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
- 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.