Chance an Asian High School Junior for T20 CS [parents will only pay for top 20 or Oregon State]

Demographics
Male Asian US citizen from a graduating class of about 700 students in Oregon. My mother went to Cornell for graduate school if that means anything.

Intended Major(s)
CS

GPA, Rank, and Test Scores

  • Unweighted HS GPA: 3.97 (including freshman year)
  • Weighted HS GPA (incl. weighting system): 4.37
    regular A worth 4.0, IB or dual credit (for college) A worth 5.0.
    We are only allowed to take weighted classes starting junior year
    taking 6 IBs and 1 DC class this year
  • Class Rank: top 1%
  • ACT/SAT Scores: 1590 SAT, ACT pending

Awards
Multiple state-level science olympiad awards
Multiple awards at state level CS competitions
TSA TEAMS national qualifier
Mathcon Honorable mention
Presidential Service Award (gold and bronze)
Most likely National Merit Semifinalist (1480 this year)
CyberPatriot Platinum Division
ACSL Junior Nationals Bronze
ACSL Intermediate and Senior national qualifiers
USACO Silver

Extracurriculars
Summer Internship at IBM
Club Leader and founder of School CS club (~10-20 regular members)
Club Leader and founder of School Science club (~5-10 regular members)
400+ total volunteer hours in high school across multiple nonprofits
Participation in a local summer coding camp
Internship at local mechanical engineering small company (3 employees including me)
Member of NHS
Member of School Science Olympiad Club, team captain next year
Syllabus Level 10 of OMTA for Piano
Participate in Disc Golf local tournaments

Essays/LORs/Other (I am unsure who to ask)
IB Physics: 7-9/10, I am fairly sure he has a good impression as he wrote me the letter of rec for my IBM internship.
CS teacher: 5-7/10: He has a very favorable impression of me, however, I saw one of his letters of recs and he seems to be low-effort
Calc teacher 5-7/10: She is fond of me, however, I am unsure how fond
Spanish Teacher 5-7/10: He has a good impression of me as a student, however, I am unsure of how fond he is
Boss at small company 10/10: He treats me as if I’m his own son

Cost Constraints / Budget
None

Schools
ED:
Cornell: Most likely ED for possible legacy

Safety:
OSU
Purdue

Target:
USC: Looking to apply to CS + Business program
UCSB
UCSD
UW
University Wisconsin Madison
UCI

Reach:
UCLA
UCB
UIUC
GTech
UT Austin
UMich
Ivies

I feel like I have a very warped view of college admissions selectivity due to the environment I live in. Please tell me if I should have a different view about the selectivity of any of these universities. I am also trying to cut down on this list. Thanks!

Purdue CS is very competitive and is not a safety for anyone anymore.

I’d ask the teacher who would give you a glowing recommendation, not one that would be so so.

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For your reach schools, they will want 2, not 5 (!!) LoRs; the “Ivies”* have a generic preference for 1 each of humanities & STEM.

Students often talk about whether a teacher “likes” them, but writing LoRs is not about being “fond” of a student. Writing an LoR is a professional responsibility. Like everything, some people are better at it than others and some take it more seriously than others. You are at the very very top of your class- why do you think that NONE of your teachers will rate you as an outstanding student who is ready, willing and able for a rigorous, highly selective program?

Do you think that the student whose LoR you saw is as strong a student as you are? One of the challenges of writing an LoR is that there is a lot of nuance. You don’t say ‘this is an average student’ (especially if the student will be reading it!), you use passive, bland words- that might to an outsider look like ‘low effort’. Obviously, I have no idea about your specific example- that student might have been a superstar and the teacher just phoned it in. I’m just giving you another possible interpretation.

What matters for you is, how do you make sure that you get good LoRs? You ask. Identify a class in which you feel that you have shown your best student self, go to that teacher and ask: "I am getting ready to apply for colleges, and will need LoRs. Your class is been one that I think has been one of my best learning experiences. Do you think that you could write a strong LoR for me?’. Notice the language- it explicitly asks not if they would write an LoR, but if they would write a strong LoR for you- and it gives them a graceful way to say no without it being a personal rejection.

Next step: most likely your school has a form that students complete & give to teachers who will be writing LoRs for them (if not, come back & ask & we can give you ideas of what to include). Put serious effort into completing that form. Think hard about the picture you are painting of yourself as an applicant, and try to find links between those traits or elements and what that teacher has seen of you. Be super specific and assume that they don’t remember anything.

Some of the colleges you are looking at are what another CC-er referred to as ‘rejection’ schools: they reject 90+ % of their candidates. You can guess that the applicants they accept do not have LoRs that are a ‘5-7/10’.

*please be specific- if you shotgun them for CS you are doing it solely for pride or ego, as some of them are notably less strong for CS than some of the other schools on your list.

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I will pile on to what everyone else is saying. Your LORs are a big concern. Colleges are interested in academic recommendations, so the 10/10 from the employer will likely have no bearing.

Your stats are very good and don’t disqualify you from any of these schools, but I would explore ways to get more persuasive LORs and make sure all other aspects of your application are excellent. While these stats may get you through some first screen, they also aren’t going what gets you into a school…especially for CS.

Is OSU Oregon State (not Ohio State)? I am guessing that’s the case. Unless Oregon has an auto admit program, make sure you apply EA to Oregon State. I have seen CS majors with 1550s not get into what they believed would be their safeties this year because they applied later in a rolling admission cycle. These applicants were certainly qualified for the schools, but the CS departments had filled their seats or given out enough offers already.

I am not sure what you meant by having a warped view of selectivity, but for a CS major the landscape is as challenging as you might have heard. Safeties are targets and targets are reaches…and reaches are often super reaches to near impossibilities.

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UCSB, UW (4% OOS CS acceptance rate), USC, UCSD are all reaches for CS. Maybe even UCI, will let @gumbymom weigh in on that. What are your UC GPAs? GPA Calculator for the University of California – RogerHub

I also would cull the list and add some targets, and make sure you would be happy to attend your safety/ies (right now just OSU) and they are affordable.

What are you looking for in your college experience? Spend time thinking about the factors that are most important to you and that will also help cull the list. If you have Columbia and Dartmouth on your final list you haven’t done enough digging/thinking. Some of the schools on your list are better for CS than most, if not all, of the Ivies.

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I know people hate when I ask this…but are you saying your family is fine with paying $65,000 a year for those UCs? Because you won’t be seeing need based aid at all…and the regents scholarship you might receive will be small. Just an FYI.

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I would put all the UC’s into the Reach Category since CS is impacted at all the UC’s and the selectivity rate is below 10% for all these campuses. UCI for example has a 7.1% admit rate for CS, while UCLA was 5.4% last year. Also the UC’s are test blind permanently so your excellent SAT score will not be considered.

Being OOS puts you into a different admission pool and the UC’s do like full pay students. CS is such a marketable major that you do not need to go to a prestigious school to be successful post graduation.

You are a highly competitive applicant and there is no reason to be paying $67K/year to attend a UC when your accomplishments should get you some great merit aid at many schools.

UC GPA calculator and the UC’s consider all 3 UC GPA’s in their admission review. LOR’s are only considered by UCB if invited to submit.

https://rogerhub.com/gpa-calculator-uc/

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Do you really like Cornell? Is it your #1 choice out of all possible schools in the U.S.? If so, feel free to apply ED. If not, however, I wouldn’t. Why commit to go to an institution if it’s not your top choice?

The competitiveness in reading through threads of application decisions really blew my mind this year. I think your chances are as good as anyone’s to get into any of the schools on this list. Unfortunately, however, even the most qualified applicants are highly unlikely to receive admittances because there are way more qualified students than there are spots.

This list is sorted by my very fallible guesses of what the chances might be at these colleges for you in CS. And for the schools in the Possible & Less Likely categories, I’d put these schools on the low end of those acceptance ranges for CS.

Guaranteed (100%)

Extremely Likely (80-99%)
• Oregon State

Likely (60-79%)

Toss-Up (40-59%)

Possible (20-39%)
• Cornell - ED
• Purdue
• U. of Wisconsin

Less Likely (less than 20%)
• UC – Santa Barbara
• USC
• UC – San Diego
• U. of Washington
• UC – Irvine
• UCLA
• UC – Berkeley
• U. of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign
• Georgia Tech
• UT – Austin
• Ivies (which have different vibes, strengths, etc…they are not all alike!)

Would you be happy to attend Oregon State? How would you feel if Oregon State is your only acceptance? If you would not be happy to attend Oregon State, then you need to find schools that are affordable and highly likely to accept you where you would be happy. If you would feel negatively if Oregon State is your only acceptance, then you should add some likelier options. There are many highly qualified students who thought they’d get into one or more of their “reaches” and then have been bitterly disappointed. Additionally, just because a school has a low acceptance rate, does not mean that it’s the best university for you. You want to make sure you find the schools that are best for you.

What kind of college experience are you hoping for? Where would you like to live (region, states, climate)? Would you prefer an urban, suburban, or rural location? Do you want a lot of athletic enthusiasm at your university, or do you not care? How do you feel about Greek life? What types of activities would you like to pursue outside of class? Do you like the anonymity of large classes or do you prefer smaller classes where people know who you are? What size school would you prefer?

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Here are some UCB admission rates by recalculated HS GPA (fully weighted, rather than weighted-capped as used on most UC web sites). For CS, you can apply to EECS in the CoE, which is direct admission to the major, or apply to CS in L&S, but be subject to secondary admission (3.3 college GPA in three CS courses; about half of students earn B+ or higher grades in them – note that there are also proposals to change the process due to extreme overloading of the department).


From OPA – University of California Berkeley , choose the Academic Indicators tab. “Last updated on October 22, 2021” for the “last 3 complete application cycles”.

GPA appears to be weighted, not capped. Calculate using GPA Calculator for the University of California – RogerHub

Admission rates only:

GPA L&S CoE CoC CNR CED
3.800-4.000 6.3% 2.7% 4.5% 11.5% 8.7%
4.001-4.199 10.6% 3.9% 8.2% 23.7% 14.7%
4.200-4.399 21.8% 8.8% 17.5% 38.9% 29.1%
4.400-4.599 34.8% 16.4% 33.3% 53.0% 39.5%
4.600-4.799 40.9% 21.4% 39.6% 52.4% 49.4%
4.800-5.000 41.5% 20.7% 36.2% 46.1% 43.0%
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Not that you need more extreme reaches, but I didn’t see Carnegie Mellon SCS on your list.

Legacy means less and less every year so make sure Cornell really is your number 1. And check their legacy policy. Some schools only consider the children of parents who graduated from their undergrad college as ‘legacies’ (like Harvard). Others, like Penn, consider all their schools (although, I’m convinced they distinguish between primary (children of undergrads) and secondary legacies).

There was a bill introduced in NY State that would bar legacy and ED admissions, at both public and private schools. It may not pass, or only pass in part, by the time you apply, but the previous poster is correct that legacy at Cornell may not mean much in the near future.

It is critically important to get effusive LORs. And then you need a coherent narrative as to why you did all that you did. And then the common app should reveal some part of yourself in a deep/genuine/interesting way. If you can do those three things, you stand a fair chance at Cornell and some of the other ivies, and likely UIUC, GTech, UT Austin etc.
Madison is much easier than Prudue.

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Hi! Thank you so much for your feedback!

I guess I considered it a safety because so many of my friends and family got accepted to there. However, I will definitely keep this in mind and not keep my hopes up too high for this uni.

Hi! Thanks for the solid feedback, I appreciate every bit of it!

I was aware that most schools required two recs or three at most, but I was just wondering about advice for narrowing down who to ask for. First of all, I was wondering, is it basically an unsaid rule that there should be one humanities and one STEM LoR, or could I get 2 STEM LoRs.

Next, if I do go about asking for LoRs, should I just ask them directly if they can write a “great” or “strong” letter of rec or should I go about it in some sort of roundabout way?

As for your ivy point, to be honest you are sort of correct. My mom is quite controlling about what I do and really wants me to send applications to most if not all of them, probably for pride. Personally, I don’t really see them as options, however, I was just curious about everyone’s thoughts about my admissions.

Again, thanks so much for your feedback! I really appreciate it.

Hi! Thanks for replying!

How would you suggest I try to get better LoRs? I’m aware it’s definitely a bit late now, but I think anything would help, right?

Hi! Thanks for the feedback!

I used the link you sent, and assuming that by “honors courses” it just means IB/college classes and using only grades from my sophomore year on, then I have a 3.93 UW, 4.64 W, 4.21 W+C.

I’ll take into account your other feedback too. I definitely know I haven’t put enough thought into this. Will definitely be taking the time to sit down and think about what really matters to me this summer.

Again, thank you so much for the feedback

Hi! thanks for the feedback!

I put all of my UC GPAs in my reply to @Mwfan1921. What would be a competitive GPA?

As for the merit scholarships, I have not looked into that too much. Maybe I’ll put a post in the matches thread.

Thanks again!

Hi, thanks for the feedback!

I haven’t really visited Cornell, but my mom has always told me stories about how great it was when she was there, so it has definitely always been at the top or near the top of my list since the beginning. I would most definitely not mind going there.

Also, thanks for the percentage gauges, it definitely puts into perspective exactly where I am at right now, thanks so much! Just out of curiosity, how confident would you be in these predictions?

As for the questions, thanks for posing them, they’ll definitely help me narrow my list. As I’ve said in my other replies, I’ll definitely be considering these seriously over the summer

Thanks again!

Hi, thanks for the reply!

I’ll definitely keep these statistics in mind.

Thanks!

Some schools specify what teachers they want LORs from. My D had one from a STEM teacher, and one from the humanities.

You may want to get insight from your guidance counselor about which teachers to ask. My generic advice is to ask the teachers who know you both inside and outside the classroom, if that’s possible.

College admission changes landscape quickly. Look at trends in acceptance rates for CS, not where people were accepted in the past.

As for Cornell, I’d highly recommend visiting before committing an ED application. A lot has changed in 30 years. (It’s my alma mater too and my D hated it after visiting).

I’d encourage you to look at the 4 year plans of study when researching schools. Look at what CS courses are available and concentrations. What are the out of college requirements? The gen eds? AP credit policies? This may shape where you apply.

For CS, CMU would be a much better reach than a random Ivy. For a match, look at schools like RPI.

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