like you applying.

    Are you applying as an international student? Are you applying for financial aid? Both of those thing, the latter more than the former, will lower your chances.
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  • PansyGarden111PansyGarden111 11 replies1 threads New Member
    edited December 2019
    Thanks for your interest and well wishes, tgl2023. I am a foreigner studying in Singapore. My intended major is slightly different for each school but it centres around neuroscience or bioengineering. I applied to Yale because I thought they wanted to recruit more STEM people. Seems they have other plans now.
    I wonder if the intended major matters. I did not taken physics for Grades 11 & 12. While I do have A1 for physics in the Singapore 'O' levels, I wonder if not taking physics for the past 2 years would be disadvantageous if I indicate any engineering major. Welcome any advice on that :)
    edited December 2019
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 9823 replies110 threads Senior Member
    Deadlines are around the corner. There is nothing more that you can do to strengthen your application.

    You can however send a letter of continued interest, with mid term grades, to schools where you have been deferred.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 30251 replies59 threads Senior Member
    Yes, your intended major matters a lot. You are judged by the applicant pool for that major. If you aren’t up to par with the other applicants who in that major pool in preparedness, accomplishments, you won’t be picked.

    Since the international biology Olympiad is one of the most prestigious in the WORLD, perhaps you should apply as a biology major. That achievement would be directly relevant to you planned field of study. Perhaps you can contact a professor whose research and publications are in sine areas that you excel and which you wish to pursue.

    My son was able to do do work with Neuroblastoma in getting human-mouse antigens as part of a treatment being used at Memorial Sloan Kettering , which caught the attention of a number of professors at selective colleges. This sort of thing does attract attention and a second look but the names, studies and awards have to mean something, mean a lot to those at the school. I bring up the Neuroblastoma because I notice you did some work in the field. But my son was also a childhood patient in that onco ward, which gave him a special insider track, not one anyone wants but , yes, it packed a Wallop.. This is the sort of thing that a difference .

    You are in a better than average pool with your high stats and hopefully a school known to US selective colleges. But you aren’t in a “hooked” pool. The way to stand out is for someone known and respected by the university to advocate for you as a great addition.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35358 replies399 threads Senior Member
    edited December 2019
    Let's try a different angle. For a tippy top holistic, there's no award that absolutely supercedes the rest of one's picture. Awards, et al, can be nice gloss and make for an enticing candidate. Yes, they validate. But the drives and accomplishments are not all of it.

    What about your other sides? Those that reflect you as a fellow student, roommate and more, in the ways Yale or others want in their community. It goes past your academic-related interests and should "Show, not just tell.". You seem to list most highlights are competitions or work, outside hs. (Or you phrase them in terms of publishing, leader roles, "initiator," etc.) Even learning piano was solitary.

    There's a balance needed. I think you can try to find it. It could be a simple matter of reviewing how you actually present yourself. These colleges are not judging just hierarchically- better at, best at, etc. Even Yale, with it's admit that leadership is important, has gone further, to note that even small efforts with no title can be leadership thinking.

    Adding. Yes, not taking physics in jr-sr year or pursuing it further in some valid academic way, can be confusing, for a possible BME major. But at this point, you got deferred, not rejected. Is there anything you did to keep up with academic physics?
    edited December 2019
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  • DadTwoGirlsDadTwoGirls 6417 replies1 threads Senior Member
    You are a very strong applicant for any university. However, as others have said there are more very strong applicants than there are slots at the highest ranked universities in the US. I think that all that you can do is to select schools which would be a good fit for you, apply, and see what happens.

    What is your budget?

    There is a very short list of highly ranked US schools where your budget will not matter as much since they are need blind and meet full need for international students. However, depending upon your budget you might find other schools which are also very good that would be less expensive than full pay at top US schools and where admissions is more predictable for top students. However, I do not think that there are any schools in North America where a top international student can know that they will get accepted with a free ride.

    Also, what do you want in a university?
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  • PansyGarden111PansyGarden111 11 replies1 threads New Member
    Thanks lookingforward for your advice. I did include that side of me in the supplemental essays but I think it's useful to try to phrase things differently. Actually a friend of mine had given me a great deal of help in learning the piano and in understanding music in general.
    As for the intended major, I thought I might be better off applying under neuroscience instead of engineering since I have not taken physics for the past two years. Under the Sg A level system it's just not possible to take all 3 sciences at once. I am trying to avoid biology for two reasons: 1) I don't really plan to be a biology major; 2) I don't want to be seen as a pre-med since I don't aspire to be a doctor. Heard there are many aspiring pre-med females applying under biology every year.
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  • PansyGarden111PansyGarden111 11 replies1 threads New Member
    Thanks DadTwoGirls for your interest and suggestions. I'm not really concerned with budget and I don't intend to apply for financial aid if the school isn't need-blind for international students. That's given me a lot more choices.
    I would like to attend a university that's reasonably well-rounded with high academic rigor for most of the subjects, since I'm still not sure what I'll end up studying in the future. I also hope to have plenty of resources for me to go on field-trips, overseas programs, independent research etc. Also very important is peers who are really passionate and dedicated about what they do.
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  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 7751 replies82 threads Senior Member
    I applied to Yale because I thought they wanted to recruit more STEM people.Seems they have other plans now.

    The fact that they deferred your application doesn't mean that they "have other plans". Yale will accept ~6% of its applicants this year, and approximately 10% of the 6% will be international students. Yes, you are a strong applicant- but the applicant pool is very strong as well. Yale gets to sit back and evaluate applications from the best of the best- across every type of 'best' - from all over the world, who are competing for about ~170 spots in a class of ~1500. So celebrate that you are somewhere between the ~13% who were admitted and the ~30% who were denied, and still in the hunt.

    IF you wanted to edit your application for other schools, based solely on how they are presented here, I would suggest a serious pruning of your ECs. They read as all over the place, some are obviously minor (2 years of running), others it's hard to tell. Be honest with yourself as to how important or how much of an achievement or commitment they were*. Be sure that the ones that are really important to you and that demonstrate something important to your overall story are front and center. Grouping can often help wrangle them into shape.

    *For example: "Children's Literature Contest winner, work published, put in libraries and will be used as textbook" Collected works from student competitions are common enough, but using them as textbooks implies something else (also, was this in secondary school?).
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  • austinmshauriaustinmshauri 9735 replies371 threads Senior Member
    If your parents can be full pay ($60k/year or more) there are probably a lot of US schools who would be happy to have you. I'd broaden your search to schools that have an acceptance rate of at least 20-30%. How you adjust your app depends on the targets you choose.
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  • DadTwoGirlsDadTwoGirls 6417 replies1 threads Senior Member
    "I'm not really concerned with budget"
    "high academic rigor for most of the subjects"
    "peers who are really passionate and dedicated"

    Given your great stats I think that you are competitive at any university.

    The top universities in the US (HYPMSC) are high reaches even for the strongest students. However I think that it would be worth applying to three or four more and see what happens.

    The top universities in Canada (eg, Toronto, McGill) have relatively more spots compared to the population of the country they are in and very stats-based admissions. I think that they would be essentially safeties for you. If you wanted something smaller than McGill then we could give you suggestions (I have a daughter who is essentially a straight A student who wanted a small school, so we have looked at several of them).

    For all of these the application deadline is not too far away and so it would be best to get your applications in quite soon.

    I do not know as much about the top universities in Australia but my guess is that your chances would be closer to your chances at top Canadian schools (ie, very good). Of course the weather would be a bit more similar to Singapore than the weather in Canada or the northern parts of the US.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35358 replies399 threads Senior Member
    They won't necessarily guess you're premed. The don't have a lot of time for speculating and the Common App does ask your thoughts about a future path. Make sure whatever major it is does make sense vis a vis the courses (and their rigor) that show on the transcript.

    If you do have other sides to show, think about getting some of it into Activities. Adcoms can read in any order, but the forms generally end with essays, supps, and Activities comes sooner, can help forge an earlierimpression. Think about not making them wait to see the rounded aspects. What I mean is peer activities, some just for the engagement. TT colleges want kids who do engage with peers, in various ways, sometimes lead, but sometimes follow, are willing to try things outside their usual interest areas. Not just a list of leader things. Not just the bold accomplishments.

    And try to see the resume aspects in your descriptions, which are more suited to a job hunt. These don't need to be packed with action words or looking for synonyms for a college app. Find what you're comfortable with. Think holistically.

    When I said piano was solitary, I wasn't looking for a friend who helped. More in how you use music, share with others. If you accompany a school performance or somehow use it beyond for pleasure.

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  • PansyGarden111PansyGarden111 11 replies1 threads New Member
    Results update:
    Accepted: Trinity College Cambridge, MIT, Harvey Mudd
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  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 7751 replies82 threads Senior Member
    Super congratulations!!! what a great group of choices. Have you decided?
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  • PansyGarden111PansyGarden111 11 replies1 threads New Member
    Thank you very much! I must also thank you for your very useful advice on pruning my ECs. I think they make much more sense after I grouped them into categories.
    Right now I'm still waiting for decisions from a few more colleges, but even before I get them I'm already torn between these three. Was hoping to go on campus visits but now due to the covid situation this is no longer possible... I'll ask more seniors and see.
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  • TamarixTamarix 51 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Congratulations PG111, very well done!
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  • PansyGarden111PansyGarden111 11 replies1 threads New Member
    Thank you very much :D
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