(ADVICE) Which universities should I apply to?

(TLDR at bottom)

I wanted to ask for advice on which U.S. universities I should apply to. I’ve done some research & came up with this list (no particular order):

  1. Stanford University
  2. University of California, Berkeley
  3. Carnegie Mellon University
  4. Yale University
  5. Brown University
  6. Harvard University

I also looked at the following schools, but decided against applying mainly because I didn’t think I’d fit in with the competitive culture &/or the social scene &/or the location wasn’t somewhere I saw myself living (no particular order):

  1. Princeton University
  2. Dartmouth College
  3. Columbia University
  4. Cornell University
  5. New York University
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  7. University of Michigan
  8. Boston University

I’d like to narrow down my list even more (2 schools max) so I can focus all my time & energy on a couple of applications. My questions are:
• Which 2 universities out of my list do you think I’d be best suited for?
• Are there any universities on my “decided against” list that you think would be better to apply to instead? (I’m asking because I’ve never visited any of the campuses. All my info about school culture/atmosphere has come from online posts, which obviously may be inaccurate. Unfortunately, it’s all I have access to with COVID-19 & being an international student).

Here’s some info about me:
• Currently on a gap year before attending university (took a year off partly because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study).
• As such, universities that accept undecided majors, or are esteemed regardless of one’s major are preferred.
• Main interests include business (management, marketing, entrepreneurship, NOT finance), psychology & the creative side of technology (have recently been considering a career in product design, though I’m not 100% set on anything).
• Have not taken any standardized tests, so I will only be applying to schools that have waived SAT/ACT requirements for the upcoming application cycle.
• My high school didn’t have class rank or GPA, but my Grade 12 marks were all high-90s. Grades 9-11 were low to mid-90s (except for 2 IB math courses which I failed due to not writing the exam worth 80% of my grade. This was due to a personal problem that completely downturned my second semester. I have since taken the non-IB equivalents of both courses & received high-90s.)
• My school only had IB classes (no AP or honours). After the personal situation, I opted to only take 2 IB courses as opposed to the full IB Diploma Programme.

Here’s some info about what I’m looking for in a school:
• I like the idea of having a close-knit community.
• I’d also prefer to have the opportunity to foster one-on-one relationships with both professors & students.
• I like more of a suburban area. Not directly in a large, bustling city, but still has options for stores, restaurants, places to socialize etc.
• I’m an introvert. I’m not big on partying & would much prefer to spend time with a small group of friends, so I’m more than okay not going to a “party” school or a school with Greek life as a selling point. With that being said, I’m hoping I can get out of my shell a bit in university. Having lots of options for clubs would definitely help be a plus, especially non-exclusive ones.
• I work significantly better in a quiet environment. I don’t know if that’s possible living on campus, but if there are any major differences among schools in terms of their residences, it’s something to consider.
• I understand that going to a prestigious school comes with at least some competitiveness & rigorous academics, but I’d like to be in a community that’s more collaborative & uplifting rather than stressful, cutthroat, or full of elitism. I’ve sacrificed my mental health for my academics before & I’ve learned my lesson – I’m definitely not willing to do that again lol.
• Cultural diversity is a plus as I’m a minority.

I’m only planning to leave my current country (Canada) to study in the U.S. if I get into a top school. I understand that my profile isn’t necessarily ground-breaking, but I figured with SAT/ACTs no longer being required, there’s no harm in applying.

Any insight would be greatly appreciated, thank you in advance!

TLDR: Made a list of potential U.S. universities to apply to – want to narrow it down to 2. Main interests are business (management, marketing, entrepreneurship, NOT finance), psychology & the creative side of technology (considering a career in product design). I’m a cultural minority from Canada, introvert, like the idea of having a close-knit community & mental health is very important to me (would prob choose a school ranked higher in student happiness over prestige).

It’s very hard to “chance” you for such competitive schools, when combining the low baseline acceptance rates with the additional disadvantage of applying as an international student, and then throwing in the absence of test scores and a generally-strong transcript but with a couple of noticeable missteps. If I had to guess, I would have to say that the only way you’d get into the schools you list is if there’s something really remarkable on the extracurricular side, that you haven’t mentioned here.

Have you looked at this program at Babson? https://www.babson.edu/academics/undergraduate-school/concentrations/technology-entrepreneurship-and-design/# It’s often mentioned as a top (if not the top) school for entrepreneurship. That program seems to fit your interests as described, and it takes advantage of Babson’s proximity to and cross-registration with Olin College of Engineering, which is highly prestigious as well. Babson would fit your criteria of being small, close-knit, suburban, and not known as a party school; and it’s a highly-regarded program that could be considered worth crossing the border for, but with a more realistic admit rate (and an EDII cycle that would boost your chances further, should it seem like a particularly good fit).

You haven’t mentioned finances - would you be able to full-pay for a US private college/university?

Thank you for your response! I understand that it’s hard to chance me, I was more so looking for which school might be the best fit for me should I get accepted. I know they all have extremely competitive acceptance rates, but I was only planning to apply to “reach” schools in the U.S.

To be honest, I wasn’t even planning to apply to U.S. schools in the first place. I thought I’d just challenge myself & take advantage of this year’s leniency in terms of not requiring standardized tests. I have plenty of options in Canada that I’ll be applying to as well, so I’ll be okay if I get rejected. Just don’t want to regret not trying.

I’ll definitely check out Babson. If you have any thoughts on how I’d fit in at the schools on my list (not taking how difficult it would be to get accepted into account), I’d love to hear them.

In terms of finances, I likely wouldn’t be able to full-pay. However, I mentioned finances to my parents & they don’t seem too concerned. They just want me to apply wherever I want first since there’s a slim chance I’ll even get accepted.

Thanks so much again!

Well, as far as social fit… the schools you list vary quite a bit in terms of “vibe”… but there are introverts who thrive at all of them. It does stand to reason that these schools are on the lists of many students for whom elitism is part of their value system - one can’t really expect to go to Harvard and not find elitism there. But that’s not to say that elitism is universal even at elite schools.

It’s the academic fit that you may want to look at more closely. There are some specific programs at your schools that fit what you say you want (like the Product Design major at Stanford), but then there are others where it may be hard to find as much hands-on business and design oriented coursework as you want, or hard to be as interdisciplinary as you want (for example, CMU has top-notch programs in both business and design, but you can’t really combine them, despite all of the “interdisciplinary major” marketing that they do.) That was why I thought that unique program at Babson sounded like exactly what you were describing, whereas this would be hard to replicate at many other schools.

Here’s another possibility. Northeastern is similar in location/competitiveness/prestige to BU, which you were considering, but it has more established cross-disciplinary paths. http://catalog.northeastern.edu/undergraduate/business/business-administration-combined-majors/design-bs/#planofstudytext Their design stuff leans a bit more toward the digital, and as with BU it’s more urban than you’d prefer, but maybe worth a look.

That makes sense. I think I’ve narrowed down my list to Stanford, Yale, Brown & Harvard – do you have any specific insight on their culture/atmosphere?

I’m really interested in Babson College’s Technology, Entrepreneurship & Design concentration, but I’m afraid I’d be limiting my options too much by going to a school that’s so laser-focused on entrepreneurship. It doesn’t look like there are any options outside of it, so while entrepreneurship is one of my interests, I think I’d be better off going to a school that’s not so specialized in case I end up going in a different direction.

The Northeastern program looks really great, & I’m interested in digital design as opposed to physical/industrial design, so that works out. Looks like Northeastern also has a Business Administration and Psychology option, which looks interesting! If you come across any similar programs (any interdisciplinary studies between business, psychology &/or design), please send them my way!

You’ve been extremely helpful!

If you’re interested in Business + Design + Computer Science, the Raikes School at U of Nebraska is worth a look. I know the university in general wouldn’t come to your attention as one that you’d come to the US for vs. choosing a Canadian U, but Raikes is a highly competitive honors program that is very self-contained and has admits a very high-achieving cohort. Worth at least a quick look: https://raikes.unl.edu/ Would also be a lot more affordable than the private U’s you’re looking at!

Tufts has an Engineering Psychology major - not as businessy, but if tech and human factors interest you, maybe something to think about… and it seems like the kind of place you’d like in terms of vibe and environs.

There’s also the Iovine & Young Academy program at USC… but I’m not sure you’d like the urban-LA location, and the specific program is pretty tough to get into anyway.

Good luck! If you like Northeastern, that’s a good one to add to your list - they have a large international student population, so intl applicants aren’t at such a disadvantage as at many others. As you point out, it also has a lot of options for majors and combined majors, and they make it very easy to move between programs, so it’s a great place for students who aren’t 100% decided on a major/career path. Co-ops can also help clarify what direction you want to go in!

@kcgilmore With all due respect, I think you need to look at some less competitive schools because your stats are just not there. Your GPA is going to be on the low side for these schools and the level of rigor (just two IB courses) falls short of most successful candidates. In addition, you don’t have test scores to submit. To give you an idea, I know a girl who applied to many of the schools on your list last year, she was a national merit scholar, an IB diploma candidate, was taking 5 HL courses, had a GPA of 5.2 and an ACT of 35. She was denied at every one. Competition is fierce. Unless you’ve done something extraordinary and you have a hook or two, I think you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. There are plenty of great colleges that are more in your range and I recommend you focus more on schools where you have a chance of gaining admission. I wish you the best of luck.

I wouldn’t think you have a good chance at any of the schools you listed. Schools are lenient in their testing policies this year because of Covid. If you graduated last year (2020) and are doing a gap year now, you should have managed testing dates during your senior year since application deadlines were a while before Covid-related cancellations started happening.