College application advice for a junior?

Now that most of my ecs have finished, I’m starting to think about college applications and what colleges I should be applying to/could get accepted to next year.

Demographics: Asian male in Bay Area, reasonably competitive public high school
Intended Major: CS or Math

SAT: High 1500, not perfect

UW GPA: 4.0 right now, although I obviously haven’t finished my last semester of junior year

Coursework: Took mostly normal courses. AP BC (5) and AP CS (4 :frowning: ) in sophomore year. My AP’s this year are APUSH, APLAC, AP Stats and AP Physics.
My school, despite being competitive, doesn’t have a lot of AP classes. I’m taking more-or-less the maximum possible, ignoring some specialty APs. The pandemic has got me slacking off in my classes, but I plan on putting in a ton of effort to do well and also to get good scores on the AP tests with this free time.

One thing to mention: One of my teachers recommended me for a class (don’t know which one) that I could take next year, which is basically a full period to tutor students who need academic help, and I’m thinking of taking that, as I only have 4 core classes next year (school doesn’t give many AP classes :frowning: ).

Major Awards:
USA(J)MO, 10 on AIME, AMC 10 DHR
Not going to make USAMO this year :(.

Minor Awards:
There are a few of these, but as the name suggests, they’re not very important. There’s on in particular I remember. I’m trying to keep identifying details low, but it’s an award that teachers nominate students for.

Math competitions, CS competitions, Cross Country/Track (not varsity rip)

I think I have a reasonably good relationship with my language teacher, as we talk outside of class occasionally and she’s been my teacher for 3 years now. My stem teachers aren’t anything amazing, although I’m trying to be a TA for one of them next year, so hopefully that could help out.

The colleges I’m mostly interested in are Ivy Leagues, colleges around that level that aren’t Ivys, and good UCs. If I’m not of that caliber, please tell me and recommend other schools. Also, I obviously don’t have a lot of extracurriculars, at least in number. I’ve spent so much time preparing for math competitions, CS competitions and running though. Is this a problem?

Just wanted to add that I got 1500/1520 on the PSAT, so I will most likely become a Finalist… not sure if that matters though.

Congratulations on a very impressive academic record and high test scores!

Since you’ve apparently run out of AP classes at your school, look into taking some college classes in 12th grade. Most colleges will let a high school senior take one class a semester there - this can be exploited by taking one class a semester at more than one college. Make sure to check out the quality of the professor on Rate My Professor, if possible, and choose courses with good profs. You might be able to get a great letter from a college prof from a fall semester class, if you do outstanding work and participate enthusiastically, and go to office hours.

You took Calc BC in 10th grade and got a 5. That’s wonderful! But in 11th, you did AP Stat, instead of continuing on the advanced math track. If at all possible, take the next year of college math at a college nearby in 12th grade. If you have nothing better to do this summer, I’d suggest taking it this summer at a nearby college, if it’s possible, and then the subsequent year of college math in 12th grade at a nearby college. You’re competing against others who have done two years beyond Calc BC. If you can also continue comp sci at a nearby college this summer and next year, it would help, too.

Your academic qualifications are superb. Top grades, top SATs, likely national merit.

Can your family afford in-state tuition at a UC school? Frankly, this is your best bet, and will probably end up being where you’ll get admitted, since California admissions are race-blind, although they’re also test-blind - but you get to list National Merit as an award, and have a great GPA, so they’ll know you’re not just the best in an awful school with low academic standards (not that your school is one of those).

If your school has any great teachers for AP classes which can be taken without having prerequisite background, you should take them, just for life enrichment. Other AP history classes, AP Econ, AP art history, AP Psych, anything - IF they have great teachers. Register for 8 periods of classes, then drop two, and keep the best. That’s how to get the most out of your high school education. I guarantee you that if the teacher is fantastic, you’ll enjoy whatever the class is.

I’d only do the tutoring class if you want to, and cannot find something that you would rather do during that time. It’s not going to get you over the hurdle into an Ivy. It’s community service, but doesn’t show leadership or initiative. Now, if you founded a summer tutoring program to help the disadvantaged kids in your area catch up from the lost year of the pandemic, and recruited a lot of other bright young stars like you in all fields to join you in this, and helped a whole bunch of kids catch up this summer, that would show initiative, drive, leadership. THAT would be an Ivy-worthy community service project. You might be able to piggy-back onto a local Boys and Girls summer daycamp childcare program, to give each kid some academic catch up tutoring every day this summer. I’m not saying you have to do this. But you have the grades, you have the test scores, you have some awards. You need a community service project that does more than check the box - you need one that is head and shoulders above the rest, that makes you stand out. You want them to think you’re the guy who’s gonna found the next Khan Academy type of thing, not just get a degree in comp sci and get a job.

You’re going to need amazing essays, essays that show (not tell) something special about yourself, that make them think, “We need this guy here.”

If you make national merit, you might qualify for a full tuition scholarship, or even a full ride, at a southern or lesser mid western public college. The fact is, if you come out with comp sci, or math, or better yet, both, from any college, you will be in tremendous demand on the job market, even if it’s from a lesser college or university, and certainly from a UC. So you don’t have to do any of the things I’ve mentioned above. But I think that if you want to get into an Ivy or its equivalent, you need to add ‘over the top’ community service, preferably one that utilizes your comp sci and math skills, you need to show tremendous rigor in your 12th grade classes, so that means 6 AP or college classes, including further math, and comp sci too if you can get it, and you need to have outstanding essays.

You might actually be the sort of person who would benefit from a ‘for pay’ college admissions coach. You already have the toughest pieces of the puzzle - the grades and the scores. But you need guidance on the community service, planning for getting the rigorous classes you could get, in your area, and guidance on the essays, and application strategy. You can get a ton of good (and some bad) advice from here, but you might find it easier if you were guided by a good admissions advisor.

What’s you budget? That could determine your list. There’s been several posts lately with similar questions. The common theme is that a lot of schools that people think are targets or safeties really aren’t when it comes to CS. It’s very competitive. When you see an overall acceptance rate for a college don’t assume that CS majors have the same acceptance rate.

It’s easy to find reach schools like MIT, CMU, Stanford. It’s a lot tougher to find safety schools. I’m assuming UC’s and some CSU’s will be on your list.


Thanks. I have plans to start a free math competition class on zoom for younger kids with another friend who does math. In fact I’ve wanted to do that for a long time, independent of college admissions, but I’m shy and I’ve only gotten enough initiative to do it now. Hopefully that’s similar to what you recommend.

I don’t have budget issues in the sense that my family could afford to pay for my tuition even at the expensive colleges. My parents aren’t strict, but they have suggested that they don’t want to pay for a 70k college which is not ivy level. I either get into an ivy-level college or go to a UC I get into.

I get it. You cannot be what you are not, but this is exactly the sort of thing that would cause an Ivy to turn you down. If you were shy, with these grades, scores, and were an internationally ranked chess prodigy, sure. But I suspect that the admissions committee would think that you fit the bill on grades and scores, and think that you have some nice awards, but nothing so outstanding that they carry the application to admission, alone. And they would then look for evidence of creativity, ingenuity, innovation. And unfortunately, I think that they are prejudiced in favor of extroverts, with lesser qualifications, than introverts with wonderful credentials like yours.

Not sure if you can push yourself outside your comfort zone. If it would be a tremendous stretch, shyness-wise, for you to even do that tutoring class, then I think you should do it, just for the experience of it, to challenge yourself. Do you think that you would be totally shy with younger kids? They’ve mostly lost an entire year of schooling, and it would be a really good thing if you could do this with some of your classmates. You could pull in the kids who are good in English class, too. And it would look amazing on an application. But if you cannot bring yourself to do this, then the online thing is better than nothing. Last summer, it would have looked great, since everyone was at home, locked down. But this summer, camps are opening up, and schools are now opening up. So doing something online to help kids is not going to look as good as it would have last summer - but it’s definitely a lot better than nothing.

I think that you do need to look at the UC’s carefully, and plan your applications to them, since I have a feeling that this is the likely outcome - which is not a bad outcome at all! Also, as a person not in need of financial aid, I think that you might get into extremely competitive Comp Sci programs at non-Ivy schools, that are well-known and highly respected, like Carnegie Mellon. You should probably research threads for top Comp Sci programs that are not at Ivies.

To your comment about academic rigor in 12th grade, I am planning on taking a more advanced math class at a local college next year. I took AP Stats this year because it’s the natural continuation after BC at my school.

I’m gauging from your post that I should make my summer tutoring class tailored towards school academics, that it should be a lot more substantial, and that it should be in-person. I can certainly change the subject of the classes, and that would probably make it easier to get more students. On being more substantial and getting more teachers, I think that’s a great idea, and I will send out a message to my friends about it right now. It could be a really good way to make me go through with the program as well. On being in-person, my area is still in lockdown and in-person classes will be difficult to arrange right now, although things will probably change by the time summer starts, so we’ll see.

Sorry for not saying this before, but thanks for the really detailed responses. They’ve been a huge wake-up call for me and are very motivating. Even if the summer program doesn’t change my college admissions results, I think it will be a good thing for my life. I’ve always had a terrible habit of getting out of situations that make me even a little uncomfortable or have risk. I’m still bitter about not making USAMO or USACO platinum this year, but honestly this would be a much bigger life achievement for me.

I noticed you’re considering CS or Math. If you’re interested in both try to find schools that are strong in both in-case you switch. Most good CS schools are also strong in math but not always. Schools strong in math might not be strong in CS. I’m thinking Ivies.

That said, it sounds like UC’s might be your best option even if you get into other CS schools. Good luck.

You have to think strategically.
DO apply to universities that will reward your NMF status (note that Benacquisto at UF is at risk, probably gone after this year, but other than that apply to universities that give big rewards to NMFs.) You want to have choices.

Your list cannot be Ivy+ universities and UCs.
What if you are admitted, say, to nothing but UCD and UCSC? How would you feel?
(Scour the results boards and you’ll see many students with stellar stats turned down by UCs, UCB, UCLA, UCSD, UCSB…)

You have to add other universities: SJSU, CPP (both real instate safeties), and of course Cal Poly SLO.
I’d recommend applying to Canada: a couple from UBC, UToronto, McGill, and UWaterloo. This should be straightforward, they rank students based on academics only and will not consider EC’s all that much (Waterloo will, but only math and CS Ecs which favors you).

Ivies and any university with sub 25% acceptance rate will be twice more selective for CS.
You’ll easily find “reaches” (any university with a sub-25% acceptance rate) and should easily find safeties.
It’ll be harder to find safeties you like and affordable matches you like (universities with 25-45% acceptance rate overall, meaning it’s likely 12-25% for CS.)

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