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Chance Me: Columbia , Williams, Cornell, and Brown?

confusedcow2020confusedcow2020 5 replies1 threads New Member
I'm in a bit of a tricky situation with regard to my GPA. I'll list my AP courses by year below my stats so that you can make a judgement about my rigor of coursework, and I'll also put my GPA for each year. You'll notice that my GPA takes a roller coaster ride. I was diagnosed with clinical depression (it still feels so weird to say this about myself) at the start of sophomore year and, as you can see, my GPA took a real pummeling.

In light of this, I would really appreciate any advice, especially (but not exclusively) if you have had a similar experience.

Ethnicity: South East Asian
Gender: Female
Location: West Coast
High School: Prep school w/ strong placement into Ivys
GPA: 4.19/4.80 weighted
SAT: 1590
SAT2: 800 Math II, 800 Physics
AP: 5s in all APs (listed below)

frosh
- AP Calc BC
- AP CS A
GPA: 4.68/4.80

soph
- AP World History
- AP Spanish Language and Culture
- AP Physics C: Mechanics + E&M
GPA: 3.87/4.80

jun
- AP Econ: Micro & Macro
- AP US History
GPA: 3.98/4.80 --> 3.33 semester 1, 4.63 semester 2 (the reason I break this down is to show the massive difference in performance across semesters)

senior (*currently a semester 1 senior)
- AP Psych
- AP English Lit
- AP Art History
- AP Stats

Honors & Awards:
- 2nd place team Berkeley Math Tournament 2017
- TSA TEAMS nat'l finalist 2017
- AIME qualifier 2017, 2019
- National Merit Semifinalist (will apply to be considered as a finalist, but that whole process hasn't started yet)

Summer Activities
- 2018: paid filmmaking instructor, attended creative writing program
- 2019: wrote for nearby newspaper

To try to bring some coherence to the above stats --- my two "spikes", or areas of demonstrated interest, are in math and english. I've been taking advanced topics courses in math since sophomore year (diff eqs, linear alg, mvc) and have a couple of alright but not spectacular math-related honors/awards to my name. My transcript alone won't show an interest in English but I think that my summer activities do.

SO, knowing all this, I'm hoping you can give me an honest assessment of my odds of getting into Columbia , Williams, Cornell, or Brown. I will definitely ED to one of these schools, so any suggestions about where to cast my ED vote are also welcome.
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Replies to: Chance Me: Columbia , Williams, Cornell, and Brown?

  • HamurtleHamurtle 2608 replies33 threads Senior Member
    If Naviance is available at your school, check the stats of recently admitted students.

    Your counselor will be the best resource to gauge your chances. He/she could explain the GPA drop as due to medical issues. Although be careful in mentioning clinical depression as it is a delicate subject.
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  • confusedcow2020confusedcow2020 5 replies1 threads New Member
    edited September 15
    @Hamurtle Hey, thanks for the response! My school uses a program similar to Naviance and it categorizes Columbia and Brown as "Unlikely"s and Williams and Cornell as "Reaches" using my GPA and SAT score. My stats put me in the bottom 25th percentile of accepted students historically from my high school for all of these schools except Cornell, for which I'm in the mid 50th percentile.

    I really wish my counselor was more helpful. The only piece of advice he's given me is that it's unlikely that I'll get into any of these places RD, so "if it's going to happen, it'll happen in ED". He doesn't know (or is unwilling to share, though I doubt this is the case) which schools I have the best chance at.

    Also, if you find the time, could you elaborate on how to handle the topic of depression in my apps? I was planning on writing something brief about the timeline of it (i.e. when it started, when I began to recover) and its effects on my performance in the additional info section. Should I be deliberately vague, instead, and only say that I had a "medical issue"? I would prefer to be as direct as possible, but if naming depression is going to hurt my chances of getting in by a significant amount, I won't do it.
    edited September 15
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  • HamurtleHamurtle 2608 replies33 threads Senior Member
    Odd that someone who attends a prep school has such an unhelpful counselor. You might need to resort to a college consultant in your situation.

    Unless there has been some previous negative incidents between you and your counselor, I can’t imagine that your counselor doesn't know much about the process.

    I would be wary of any mention of clinical depression in your essays. That is a sensitive subject to be sure. And should be addressed in any supplemental information.

    Since you mention that you’re a California resident, are UCs on your list?
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  • confusedcow2020confusedcow2020 5 replies1 threads New Member
    @Hamurtle Nope, no negative incidents between my counselor and me. My guess is that he isn't very certain of how to proceed with my particular situation given that he is relatively new.

    I definitely won't be writing about depression in my essays, but I'll make a note of it in the additional info section.

    And yes, I will be applying to the UCs, but I'm not expecting great results as they are apparently very picky about GPA and standardized test scores.
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  • dropbox77177dropbox77177 266 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Double AIME qualifier is a pretty big deal for a female in my experience. I think I'd go for Williams ED if it is all the same to you. It won't get the level of interest from advanced math students that your other choices will. Given your GPA progression, you might just be better off crushing it this semester and waiting for the RD round.

    I think taking AP Stats was not the best choice. Some algebra or intro analysis would have been natural for someone who did BC Calc in 9th grade. Perhaps the counselor could address that it would have been difficult or impossible to take advanced math elsewhere.

    Best of luck!
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 34539 replies383 threads Senior Member
    Four so very different colleges.

    Did your counselor only say unlikely or reach? He hasn't suggested other, better fits? Because the trick is in finding colleges that want what any particular applicant is offering. And that the family can afford. The competition for those colleges will be fierce. Have YOU explored alternatives? Do you have a Fiske Guide to Colleges? Have you run NPCs?

    There's a lot missinghere. What other ECs? In realistic terms, a problem semester is a problem for the uber competitive colleges, where more than enough kids apply with top records, no hiccups. A summer activity writing is not evidence of interest in English. (Lots of kids write something. And the only English AP here seems to be lit.) And "spike" isn't what gets a kid in.

    Plus, your senior schedule seems lighter, as you seem to have run out of tough courses. And you need to realize weighted gpa isn't what does it. Top adcoms look at the transcript, will see the rigor and letter grades. Most important classes to get A grades in are those related to the major(s) you state in the Common App.

    You do need to understand more about what makes one compelling for a tippy top. It's what they want, not just what a kid wants. With this understanding, I doubt you'd be thinking of telling them depression sank a semester. Think of the impression this creates, that personal troubles in college may affect college work. If there's anything to be said, better it comes from the GC. IF they have something positive to say.

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  • confusedcow2020confusedcow2020 5 replies1 threads New Member
    edited September 15
    thanks for your comments @****77177 . Just to clarify, are you suggesting that I should apply ED to Williams and wait to apply RD to the rest, or do you think it's best that I wait for RD to apply to all of them to give time for my GPA to trend upwards.?
    edited September 15
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 34539 replies383 threads Senior Member
    Imo, don't apply anywhere blind. Know more. Know what really makes your own chances better.

    Your first semester grades won't be out until close to the RD deadline. Many come out in Jan. None of those colleges go for one great bullet, you need to match on more counts. I'd say you have work to do.
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  • confusedcow2020confusedcow2020 5 replies1 threads New Member
    edited September 15
    @lookingforward Thanks for your honest response. My counselor hasn't suggested other fits for ED. The expectation is that we come up with our own college list. I have, of course, explored alternatives. Columbia, Williams, Cornell, and Brown represent my top choices at the end of all my college research.

    To answer your question, my ECs are cross country (junior and senior years), independent study for math olympiads, and volunteering on the weekends.

    Your insight into the admissions process was very helpful. I am not worried about my rigor of course but grades, of course, remain an issue.

    You said that "you do need to understand more about what makes one compelling for a tippy top. It's what they want, not just what a kid wants." Could you explain more? I guess I don't fully understand your philosophy about getting into a top college. For instance, I was surprised to hear that you don't think a "spike" is what helps most students get into their top choice colleges.

    Finally, if you don't mind, how should I explain the dip in grades if I don't allude to my experience with depression? I understand that college admissions counselors are generally leery of any mention of depression but I don't see why I should treat it any differently than, say, a physical illness in my application.
    edited September 15
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 34539 replies383 threads Senior Member
    First, is that an unweighted gpa? Somehow, we need a better sense of what actual grades dropped to and which classes.

    Junior year is when most kids up their rigor. Top adcoms tend to want to see success that year (and senior,) not a dip. That's an issue, no matter the cause. Yes, you're in a bind, trying to tag this to depression. Better the GC should say, look, a drop, but here's how she rebounded, etc.

    No matter how valid self studying is, it's not engagement with peers (in school or other ways, outside.) We also don't know what sort of volunteering. Lots of kids do slight things, collect hours, but are you doing something more challenging?

    "Spike," by its nature, means something you do, more than other sorts of things, maybe to the exclusion of others. Taken to the max, some kids become unilateral. Top colleges like to see rounded activities, variety, that willingness to get out of your own box. It gives them an idea you'll do more in college than your own pre-formed interests or just related to your major. Of course, they also like you to pursue math-sci when you want a stem major, but not just that. Not just contests, but collaborative stem things in hs.

    The filmmaking and writing are nice, but you show them here a only over summer.
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  • confusedcow2020confusedcow2020 5 replies1 threads New Member
    @lookingforward I understand your point about "spikes", now. Thanks for clarifying. The GPA I listed is my weighted GPA out of 4.8. Our weighted GPA calculation is such that an extra 0.5 is awarded to honors and AP classes. With the exception of junior year English (I was moved down at the end of sophomore year), I have taken honors and APs.

    ______________________________ S1___________S2
    Grade 9
    Hon English _________________A+__________ A+
    AP Calc BC __________________A+__________ A+
    AP CS A _____________________A__________ A+
    Hon Physics _________________ A+_________A
    Hon World History____________A__________ A
    Hon Spanish 3________________A___________A+

    Grade 10
    Hon English___________________B____________C+
    Hon Diff Eqs________________________________A-
    Hon MVC______________________B
    AP Physics C: E&M__________________________B+
    AP Physics C: mechanics ______B+
    Hon Chemistry________________A- ___________A-
    AP World History ______________B____________A-
    AP Spanish Lang & Culture_____A-___________ A

    Grade 11
    AP Macro____________________________________ A
    AP Micro_______________________B+
    Reg English____________________C____________A+
    Hon Info Theory _______________ B
    Hon Lin Alg________________________________A+
    Hon Bio_________________________B+________A
    APUSH_________________________ B+ ________A+
    Hon Spanish short story____________________ A+

    I will say that my volunteering work is nothing exceptional. I do think TEAMS and various math contests I attended through math club were very collaborative in nature.
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  • tdy123tdy123 819 replies15 threads Member
    .....My school uses a program similar to Naviance and it categorizes Columbia and Brown as "Unlikely"s and Williams and Cornell as "Reaches" using my GPA and SAT score. My stats put me in the bottom 25th percentile of accepted students historically from my high school for all of these schools except Cornell, for which I'm in the mid 50th percentile.

    Bottom 25% is actually worse than that as there is often a legacy factor contributing to making overall acceptance chances looking better than they really are for an unconnected applicant at elite HSs.

    Cornell's overall acceptance rate is also distorted by the fact that the reported rate is for all schools at Cornell while students apply to seven or eight (I'm a little out of touch with Cornell) individual colleges, some of which are much more, or less selective.

    Williams reports 87% of entering first year students rank in the top 10% at their HS. It is one of the most selective schools in the country. If your GPA puts you in the top 10% at your HS, then your Math/STEM background might give you a real chance in the early round.

    Make sure you have some less reachy schools in your RD list.

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  • HamurtleHamurtle 2608 replies33 threads Senior Member
    Although it’s a reach as well, I would seriously consider Tufts as well. Emory would also be another candidate school. And with the filmmaking interest, don’t count out USC.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 34539 replies383 threads Senior Member
    edited September 16
    We don't know any more about OP's filmmaking than one involvement. Nor the breadth and depth, whether she's actually got competitive skills. Sorry, but for all we know, she was paid to teach some neighborhood kid.

    I think some part of the picture here is missing. A prep with Ivy admits should be offering better GC support. If the GC is green, there must be some teacher who can offer help. And, of course, any applicant has a responsibility to research, as well.

    And we need to know if that's an unweighted gpa. It looks weighted, which is not what counts. OP is short on ECs (in comparison with the competition to those colleges) and has a light senior year. We see the APs, but not the overall courses. And she has a misunderstanding about the role of spike and whether she exhibits it, in any positive sense.

    All this points to needing to do more research into what those 4 colleges actually look for and then some self match- to what they want, not what she'd like. Same goes for any colleges anyone suggests. ED is not a magic tip, just for applying earlier. You have to match.

    As I noted, those 4 colleges are so different. Not just location and size, but flavor, mission, the sorts of expepctations and curriculum. Most of us on CC usually wonder if what drives those choices is really prestige.
    edited September 16
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  • AndorvwAndorvw 360 replies9 threads Member
    Agreed your list of 4 colleges are so different. How do you come up with these 3 Ivies + 1 LAC? Can you answer the "why" question for each college? Have you visited any of them (they're all in Northeast and you're on west coast)? Do you know the difference between core curriculum (Columbia) vs open curriculum (Brown)?

    Since you mentioned your prep school has strong placement to Ivies (not "Ivys"), you should get in touch with those students who are attending the 4 colleges on your list and ask for their advice as how you fit in those colleges, which I'd think could be much helpful than your GC.
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  • theloniusmonktheloniusmonk 2486 replies5 threads Senior Member
    "Double AIME qualifier is a pretty big deal for a female in my experience. I think I'd go for Williams ED if it is all the same to you."

    Exactly, which is why EDing anywhere unless it's a clear first is not advisable. Especially to a place like Williams which will be a culture shock to Asian kids from CA, unless you've visited there.

    "C'olumbia , Williams, Cornell, or Brown. I will definitely ED to one of these schools"

    In this case, I would decide whether I want city or rural campus and then go with either Columbia or Cornell. Good luck!
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  • NCKrisNCKris 258 replies1 threads Junior Member
    I am curious how you made that college list ?
    Columbia (core) and Brown (open-curr) are quite different learning experiences and NYC and Ithaca or Williams are polar opposite in location.
    Hope you did not just pick them for their prestige/ranking ?! (sort of like a tier below HYPMS ?)
    If you picked Williams, why not Amherst or Pomona then ?

    You have not given enough info about your interests and ECs.
    Make sure that you carefully choose your Match/Likely schools, and then research Reach schools.
    You have great SAT scores and AIME double-qualifier is quite impressive, and you have the course rigor.

    Can your parents meet with your GC to ask to make a note about your medical issue as a reason for sudden GPA drop, assuming that was documented at school.
    You should not mention depression in your application or essays, it looks better coming from the GC.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 78633 replies697 threads Senior Member
    edited September 17
    The GPA I listed is my weighted GPA out of 4.8.

    Based on your grade listings, GPAs that would be more useful for others to consider:

    3.63 unweighted GPA (grades 9, 10, 11)
    3.43 UC unweighted GPA (grades 10, 11)
    3.78 UC/CSU weighted-capped GPA (grades 10, 11; 8 semesters of +1 points for AP courses)

    Note that the downward trend from 9th grade to 10th and 11th grades is likely to be a disadvantage when applying to any college with subjective admissions reading. The colleges in your thread title should be considered extreme reaches. For the UCs, UCM is probably a match, UCR is probably a high match, and UCSC is probably a low reach.
    edited September 17
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