Chance an average comp sci kid at her dream schools :)

Gender: Female
Race: White
State of residency: Wisconsin
Type of School: Public, one of the top schools in the state
Hooks: Legacy at Notre Dame

Intended Major(s)
Computer Science (however since it is such a competitive major, I am willing to think about majoring in a similar but less competitive field, suggestions welcome)

34 Composite & Superscore (30M, 33S, 36E, 36R)

UW/W GPA and Rank
UW: not entirely sure but somewhere around a 4.0
W: 4.33
Rank: My school does not rank but I’d estimate somewhere in the top 10% (I could be wrong on this though; we have a very competitive class)


  • I will have taken 12 AP’s by graduation (not including Calc 3), pretty much the most difficult classes in every subject (except science - I will not have taken AP Bio, Chem, or Physics all of which my school offers. Should probably take AP Physics next year but I honestly hate physics and wanted to preserve my sanity so I chose APES instead)
  • Scores: Decent but not all 5’s, I’ve only taken 3 so far and got a 3, 4, and 5.
  • I am taking AP CSA and AP CS Principles this year and have A+'s in each, really hoping for a good score on the exams though
  • Have taken a fair amount of other CS related classes


  • NCWIT Women in Computing Affiliate Winner
  • AP Scholar
  • NHS
  • Won a very small local Engineering scholarship Freshman year lol, don’t even know if I should include this


  • Cross Country (I’m only a junior now but possibility to get captain next year, not that likely though)
  • Debate (also possibility for leadership)
  • Best Buddies (I was selected for the leadership board this year)
  • Destination Imagination (if you aren’t familiar it is a Stem-based team activity similar to forensics), we qualified for States 3 times and Globals twice
  • Student-Athlete Leadership Council (possibility for leadership next year)
  • Part-time job at a local pet store (roughly 15-20 hours/week)
  • Aiming for 200+ service hours volunteering with a local organization that helps kids with special needs (this experience meant a lot to me and I hope to elaborate in my essays)
  • Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program Summer 2020
  • Just got accepted into the Notre Dame Summer Scholars program for the Research Computing track (yay!)

Things I am hoping to accomplish but have not done yet, so it may or may not be relevant to this chance me since I haven’t actually accomplished them yet:

  • I love photography and I am hoping to code my own photography website and/or enter some local photography contests. Am also hoping to enter my photos to be published in the local newspaper, but I’m not sure how impressive any of that is lol
  • I would like to combine my passions for working with kids w special needs, coding, and photography by starting a (very) small photography business this summer to photograph the kids I work with and their families for free :slight_smile: I’d like to code my own website for this as well, but we’ll see how that goes it might be a stretch
  • My friend and I are hoping to plan a fundraiser in October for Down Syndrome Awareness month
  • I’d love to look into coding or at least starting to design an app, I have a few ideas but nothing concrete yet, would be one heck of a summer project and I might not have the time

Again, these are all hypothetical and may or may not happen ^^

I think my essays will be pretty strong, however I’m not sure I’ve had that many unique experiences so I do worry whether my essays will really stand out. I am a pretty decent writer though, so I’ll try to make it work.

My LOR’s will honestly probably be pretty average. It’s been tough to make good connections with my teachers this year (due to COVID, etc). I plan on getting one from my Comp Sci teacher who likes me and knows my skill in the field, so that should be pretty good but nothing special.

Okay, I have a pretty long list because college admissions seem to be kind of random (well, not really, but you get my point). I am WELL aware that most of my reaches and even some matches I will probably not get into, and I am fine with that. I love my safeties, but I don’t want to pass up the opportunity to get into my dream schools even if I have almost no chance.

  • Safety: UW Madison, Appalachian State, UVM, University of Utah, and Colorado State
  • Match: William & Mary, VA Tech, Vassar, Santa Clara
  • Reach: U-Richmond, Boston U, Colorado College, Cal Poly SLO
  • Lotteries (I know I won’t get in, but I just have to try anyway or I’ll beat myself up about it): UNC Chapel Hill, Notre Dame (dream school), Northwestern, Northeastern, Dartmouth, Rice

(feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about where any of these schools fall on this list, I kind of estimated it myself so I could be wrong)

So that’s about it! Thanks so much for reading, I appreciate any feedback even if it’s not looking good haha. Good luck to everyone else applying :slight_smile:

Either you’ve never received a grade of A- or less, or you have. An unweighted 4.0 means all As, nothing less, not even an A- (unless your school awards points for an A+ and almost none do).

That said, you are not even close to an ‘average’ CS applicant. The fog of CC has got you believing that.

I don’t generally play the ‘chance’ game and @ucbalumnus has a better handle on the competitiveness of schools, but my gut says your safeties are correct with the exception of Wisconsin. I’d move that to match. I’d see Cal Poly and Colorado College as reaches, but move the others down to match. I don’t see Northeastern as a lottery. I’d move that to reach, maybe even match. Again, I could be wrong. At the end of the day you have two GREAT safeties in CSU and Utah (they were my son’s safeties along with our state engineering flagship). Everything else is cream.

Good luck!

You are an above average applicant. Your list of schools is quite varied…as you learn more about each, I would imagine some are going to drop off. For example…Vassar and Northwestern, NEU and Appalachian State don’t often make the same final lists.

I do think your categorizations are fairly accurate. Agree that Wisc is not a safety for CS, even for in-state students.

If Notre Dame is your dream school you should apply REA.

What is your budget? Are all of your safeties affordable (which they have to be, or they aren’t a safety)? UNC and Cal Poly aren’t going to give much fin aid, make sure to run the net price calculators on all the schools, unless you are full pay.

I think RIchmond and William and Mary should be in the same “bin”, especially for out of state. Wm and Mary is pretty competitive. Just my $0.02

Two things come to mind immediately.

The first is that if you mentioned your budget then I missed it. Are you sure that you can afford all of the schools on your list?

The second is that I hope that you are not underestimating how very good the University of Wisconsin is for computer science. It is a really, really good university for CS, and is probably as strong or better than many of your match and reach and lottery schools. Years ago I worked on a CS project with a team from U.W., and I was consistently very impressed by the quality of both the students and faculty there. You could spend two or three times as much to attend a university that is no better than U.Wisconsin and might even be not as good.

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If you’ve taken 3 APs but will end up at 12, are you just a sophomore?? I’m confused - and if you have a 4.0 unweighted, your GPA will be much higher with 12 APs than a 4.3.

From what I’ve read - CS is hard - but you are female and that helps. Your overall seems very strong and your ACT is fine although it’d be better if your 36s were in math and science.

I would not say UW is a safety - not in CS. Maybe a match. Your list is interesting - App State and Colorado State. But you know, I’m a fan of applying to a lot of schools - especially with Common App - so that’s good. Why not CU Boulder vs. CSU?

Your matches are interesting - in CS, I’d say all are a stretch. For match, have you looked at RIT, Pitt, Michigan State…safety ASU but Honors.

I’m not knowledgeable on CS but from all that I’ve read on the CC, I’ve gleaned two things:

  1. Academics differ at schools - some are more theory based, others more pre-professional or practical - have you figured which is best for you.

  2. Short of the MITs/Carnegie Mellons, where you go matters less - they all find jobs and in three years no one will care where you went.

It’s smart to apply to more - it’s how you find your best offers, etc. but you should narrow down what you like - city/rural, small/medium/large, etc. and unless you’re dying to spend a lot, include those schools that offer a lot of merit and have solid programs - Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, South Carolina, Miami Ohio, etc.

Add more reach schools. You’re well above average. All those reach schools are matches.

Even if you attend MIT in three years no one cares where you went to university.

I know MIT graduates, Stanford graduates, U.Mass graduates, and IIT graduates (from India), and we all work together and no one cares where anyone got their degree. Of course for many of my coworkers I have no idea where they got their degree, or if I find out it is some university in Europe or India or China that I have never heard of.

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I never understand this argument. If anything, students these days need fewer reach schools.

Also, Cal Poly CS should not be considered a match for anyone. In 2019 they had almost 6000 applications for 100 spots that they filled. They typically fill a few more (around 170), but they were over enrolled.

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ANOTHER :100: for @DadTwoGirls!

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No they are not. I do not know where people get this information from, but in CS, every good school is a reach for almost everybody, even the top students.

On the other hand, @anntheman1, you are legacy to Notre Dame, so it may be a reach, but hardly a lottery ticket - ND has a strong legacy boost.

Vassar is a reach, and so is W&M for any OOS applicants. UW goes with the high reaches as an OOS applicant to CS. If you are looking to be a CS major, there is no reason for you to apply to Dartmouth, and I would replace UNC with U Michigan, and Dartmouth with Cornell.

If you are looking for a small college like Colorado college, Carleton is probably a better choice if you are interested in CS.

Why Appalachian state?


Once again, I see comments from people with seemingly no connection to Dartmouth commenting on our CS program. This is almost certainly based on rankings which primarily take into account amount of research and graduate programs. For the record, for undergrad, Dartmouth has an excellent CS program. This is the place where BASIC was created, and where the field of AI really began (at the famous Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence).

More recently, the college spent 200 million dollars on constructing a center of engineering and computer science which will open this fall, and have been pumping money into the department to raise our offerings. With the close personal attention, generally small classes, and all classes being taught by professors that define the Dartmouth academic experience (unusual for a research university), Dartmouth is a great place to do a CS undergraduate degree. It is in fact one of our more popular majors.

The only reason our program isn’t ranked super highly in the “big” ranking systems is because the whole college and that department in particular are focused on undergrad teaching rather than research. This does not mean high level research does not regularly come out from the college, but the amount released is comparatively less. And the research positions here are primarily open to undergrads, even over graduate students, also unusual for a research university.

Now as to your chances. You have a strong CS/engineering spike which all your schools will appreciate, as well as some accomplishments and demonstrated interest in other fields — which, combined with your spike, makes you competitive with the schools with lib arts curricula on your list as well, like Dartmouth.

Your academics are also in line with what these schools expect, though I should mention that half of the applicants or more at these reach schools are academically qualified to get in. You’ll probably want to try and avoid any more 3s on the APs though.

Thye most important thing to keep in mind when applying to all of these reach schools is that you have to have reasons for wanting these schools that go beyond their prestige or the fact that they have strong CS programs. In each of your individual supplement essays and applications you are going to want to demonstrate why each of these schools’ specific attributes attract you, attributes that no other school has. You need to take a hard look at especially the lotteries on your list and see if each school has specific attributes that attract you, otherwise remove them and replace them with schools that do. This is what these colleges look for. They have tens of thousands of applicants who are highly accomplished, so they can afford to look for those which they feel really want their school in particular.

Regarding Santa Clara, this school is a bit tricky to gauge depending on which program you want to apply to. CS in the arts & science is not something you separately get admitted to, meaning if you get into Santa Clara, you could major in CS. However, there is a second CS program in the engineering school which is VERY competitive and is the hardest major (AFAIK) to get into at SCU. The arts & sciences CS is very math-heavy (it’s in the math department) vs. the engineering CS program which requires you to take the engineering prereqs and has its own massive list of available courses. CSE (computer science & engineering) is its own department so keep that in mind as well. Both will give you similar job opportunities after college but your experience at SCU will vary depending on which path you take.

So our private high school does not do letter grades, only numbers. A 90 and up is a 4.0 unweighted.

Here’s the thing - apply to your dream school - it’s a dream. Apply to 10, 15 - just make sure you have adequate safeties - there’s plenty of solid schools. This way you have solid options no matter what.

If merit matters, then investigate the strong merit providers - U of Az, ASU, Fl State, Miami Ohio, South Carolina, Alabama, etc.

Good luck

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Which one would you recommend? If they both have similar job opportunities, which one would be the better experience?

This depends completely on what you want your experience to be like.

^^ This. If you want a senior capstone, engineering classes, some EE classes, and some hardware classes, definitely chose COEN. If you really like math and theoretical CS, chose the a&s program. The general sentiment is that COEN will be a bit tougher because of the very high credit hours and engineering requirements but the other CS program is definitely also rigorous. COEN sizing is limited as it’s a competitive admission major and essentially no one can transfer into it vs. CS which doesn’t have that cap. But in summary, it really comes down to whether or not you want an engineering degree or a liberal arts/science degree. In a&s you have language reqs and other liberal arts classes vs. in engineering where you spend those credit hours in engineering classes.