Chance/advice for a scared junior

So after the bloodbath that was college admissions this year, I am really questioning whether my profile is even competitive for top schools. A reality check + any advice on schools to consider for my major (preferably out of state) would be incredible!


Gender: Male
Race/Ethnicity: White
Residence: Texas
Income Bracket: Upper-Middle Class
Type of School: Public
Hooks (Recruited Athlete, URM, First-Gen, Geographic, Legacy, etc.): Nope

Intended Major(s): Physics/Mathematics


GPA (UW/W): 4.0/5.3ish (out of 6, its a weird scale but my average grade is about a 98)
Rank (or percentile): 4/500ish
Amt. of Honors/AP/IB/Dual Enrollment/etc.: 10 after this year, 15 including senior year
Senior Year Course Load: AP Physics C (mech + e&m), AP Gov, AP Econ, AP Lit, AP Research, Adv. CS (Java class after AP CSA), DE Multivariable Calc, and another DE math class haven’t decided yet

Standardized Testing

List the highest scores earned and all scores that were reported.

  • SAT I: 1550 (750RW, 800M)
  • AP/IB: Physics 1 (5), CSP (5), WH (5), HUG (5)


List all extracurricular involvements, including leadership roles, time commitments, major achievements, etc.

  1. Violin/Orchestra (concertmaster and awarded soloist)
  2. -redacted name- website built on own initiative that provides free lessons, videos, and practice problems for all topics on the AP Calculus AB/BC course outline (WIP but currently through differential calculus)
  3. Magic: The Gathering (peak top 800 player in the world)
  4. Programming (PE top 1%, CS team but didn’t compete this year due to extenuating circumstances, Independent Projects, AI/ML club member)
  5. Math/Science Competitions (math team)
  6. Independent Learning (Algebra II, Calculus I, Python, Algos and Data Structures) through internet and edX
  7. Speedcubing (just a hobby, haven’t gotten to do competitions recently)
  8. Honor Societies (MAT, NHS, NTHS, NSHS)
  9. Math/Science tutoring (online and in-person)
  10. Work (don’t wanna doxx but its a weekend job a few times a month, 8-12 hour shifts)


List all awards and honors submitted on your application.

  1. National Merit (dont know which tier yet, 1490 psat)
  2. Project Euler top 1% of solvers (international)
  3. AP Scholar with Honor
  4. 2019-2020 Concertmaster of Region Orchestra
  5. 2-time All-State Area Qualifier
  6. Principal’s academic award
  7. 2-time Orchestra MVP award

Some schools I am looking at >

Safety: UT Austin and Texas A&M (auto admit)
Target: UMass Amherst (EA), CU Boulder (EA), Purdue (?)
Reach: MIT (EA), Caltech (EA), Princeton, Duke, Brown, UChicago (EA), Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Yale, Vanderbilt, Boston University

Any schools that are outside of Texas that I can realistically get into and provide good merit aid opportunities would be very much appreciated!!

Have you looked at Harvey Mudd? It’s also terrific for physics and math; if you visit Caltech, definitely consider visiting Mudd as well. As a Texas student, I assume you’ve considered Rice and ruled out because you’d rather leave Texas if you go to a private U?

You’ve got great credentials, but I’m sure you know that a lot of the schools you’re looking at don’t give merit aid at all. URochester, CWRU, and RPI are all worth a look for merit potential. Maybe consider some Canadian U’s also.


If you are auto-admit at UT Austin, then you are already in at a very good university. Congratulations! It looks like you have earned this through your own hard work and success throughout high school.

When you are auto-admit at a university that is this good, then you can relax.

U.Mass Amherst is a very good university. However, I do not understand why it is worth paying more than you would need to pay for UT Austin. I could say the same thing about CU Boulder. Both do however have some merit aid for a few out of state students which might reduce the cost difference given your excellent results.

I think that you are competitive for your reaches. However this puts you in a group along with 80% or 85% of applicants. Your reaches are “reaches” for a reason. Most of them do not give any merit based aid.

I do wonder whether you would be better off attending UT Austin for your bachelor’s degree, then considering your reaches (and perhaps also Stanford) for a master’s degree. This assumes that you will continue your excellent work through university.

By the way, I was a “math or physics” major until I met up with quantum physics. Then I became a math major.


Unless you want to leave the state, you can drop your targets. Both are actually safeties but would you choose them over the Texas schools ?

Your reach schools are smaller so maybe you want smaller publics - we don’t know your budget but first off Alabama and Arizona will be dirt cheap. Both have Honors. Florida, Florida State, Miami Ohio, South Carolina and more will have strong merit but again we don’t know your budget.

You might look at a W&L Johnson Scholar, TCU, Trinity U, and SMU for potential dirt cheap.

Really need your budget. Saying merit is not enough.

Many schools will want you!!


My advice for a scared junior is don’t be scared. Your list isn’t totally unreasonable so far, but you have a LOT of reaches. You are definitely going to get into at least two schools. You can only attend one, so you really have nothing to be scared of, right?

I think you could get rid of a couple of reaches, because those apps are a lot of work. Maybe be a little more ambitious with your targets, but as you are a junior, you still have time to consider what colleges interest you. Many LACs are great for math and physics, and many of them work very hard to keep the balance of guys and girls equal. Being male can be a boost at quite a few excellent LACs.

In your shoes, I would consider applying to any of the colleges on this list, almost all of which will be good for math or physics.


You have a great deal going for you. I don’t have any special insight into the admissions chances. But I thought I would ask if you have looked at Emory? It has the benefit of encouraging double majors, and the music dept is often looking to fill the orchestra. (Most of the music majors are double majors.) That can mean that your music ability may help you in the admissions process.


You are already into a very good school automatically, so you only need to apply to schools you like more. No reason to be scared, you have a great result which can only be improved.


You need to drop the flaky ECs and focus a curated small list.
Your most valuable non academic activities are a) music, and b) the 8-12 hours of weekend job.
The Project Euler cannot be proven and AOs won’t understand.
The Magic stuff is interesting.

If you have substantive independent projects, have a faculty member write a recc about them. Otherwise they can’t be verified. The AI/ML club member bit is meaningless unless you can show provable work.

Can you prove his?

If you haven’t gone to competitions, you should not waste space talking about his. Unless you are willing to an essay on this topic with a human interest angle.

Are they valuable?

This can be used.

This is the most valuable bit. This shows you are grounded, and are a real person.

Your essay will determine whether any of your reaches can happen. MIT wants a maker portfolio etc…


Congratulations on all of your hard work and achievements! It will leave you with many options come the spring of your senior year.

You definitely stand as good a chance as anyone for the very selective (or rejective) colleges. Unfortunately, there are far more qualified applicants than there are spots. Thus, the vast majority of students who receive denial letters are eminently qualified with really impressive backgrounds.

Since you will have guaranteed admission to UT-Austin and Texas A&M, you’re in a great spot. You only need to find universities that you would prefer to attend over these. What’s the budget? Any preferences with respect to what you want your college life to be like? (Size, area of the country, Greek life, importance of sports, urban/suburban/rural, the vibe, etc.)

This list is categorized based on my very fallible sense of what might be your chances of acceptance. The non-bolded schools are from your original list. The bolded schools are schools that I have added, as they have strength in physics and/or math. (If I only found a strength listed in one or the other, I noted that, but just because I didn’t find a note of it somewhere doesn’t mean the other department isn’t strong. No comment beside it means I found both departments listed as strengths.) They also seem to provide a different experience than the Texas publics and are likely to provide merit aid, and in several instances, very generous merit aid.


  • UT – Austin
  • Texas A&M

Extremely Likely (80-99%)

  • U. of Colorado – Boulder
  • New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology
  • Clarkson (NY)

Likely (60-79%)

  • U. of Massachusetts – Amherst
  • Purdue
  • Lawrence (WI) – noted for physics
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • U. of Utah – noted for math
  • Rose-Hulman (IN)
  • St. Olaf (MN) – noted for math

Toss-Up (40-59%)

  • Rensselaer Polytechnic (NY)
  • Reed (OR)
  • College of the Holy Cross (MA) – noted for math
  • Macalester (MN) – noted for math

Possible (20-39%)

  • Boston University
  • U. of Rochester (NY)
  • Davidson (NC)
  • Carleton (MN)
  • Grinnell (IA)
  • Case Western (OH) – noted for physics

Less Likely (20% or less)

  • MIT
  • Cal Tech
  • Princeton
  • Duke
  • Brown
  • U. of Chicago
  • Cornell
  • Johns Hopkins
  • Yale
  • Vanderbilt
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My advice if you want to leave Texas: Apply to small liberal arts schools. They do’t get a lot of intended math/physics majors, and males have an advantage over females in admissions. Look at Williams, Middlebury, Bates, Davidson, Amherst College.


Would add Vassar to that. Very easy to double major, and they are often looking for players to fill their orchestra/bands

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I agree, to a point. I thought about adding small liberal arts schools like Williams, Bowdoin, Hamilton, etc., but I decided not to because OP already has a bunch of highly selective/rejective colleges. But I think that OP should definitely look at some of these and see if these are preferable options to those already on his list. So I’d understand if OP wanted to switch out some of his “reach” schools for these, but I wouldn’t add more schools into that category.

Personally (and it truly is personal and others may not feel that way), I think it is very hard to go through an admissions cycle where more than half of the schools one applies to are a denial. Highly rejective schools are going to be denying most highly qualified candidates. Thus, I would not have that category make up the majority of the schools I applied to. But, I understand that others may feel differently.

As someone with lots of 5s in APs, you might consider applying to Oxford and perhaps a few other UK schools. It’s a lot cheaper than full pay US private colleges and admission is not at all holistic or reliant on hooks, it’s purely an academic judgement, so your chances would be much higher than for MIT or similar.

UK is not a lot cheaper. There are all kinds of costs. University fee, college fee, living expenses, flight tickets, exchange rate etc. You will get up to some 50-55k GBP, which is in the ballpark of what a private school costs in the US. I did the math a few years ago.

What is indeed cheap, and almost free, is ETH Zurich, but you need to know German.

Math is about GBP 45K per year, physics 52K ($59K-$68K at current exchange rates). But you finish in three years unless you stay for a masters. So a cheaper course is not much more than half the cost of top US private schools for a full pay student.

What we don’t have is any sense of OP’s budget, other than merit being desirable.

I was looking for CS, and that was some 55K I think, at that time. And I thought I didn’t want my kid to have a continental network as opposed to a US network. Also the program was very rigid. He can’t pick and choose even within the CS program (which he does now), and he won’t have the rest of the liberal arts curriculum, which is a negative (depending on how you look at it).

Now having been to a US school for undergrad, he thinks going to the UK for grad school is less good than going to a US school. Many of the STEM kids around him don’t prefer the UK grad school. They feel it is less good. Won’t matter for undergrad.

UChicago is on your list as EA. If you switched to ED1 you would have a better chance. The admissions dean is trying to get more kids from Texas to come to Chicago. Chicago has a very strong math/physics program.

I didn’t see a budget. What can your parents comfortably spend without debt?

NMSF can open up options. NMF can open more.

Congratulations on your achievements! Don’t be scared. You have time and are seeking advice to fine-tune your list. And you already have two guaranteed schools (great schools) even if they aren’t OOS as you prefer.

If you could provide a bit more guidance on your preferences, posters can give more targeted recommendations.

  • Budget? Ask your parents what they want to pay, not necessarily what they can afford. Also understand most of your reach schools only offer need aid, not merit aid. If merit is the priority, you will need to make changes to your list.
  • What are your career goals? Do you anticipate grad school? If so, should that be considered in the budget discussion?
  • Size preference? Your list leans mid to large…
  • Urban/Suburban/Rural preference?