Chance me: International student from Australia to T20 schools

Hey everyone, I’ve recently applied to a handful of T20 schools but I don’t really have a gauge on where I stand in terms of competitiveness. My information is as below.


  • International student (Australia)
  • Competitive private school (consistently ranked top 5 in the state)
  • Asian Male (Japanese - spoken at home)
  • Upper Middle ish? (Covid)

Intended Major(s)

  • Biomechanical/Mechanical/Biomedical Engineering - I want to develop medical devices to address complex disabilities in the future.

GPA, Rank, and Test Scores

  • GPA: 3.94 UW (Self calculated - school doesn’t use GPA)
  • Class Rank: 13/201 (Unweighted ranking)
  • ATAR: 99.05 (Lower than what I hoped for - top 0.95% in Australia)
  • SAT Scores: 1440 (800M, 640 R)

Coursework - Years 11 and 12

  • Maths Specialist - Curriculum similar to Calc BC
  • Maths Methods - Curriculum Similar to Calc AB
  • Literature
  • Physics - Curriculum similar to AP Physics
  • French
  • Engineering Studies (1st in school both years, top 10 in the state)

In terms of course rigour, had I done Chemistry instead of Engineering, it would’ve been the most rigorous course combination offered in the state. I achieved all A’s apart from French in Year 12 (got a B).


  • ADF (Australian Defence Force) Future Innovators Award
  • Engineers Australia Prize (Excellence in Engineering Studies
  • AMC (Australian Maths Competition) - High Distinction (Top 2% in the nation or something)
  • Certificate of Distinction (for final ATAR exams)
  • A few school subject prizes (Engineering mostly)
  • Varsity letters for every extracurricular I did at school (For the arts as well).
  • School’s top prize for Leadership
  • School prizes for outstanding contribution in Choir, Public Speaking and Cross Country


  • Cross country (11~12, 6 hrs/week, 20 weeks/yr) - Vice Captain: Almost doubled regular season attendance.

  • Public Speaking (10~12, 1.5 hrs/week, 38 weeks/yr) - Captain/Coach: Grew club from 14 to 47 members as captain. Ran/organised 3 internal competitions. Facilitated weekly workshops. The majority of competitions were cancelled due to Covid in the past 2 years but coached a few students that became state finalists.

  • School leadership (12, 2.5 hrs/week, 38 weeks/yr) - School Prefect, House Vice-Captain, Peer Support Leader: Assigned portfolios to lead the lower school (Year 1~6) as well as the school’s community service program.

  • Rowing (9~12, 12 hrs/week, 30 weeks/yr) - 2nd VIII: Trained 6 times a week as well as a weekly regatta. Coached year 9 novices on a fortnightly basis about sculling basics.

  • Choir (9~12, 2 hrs/week, 34 weeks/yr): Was in the top ensemble. Performed at 3 concerts and a Christmas service annually

  • Pedal prix (10~12, 3.5hrs/week, 18 weeks/yr) - State Committee Member: I doubt anybody on CC would know or have ever heard of this sport. Google is probably be the best way to find out about it. At School, Pedal Prix involved maintaining and manufacturing our race vehicles as well as physical training on stationary bikes. The state committee is responsible for organising Pedal Prix races in the state. Aided in securing a corporate sponsorship for Pedal Prix.

In terms of sports, as a religious private boys school, we play in a pretty small conference of around 10 member schools.


Below is my volunteering record for year 9 to 12. I think I ended up with approx. 1100 hours over 4 years.

  • Community disability organisation (Name redacted, 11~12, 3 hrs/week, 38 weeks/yr) - Youth Advocate, Barista: As a Youth Advocate, I went on house visits to meet residents living with complex disabilities and facilitated a forum for their executive team to discuss issues pertinent to those living with disability. I volunteered as a Barista at the school’s non-profit café almost every recess. Of all my extracurriculars, this was the most meaningful to me and a significant majority of my essays were based on experiences being involved with this organisation.

  • Surf Life Saving (9~12, 3.5 hrs/week, 38 weeks/yr) - Patrol Member, Age Manager, Cadet Coordinator: I’ve done life saving since I was 8 and its the activity that single handedly got rid of my fear of the ocean. In my roles, every weekend, I organised activities for Cadets (13~17 yo) and supervised/educated Nippers about the ocean and surf rescue techniques.

  • School Volunteering (9~12, 1.5hrs/week, 38 weeks/yr): Worked with one community organisation every year. I won’t list organisations for privacy. Was in charge of coordinating the school’s sustainability committee in Year 12.

  • Community Cinema Staff (Name redacted, 11~12, 4.5 hrs/week, 20 weeks/yr): Every Saturday evening during summer, I mostly served as the on-site Barista. All funds raised from the cinema are used to fund equipment for children in hospital and critical services for children with disability.

LORs - General overview of the writers

  • STEM - Chose my Engineering teacher who is also one of the staff members in charge of Pedal Prix. I have quite a strong relationship with him and I know he liked my Year 12 project a lot. (Developed a tremor suppression device for Alzheimer’s etc.)

  • Humanities - Chose my Year 11/12 Literature teacher who is also my Cross Country coach. He’s got a PHD in Literature so the letter would’ve been well written.

  • Counselor - A Rhodes Scholar and an extremely eloquent speaker. I knew him quite well through rowing and as a Prefect.

  • Optional - Got my Headmaster to write it. He’s seen me develop as a leader, particularly in the past 2 years. He’s told me before that I’ve been one of the best Prefects and most memorable students that’ve come through during his time.


  • Safety - Domestic
    University of Sydney - Offers released on 26th
    UNSW - Offers released on 26th
    ANU - Already received offer

  • No idea/Reach - US
    UMich - RD
    Duke - RD
    Princeton - RD
    Stanford - RD

I’m pretty sure I’m stupid for thinking I even have a remote shot at any of these schools but I decided why not. Besides that, I’m most concerned about my low SAT reading score. I only took the SAT once (Missed the registration deadline in December) and the format completely threw me off because it was completely different from what I’m used to in Literature (Analysis essays only, no multiple choice). I was also quite annoyed about my ATAR as well because I knew it was on the lower end for successful applicants from Australia.

Would any body be able to give me a honest and reasonable gauge of what I should expect in April?

Thanks in advance!

I think that your stats are mostly typical for international applicants to Stanford and Princeton, except that as you noted your SAT English/Reading is probably a bit low. Also, your class rank is a bit low for Stanford and Princeton. These schools have acceptance rates for international students which are in the low single digits. If you are not a recruited varsity athlete, legacy, or under-represented minority, I think that these schools are high reaches for you. As an undergraduate student at a different university at the same level, I do not recall meeting any student who was not in the top 10 in their high school, and the only person I met who had not been top 5 in their high school came from one of the very top science/math high schools in the USA.

One thing that might be in your favor may be that the top US schools probably get fewer applicants from Australia. This is however a reflection of both the exceptional quality of the top universities in Australia and the relatively very high cost of university in the USA.

Michigan and Duke are a bit more difficult for me to guess. I think that your chances are higher, but they are still reaches.

One issue: Assuming that you are accepted to a university in the US and come here and graduate, then you will be expected to return to your home country after graduation. Do you know whether graduating from Michigan or Duke, or even from Stanford or Princeton, will help you get a good job in Australia any more than getting a bachelor’s degree from ANU or U of Sydney?

I was an international student from Canada at MIT, and in my experience I would have had a much easier time finding a good job in Canada if I had graduated from McGill (which was my safety and the only other university I applied to) or from Toronto, Waterloo, or UBC, rather than from MIT. Canadian employers at the time preferred to hire from the top universities in the same country. I do not know whether many decades later the same thing will be true in Australia. I cannot imagine that Australian companies will specifically try to recruit from universities in the US.

Then there is the issue of cost: What is your budget? Have you checked whether the US schools that you apply to meet “full need” for international students, and if so have you run the Net Price Calculator and are you parents okay with the result? Alternately, is it worth spending US$320,000 for four years of university relative to the cost of attending one of the top universities in Australia as a domestic student?

I have heard very good things about the top Australian universities, but I have not looked at them closely. A bachelor’s degree from a top Australian university plus a master’s degree from a top US university is also something that you could consider as an option, and might cost less in total (and will leave you with contacts in Australia and a master’s degree). Graduate admissions at the top universities in the US will know how strong the top universities in Australia are.

Given your excellent results in high school, I do expect you to do well wherever you end up.


Hahah, so ironic, my kid has Melbourne on his dream school list (we are in Pennsylvania). Why did you not apply there? Oh, maybe you live there. I get that.
(He also has Princeton on his list, so there’s that).

Several points:

  1. US admissions will look at your entire 4 years of HS, not just the last two years
  2. As pointed out above, financial need plays a huge role. In your list above, Princeton is the only school which is need blind for internationals.
  3. Doesn’t the Australian school calendar start/stop at different dates vs US? The US system starts its first semester in Aug/Sep. Second semester starts in January. So you’ll probably have to miss an entire year, or at least a semester. Have you thought about the timing?
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