Chance me - Asian girl wanting to go into physics/math (weird life circumstances)


  • US citizen
  • California Bay Area, but grew up in Singapore (11 years)
  • Independent college prep school
  • Korean American (first generation) / Female

Other special factors -
This is the weird part. I’ve struggled with a lot of health issues (mental and physical) which have impacted my life dramatically. End of 8th grade, struggled severely with anorexia and spent a lot of time early freshman year recovering.

When the pandemic hit, I relapsed and developed a substance abuse and really bad depression. Ended up being forced into rehab and missed last semester of sophomore year - therefore I couldn’t take AP tests, couldn’t finish all my coursework that year. HOWEVER I am making it up right now and will have all the credits needed (also a year clean yay lol).
(If anyone has advice about navigating these situations, it’d be much appreciated)

Also I live with just my mom in the US

Intended Major(s)
Physics, math or astrophysics

GPA, Rank, and Test Scores

  • Unweighted HS GPA: 3.94 (hopefully 3.97 by end of junior year)
  • School offers no AP classes, no weighted system
  • Class Rank: n/a
  • SAT: 1550

No APs at school - but I self-studied psych freshman year (5) and I’m taking Calc AB, APUSH, AP Lang and AP Chinese this year.

Junior year load: Calculus honors, Chinese 4 honors, Eng 3 honors, Psychology Brain and Behavior, US history honors, TA for Algebra 2 Accelerated, Muralmaking and Painting (semester art electives)

Plan for senior year: multivariable calc, stats honors, physics honors, continue core humanities honors classes


  • none major unless you count middle school national awards in writing and math olympiads (Singapore)
  • 3 best speaker awards for regional debate conventions
  • possible NMH finalist thing?? (1470 PSAT, 222 index score)

Extracurriculars (again kind of wack bc of my recovery/treatment)
Work (10th-) - I work at a local bakery on Saturdays and Sundays every week
Volunteering @ Hospital (11th-) - volunteering shifts at local hospital (hospital I was admitted to a few years ago so it’s kinda sentimental…)
Debate organization (9th-) - involved in leadership for the state, co-president of school’s chapter, 3 best speaker awards
Poll working/City elections (11th-) - poll working for local elections (6am-9pm)
ASIA affinity club (9th-) - secretary

Other kinda minor stuff - volunteer at local aviation museum (9th summer), sandwich job (10th summer while in treatment), unsure for this summer (probably CC classes)

I like writing, hopefully my essays will be interesting? I have some pretty unique life experiences I can write about.

LOR from calculus teacher (8-9/10): I work super hard in his class and went from a 44% on my first exam to a 97%
Second letter either from psychology or English teacher (undecided lol)

Cost Constraints / Budget
n/a, but merit based would be nice


King College London, U of Edinburg

Cal Poly
CU Boulder

Trinity College Dublin

Brown, Cornell, Princeton, Yale
Harvey Mudd

Pretty much impossible but I can dream:

If you’ve read this far, thank you :slight_smile: overall I think I’m in a pretty weak spot but hopefully it will work out. Really wish I had a normal sophomore year at home but at least I’m working on it. Definitely didn’t think college or a future was possible for me at all, but I’m gonna give it my best shot.

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I can’t be too helpful on your college list, but I agree that your reaches are reaches (for everyone, not just for you) and I would add Emory and CMU to that list. I don’t know enough about international admissions to the UK/Irish schools to k ow if your guesses are right. I would imagine you’re correct on the California publics as I doubt math and physics are highly impacted majors, but perhaps @ucbalumnus or @Gumbymom can provide additional insight on those.

Wishing you the best with your college search process and with your continued recovery.

Please make sure to prioritize self care the next few weeks.

You are more than any combination of scores and awards.

The self-study for 4 AP exams is a lot on top of your current course load, so it you start to get overwhelmed prioritize your health. You do not need to take all of them. Colleges place less value on the self study scores when the course is not on your transcript.

Spend time this summer identifying what you really want your day to day college experience to look like. You control that to some extent when you create a wider list of options that are not so high reach heavy.

Your reaches and most targets are the highest of reaches for everyone. CMU goes up two tiers and should probably be removed based on the stressful environment that has been mentioned on other threads. UWash is not a likely for anyone OOS.

There are so many more colleges beyond your brand names to explore for Physics, math, or astrophysics that will also provide a healthier pace of life for you. You can certainly apply to those on your current list, but also investigate what else is out there for you.

Talk to your mom about budget. Merit is nice as you speculate, but you do not want to be at this point next year and not have affordable options. Not all of these offer merit and not all of these meet 100% of need. A few do both.

Also, discuss your plans with you therapist and doctors. They may have excellent suggestions for you where you may thrive or help you come up with questions to ask the colleges about concerning supports and services.

Here are a few others to look at that are reaches, but not the highest of reaches you had:

Colorado College
Wellesley (can take classes at MIT)

For some more likely options add a few other state flagships with honors colleges.

Your instate public options will sort themselves out based on their systems. I am not well versed there.


I don’t have much to offer you in terms of chancing (other than CMU is likely a reach for everyone) but I really wanted to say that you sound like an amazing person.

Definitely agree you should practice self-care.

I also wanted to say that I would avoid discussing anorexia and depression directly in your application…but definitely talk about finding yourself and discovering who you want to be, work in progress, etc.

There should 100% not be a stigma (personally, I have nothing but admiration for someone who struggles with these issues, especially for they accepted help and did the work to get to a good place)…but the reality is that some schools may view previous psychological conditions as a potential liability.

I have mentored teens in writing and I would suggest that working in a bakery would be an excellent metaphor for exploring your experiences and psyche, and conveying your philosophy, without over sharing.

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Just one data point from 2018: UCSD might not be a target, based mainly on the size of their physics/astrophysics department. My child (about to graduate from UCI this June) was waitlisted (and then denied) at UCSD, but admitted to (obviously) UCI, UCSC, and UCLA (among others).

Good luck on your path.

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First of all - good job on your accomplishments. Eating disorders are hell (my kid is a dancer…), so remember to take care of yourself.

I would recommend that you take a look at Purdue for astrophysics, but also look more closely into LACs. You have Occidental there and Harvey Mudd, but look at a few more. Also look at the mental health support that colleges have when deciding. Attending a high-pressure college with weak support would not be a good idea.

Good luck!


Congratulations on all your accomplishments and overcoming your health issues.

You would need to calculate all 3 of your UC GPA’s using this calculator since the UC’s consider all 3. GPA Calculator for the University of California – RogerHub

Your lack of available AP classes will be taken into consideration since you will be reviewed in the context of your HS offerings. Also note that schools are not impressed with self studying for AP exams so you would have been better off taking some DE courses covering the same material.

The UC’s are test blind if you are not aware so your competitive score will not be a consideration in the application review process.

Regarding your ranking of the UC’s, I would make some changes.

UCSC not a safety any more, but a Likely
UCD would go into the Target Category
I also agree that UCSD is more in the Reach Category vs. the Target depending upon which major you plan to apply.

The UC’s have become extremely competitive and unpredictable so I would error in the side of caution when it comes to categorizing these schools. Physics, Math or Astrophysics are not impacted majors but the competition none the less is tough overall for all these schools.

UCSD and UCI do consider alternate majors in their application review so make sure you list an alternate on your application. UCD and UCSC rarely/occasionally will consider an alternate major if listed. Although UCLA allows you submit an alternate major on their application, they will only consider your 1st choice major. Surprised that UC Berkeley is not on the list in the Reach Category.

Best of luck and you are a very qualified and competitive applicant. Unfortunately so many of the students applying to these schools have similar resumes.


Wonderful that you managed to keep up your grades through all of this, and compile such a record of achievement, despite the pandemic and your own challenges. You’re going to do very well in college, but as I’m sure you’ve been told already, you have to keep stress to a minimum, to avoid relapse of the depression, AN and substance abuse.

With that in mind, and aside from the cost issue of OOS and private schools, I am very happy to see that you are trying to make an in-state public option, hopefully fairly close to home. Your stats MIGHT get you in anywhere; however, many applicants with your stats, but who are not in a group that is preferentially admitted, don’t get accepted to any of the T20 schools. So UC Berkeley should absolutely be on your list, as a reach (but for you, it has financial and geographic advantages), but you of course cannot count on it. Please don’t think that it’s too close to home - you NEED to have home close by, just in case, and just because you’re close to home, doesn’t mean you have to run home. I had a sib who went to a top school a subway ride away, and when they lived on campus, we didn’t see them for pretty much the entire semester - but when they needed help for depression, family help was right at hand. I would even consider adding Stanford to your list, because it’s so close to home, and because as a woman going into physics/math, you actually might have a chance of getting in.

No matter what anyone tells you, do NOT reveal your struggles with AN, depression, and substance abuse, if at all possible, to colleges in the application process. Colleges are overwhelmed with students who are struggling with anxiety and depression - their student mental health clinics are jam packed. They don’t want to admit students with mental health issues, if they can avoid it, and when you’re applying to top schools, it is so very easy for them to avoid it, if they know about it. I know of someone who was an absolutely superb applicant, with incredibly high achievement in both academics and the arts, who insisted on disclosing their non-neurotypical status (which, BTW, had not caused ANY bumps in their schooling or achievement) … and got rejected everywhere that was competitive. Lesson (hopefully) learned the hard way.

If your transcript can be cleaned up and not show a gap in attendance, great. Speak with your guidance counselor, early and often, get them on your side, and convey to them that you don’t want your struggles with mental health revealed in their cover letter, if at all possible, but that they should instead concentrate on highlighting your many strengths and achievements. Maybe any transcript bumps can be blamed on Covid? Presumed to be due to Covid, without an outright lie? Anything but revealing to the admissions committees the AN, depression, and history of substance abuse. This is not the topic for your essays, no “how I overcame the adversity of my multiple mental health diagnoses” here. Save it for when you become a motivational speaker later on in life. Colleges that have an admissions process that is not solely based upon a “GPA/SAT/check the letters” process will likely not want to take a risk on you, out of fear that you would relapse while at college, require use of their already way overloaded mental health clinic, or worse yet, put them at risk of liability. Don’t take a chance on this.

You are NOT in a weak spot! You’ve got a great GPA. If you get National merit that lets you tell the UC schools about your high test scores, even with their “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t look” policy regarding test scores, since National Merit is classified as an honor/award, not as a standardized test score, even though that’s pretty much the sole qualification! Everyone’s ECs from high school class of '23 were severely messed up by Covid, and the colleges know it. You’re actually in a better position than you realize, and if you can somehow get the transcript cleaned up, or by omission have the bump presumably blamed on the pandemic, you’re in a very good position.


Math and physics are typically not overcrowded majors in California public universities, except at UCSD where math ends up with overflow from students who cannot get into CS.

Below are some admission rates by HS GPA for UC overall and UCB (by division; math and physics are in L&S) in particular. Note that different versions of recalculated HS GPA are used.

Recalculate your HS GPA with GPA Calculator for the University of California – RogerHub . Use the weighted capped version for the table below.

Fall 2021 admission rates by campus and HS GPA range from Freshman fall admissions summary | University of California :

Campus 4.20+ 3.80-4.19 3.40-3.79 3.00-3.39
Berkeley 30% 11% 2% 1%
Davis 85% 55% 23% 10%
Irvine 60% 31% 14% 1%
Los Angeles 29% 6% 1% 0%
Merced 97% 98% 96% 89%
Riverside 97% 92% 62% 23%
San Diego 75% 35% 5% 1%
Santa Barbara 73% 28% 4% 1%
Santa Cruz 91% 81% 46% 9%

These are for the whole campus. Different divisions or majors may have different levels selectivity (usually, engineering and computer science majors are more selective).

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:

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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Thank you for the suggestions! I definitely am interested in LACs, but diversity and location are pretty important to me. I’d like to stay in California (or at least somewhere warm) and in close proximity to a city/at least a college town. The cold and being in the middle of nowhere tend to make me really sad haha. I will try to explore more options though!


I appreciate the feedback. However, I am unable to “clean up” my transcript (not completely sure what that would entail). My 125+ absence and withdrawals from my history, chemistry and language class that year is not something I can cover up. And to be honest, I’ve never really wanted to.

My college counselor at school has highly encouraged me to be honest with my process in my apps, and now I’m a little on conflicted on how to approach this. If I were to disclose my process, I would not make it some sob story or explicit reveal of my past behaviors. I would instead make it a story of growth and self-care, and what it meant for me to unlearn some of society’s terribly unhealthy messages to me. In the past I’ve found that vulnerability is something really looked highly upon, as opposed to pretending things are just fine and hoping others don’t find out your problematic history.

Also - the worst of my problems were pretty much fully recovered from in early freshman year. I’ve been recovered from my eating disorder for 3 years now, and clean from any substances/behaviors for over a year now. My school is a highly stressful and intensive college prep environment, and so I think it says a lot that I stuck with it and maintained my health throughout this year. The reasons I’ve been going into are kind of why I am considering revealing my struggles.

I’m sure it can be problematic to do so at times, depending on wording/the way the story is portrayed as well. I really don’t wait to pull the Covid card, since I know countless of people doing so and colleges are tired of it as an excuse for poor behavior one year. The reality is that my struggle was a lot bigger than Covid and I want that to be validated.

Anyway, thank you for the time and the reassurance, Definitely gives me a lot to consider!


Definitely share this with your college counselor since your original list does not reflect this:

Happily curate your list with your college counselor or another adult who knows you and prioritize what you need, not someone else’s idea of what success looks like. No need for any Ivy stress, MIT, and CMU, they are all cold and grey for much of the year. Don’t get sucked into the idea of “well I just want to see.” Be true to yourself. You can keep Rice and Emory on for that if you want.

Focus on how each campus culture and course of study will help you thrive as you visit campuses. Focus on colleges in California, public and private, that will support you on your journey since you have said that is a priority.


Warm like Hawaii or Arizona?

Some of the colleges you listed in the first post are in places that could get quite cold in the winter.


Okay, here’s your original list. After what you said above, this

DePaul NO
UWash Maybe
King College London, U of Edinburg NO

Cal Poly YES
Occidental YES
CU Boulder Maybe

Emory YES
Trinity College Dublin NO

Rice YES
Brown, Cornell, Princeton, Yale NO
Harvey Mudd YES

Pretty much impossible but I can dream:
Caltech YES

So, based on climate and location alone, you’re down to (and disregarding your categorization, as others have said that some tweaks are necessary):

U. Wash (maybe)

Cal Poly
CU Boulder (maybe)


Harvey Mudd

Pretty much impossible but I can dream:
Cal Tech


If you become a National Merit Semifinalist, you might want to have UCF on your list. It’s particularly strong in astrophysics, For Those Who Dream of Space, UCF is the Place ; its NMF scholarships are generous, and the Honors College takes great care of its high-stat students.

Keep the College of Creative Studies at UCSB in mind - this would give you smaller-school experience within a larger UC, and the math/physics opportunities there are excellent Physics | UCSB College of Creative Studies Mathematics | UCSB College of Creative Studies There’s another layer of application for CCS, if you’re not familiar. How to Apply | UCSB College of Creative Studies

If you like Mudd, consider applying to Scripps also. You can major in Math and/or Physics there, and register freely for classes offered by the Mudd and Pomona math and physics departments as well.

If you like CU Boulder, take a look at U of Utah. It’s very similar in terms of academic strength and nearby nature/mountains. The Honors College is a much more robust program than Honors at Boulder, with its own housing and innovative programs like year-long “praxis labs” where students address “pressing societal challenges.” The racial/ethnic diversity profile is almost identical, but Utah is more economically diverse… and MUCH more affordable for a high-stats California student, with both the WUE discount and generous merit.

The U of Arizona Honors College is worth a look as well.


Emory and CMU are not Targets for anyone.


I don’t disagree with you. This categorization was OP’s original categorization. I just kept it that way to show which universities were eliminated based on the OP’s climate and geography considerations.


Look at Arizona State University and University of Arizona….both warm and close enough to CA.

University of New Mexico might be a possibility as well.

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Thank you for the suggestions! I definitely am considering UCSB and Scripps is a great idea. I’ve never considered looking at Utah or Florida, maybe because of the stereotypes around religion/conservativeness/lack of DEI. But I will take a look and the idea of an honors college is smart!


@aquapt gave you some really great recommendations. These are a few others you may want to look into. These would be significantly smaller than most of the UCs and would likely provide very generous merit aid. All of them offer math & physics majors, and I’ve noted if they offer astrophysics as well.

• Texas Christian: Has about 10k undergrads and offers a major in astrophysics. 59% of students are from out-of-state, but I don’t know if it’s diverse enough as it’s 5% international and 67% white. But Fort Worth is a big city/suburban area.
• Agnes Scott (GA): This women’s college has an astrophysics major and students are allowed to take classes at Emory & Georgia Tech as well. 39% are from out-of-state, but whites make up only 33% of the population, so it’s quite diverse. About 1k undergrads.
U. of Hawaii at Manoa: You’ll definitely have warm weather here! 46% are from out-of-state, whites make up 23%, and the people of color are primarily Asian, multiracial, or Pacific Islanders. There’s astrophysics as a major here, too. About 14k undergrads.
Florida Institute of Technology: This is a smaller college of about 3200 undergrads. 50% of students are from out-of-state and 55% of students are white, so again, it’s quite diverse. 19% of students are international. Great location for NASA work as well.
U. of New Mexico: You’ll find astrophysics here, too. 24% of students come from out-of-state and Hispanics make up 50% of the population; whites make up another 29%. Approximately 15,000 undergrads.