College List Advice! (Engineering but also interested in literature)

Chinese-American female, California
Low-income so I need a school with generous financial aid
Not first-generation

Currently a junior (Class of 2023)
4.0 UW, 4.54 W GPA
1480 PSAT, predicted 1500+ SAT
tentatively 12 APs by end of senior year

-Robotics 4 yrs, Mechanical Lead (next year), might compete at World Championships this year (haven’t finished regional competitions yet)
-buildOn 4 yrs, Co-President (next year), Sponsorship Lead this year and led team to fundraise $30k+ to construct a school in Nicaragua, local community service
-Debate 2.5 yrs, Varsity Parliamentary, competed at state level, I left b/c it just wasn’t for me
-State honors society
-School honors society
-Tutored under-resourced kids in poetry writing
-Wrote elementary/middle school workshop curriculum for a small local nonprofit on finances, climate change, child rights
-this summer will either teach at a science camp or do STEM research at a university if accepted into the internship

I want to work on the creative side of engineering like becoming an engineer for a theme park, not going into research/graduate study. Looking for colleges that have a solid engineering program (probably not LACs) but not exclusive (so not MIT, Caltech, Harvey Mudd etc.), strong in English/humanities, not stressful (I’ve heard Cornell is pretty intense?), generous financial aid, preferably not rural. No preference on size, Greek life, party scene, sports.

On a side note I love love reading, writing, films, music (am in jazz band and a rock band), magic, and German language/literature so a place that attracts students with interesting hobbies would be nice.

Currently looking at:
Brown - my sibling went here and love it!
Cal Poly SLO
UC Davis

I know most of these schools are reaches for me. Based on my background and interests, what schools are realistically targets and safeties that would fit me well?


Congratulations on all of your hard work and accomplishments so far!

This list is categorized based on my very fallible sense of what might be your chances of acceptance. These are schools that are ABET-accredited in mechanical engineering (the field for designing roller coasters) as ABET accreditation is pretty much required by most engineering employers. These schools are in urban or suburban areas and are not strictly tech-focused schools. If it’s not a California school, it needed to meet at least 90% of need. California schools had to meet at least 75% of need. Also, the schools in the likelier categories (at least, non-California publics) would be likely to give you very generous merit aid.


  • U. of Arizona – met 65% of need, but you’d probably get a VERY generous merit package

Extremely Likely (80-99%)

  • Cal State – Fullerton: met 87% of need
  • UC – Merced: met 78% of need
  • Valparaiso (IN): met 92% of need
  • U. of North Florida: met 90% of need
  • Anderson (IN): met 94% of need

Likely (60-79%)

  • San Jose State: met 83% of need
  • UC – Riverside: met 82% of need
  • Christian Brothers (TN): met 99% of need

Toss-Up (40-59%)

  • Union (NY): met 100% of need
  • Santa Clara (CA): met 85% of need
  • UC – Davis: met 80% of need
  • Syracuse (NY): met 95% of need
  • George Washington (D.C.): met 92% of need

Possible (20-39%)

  • U. of Virginia: met 100% of need
  • Lafayette (PA ): met 100% of need
  • Lehigh (PA ): met 98% of need
  • UC – Irvine: met 82% of need
  • UC – Santa Barbara: met 76% of need
  • U. of Florida: met 98% of need
  • U. of Rochester (NY): met 97% of need
  • Case Western (OH): met 97% of need
  • U. of Miami (FL): met 97% of need

Less Likely (20% or less)

  • Most of your current list

Depending on what your expected family contribution is, there are other schools that could be considered. For instance, you might qualify for full tuition at Alabama or Ole Miss, but would paying for room and board be affordable for your family?

Also, are there any UCs or Cal States that you could attend while commuting from home? Check and see if they’re ABET-accredited, and then I would definitely apply to those as well.


SJSU will vary depending on which specific engineering major. Computer engineering and software engineering were quite difficult to get into for fall 2022. Mechanical engineering also has a high threshold, though 4.0 HS GPA students applying for fall 2022 cleared it easily. Civil engineering had a somewhat lower threshold than mechanical engineering. But aerospace, biomedical, chemical and industrial engineering were relatively easy to get into. Freshmen Impaction Results | Admissions

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Does this mean you think my other guesses for the California publics might be accurate? I always love the opportunity to learn from a master. :smile:

Regarding the cost, use the net price calculator on each college’s web site, rather than promises of need met. Colleges can define “need” however they want. Also percentage of need met can obscure the difference between in-state and out-of-state financial aid at state universities. A state university that meets 100% of what it defines as “need” for in-state only may have a very high percentage of need met if it has few out-of-state students, even if it offers no aid for them.

Here is some information regarding UCs (by campus, unfortunately not including the effect of major, since engineering majors are often more selective):

Recalculate your HS GPA with GPA Calculator for the University of California – RogerHub . Use the weighted capped version for the table below.

Fall 2021 admission rates by campus and HS GPA range from Freshman fall admissions summary | University of California :

Campus 4.20+ 3.80-4.19 3.40-3.79 3.00-3.39
Berkeley 30% 11% 2% 1%
Davis 85% 55% 23% 10%
Irvine 60% 31% 14% 1%
Los Angeles 29% 6% 1% 0%
Merced 97% 98% 96% 89%
Riverside 97% 92% 62% 23%
San Diego 75% 35% 5% 1%
Santa Barbara 73% 28% 4% 1%
Santa Cruz 91% 81% 46% 9%

These are for the whole campus. Different divisions or majors may have different levels selectivity (usually, engineering and computer science majors are more selective).

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This was exactly what I was looking for. I’ll do more research into these schools and talk about finances with my family. Thank you so much!

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