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What are my chances for top US universities as a German high school graduate

CreFroDCreFroD 0 replies1 threads New Member
Hello Everybody,

I am a student currently finishing the 10th grade (of 12) in a German high school. I plan to study mechanical/aerospace engineering in the future and I am considering some of the top US universities (Stanford, MIT, Harvard, maybe CalTech) as an alternative to studying in Europe (ETH Zürich in particular), but I am having a very mixed feeling of whether or not it is worth trying. I understand, that there was a number of discussions like this one, but I hope to see some opinions concerning my specific case.

I was born in a distant region of Russia, where I went to school for six years. The school had a strong focus on STEM and was one of the top 200 in the country, which is not of much relevance for the admission, I guess. After finishing the 6th grade, I moved to Germany (federal state Saarland) with my family. After arriving I went to a regular German Gymnasium (high schools, attended by nearly 50% of all students, that lead to the “Abitur”, which is comparable to A-Levels in the UK). I had to repeat the 6th grade because I didn’t have French classes in Russia and because my German skills were nearly zero. I was communicating with teachers almost only in English for the first couple of months. During the school year, I have studied the German language extensively, which enabled me to skip the 7th grade and go directly to the 8th, thereby compensating the repetition. The whole curriculum of the 7th grade (which wasn’t actually that much) was learned during the summer break. I did not feel challenged and that is why I switched to the so-called bilingual class, where some courses (Biology, History, and Politics) were taught in English. In the new class, I was still feeling bored, so I decided to skip a year. I switched from the 9th to the 10th grade in the midyear. The natural sciences, as well as the two foreign languages, did not cause any difficulties, while German course did require some effort to keep the grades sufficient. 

German students are allowed to choose between multiple courses for the last two years. While the normal number of lessons a week is 34, I decided to pursue all natural sciences (maths, physics, chemistry, and biology), so I am going to have 37 lessons a week. Additionally, I have chosen maths and physics on the advanced level and I will continue to study Geography in English. In “Abitur” graduation in Saarland, only the semester grades from the last two years and the grades for the final examination in some subjects count. They are used to calculate a number of points (with a theoretical maximum of 900), from which a final grade is calculated. This final grade is a number from 1 to 6, where 1 is the highest mark (although you can’t graduate with anything worse than 4). A person gets 1.0 if the number of points exceeds 823. Based on my current performance, I come up with the expected final grade in the range from 1.2 to 0.8 (formally 1.0, resulting from ~870 points). I realize that all these numbers do not mean anything for a foreign student, but I hope to see some replies from German students as well.

Now I will list the most important extracurricular activities and competitions.

First of all, I plan to use the opportunity given by the local Saarland University by taking the classes and exams in engineering together with the actual students. This requires my partial absence in school and picking up the school curriculum. If I were going to study in this university afterwards, this would allow me to skip the freshman year.

I have already participated in the German Maths Competition (Mathematikolympiade) twice, getting the second prize on the state level last year and the third prize this year. Also, I won on another national maths competition (Bundeswettbewerb Mathematik) on the state level this year. Though I do have a small chance of getting a prize on the national level in the future, I am not counting on it. Apart from that, I will participate in the international physics, chemistry olympiads (IPhO and IChO) as well as German computer science competition next year. I think that I have a relatively high chance of winning a prize on the national level in these three competitions.

In addition to that, I have participated in “Jugend forscht” in year 8, which is basically a nationwide science fair. The topic of my project was designing a robotic navigation system, which required knowledge in point cloud processing, parallel programming, and electronics. I did not get a prize on the regional level, mostly due to my limited language skills at the time. I received a special prize from a local IT company though. Currently, I am working on the next project, designing a volumetric display. It involves some extracurricular knowledge as well (CFD, vector calculus, FPGA programming, etc.). In the 8th grade, I was allowed to work on the project during the computer science lessons, because the entire curriculum was familiar to me. After that, in the 9th and 10th grade this permission was extended to maths and physics.

Because of the participation in the competitions and very good grades, I have received an honor award from my school twice.

Besides, I am going to do a two-week internship at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) next summer.

Also, I planning to volunteer in the local junior science center in the next school year. Students attending this center are making various projects with embedded electronics and robotics (using Arduino and similar stuff). I am going to help the teachers to develop the software the students need for their projects. Initially, this was offered to me as a job, but I thought that the money would be better spent on hardware, while I enjoy programming on its own.

In what concerns sports, I get good, but not excellent grades at school (except maybe swimming, I am really good at that). School apart, I play tennis, but just for fun, I am not skilled enough to be competitive. Also, having grown up in Russia, I am pretty good at skiing.

While the main point of this post is to see some opinions of my chances, I also have some specific questions:

- How hard is SAT or ACT for a German student?
- Are German grades valued in the US?
- Does having a multicultural background play a significant role? Is it an advantage or a disadvantage for me?

Thanks a lot for your replies!
18 replies
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Replies to: What are my chances for top US universities as a German high school graduate

  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 8039 replies85 threads Senior Member
    Good news: your academics are very strong, and the universities will know that; and national level prizes in the IC or PhO would carry some weight. German grades are understood; if by "valued" you mean 'recognized as being harder than US standards' probably not as much as you think that they should be!

    Bad news: the acceptance rate for all of those universities is less than 10%, and international students get only ~13% of the places offered. So, statistically your chances are tiny (that's why national level prizes are helpful).

    A multicultural background does not help or hurt in and of itself. It is possible that a good essay can come from that, but there are a lot more multinational students than you might realize (mine have citizenships on 3 continents, and by the time they were applying to university had lived on each of them for roughly even parts of their lives. The first collegekid's first handful of friends at university all had 3-4 passports each as well). So if you write an essay on that subject, you have to go beyond the first layer of 'it was hard learning the language / feeling out of place / not knowing the culture / etc but I learned so much about the world yada yada yada' and into a more substantive layer.

    The SAT and ACT are not going to be academically hard for you, but the structure and approach are likely to be unfamiliar. You can practice online and see which format suits you best, and study up on the specific things that are different. Pay particular attention to nomenclature- our lot found some math vocabulary that they didn't recognize.

    Spend some time on the MIT admissions website- they post a lot of useful things about applying and what they are looking for.

    tl;dr: it is a very, very, very narrow path into those schools. Right now, across the 4 years of undergrad, there are 41 undergraduates from Germany at Harvard, 8 at Stanford and 3 at MIT. But a narrow path is still a path. If your goal is to only go to the US if it is one of these superstar schools -go for it- you have Zürich as an alternative! I would also look at Oxbridge and Imperial (and don't leave out Cornell). If aerospace is your real love there are some choices that are less fancy brand names but are standouts for aero: UWa and GaTech come to mind.
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  • DadTwoGirlsDadTwoGirls 6665 replies2 threads Senior Member
    edited June 2019
    I agree with what @collegemom3717 said above. In addition, you probably should think about finances. University in the US is expensive. You need to find out what you can afford for university and see whether the top schools in the US will be affordable. I would expect the price to be at least $80,000 per year by the time that you would be ready to pursue education in the US. You could run the Net Price Calculator (NPC) to see whether you would qualify for need based financial aid.

    Another option to consider would be to get your bachelor's degree in Europe and then come to the US for a master's degree.
    edited June 2019
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  • HamurtleHamurtle 2740 replies36 threads Senior Member
    Post #1 makes a good point about US standardized testing. The downfall for most European students applying to US schools is that an SAT/ACT is different from an Abitur, Bac, or Matura.

    On the other hand, many European students who matriculate to American colleges find that the tests are way easier than what is typical for European universities.
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 24983 replies20 threads Senior Member
    You could run the Net Price Calculator (NPC) to see whether you would qualify for need based financial aid.

    The NPCs often don't work for international students. If you do run it, make sure to remove ALL federal aid like Pell grants and work study as you won't be eligible and the school may not replace those amounts with more school aid.
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  • b@r!um[email protected]!um 10276 replies175 threads Senior Member
    Harvard once said that 90% of their applicants are academically qualified to attend. In practice, that means that successful applicants need something in addition to strong grades to make the cut. Here's a selection of the extra-curricular accomplishments of the international students I have met at top American universities whose background I know:

    - one was very politically active (the head of the young adult wing of a major political party in her country)
    - one had received national media attention for a medical prosthesis which she had designed for a family member
    - one had received a journalism award that usually went to professional journalists, not high school students
    - one was the cousin of the leader of a country in Asia (American universities love students from powerful or wealthy families...)

    I have also met a few students who think they got into universities like Stanford or Princeton solely based on their academic accomplishments. Several had awards from the International Math Olympiad. One had taken so many university classes in high school that he only took Master and PhD level courses for the major in his Bachelor's degree. Another had been actively working with a research group at Stanford and was working on his first academic journal paper while submitting college applications.

    While your academic profile is strong, it might look less impressive to an American audience than it does to a German one. For example, it's quite common for American high school students to take a few university classes; it doesn't have quite the same "wow" factor that it does in Germany. Skipping a grade in high school might even put you at a disadvantage because you'll have less time to distinguish yourself from the other top high school graduates in Germany and the world.

    For what it's worth, I can share my own experience with US college admissions. I graduated #1 in my class in Germany. I had a national award from the Bundeswettbewerb Mathematik (but didn't make the cut for the IMO team selection) and had completed four university math classes in high school (Fruehstudium). Add a random assortment of other activities (sport, volunteer activities, etc).

    I was rejected from most of the US universities I applied to. I got two offers with financial aid, from Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke. I decide to attend Bryn Mawr over a "better" university in Europe. It worked out rather well for me. I happened to win the US green card lottery while I was in college, got a competitive national fellowship for my PhD, and received admission offers to multiple top PhD programs in my field (including MIT, Princeton and Stanford).
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  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan 13628 replies32 threads Senior Member
    Let's take a step back:
    Why are you interested in "top US unis" (they may differ from one another quite a bit)?
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  • gearmomgearmom 3964 replies6 threads Senior Member
    @CreFroD How much can you afford per year? Consider the University of Alabama Huntsville as a safety if you can pay 15-17k a year and have good stats for that major. Huntsville has quite a bit of research and NASA.
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  • DefensorDefensor 350 replies8 threads Member
    For somebody living in Germany, I believe TU Munchen would be a better and considerably less expensive option than coming to the US to attend university.
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  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 43281 replies471 threads Senior Member
    However, some aspects of excellent US colleges wouldn't exist at TU München : relationships with professors as mentors, access to research, a sense of community, small interactive classes, dorm life, school spirit...
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35419 replies399 threads Senior Member
    OP is missing that stats, depth and awards are not all that tippy top US unis look for. He needs the breadth. When they consider "community," it's more than classroom, major interests, awards. Your background needs to show this broader engagement in your community now.

    Yes, read the MIT blogs, especially about unilateral.
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  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan 13628 replies32 threads Senior Member
    @MYOS1634, so you're saying that TUM is the German LSE of the STEM world?
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  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 43281 replies471 threads Senior Member
    💪☺️ exactly ☺️☺️
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  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan 13628 replies32 threads Senior Member
    Yep, and LSE grads do very well in finance and consulting in the Anglosphere (really, around the world) while I'm sure TUM grads do very well in STEM in the Germanosphere (really, around the world). In part because of the talent of the student body but also in part because of where the school is located and reputation of the school. So the question again for the OP is why are you interested in "top US unis"? What goals do you have?
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  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 43281 replies471 threads Senior Member
    My view is that a student with the grades for Imperial, TUM, ETZH...has to want something else from education- "excellence plus".
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  • DefensorDefensor 350 replies8 threads Member
    TU Munchen (TUM) World Rankings

    ARWU (China) - #48
    THE (Britain) - #44
    QS (Britain) - #55

    #1 ranked technical university in Germany

    17 TUM professors and alumni have received the Nobel Prize

    TUM has had 20 researchers who received the Leibniz Prize

    TUM has had 6 researchers who received Humboldt Professorships

    23 members of TUM have been made IEEE Fellows

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  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan 13628 replies32 threads Senior Member
    @Defensor, yes, but rankings tell you nothing about the academic system (continuous assessment vs. everything determined by big end-of-year tests), the social environment, undergrad research opportunities, undergrad interactions with profs, which was @MYOS1634's point.

    But with the OP giving zero reasons for why he is aiming for a "top US uni", it's impossible to advise what would be best for him.
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  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 43281 replies471 threads Senior Member
    ^ none of this applies to undergrads though.
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  • HamurtleHamurtle 2740 replies36 threads Senior Member
    The OP hasn’t posted in a while, but TUM would be a good choice for a German university given the interest in aerospace engineering.

    Assuming that the OP is an Aussiedler, that might make for an interesting essay for a US college application.

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