Chance Me: Unique Case Looking for Much-Needed Insight

This one’s gonna be long and n u a n c e d, so just hang tight, OK?

Demographics

  • US domestic (US citizen or permanent resident) or international student
    Domestic
  • State/Location of residency: (state is important if you apply to any state universities)
    Virginia
  • Type of high school (current college for transfers):
    Magnet STEM high school (really well-known in the CC world)
  • Gender/Race/Ethnicity (optional):
    Black/Asian
    Disabled
    Trans woman
  • Other special factors (first generation to college, legacy, athlete, etc.):
    Extenuating circumstances

Intended Major(s)
Biophysics or Astronomy

GPA, Rank, and Test Scores

  • Unweighted HS GPA: 2.8 (more on this later)
  • Weighted HS GPA (incl. weighting system): 3.43 (5.0 scale)
  • College GPA (for transfers): N/A
  • Class Rank: N/A
  • ACT/SAT Scores: 1600 SAT

Coursework
(AP/IB/Dual Enrollment classes, AP/IB scores for high school; also include level of math and foreign language reached and any unusual academic electives; for transfers, describe your college courses and preparation for your intended major(s))
APs: APUSH (4); AP Physics C (M, EM) (4, 4); AP Calc BC (5); APCSA (5); AP Gov
Unusual electives: Microbial Genomics and Bioinformatics, Artificial Intelligence, Optics Research, Philosophy, Law and Society, Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra, Bionanotechnology

Awards
Various Academic Decathlon Medals
Winner of prestigious national essay competition

Extracurriculars
(Include leadership, summer activities, competitions, volunteering, and work experience)

(Vaguely ordered by importance)

  • Research Intern at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (since junior year): Led a team of two other high school students in the development of a novel machine learning tool for staging cancer using whole-slide images (biopsy images) and patient genomic data. Our research is just about finished, and we plan on submitting our work to a journal for publication. I’ll be first author on the manuscript.
  • Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) President (2 years): Expanded our GSA’s presence in the community, both within the school and outside. Currently lobbying for inclusive policies in our state legislature as part of a larger student-led coalition of high school GSAs.
  • Machine Learning Research Intern at Local Bioinformatics Startup (summer between 10th and 11th grade): Led a team of three other high school students in the development of a machine learning model designed to predict the outcome of a clinical trial.
  • Research Intern at Krasnow Institute at GMU (since about a month ago): This is more of a side thing for me to get familiar with computational techniques in neuroscience research. Neuroscience is what I’d like to study down the road (the biophysics/astronomy major is part of the strategy) and I plan on doing plenty of research in college.
  • Academic Decathlon Varsity Team Member (since junior year): Competed last year as part of our school’s first showing in 20 years. Won several medals at the state competition and scored a gold medal at nationals.
  • Co-founder, Co-president of school’s Quantum Computing Club (2 years): Write and administer lectures and quantum computing labs/problem sets to a weekly audience of about 25 students.
  • President of Amateur Radio Club (3 years): Give lectures on amateur radio concepts, organize licensing exams for students, and I’ve led the effort to rebuild our club’s station after renovations knocked it out of commission. I also work to provide students with community service opportunities involving hams (think marathons).
  • Philosophy Club: Not an officer, but I have led discussions and I’ve been an active member in the club for a while now, so I figure it’s worth putting

Essays/LORs/Other
(Optionally, guess how strong these are and include any other relevant information or circumstances.)

To preface, I’ve faced a lot over the past four years, and you’ve probably wondered why my GPA’s so low despite the high SAT and extracurricular activities.

Towards the end of freshman year, my father (who’d been incredibly abusive my entire life) hospitalized me, kick-starting my family’s separation. The trauma left me quite a bit affected, and my grades in sophomore year reflected a dejected, unmotivated me. I definitely needed a therapist or some sort of emotional release, but I simply never got one. Things were getting better about halfway through second semester, and then COVID hit.

I’ve had Tourette’s all my life, but it was relatively minimal in its manifestation up until the quarantine. Our school was entirely virtual starting from the beginning of April to the end of the last school year, and it was hell. My tics exploded – I suspect from the isolation and my depression regarding my school performance – and doing just about anything became hell. The incessant physical tics and vocalizations gave me huge joint pain, made sleep impossible, and worsened my school performance. The medication the neurologist gave me wasn’t any better, either. It drained me beyond comprehension. I was in a dead sleep anywhere from 12 to 16 hours a day, with at least an hour on either side of that in a lethargic trance. I missed huge portions of the school day simply because I would rather have lived without constant pain. I was screwed royally.

I ended up failing English (the credit for which I gained during the first part of senior year, as I needed it to graduate) and Artificial Intelligence that year, despite genuinely finding what little parts and, outside of AP Physics, had all Cs for the year.

But despite all of that, I did some pretty great things. And this is where the essays and LORs come in.

Common App Essay:
I chose prompt #5: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”

Here, I talk about how reading Hannah Arendt, the work of whom I was introduced to during junior year, helped me discover what was important to me. For those who don’t know, Arendt’s philosophy largely centers around the interactions between individuals and society. While her focus is largely in political philosophy, there carries a certain spiritual element to her essays that kept my attention during the few hours I was awake at the time, and I became hooked.

At the time, I was pretty isolated. There was the quarantine, my tics pretty much forced me to keep my camera and microphone off during class, and I was just feeling really… awful. My GPA was taking a massive hit and, out of fear of judgement from my fellow peers, I cut myself off from almost all of my friends. I didn’t want to be seen.

But I read Arendt towards the end of my junior year (FYI, I especially enjoyed Thinking Without a Banister, a series of her essays collected and published just recently – highly recommend to pretty much anyone) reinvigorated me. Her words taught me the importance of being a part of the world, loving and creating within it. It helped me realize that productivity was a necessary part of our lives – we needed to create to live, grow, and be human – and that I could work beyond my disability, beyond my depression, and beyond my shoddy grades and become someone I could be proud of. I want to lead the way for others and help the world reach new heights. From those days on, I found I had a newfound appreciation for my relationships with people. New, less selfish motives. I want to push the boundaries so that others can do the same. I want to be a beacon for the world. And I can’t do that lying down.

These are much more visceral desires, I think, than most would suspect, and I hope to convey that much in my essay.

Outside of that common app essay, my essays tend to highlight specific experiences or extracurricular activities and how I’ve worked my new zest for life – my new reason for living – into those. I believe they’re well-tailored to fit the schools I’m applying to, so I’m not sending anything too generic.

Counselor Rec:
My counselor was awful. I had an amazing counselor freshman year who helped me navigate my situation with my father and basically saved my grades while I was in and out for the last month of school, but they left and were replaced by someone who failed to alert my teachers as to my condition after telling me that she would. I don’t think she’d write me a sparkling LOR, or really anything other than squarely disappointing, but it certainly wouldn’t be negative.

LOR #1: Physics Teacher, Optics Research Advisor, Sponsor of Quantum Computing Club
Dude’s pretty great. I’m working on a hybrid quantum-classical machine learning project right now as part of my in-school research and he’s been a great help. His class was also one of the few classes I got an A in during the last few years, and we talk about biophysics research on the regular. He actually put me in contact with one of the researchers I’m working with now, and he can speak to not only my leadership ability and content knowledge despite my condition, but also my ambition and resilience, both traits I’d like to highlight in my applications.

LOR #2: Biology and Bioinformatics Teacher:
I had her twice: once in freshman year and again in junior year, both times where I had dealt with some sort of struggle. But I’d like for her to highlight the part of me that loves research and inquiry (which she sparked herself), so as to prevent my application from being entirely sob story-based. She’s also been incredibly patient with me over the years despite all that’s happened and I couldn’t possibly overstate my appreciation for her. I’m lucky to have had her.

Cost Constraints / Budget
(High school students: please get a budget from your parents and use the Net Price Calculators on the web sites of colleges of interest.)

Cost is not an issue.

Schools
(List of colleges by your initial chance estimate; designate if applying ED/EA/RD; if a scholarship is necessary for affordability, indicate that you are aiming for a scholarship and use the scholarship chance to estimate it into the appropriate group below)

  • Safety (certain admission and affordability)
  • Likely (would be possible, but very unlikely or surprising, for it not to admit or be affordable)
    UMass Amherst
  • Match
    William and Mary
    UIUC
  • Reach
    Amherst College
    Hampshire College

Thank you so much for reading! I know I’m a unique case, so chancing might be difficult, but please, any insight would be very appreciated!

I think you got this!! Colleges love the improvement dedication and hard work you definitely showed. :wink:

1 Like

It was long. I did not see where u spoke about increases. It’s prob in there.

I think u need to apply to schools like Bama. Arizona W Carolina. URI instead of UMASS. I saw the 1600. The rigor. Don’t assume based on geography they are not tolerant. U need to study. You’d be surprised. An area may not be but the school may be very tolerant.

Black Asian helps. Sorry trans does not. Doesn’t hurt. But it doesn’t help. But yes u need to find the accepting environment so that I get.

Maybe schools like the CA where 9th grade isn’t used. Check specific schools. I believe McGill is the same.

I can see you getting into Hampshire. It’s the easiest u list. Not sure why it’s a reach on your list. It’s #141 ranked LAC with high acceptance rate.vs top notch Amherst. Huge gap there.

But no where else. Just my opinion.

You might try other 3rd tier LACs. The Kalamazoos. Beloits. Juniata. Bard. Wittenberg Washington College or that level. All fine schools btw.

I think you need more targets…which for many would be safeties. Maybe you get into Hampshire based on full pay. Maybe. They are need aware

Good luck.

I don’t have any specialized knowledge on college admissions so I can’t give you any specific insight on admission to those schools. But, in case it is helpful, I did a little googling for resources for people with Tourette’s in regard to college. (FWIW there are scholarships available.) I saw there is a private admissions counselor with Tourette’s who specializes in helping people with disabilities get into college (and med school). Looks like he has some material online. Shirag Shemmasian. I know nothing about this fellow other than what I saw online, so take it for what it is worth.
Good luck - it sounds like you have been through a great deal.

2 Likes

Good luck. Completely agree with @tsbna44 about bard. Hannah Arendt is buried there (as is Philip Roth). They have the Hannah Arendt center there and I think you will be welcomed with respect to gender. Perfect for you IM0.

1 Like

I should also say I don’t think the outcome is at all predictable by any of us — you have a very unique story and as a very motivated and clearly intelligent and thoughtful person with a compelling story who is also black/asian/trans/disabled — there may be many opportunities. Anyone who has struggled will know to take your GPA with a grain of salt. Would probably be good to get to know the AOs at your preferred schools and find ones who want to advocate for you.

You’ve overcome a lot already. Congrats to you. The 2.8 is going to be a shock to admissions readers at the top colleges. But the way you explained things made it very clear. Suggest that you frame the story in the same manner.

I’m wondering why you don’t have any in-state options: UVa, VCU or VT? Going out of state will be quite expensive. Are your parents willing to shell out $250K.

Have you considered doing community college for a year and then transferring? The extra year showing good grades would help your case.

2 Likes

@wailing-voyage. Any new developments?