Chance urm for t20s

US Citizen
east coast
Semi-competitive public
Black male

Intended Major(s)
cognitive science, linguistics

GPA, Rank, and Test Scores

  • Unweighted HS GPA: 4.0/4.0
  • Weighted HS GPA (incl. weighting system): 4.75/5
  • Class Rank: 4/352
  • ACT/SAT Scores: 1550 (780 math / 770 ebrw)

*(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;
13/18 aps available, 4s and 5s, pltw pathway, spanish iii reached, calc ab reached

competitive course load compared to other students in my high school, except for math (some take calc bc)


  1. naclo semi final
  2. regional science fair #3 place
  3. nmsqt semi final
  4. ap scholar w/ distinction

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

    • founded linguistics org, taught english, reached 100 kids internationally
    • student pres of local non profit 501(c)(3), provides tech education to fgli
    • research with local professor on NLP and ML, non published, submitted to science fair
    • NSLI -y arabic scholar
    • FTC robotics team captain
    • internship w/ army at local base, analyzed data, met with Generals and scientists, stipend
    • NHS chapter vice pres, organized fundraisers and events
    • organized summer camp for local urm, recieved grants and partner with army lab
    • studying and learning native language
    • student gov member

(Optionally, guess how strong these are and include any other relevant information or circumstances.)
essays pretty strong (8/10), might be able to do better
good LORs from teachers and research professor

T20, HYPSM, and ofc state safeties (not listed)

Congrats, you seem highly accomplished and should do well in the upcoming application cycle, assuming you are a rising HS senior.

You should list schools that interest you. Terms like “T20” and “HYPSM” indicate rankings or prestige but nothing more. The schools at the top of the rankings are very different.

It is hard to imagine a student being attracted to the urban bustle of New York and the woods of Northern New Hampshire, or the extensive core curriculum at Columbia and the open curriculum at Brown. Do not let USNews build your list for you, and apply to a reasonable list of schools that appeal to you. It is far too difficult to build compelling applications for twenty schools.

You can probably get into some highly selective schools, but which ones are right for you? Where do you want to go, location-wise? Urban, rural, suburban? What region? How far from home?

What size feels right for you? Big, medium or small? Are you only looking at big research universities, or are you also interested in small liberal arts colleges? Why no in-state publics?

Do you care if the school carries a religious affiliation? Has a strong fraternity and sorority system? A diverse student population? A politically active campus?

You have a stated interest in a concentration or major, but is there anything else that attracts you regarding an academic environment?

What can you afford? You are referencing categories of schools that contain a lot of need-blind, meets-needs schools. Is that purposeful?


I wish people would stop saying things like this. It is not hard to imagine a 17 or 18 year old who would love both Columbia & Dartmouth. It is not hard to imaging a young person who could enjoy and adapt to both a core and open curriculum.

The young man who started this thread is an incredible applicant who will likely have multiple elite options for college. I strongly encourage him to apply to a diverse set of universities. Also, he shouldn’t be made to feel self-conscious about valuing prestige. There are opportunities available only to the students of the top tier of universities. It looks to me like he has earned a shot at those opportunities.


I am not knocking the OP or discouraging him from having highly selective schools on his list. In fact, based on what is available through the info provided, he will be a strong candidate for highly selective schools as part of a balanced approach to the admissions cycle.

I am not discouraging a “diverse list.” I am discouraging letting a rankings organization do the thinking for you and ignoring fit characteristics. People can be happy or unhappy at any of the T20 schools. Getting into a T20 is not the end goal, though if you choose right, a particular school in the T20 can be just the right springboard.

It takes some thought and research to understand where you have the best chance of thriving, though. I am not saying there will never be a case where Dartmouth and Columbia would appeal to the same applicant, but I do think there are a lot of people who like the city while others prefer the great outdoors, and while there may be students who are highly adaptable when it comes to core requirements, it’s worth some thought. (I said “hard to imagine,” not impossible.) But we are letting specifics get in the way of the general point, which is to know what you want. I guess you would say prestige is a fine objective all by itself? If so, we disagree, though the TOS says we should not become debaters here.

At schools with strong college advising services, there are typically questionnaires to help students narrow their lists and define what their fit characteristics are. It’s a good exercise. I am merely encouraging the OP to think about the environment where he wants to spend his next four years.


Sorry - I agree with @Metawampe . One needs to find fit. Too often we read horror stories of kids who simply chose a college based on a name and not actually seeing if it’s the right school for them.

This student can certainly apply anywhere - they’ve earned it. But let’s remember that pedigree does not equal happiness.

Op - maybe I missed it. Any cost constraints or do you have a budget ? You can go from dirt cheap….maybe even free if lucky to over $80k a year.

Let us know.



Thank you for your thoughtful replies. I too may have been blinded by prestige but will try to build a healthier list.

I will definitely take this into consideration when finalizing my list!

Thanks again :slight_smile:


To be honest, I haven’t spoken with parents about budget, but I surely have one as I am upper-middle class and probably won’t be receiving the most generous aid package.

I will need play around with the COA calculator and see how that affects my options.

Thank you for reminding me! :blush:

I think posters are conflating several issues in a desire to earnestly advise you. First and foremost you are an excellent candidate for any and all schools. Congratulations on your hard work and achievements!!

The best chance for you to get accepted to low single digit schools is to have customized, specific and passionate essays describing what about the schools appeals to you, supports your goals and what you can contribute to the school and community. This is hard to fake and difficult to rationalize across the spectrum of schools you describe. That said these schools do have a variety of things in common and a good creative writer can often fake authenticity. Be careful as this is hard to do and time consuming. AOs are paid and trained to recognize this but it can be pulled off.

Second fit does matter for most people and will correlate to happiness and success most of the time for most people. Choose those things that are your priorities and focus on those things. It is ok to care about prestige but hazardous for it to be the primary or sole criteria. Kids thrive at a variety of schools and across the prestige curve. If you care about let’s say prestige and an urban environment perhaps Columbia but pass on Dartmouth. You care about prestige and an open curriculum pass on U Chicago but consider Brown. Just a few examples.

Cost does matter for some and not others for a variety of reasons. If for whatever reason it is not a concern for you say so quickly or you will see your thread devolve into a discussion about U Alabama and how it’s not what you can pay but what you want to pay. Money matters but you seem to have earned the right to focus on T20s and I presuppose you have considered cost (perhaps a mistake):grinning:

Good luck!!


Yes. Bcuz if you find out you are $85k but you could go for $25k, what will your parents say ?

Run for some full pay schools like Harvard, Rice, BU, Miami Florida. See if any give you $$.

Budget is always the place to start.

Impressive profile.


It’s fine, I hope it’s helpful. Prestige is not a bad thing, it’s just not the only thing.
And it’s like the awards that the Wizard of OZ gave out: know thyself, let validation come from within first, then take that self knowledge and apply it to your search. (Look, I get that you are still in high school and knowing thyself could be a project that is still in its early stages, but you get the idea.)

My student goes to a T20 school and is happy, but she curated which of the T20 schools on her “reach” list would be the right environments for her, and she had likely and target schools where she could see herself being happy.

Again, you should do well and we are rooting for you!


With your parents, run the net price calculator on the web site of each college of interest. Depending on their reaction, you should be able to figure out the price limit.


Agree with your message, but the point is more around looking into each school and evaluating your interest based on what’s important to you rather than I want to go to a T20. I know for my S23 his list includes a lot of varied types of schools, but there is something about each one that interests him and things about each one he doesn’t like. What I’ve found with my D19 was as we moved through the process you get a little more clarity around what things are deal breakers and what things are nice to have


You’re in a very small demographic (high scoring URM with excellent rank). Most of the top colleges would love to have someone like you. My guess is that you’ll have a lot of choices after the RD round. Are you applying EA/ED anywhere?

You’d also be a strong contender for some of the full tuition merit scholarships (Robertson, Jefferson, USC Trustee, Cornelius Vanderbilt, etc). Good luck wherever you land, and post a follow-up here for us.


As others have said, you have an extremely strong profile that is likely to get a lot of positive attention in admissions offices. Once your family determines its budget (without anyone taking out any loans), then run the Net Price Calculator for each school you’re considering. If the family contribution for that school is within budget, you’re golden. If not, that’s perfectly normal, but it means you’re looking for merit aid (and there are many excellent schools that offer merit aid).

Lots of schools are going to want you. The question is, at which schools will you be happiest? Where will you thrive? I’d also recommend that you read this post and the one right after it, as it may help you think about what kind of college experience you would like, including whether you prefer to be at the top of the impressive students heap or whether you want to be amazed at all the phenomenal things your classmates have done and constantly be on your toes and hustling to match their drive, or anywhere in between.

Once you have a budget and have thought more about what kind of a college experience you would like, let us know because there are lots of people who are very familiar with the Top X schools (and many others). And even though you will be a very strong applicant, it’s important to make sure you include schools which are extremely likely to accept you and be affordable for you that you would be happy to attend. If those are your in-state publics, great! If not, those should be among the first schools you look for.


You are going to have a lot of great options. It sounds like you really do need to run some Net Price Calculators, though, and see whether your out-of-pocket for $80K/year elite schools is really going to be acceptable. If not, there are plenty of great options where either the sticker price is lower, or merit aid is generous (or both).

For academic fit, I’d encourage you to take a close look at Pomona. You seem to prefer mid-sized to larger research universities over LAC’s, but the Claremont Colleges can be best of both worlds, with over 7K undergrads in the consortium. At Pomona, Linguistics and CogSci share a department, so not only would it be very easy to tailor a degree program to your interests, but also you’d likely find faculty research interests to be well aligned with your goals.

Another school that’s tippy-top for CogSci and also has a Cognition and Language track in the Linguistics department is UCSD.

For schools with big merit for NMF and good programs in your interest areas, consider Northeastern and USC.

Across the board, I’d encourage you to browse faculty research areas to see what resonates with you. You may find research institutes and projects that make schools jump out at you for reasons other than USNews rankings! I fully expect that you’ll get into multiple prestigious schools, but fit factors can be more important than small increments of ranking.


These links may also be helpful as you start to look at schools for your particular interests.

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For the very top schools, run their school-specific calculators. Because of their large endowments, they are incredibly generous with need based aid. For example, at Harvard, families under $75k get a totally free ride, with family contribution gradually increasing as income increases. Even a family earning $200k typically may get a 50% grant at Harvard.

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Of course students should try to find the best fit. @Metawampe said it was hard to imagine someone who could like Columbia and Brown. I think a substantial number of high-achieving students could be just fine at either school. Based on his profile, I think the person who created this thread could likely succeed at any university in this country.

Horror stories due to poor fit can happen at top tier schools…and they can also happen at Texas Tech, North Florida and Alabama. No one should go to a top tier school they hate, or in a location they hate, just to chase prestige. Still, I think many parents who post here forget what it was like to be 17 or 18. Going off to USC or Brown or Columbia or Michigan or a top tier LAC could be equally exciting to a senior in high school.


On CC the reality that for some kids prestige is a part of “fit” is often discounted. For some super high achieving kids they will mentally fair better at a school that in their (or families) minds validate their achievements by offering the opportunity to wear a sweatshirt from a prestigious school.
This desire can trump for many some of the other “fit” differences often mentioned such as location and curriculum.

Many may not disagree with this approach but if we are trying to give “good” advice we shouldn’t superimpose a value system. For some of these kids prestige does and will matter and to steer them away from it can lead to regret as well.

I will revert to my earlier comment that getting accepted is very tough if you can’t present yourself as authentically applying to a school based on fit vs prestige. The appropriateness, validity or value however of seeking prestige is a personal and introspective criteria that we shouldn’t discount.


Well said.



Many of these kids have worked hard for years and excelled both academically and otherwise. If they want to take their shot at an elite school that’s perfectly all right.

It’s fine to advise them of their chances, and suggest other factors to consider but telling every high achieving kid to go to Alabama instead, is doing them a disservice.