Chance me! (Bad SAT Essay Score)

Hey guys! I am a junior interested in applying SCEA for the Harvard class of 2023. What are my chances? Also thanks for the comments in advance!

Asian/Female/Low income(~35k)

SAT I (breakdown): 1550 (770RW 780M)

SAT ESSAY: first time 17/24 (with a 1420 SAT) SECOND TIME 15/24 ;(((( idk how I did this bad

ACT (breakdown): didn’t take

SAT II: Planning to take Biology E, Math 2, & World History

Unweighted GPA (out of 4.0): 4.0(County grade inflation, easy to get A’s, 89.5 or above is an A so 4.0 and no semester exams)
Weighted GPA: 4.8
Rank (percentile if rank is unavailable): school doesn’t rank but according to counselors I’d be the valedictorian

Intended major:
pre-med/ medicine related/ engineering idk yet


  • 9th - AP government (4), other core classes, Spanish & orchestra
  • 10th - APUSH (5), AP Chinese ( 5)- took the exam but didn’t take the class, others, Spanish &orchestra

-11th - AP calc bc, ap Lang, ap world history, ap biology, Spanish, quit orchestra for 2 engineering classes (have to take one as an independent study class because AP bio is a double period class (takes up 2 classes))

  • 12th- going to take AP Spanish, AP art, AP physics, MV calc, AP lit, gym, 2 more engineering classes (in an engineering program so need to finish the courses)


  • 11th Grade Class President
  • Drama club publicity manager
  • Asian American club VP
  • Co-Founder of physics club
  • Co-founder of School Energy Recycling Team
  • officer of math honors society
  • VP of Community Club (a volunteering club, organized events to help with sexual assault awareness- was a victim myself- assaulted by grandpa)
  • secretary of project change (another volunteering club, did a lot of volunteering activities)
  • Teen Council (Volunteer) at National Building Museum (helped organize teachings to promote more awareness about sexual harassment in public spaces, organized events to help teens interact with the museum and learn more about design, engineering, and architecture)
  • Track and Field 9&10, quit because hip problems got really worse (was hit by a car freshmen year when I was jogging across an intersection and didn’t really go to PT so hip got worse and worse every day)
  • bocce ball (it’s a sport with half of the students with disabilities and another half with kids like me helping them to compete with other schools)
  • marching band - color guard (10th grade- present)
  • young women in engineering (will be holding the election next month)
  • National Spanish/ science honors society member

-NHS /technology honors society member (elections next month)

  • chemathon (experiment based chemistry competition at University of Maryland)
  • violin- Gamer Symphony Orchestra (its an after-school club)


9th grade: volunteer in a volunteering program to help the community in China

10th grade: Internship at a biological research company

Summer Program:
accepted to LEDA program at Princeton & will be attending this summer (8% acceptance rate, 60% of ppl in that program who applied to Princeton all got in, 40% of ppl who applied for Yale/ Harvard all got in)

Awards(don’t really have any) :

  • Beat The Odds Scholarship Program - $10,000 (5 students from DC MD and VA each year, also has counselors who are helping me rn for college)
  • chemathon (the chemistry competition) grand prize

-Harvard Book Prize (administrators picked the best student in school)

counselor- literally knows me more than my mom, I go to him for everything, knows me really well

Physics teacher- have had him for 2 classes, known me since 9th grade, created physics club so he likes me but I need to be enthusiastic for him to know me

Here are some other things that might be worth mentioning:

  • single parent, dad left and took all our money and mom had to take care of our family (my sis, my grandma, and myself)
  • helps out at the restaurant my mom is working at on weekends and during breaks
  • grandmas always sick and need surgery so spent most of my breaks in the hospital to translate for her because she speaks a dialogue of Chinese that no one can translate in the hospital
  • after getting hit by a car freshmen year, I went through a period of anxiety and depression because I wasn’t at fault, but the cops believed the driver who hit me and he said that I was walking and texting. however, I didn’t even have my phone with me and the pedestrian signal was clearly lit up so I was supposed to go, but the cops didn’t even listen to my side of the story and just said I was at fault( I was unconscious), after getting out of the hospital we tried to ask them to change the record but they were always “busy” and we went at least 3 times they never wanted to listen to my side of the story, so I was really frustrated, and I got really depressed (i even messaged the fb page of the police in my county and told them I didn’t want to live anymore and was pulled out of class bc they reported it to my counselor)
  • All the schools I’m planning on to apply to (I only mentioned my top choices in the title but here’s the complete list):

Reach: all ivies, JHU, MIT, stanford, UNC, UC Berkeley

Match: U of Maryland college park (in state), UVA (sister goes here), George Washington U, Boston U, Purdue

Safe: Virginia tech, U of Maryland Baltimore county

And 2 questions:

  1. should I retake my SAT again because of the essay score?

  2. how much do awards matter?

Thanks again!

Also, many of my ECs, especially my volunteering activities, are not related to the majors I intend on studying at all (although those are things I’m passionate about), would it lower my chances?


That said, I haven’t heard about Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT et al following suit.

  1. Given that Harvard rejects 95% of students who apply, everything matters. National awards, such as Intel or Google matter the most, followed by State awards. Local awards, such a winning the chemistry prize at your high school matter the least.

@gibby I still have to submit the writing score with my MC score, would it lower my chances even if they don’t require it anymore? Thanks!

Here’s my advice, with respect to Harvard and all the ivies: Apply with the expectation of being rejected. That said, a low writing score will not, in and of itself, destroy your chances.

FWIW: Many state schools admit students just by GPA and SAT scores – they don’t even look at essays, EC’s, Secondary School Report (SSR), teacher recommendations, or interview reports.

At private colleges, especially the more selective ones, GPA and test sores are a minimum threshold – everyone’s got to have that. Then Admissions will read your essays, teacher recommendations and EC’s and will compare them to all other applicants trying to choose students of good “character.” That’s an old fashioned word; it means the way you develop your inner qualities: intellectual passion, maturity, social conscience, concern for community, tolerance, inclusiveness and love of learning. Colleges learn of those things by comments made from your teachers and guidance counselor, as well as what your choose to write about in your essays and the “tone” and content of what you say.

To be admitted to a top 20 school like Harvard-- you need it all: A high GPA, great ACT/SAT scores, interesting EC’s, a thought provoking essay, stellar teacher recommendations. If one area is deficient, a student might be waitlisted or rejected – that’s how tough the competition is these days.

Have you watched this video from Amherst College:

Prior to this Committee Meeting, about 8,000 applications were reviewed for transcript rigor, GPA and test scores. The top 1,000 students are then brought to the committee and students are either accepted or waitlisted. (The assumption is that the other 7,000 students who didn’t make it to committee are rejected.)

Notice the comments. Most of them are being read by Admissions Directors are comments from teachers or guidance counselors, except at the end where one Admissions Director says “This is a quote from his essay.”

Best of luck to you!

I was told by our college guidance counselor that Harvard really does not put a lot of emphasis on the essay. Your other stats are excellent, so I wouldn’t worry. If you get rejected from Harvard, it will not be because of your essay scores.

Those are great stats that should be enough to get you into most of the schools you mentioned. As other people have said, Ivy League schools are extremely selective so you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t get into Harvard. At the very least, you could certainly get into UMD and your other match schools. I could see you getting into at least a couple of your reach schools too.

I think you have a pretty good chance, as long as you write an admissions essay that shows your struggles and triumph. Harvard lets disadvantages make up for a lack of awards/high/grades/ecs so they’ll still be impressed. Just make sure to get good scores on the rest of your AP exams and have your rcs back up parts of your essay. Good luck!

Please think carefully about where to apply for best fit. Anyone applying to “all the Ivies” is not considering each school, because they are each so different from the other that I don’t understand applying to all of them, unless you are simply after prestige.

I think you have a great list with prudent safeties.

In your application I would emphasize things you do outside of school, which are interesting.

Please don’t stress about the essay score. Your grades will show your writing skills. Retaking the test is up to you but don’t keep retaking with an eye toward that one score, which some schools don’t really care about.

If you were unconscious, did you have a traumatic brain injury? Did you do rehab? Did you get a financial settlement? I know a young woman who was hit by a car and the police report blamed her, which was absurd. I have talked with other parents of young victims who were also blamed. I think it may be a form of age discrimination. I hope you can realize that the process for evaluating blame is flawed for everyone and not take it personally, and move on.

My S says that this $2.99 SAT essay book improved his SAT essay score a lot. Thin book, and It would not take much time to finish reading this. Very mechanical approach, and he says it is somewhat ridiculous, but it worked for him. I guess SAT essay score would not matter. It is a ridiculous test, anyway (his opinion).


In my opinion, applying all Ivies are not a horrible idea, because today’s acceptance rate is so low and you don’t know which college actually will accept you. Very unpredictable. You can choose one AFTER you are actually accepted. Also, the college’s welcome overnight event for “admitted” students in April will give you much more meaningful information than the college tour for mass high school students in summer / fall, in my experience.

If Harvard is your dream school, I would definitely retake your SATs. As for applying to Berkeley, your stats are stellar and you have a pretty good chance of getting in! Good luck to you!

^I’m going to respectfully disagree. With a 1550+, there is no need to retake your SATs for Harvard, or for any school for that matter.

Retaking a 770 and 780 would look silly.

Top colleges aren’t looking for silly.

OP needs to understand that not only is the competition for those colleges fierce, it’s hard for kids from the DC area, where there are so many top achievers.

OP wuoud be wise to take a hard look at those ECs. For premed, what shows health related (or advocacy) activities in the comunity. For possible engineering, are there the sort of collaborative stem experiences many similar kids will have? And of course, the next AP scores.

LEDA will help your understanding. But make sure you’re looking at the college web sites now, the Common App and any supps for your target colleges. Because if you need to fine tune, now is the time.

No, don’t waste time retaking the SAT. In your case, I see it as detrimental. They will think you surely have better things to do than retake already great test scores.