Chance & Match an international student - math major (Ivy League)


international student in eastern europe, live in a medium-sized city (not capital)

  • international student
  • Type of high school (current college for transfers): small private local international school, with around 50 students graduating each year from the international program
  • Gender/Race/Ethnicity (optional): asian female
  • Other special factors (first generation to college, legacy, athlete, etc.): Nope

Intended Major(s) Mathematics

GPA, Rank, and Test Scores

  • Unweighted HS GPA: school probably doesn’t have GPA
  • Class Rank: school doesn’t have ranks
  • ACT/SAT Scores: 1550+

IB diploma predicted score 43+ out of 45
English Literature, business management, chemistry SL
German second language, Maths AA, Physics HL
self-studying college level mathematics
German C1+

national maths olympiad
physics bowl and others
USACO silver

Maths club, teaching children mathematics, a bit of research for IB extended essay
Organizing donations (raising donations to help Ukrainian children during war, collecting funds for children’s hospital)
Debate club
Organizing German-learning activities, teaching German, having extra German courses regularly
and a couple of other hobbies

hopefully strong

Cost Constraints / Budget
My family say they’ll pay everything if I get into universities like mit


  • Reach: MIT, Harvard

I know that no one can guarantee you can 100% get admitted by an ivy league. I also know that my awards and achievements are not incredulously competitive, and the admission rate of international students is about 1 percent. But why not give it a try? Just tell me honestly where and how I can make any improvement here. Any suggestions and advice would be appreciated!
Thank you for reading :slight_smile:
P.S. Sorry for the multiple account double post incident yesterday :wink:

I think you have answered your own question. If you don’t get accepted…or get accepted…you will never know why.

What year in HS are you?

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You are already amazing. Your acceptance or rejection into a less than 1% chance college will not change that.

There is nothing you can do to improve yourself as you are already great.

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For clarity, you might want to note that, while Harvard sports teams belong to the Ivy League, MIT teams compete predominately in the NEWMAC. In any case, if you would like to study mathematics in the U.S., you may want to research a range of potential choices. This site samples some colleges that could be of interest: For Students Seeking a College Strong in Mathematics.


Your credentials sound great. However, you should know that usually the tippy top schools only take the top couple of best students in the entire foreign country. Where the people here can help you, is to guide you towards the realization that there is much more available to you than Harvard and MIT, especially since you want to major in math.

On the one hand, if your parents have the financial means to pay for college in the US, you would have plenty of options, if you were to craft your application process carefully - and the many knowledgeable people on here can steer you in the right direction. On the other hand, if you want to major in math, you probably have excellent and much more inexpensive options where you are, especially if you’re an EU resident/citizen. Probably makes more sense to go to undergrad in EU if you have that option, and then go to grad school in the US, probably for free and with a stipend. You can find excellent, stimulating math undergrad departments in a lot of places.

If you are absolutely sure that you want to go to undergrad in the US, you and your parents should realize that there are many excellent options for you other than MIT or some other huge name school. There are strong math departments all over, often at flagship state U’s that might offer you some merit money. There is also the lesser option of a third tier liberal arts college that might offer you significantly reduced tuition. The academic world here is much, much wider than just MIT and Harvard. After all, you’re going to college to get an education, not just to get your parents name-brand bragging rights.


I think you are a very strong student. However, your profile to me might fit Cal Tech, CMU, GA Tech more. Consider schools that emphasize undergraduate education – Harvey Mudd, Olin, Swarthmore. They are amazing schools!

You should apply to a number of schools that are safeties, matches and reaches and go from there.

As for MIT, it is possible but a long shot for everyone. Most MIT kids I know (and that’s not too many) have heavy research experience and are published authors. I am sure there are many kids that have neither but it is going to be tough no matter what.


Thanks for all the amazing advice :smiley: I’m a sophomore, and I’ll have accomplished the things mentioned above by next year when I apply, perhaps even adding some more :wink:
I’m not an EU citizen but going to university in Europe is also ok for me. As far as I can see there are these available options:
(1) A German-speaking uni, ideal would be ETH Zürich, Munich technical university for safety
(2) Studying in UK, Oxbridge maths major (but the application procession is very different from American unis)
(3) T5 in US, these are gonna be reaches
And for this self-made plan I mainly want to focus on (1) and (3).
Anyways I might sound like too over-confident and I’m thinking about uni admission stuffs even though I’m just a sophomore :wink:
What do you guys think about this?

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Just for context, I was a math major at MIT (quite a while ago), and also have a master’s degree in a subfield of applied math (specifically Operations Research).

MIT and Harvard are both of course excellent for math, and are reaches for the strongest students and out of reach for nearly everyone else. If you keep up the excellent work then I think that they are both worth applications, but rejection would be more likely than acceptance just because admissions to either is so highly competitive for everyone, and particularly for international students. Stanford and Princeton might also be worth considering. I do not think that any of these four schools pay attention to your major when deciding to admit you as an undergraduate student (if admitted MIT uses your intended major to help them assign a freshman year academic advisor).

One wild thought is the University of Wisconsin. It is excellent for mathematics, and admissions is far more likely compared to any of MIT, Harvard, Stanford, or Princeton. You would need a good winter coat (and boots, mittens, …). Williams College in western Massachusetts is also excellent for mathematics (and overall).

One thing that I did notice when in graduate school at Stanford is that the other students in the same program had gotten their bachelor’s degree from a very, very wide range of other universities.

since these are all reaches, should I try applying to mit, harvard, stanford and princeton all together? Besides how does the application work? mit seems to have their own website for filling in the application form, and for the others people just use common app. Do you only fill in the common app for one time and then send this resume to multiple universities? Or there’s separate protocol for each one of them?

You cannot apply to all these simultaneously if you’re applying in the early round. Harvard, Stanford and Princeton have restricted early action, which means if you apply you cannot simultaneously apply to another college’s early round. The early round does appear to provide at least some boost, so pick one school and apply there.

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Many schools in the US use the Common App as the basis for their application. The Common App has general info about you, your courses, your extracurriculars, your awards, and has one main essay. Most schools have supplements to the Common App that you can see when you create an account and add that school (it’s too early for you to do this now). These supplements are usually school specific essays but there can be other questions too. You submit to each school individually after you have finished the Common App and its supplement section. You need to check each school individually to see what their rules are on applying to other schools at the same time and what their deadlines are.

Can you please let us know what you have actually accomplished vs what you hope to accomplish? The advice we give may be different. Also, what were your AMC and AIME scores so far?

Also, what is your goal? Is it to attend the best university in the USA that you can? Or would you only consider a US university if it is at the HYPSM level? The advice again would be quite different. For example, NYU’s math department is world-class, but relatively few people have heard about it. But you have a decent shot at being admitted into that math department.

You already know that admission as an international student into the elites is tough, but you might not know just what that means. Roughly half of the international students accepted to MIT won an international award such as silver or gold in the IMO or IPhO.

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Since you are currently a sophomore, you have some time to thing about this.

There are quite a few universities in the US that are very good for mathematics, and of course quite a few more outside the US. You should be thinking about what you want in a university. This can take some time to figure out.

One thing to look at is the differences between the various top schools. You should try to find a school that is a good fit for you.

While all of these top ranked universities and colleges will be academically very demanding, MIT and Caltech have reputations of being a bit more demanding compared to other top schools.

However, I still remember very well spending 6 hours on a Saturday afternoon at Stanford solving one single problem on one homework assignment (out of 5 problems on that particular assignment, in one class, while taking 5 classes at once). Spending time on weekends doing homework is quite normal in the top schools. Suppose that you were to similarly spend six hours on a Saturday on homework, and managed to solve a very difficult problem that most students in the class were not going to be able to solve. How would that make you feel? Would you be thrilled that you could solve a tough problem? Would you feel that you just wasted your Saturday afternoon? The desire to work this hard and to solve the tough problems that confound your classmates needs to come from inside yourself. You need to want to do it for the top ranked universities to be a good fit for you.

The last time that I looked the top ranked universities in the world for math were (in random order) MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Cambridge, and Oxford. However, many, many other schools are also excellent. There are very few secrets in mathematics. The top students at 100 other universities are going to be indistinguishable from the top students at these top ranked universities.

One issue is how large of a school do you want? Caltech and Williams College are relatively small. UC Berkeley and UCLA are large. Stanford is moderately large (with a large and attractive campus).

Do you want to be in a city, or suburban area, or small town? Harvard is right in the middle of Harvard Square, with restaurants and clubs right there. Apparently Passim’s coffee house still has live open mic shows very close nearby. MIT is on the river just a couple of miles from Harvard, across the bridge from Boston. Stanford is in a more suburban area. Williams College is in a small town in western Massachusetts.

The drinking age varies in different countries. In the US drinking alcohol is illegal if you are under 21. Students drink anyway, sometimes to excess, but in the dorm. Often older students will purchase the alcoholic drinks. In Canada or the UK you can drink at either 18 (UK and Montreal) or 19 (Toronto), which creates a market for bars with entertainment (mostly music) near universities. This brings the students who want to drink out of the dorms into the bars. This makes for somewhat more social drinking (students usually do not want to embarrass themselves in public).

The weather will vary from school to school. Wisconsin will have cold winters, as would McGill or Toronto. MIT and Harvard have winters which are milder, but have occasional storms called “Nor’easters”. This is what happens when a low pressure system has its center over the gulf stream east of Boston – the storm picks up moisture from the gulf stream and dumps it on the students at MIT and Harvard (and on other people who are in the area). Caltech and Stanford will in contrast have mild weather and very mild winters – you might want a light jacket. Every few years it might rain (it did not happen to rain at all while I was a student at Stanford).

Sports will vary. Stanford has a wide assortment of sporting teams, and gives sports scholarships. Harvard and Princeton are in the Ivy League. The Ivy League does not allow sports scholarships, so their teams are not as strong as the teams at Stanford or UCLA or Wisconsin. However, the Ivy League is surprisingly good at both football and hockey considering that they do not have any sports scholarships. In contrast both MIT and Caltech have relatively pathetic sports teams.

If you do not qualify for need based financial aid, most of these schools will cost well over $300,000 for four years. McGill or Toronto would be a bit less, but are still not cheap.

Yes, very much so. The top students from U.Mass Amherst or Rutgers or Wisconsin or at least 50 other schools are going to be indistinguishable from the top half of the students at MIT or Harvard or Stanford.

Perhaps the one difference that I noticed: At the very top schools professors might be more inclined to put really, really hard problems in either the homework and/or exams. At MIT I took at class in introduction to probability. One of the homework assignments was an unsolved research problem in probability theory. There was no one in the entire world who knew how to solve the problem. I tried and gave up after perhaps 20 minutes. Every few years someone would solve one of these problems and end up with a joint publication with the professor. At Stanford I remember at least two exams where there were problems that at least 90% of the graduate students at Stanford had no hope in solving. The few students who could solve one of these had a chance to get a + sign after their A in the class (if they otherwise qualified for the A). I remember another exam at Stanford where the class average was in the mid 40’s, and a 75 was the second highest grade (the student with an 85 ended up with an A+ in this particular class). I liked this, but not everyone does.

There is a lot to think about. You have plenty of time.

You might want to read the “Applying sideways” blog on the MIT admissions web site. As I understand it the point is that you should do what is right for you, and do it very well. If you belong at MIT (or other top ranked school) then what is right for you will very likely be the right thing to help you get admitted at MIT or a similarly highly ranked university.


:100: :+1:t3:

This should be pinned somewhere for all aspiring HYPSMC applicants to read.


For accomplishments, maths competition would probably be the tough part. I’m not a maths genius in the common sense haha and I mainly self-study to prepare for the competitions.

I got distinction in last year’s AMC 10, the first time I participated, got about 10 points higher than cutoff which was neither good nor bad, but I bombed the AIME around a week ago, the problems this year were hard for me. Typically I can do 5-10 questions out of 15 on AIME, and I will study more so hopefully get a 10 or even more next year. As for the national maths olympiad I didn’t get in the second round this time, probably due to lack of maths olympiad skills, or the language problem because my solution is in English. Hopefully I’ll make it to the second or third sound next time, and it’s definitely a long shot . I’m not citizen of the country which means that I can’t represent the country in any of the international competitions, and even if I can IMO will be hard for me. I’m not an olympiad superstar, I’m merely interested in maths and want to learn more :wink: For physics it’s the same.

As for my goal, to answer the question, yes, it would mostly be" NYPSM level". It’s gonna be super tough, and that’s why I’m also thinking about other universities in Europe like mentioned above.

Thank you so much for answering :smiley:

A big question that doesn’t seem to be clear is whether you are looking for financial aid. You say that your parents are willing to pay for Harvard or MIT, but do they actually have $80,000 per year times 4 years and commensurate income?

For a family with “typical” European incomes, say $50K per year, you’d get a full ride at top US colleges, but only those that meet full need and are hardest to get into. So there would be no point in applying to say UCLA or Wisconsin. In that context your plan (Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and then Switzerland/Germany as a backup) makes sense.

But if you have the sort of family income to be close to full pay in the US, say $200K+ per year, then you could potentially find Oxford or Cambridge to be cheaper. And they are certainly easier to get into for most Europeans, if you can get the necessary IB score.

Another factor to consider is that the courses are very different in the US and UK/Europe. You have to do a lot of general education courses outside your major in the US, unlike say Oxbridge where you do nothing but math for 3-4 years. So think carefully about what you want out of college, don’t just be wowed by US prestige.


As suggested earlier, you may want to explore the undergraduate-focused opportunities available at a school such as Williams (which is included in the Forbes article below, which might apply to your financial situation). Williams would be excellent for the study of mathematics as well as, with its notable success in Apker Award recipients, physics.

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Thank you for your amazing reply :grin:
I have carefully thought about it and decide that conquering insanely hard homework problems sounds just interesting to me and spending extra time on weekend learning will be fine too.
Also I read the applying sideways article and it definitely makes a good point, doing what you enjoy doing :smile:


my parents can pay fully, so I won’t look for financial aid (since it’s gonna be harder than application I heard somewhere) but I need to get admitted first!
studying in oxbridge won’t be much cheaper in my case, since I’m not european citizen, and speaking the truth of my heart I want to study in the US more, and eth zurich my another dream university, and university in Germany as backup.
And as for the education courses outside major, it’ll be fine for me since I’m also interested in social sciences. This adds to the fact that I want to study in US elite unis.
Thank you so much for the advice :))

Studying in Oxford will be significantly cheaper than in a private US uni with full pay. Something like $50k vs $86k (depending on the exchange rate). European students pay international fees like overseas students after Brexit. Studying in the US can be insanely expensive without financial or merit aid and people I know look into sending their kids to other countries (UK, Canada and Europe).